Daring Bakers Challenge: Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart

August 29th, 2007

Choccarameltart

One of the best things about joining the Daring Bakers is the chance to meet so many other passionate bakers from around the world –  fellow pastry lovers who love talking about (and making) dessert, are marvelously creative and talented, and who also happen to be some of the nicest and sweetest people I’ve ever met. I was lucky enough to meet up with one of the hosts for this month’s challenge, Veronica from Veronica’s Test Kitchen, when she made a visit to my hometown on SF, and we had a fabulous evening talking shop (and about other things as well!) I also got to tell her how excited I was about the recipe she and Patricia chose for this month’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge, as it comes from one of my favorite new acquisitions, Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts

The challenge this month was to make Kayser’s milk chocolate and caramel tart: a layer of milk chocolate mousse over a caramel base in a cinnamon-spiced chocolate shortbread crust. I admit I took advantage of this situation to buy myself another tart pan: the classic 14”x4” rectangular pan I’d been eyeing for a while. Using this size pan with the recipe, you will definitely have leftovers from the recipe fillings, enough to fill another tart pan or some individual ones. But I am loving this new pan and have many plans for using it in the future!

Choccarameltart2

It was mentioned when the recipe was revealed to us that a big part of the challenge would be interpreting the rather brief instructions. This was something I’d noticed in Kayser’s book; it assumes a level of baking knowledge and proficiency above that expected by the average home baking book. For example, in making the tart dough, the recipe says simply to “line a baking pan with the chocolate shortbread pastry and bake blind for 15 minutes.”  It does not mention that this is a particularly soft and delicate dough (out of the mixing bowl, it resembles cookie dough more than tart dough) and that overworking it or leaving it out of the refrigerator for too long will turn it into a melting mushy mess. I was working in a rather warm kitchen that day, which might partly explain why this dough was not on its best behavior for me. I found the easiest way to work with this dough is to let it soften no more than necessary out of the refrigerator, then roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap to prevent sticking (Using two Silpats works too – roll out the dough on one Silpat, place the second mat on top of the dough and flip the stack over, then peel off the first Silpat). If it becomes too soft and sticky, it’s best to place it back in the refrigerator and let it chill and firm up a bit before rolling out again.

On the plus side, this dough seems to take patching very well, so if you can’t get it to roll out to a large enough sheet for your pan, you can always patch up the missing bits, being sure to pat the dough in gently. And I was very pleased with how the dough baked up – firm and shapely with minimal cracking or shrinking, and wonderfully tender to the bite, as shortbread should be. I confess to using a small trick that has worked wonders with my tarts in preventing soggy bottoms: After the tart shell comes out from the oven and is cooling, brush a light layer of egg wash over the bottom of the shell. As the egg wash dries, it forms a nice impermeable layer that protects the tart shell from berry juices, pastry cream, or whatever filling you have. The caramel filling for this recipe didn’t seem particularly “juicy”, but I think the egg wash is always a nice extra step to help ensure your tart stays flaky and crisp as it ought to be.

Speaking of caramel, the directions for making the filling were also amusingly haiku-brief: caramelize granulated sugar using the dry method. The most common method in making caramel involves dissolving sugar in water and heating it. But it’s possible to cook just sugar itself in a pot over heat. I’ve been warned that it’s typically more difficult because you run a greater risk of burning the dry sugar if you’re not watchful. Strangely, I have never had a problem cooking sugar dry – I do try to keep a close eye on it and make sure to stir it to let it caramelize evenly. The bonus is that without water sugar caramelizes much faster, and you don’t have to worry about problems with crystallization.

(Nota bene: None of these comments are meant to disparage the recipe or the cookbook. None of the instructions were actually incorrect; it was just interesting to note how much is implied in what is not specifically spelled out. It made realize how much technique I’ve learned that I take for granted now, and that I knew nothing about just a few years ago. I would have had no idea back then how to cook sugar properly or how to tell when a custard was done. The fascinating part of this challenge was in reading the recipe and drawing on my baking experience to tell me how best to accomplish all the parts of the tart, even when it wasn’t spelled out for me. Challenging and satisfying indeed!)

I let my caramel get fairly deep amber before I added in the cream and butter. It may be helpful to note that the cream and butter should be at room temperature, which helps them combine better with the hot caramel. Dumping in anything cold will make the caramel seize up and harden – this can be saved by rewarming the mixture over the stove again, but it’s probably less frustrating to have your dairy at a more agreeable temperature and let them combine smoothly with the caramel into a golden, thick, luscious soup.

The caramel baked up in the tart shell into a gorgeous, perfectly smooth base – lovely for pouring on the milk chocolate mousse. Now, perhaps to balance out my odd cosmic luck with caramelizing sugar, I am frustratingly prone to burning chocolate in the microwave, especially milk and white chocolate since its milk proteins can overheat and go grainy quite quickly. I think part of the problem is that I have a freakishly high-powered microwave that can boil water in seconds. I’m quite happy to melt my milk chocolate (I used Callebaut 31%) safely over a bain-marie.

