Monday, February 14, 2011

Chocolate Caramel Tart

They say your brain can react to pain before you even feel it: you jerk your hand away from a hot flame before the pain registers in your mind. Basically, your brain is telling you to stop doing something really stupid before you seriously hurt yourself. Unfortunately, my brain doesn't stop me from doing other really stupid things in the kitchen. Things, that just moments after they happen, make me smack my hand against my forehead and wonder why I'm even allowed to go near the stove. This is the tale of the two Chocolate Caramel Tarts. 

I have to say, above all, that I've discovered that making caramel is hard. (Also very hot - hence the nice red welt on my knuckle). What else is very hard, is attempting to make caramel with non-dairy ingredients, like margarine instead of butter, and soy milk instead of cream. It can be done, but it's not simple. 

Really though, the brain misfire moment of the chocolate caramel tart occurred long before the first, second, third, or even seventh batches of caramel. Instead it happened right after I mixed together the ingredients for the tart base, and right before I pressed them in to the bottom of a 10-inch removal bottom tart pan. Removable bottom. This means there is not much preventing the contents of said pan from oozing out everywhere. Constantly. And caramel? Kind of an oozy component. 
Do you see in the background, the circle of gooey caramel that is on the table. There were many circles like that. On many surfaces. 

Now that I've gotten that out of the way - the caramel itself was tough. There are two basic methods of making caramel - wet and dry. Wet caramel is when you boil sugar with water until all the water has evaporated, and the sugar turns a deep, dark caramel-y brown. It is said to be easier since you have more temperature control over the sugar. However the problem with this method is it very frequently seizes - and turns in to a completely unusable crystallized mess. This can happen if there is the slightest nick on your pan, if you even contemplate stirring the caramel, or for no reason at all. This is why, after attempt 5, I abandoned this method. 

The dry method, is when you start with one ingredient only: sugar. When you heat the sugar in a large skillet, it slowly starts to melt and liquefy and become an ooey, gooey, caramel brown. Then you add butter and cream or milk and you have ooey gooey caramel to put in your tart. Another note - this can ruin spatulas. FYI. 
And the end result, after nine caramel attempts and two versions of this tart (the second, thankfully, in a standard tart pan)? Good - but not outstanding. I think it kind of tastes like a Twix bar, others disagree. It is (not surprisingly) tooth-achingly sweet, kind of addictive and extremely messy. The recipe is deceptively simple, with ingredients you almost definitely have in your pantry right now. I'd like to think that I've made 1,473 mistakes so you don't have to. But do you dare?

Note: I know I have no photos of the caramel making process here, but while I was simultaneously burning myself, crying and ruining every piece of cookware in the kitchen I did not whip out the camera. However David Lebovitz has some wonderful and informative photos. 

Tip of the Day: Where to begin? 
1 - Do not use a removable-bottom tart pan.
2 - Do not use a plastic spatula to stir caramel - silicone or wood is the way to go. 
3 - Do not splatter sugar that is approximately 400 F on your hand. 
4 - After you have made the caramel, move quickly to save your pan from the crystallization from hell. Filling it with water, bringing it to a boil, and gently scraping the remaining caramel off the sides is the safest bet. This may need to be repeated  two or three times.
5 - Do not make this recipe with your favorite, irreplaceable, expensive skillet.

22 chocolate sandwich cookies, crushed
6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter (or 3 tablespoons margarine)
1/2 cup whipping cream (or 1/4 cup soy milk)

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup milk or heavy cream. 

Mix the crushed cookies and melted butter together. Press into the bottom of a 9-inch tart pan. Bake on 350 F for 15 minutes. Let cool. 

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the sugar on medium-high heat. As it begins to liquefy around the edges, use a heat-proof spoon or spatula to very gently stir the sugar, ensuring even heating. If clumping occurs, lower heat, and continue to cook until it smooths out. When the entire pan is liquid and a deep caramel brown, turn to low heat. Add in the butter, and whisk until smooth. Turn off the heat, count to five, and pour in the cream, whisking constantly until smooth (it may bubble up, be careful). When smooth, pour over the cooled tart shell. 

Refrigerate until the caramel is set and a lighter shade of brown all over, at least 1 1/2 hours. 

Heat the milk or cream for the ganache until just boiling. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes without touching. Whisk the ganache until smooth and pour over the tart. Refrigerate until set. Store the tart in the refrigerator.

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