Two weeks of nonstop shortbread testing produced an unorthodox surprise: perfect shortbread made with melted butter. That shortbread became an exquisitely crunchy and flavorful base for lemon bars, a crust for cheesecake and, ultimately, my favorite sweet tart crust. I even bake brownie batter on top of it. This remarkable crust barely shrinks in the pan, so there is no need to weight or even prick it before baking. To ensure that the bottom remains crunchy, bake the crust fully to a deep golden brown before pouring in the filling.
At the same time I was playing with the new tart crust, I was experimenting with different cocoas, tasting and comparing natural and Dutch-process in all kinds of recipes. Voilà, rich, warm cocoa custard in the simplest crust.
9½-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom
Excerpted from Seriously Bitter Sweet by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2013. Images: Deborah Jones.
- 7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- ¼ cup (50 grams) sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- ½ cup (100 grams) sugar
- ¼ cup (25 grams) premium unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process) (see Chocolate Note)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1¼ teaspoons instant espresso powder
- (such as Medaglia d’Oro), or 1½ teaspoons instant coffee powder or crystals
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
- To make the tart crust: Mix the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add the flour and mix just until well blended. Don’t worry if the dough seems too soft. Press all of the dough very thinly and evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden brown.
- Meanwhile, make the filling: Place the butter, sugar, cocoa powder, and cream in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture is blended and smooth and begins to simmer around the edges. Remove from the heat and stir in the espresso powder and vanilla.
- Just before the crust is ready, whisk the egg thoroughly into the hot chocolate mixture.
- Pour the filling into the hot crust and turn off the oven. Leave the tart in the oven until it quivers like tender Jell-O in the center when the pan is nudged, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a rack.
- Serve the tart warm or at room temperature.
- Espresso Walnut Tart variation: The same tart in a walnut cookie crust produces a subtler but still delicious effect. You could also make it with toasted skinned hazelnuts, then I would omit the espresso powder. Reduce the butter to 6 tablespoons (85 grams) and add 2 teaspoons brandy and 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (or a heaping teaspoon instant coffee powder or crystals) with the sugar, salt and vanilla. In a food processor, pulverize ⅓ cup (35 grams) walnut pieces with ¾ cup (105 grams) flour until fine. Substitute this mixture for the flour. Proceed as directed.
- Either natural or Dutch-process cocoa works well here. The former has a livelier, more complex, fruity flavor, while the latter has a cozy old-fashioned flavor reminiscent of chocolate pudding. You choose.
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