The finished tart is sugar-spun, chocolate-dipped poetry: sweet, airy mousse giving way to a rich, buttery-gooey caramel, encased in the tenderest of crusts lightly spiced with cinnamon. It’s a most soigné version of the Twix bar, one of my favorite candy bars when I was little. I felt the flavors worked beautifully together; it may be a little sweet for some, but taking the caramel darker and giving a deeper, almost-burnt edge helps create a little contrast, and the milk chocolate can always be substituted for a darker one. I myself found the recipe plate-scraped-clean delightful without any alterations – judging from how quickly the tart disappeared, I’ll assume others felt the same.

Adding bits of hard caramel to the top of the tart makes for a lovely, sugar-strewn decoration and gives a nice extra crunch to the smooth tart filling. It’s always nice to have an excuse to play with sugar and make some fantastical decorations.

Choccaramel3

For the recipe, take a hop over to Veronica’s or Patricia’s sites, and be sure to take a look at all the other Daring Bakers’ beautiful takes on this fantastic little tart.

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59 Comments so far ↓

  • Pille #1

    That looks stunning – investing in a new cake tin was definitely a good idea! Love your Twix analogy – that was one of my favourite chocolate candy bars few years ago (I never ate it as a child, growing up on the other side of the ‘protective’ Iron Curtain:)

  • veron #2

    First of all, gorgeous tart! Second…I have that same pan! A darker caramel layer is definitely the way to go with this one. Mine was too light and ended up uninterestingly sweet. Love the tip about the egg wash preventing a soggy bottom, I’ll remember that next time.
    I really enjoyed our meet-up in San Fran , we should do it again when we get the chance , whether west or east coast.

  • Patricia Scarpin #3

    Anita, your tart looks divine – I love the shape you chose.

  • kellypea #4

    Gorgeous tart, of course! And you’ve mentioned similar aspects of the recipe as I did — the briefness of the directions, and the “nota bene…” And I pressed my crust. That’s how I learned to handle shortbread…No fuss. No muss.

  • Laurie #5

    Your layers are absolutely PERFECT! Your tart looks amazing. GREAT JOB! xo

  • Deborah #6

    Your tart is absolutely gorgeous, and I love your new pan!!

  • Anne #7

    Your tart is picture perfect. It looked so much as the one on the book but I think yours looks better. Impressive as always :)

  • Leann #8

    Lovely presentation!!! I adore that rectangular design. Your’s held together beautifully!

  • brilynn #9

    You got such perfect slices! I’ve got my eye on one of those pans as well!

  • Rose #10

    - Your tart looks so beautiful and the edges just perfect!

  • Leslie #11

    Stunning!!!!!!! I really want a rectangular pan now too!

  • monica glass #12

    gorgeous anita!! funny…we used the same tart pan!

  • Garrett #13

    “Speaking of caramel, the directions for making the filling were also amusingly haiku-brief”

    I love that description and may steal it for myself someday. :)

    Also love the sugary shards though knowing me i would somehow injure myself eating it, haha.

  • Lisa #14

    So beautiful, Anita! And now I know what I must have done wrong when my sugar seized again after I poured the cream in.. I thought I had warmed it enough – apparently I did not. So next time I won’t even try warming it, I’ll just leave it out to get to room temp. Thanks so much for explaining that! :D

    And way to go on the pan.. I can’t wait to see what else you bake in it!

    xoxo

  • Jennifer #15

    That looks absolutely delicious! The picture is beautiful.

  • peabody #16

    Beautiful, just as I had expected. I love the rectangle tart!

  • Meeta #17

    Your comparison to the Twix is perfect. It looks incredible and I love the tart pan!

  • baking soda #18

    Beautiful! And there’s some total envy here….that pan!!

  • Mary #19

    I’ve been conveting a rectangular tart pan for some time now. But my small SF kitchen and lots of baking pans could be a slippery slope. :) Your tart is absolute perfection. The proportions are spot on.

  • not a dinner date #20

    I Want to be a Daring Baker

    but Dessert First is my favorite because I, too, am a sucker for the long rectangular tart pans. I don’t have one, but I’m getting one as soon as I finish this post.

  • Sara #21

    Beautiful! That was the sort of pan I was hoping to find, but no luck. You are right that you need a certain level of knowledge with his recipes. I don’t think I’m there yet.

  • bea at La tartine gourmande #22

    So tempting Anita. I have seen this tart so much today that even without tasting it, I am in a chocolate coma!

  • steph #23

    i also took the caramel to the “dark side,” and thought it was wonderful with the milk chocolate. i like that you have a plate that exactly fits your baked tart!

  • Kat #24

    gorgeous tart and love all the tips you give along with it too, really helps a novice like me.

  • Andrea #25

    Oh my, this is so fancy looking! I love your sugar sculptures!

  • Elle #26

    It was amusing to see how much was left out of the recipe that would have helped a new baker, but comments from DBs as the month progressed filled in some gaps. Your rectangular tart is spectacular and very elegant.

