Where I grew up in the Bay Area, there was an abundance of Vietnamese noodle shops to be found amidst the Asian supermarkets and Chinese dim sum houses. One of my family’s favorite weekend lunches was to go to one of these noodle shops, where each family member would get a steaming hot bowl of pho – delicate clear noodles and paper-thin slices of beef in the most seductively aromatic broth. To this day, pho remains a steadfast comfort food to me, one of those tonics that has no adequate substitute when you’ve got a longing to it.
I would always get a soda chanh, or Vietnamese lemonade, to go with my pho, but sometimes my parents would get ca phe sua da, or Vietnamese coffee, which would provide an extra jolt of excitement to the meal as we would try to time our pho consumption to end right at the time the coffee finished dripping down from the cute little hat-shaped filter into the tall glass, down and around the ice cubes, and onto the condensed milk at the bottom. There was something wonderfully simple and self-contained about the entire setup: it was like a little magical delicious drink-producing UFO landing on top of your glass and creating, in front of your eyes, a mysteriously tasty elixir. Intense, bitter coffee melding with gooey sweet milk – of course, also a recipe for hyperactive children, so it’s a mystery our parents ever let us try some at all.
Small wonder that this drink would find its way into Pichet Ong’s Asian-inspired desserts, and in fact become the basis for one of his signature creations: the Chocolate and Vietnamese Coffee Tart, featured in his book The Sweet Spot. In looks and ingredients it would appear to resemble many of those mocha custard tarts out there that have a barely-baked chocolate filling in a tart shell, but Ong’s tart has about as much resemblance to those as a latte does to ca phe sua da.
The tart is composed of a thin, chocolatey, barely-sweet shell cradling a velvety smooth, impossibly unctuous ganache. The cream and condensed milk combine with bittersweet chocolate and Vietnamese coffee to make a rich and creamy filling that unfurls luxuriously over the tongue. The coffee (if you cannot find Vietnamese coffee, Ong suggests a good French Roast or chicory) adds a subtle smokiness to the deep chocolate taste that really comes out if you serve the tart at room temperature. This dessert is a match for any "death by chocolate" contender out there in its own sophisticated, intimitable way – the richness and intensity of the dessert doesn’t bludgeon you with excess, but envelops you in a sensual cocoon.
Topped with a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk chantilly, this little piece of bliss can be enjoyed much as a Vietnamese coffee should be: slowly, languidly, in a rattan armchair on a shady porch, underneath a lazily turning ceiling fan, with palm trees waving gently through the shuttered windows, and birdsong far off in the dreamy summer distance.
Makes about (8) 4" tarts or (1) 8" tart
from Pichet Ong’s The Sweet Spot
Cocoa Tart Shell
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (113 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (23 grams) cocoa powder
1/4 cup (23 grams) almond meal
1 1 /3 cups (203 grams) all-purpose flour
1 large egg
12 ounces (340 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces
1 3/4 cups (392 grams) heavy cream
1/2 cup (113 grams) evaporated milk
1/3 cup (28 grams) Vietnamese or French roast coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup (65 grams) sweetened condensed milk
Sweetened Condensed Milk Chantilly
1/2 cup (114 grams) heavy cream
1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the tart shells: Place the butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt, cocoa powder, almond meal, and flour into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture resembles cornmeal.
Add the egg and process just until the dough comes together.
Form the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill in refrigerator until firm, about 4 hours.
When you are ready to bake the tart shells, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Take the dough out the refrigerator (if it is very firm, you might need to let it warm up a little so you can work with it) and roll out on a floured surface to 1/8" thickness.
Place your tart pan or tart rings on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat.
Trim the dough into a circular shape(s) to make it easier to fit into the tart pan(s). Place the dough into the tart pan and press to fit to the sides. Trim off any excess dough from the edges, and place baking sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes to let the dough firm up.
Line the tart pan(s) with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake the tart shells for about 15 minutes, remove pie weights and parchment paper, and bake about 5 minutes more until the tart shells are dry to the touch.
Let tart shells cool completely on a wire rack. Turn the oven down to 275 degrees F for the ganache.
For the ganache: Place the chocolate into a large bowl and set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine the cream, evaporated milk, coffee powder, and salt and bring to a simmer over low heat.
Pour the hot mixture through a sieve over the chocolate and whisk to combine.
Add the eggs one at the time to the chocolate mixture and whisk to combine.
Add in the condensed milk and whisk until the mixture is very smooth and shiny.
Pour the mixture into the cooled tart shells and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, rotating halfway through. The tarts are done when the mixture appears set and does not jiggle independently in the middle.
Let tarts cool on a rack and unmold to serve.
To make the chantilly, whisk the cream in a mixer until soft peaks form. Add in the condensed milk and salt and whisk just until medium peaks form – do not overwhip. Spoon some of the chantilly onto slices of the tart before serving.