  • Ivonne #27

    I hope this doesn’t sound silly, Anita, but every time I come here I feel like I’m entering a dessert and sweets spa. It’s an oasis!

    Your tarts, of course, are beautiful!

  • Tartelette #28

    Beautiful tart! Would not expect less from you…I have the same tart pan but does not use it quite enough. I hear you on the dry sugar and rolling the dough between sheets of plasti wrap. Great pics!

  • Sathya #29

    What a pleasure to read! Thank you. Well done, you’re tart looks fantastic. I must admit I am envious of your pan!

  • Aoife #30

    Your pictures are beautiful. I love your delicate sugar wafers!

  • Katie #31

    The tart looks wonderful. I love how you ahve done it in a rectangular pan. Probably easier to cut too.

  • Dharm #32

    Graet Job Anita. The tart looks lovely. Where or where do you get such lovely display plates?? Well done again! :)

  • Big Boys Oven #33

    Such a well crafted pieces of tart…… simple and elegant.

  • Big Boys Oven #34

    love the colours…

  • Amy #35

    I’m glad you bought the rectangular pan! The tart looks so lovely and elegant. I love the thin piece of caramel decoration on top.

  • Amanda @ Little Foodies #36

    Beautiful!I rolled mine between plastic wrap too and thank you for the advice about the egg white wash to seal the base. I’ll use that for other pastry things.

  • KJ #37

    So beautiful, as always. Sigh.

    I think this is the perfect tart for a rectangular pan. I may have to invest in one of those myself.

  • fanny #38

    Anita, your tart looks like a pure ‘merveille’.
    I so wish I had a tenth of your skills!

    Love xxx
    - fanny

  • Morven #39

    How novel to use a rectangular tin – I want one of those now! Loved your Haiku reference. Too true.

  • ilva #40

    I belong to the Others but you certainly belongs to those who know to make perfect cakes!

  • Inne #41

    Your tart looks stunning Anita! The perfect justification for buying a new tart pan. Great tip about the egg wash as well – will certainly keep that in mind.

  • Kelly-Jane #42

    Your tart looks perfect and I like the shape of pan you used, pretty slices :)

  • Jenny #43

    I heard a Snickers comment with my tart, but I agree that Twix is more appropriate. (No peanuts, after all)

    I want to say I love the tart pan! I would love to see a savory tart in it, maybe a quiche!

  • valentina #44

    Oh Anita, how beautiful is your tart. I love ( once again) the presentation – the pieces of hardened caramel like pieces of glass. And the picture of the slice show really well how the layers harmonized. and how great that you got to meet Veronica.

  • connie #45

    your sugar decor is so perfect and thin. a beautiful attempt, as always!

  • Hillary #46

    Wow! I’ve seen a whole bunch of other Daring Bakers’ renditions but this chocolate and caramel tart is just perfect looking! Nice job!

  • Tanna #47

    I don’t know which is more gorgeous the tart or The finished tart is sugar-spun, chocolate-dipped poetry: sweet, airy mousse giving way to a rich, buttery-gooey caramel, encased in the tenderest of crusts lightly spiced with cinnamon.
    This was a big contrast to last months recipe where such detail was given.

  • Dayna #48

    I want to make this!
    I want to be a Daring Baker!
    You’ve so inspired me, this is just beautiful!

  • Anali #49

    You Daring Bakers are so cool! I love this photo and I’ve been enjoying all the different posts. It’s amazing how even with the same recipe, everyone adds their own twist and no two tarts look the same!

  • Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy #50

    Ciao Anita – Happy Blog Day! You’re one of my picks :)

  • Jenny #51

    I love your new tart pan and how the finished product came out! How wonderful it looks!

  • Jerry #52

    I love your background for the photos, compliments the tart so well!

  • Chris #53

    Looks beautiful! I have a rectangle tart pan and have only used it for savory tarts. Not any more! :)

  • Wendy #54

    I love the rectangular shape. It is such a fresh look. Your tart looks great. Such perfect slices. Your write-up was a delight to read. Wendy

  • Dolores #55

    Egg wash! See… I learn something new and valuable with every one of these daring baker posts. Thank you for sharing!

    And congratulations on the newest addition to your tart pan family. :)

  • Nan #56

    That’s really a beautifully made dessert! I hope that one day I’ll be able to produce something quite as polished!

  • Kate #57

    2 thumbs up for this one Anita – 10/10 !

  • breadchick #58

    WOW!! What a lovely presentation and plates!! Just like a high tea. Great job Anita!

  • Anita #59

    Thank you everyone for such wonderful and sweet comments, I am overwhelmed! This was a fun DB challenge and I’m so happy Veronica and Patricia chose it!

    I had a great time working with the new tart pan, putting the tart together, and decorating it; I’m so pleased that you are all enjoying the results!

    Thanks again!

    P.S. The display plate is from Crate and Barrel, from those curious to know.

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