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Chocolate Pecan Caramel Tart

February 2, 2010

SoupAddict is finally, happily, over her anti-sweets kick. A month full of veggies does a body good.

And when she saw this tart in the latest issue of Bon Appetit, she knew she had found just the thing worthy of wrecking all that health food goodness.

As usual, because SoupAddict can never leave well enough alone, she changed a few things about the recipe, due to personal preferences, including replacing half of the milk chocolate with semi-sweet, and replacing hazelnuts with pecans. She wasn’t too happy with the recipe’s choice of tart shell (a sort of shortbread crust), but left it intact so that you could judge for yourself whether it should be replaced with another recipe (and in SoupAddict’s humble opinion, it should—preferably one that includes an egg, or at least an egg yolk).

SoupAddict picked up this non-stick tart pan at Williams-Sonoma, her favorite lunch-hour kitchen-gadget-browsing store.
Then SoupAddict got the pan home and discovered the price tag wouldn’t come off. Oh, the irony of the non-stick pan.
For tarts and pie crusts, SoupAddict recommends cutting up the butter into small cubes and placing the whole thing in the freezer for 15 minutes. Cold, cold butter is necessary for a properly textured crust.
SoupAddict did not have a full-sized food processor in her possession last weekend, so she took her chances with her teeny 3-cup capacity processor. Things are a bit full, but she’s gonna give it a try …
… Hey, this is working. Imagine that!
The butter’s been incorporated a little too finely for SoupAddict’s liking, but she’s pretty sure it will work anyway.
Normally, water can be added to the flour mixture right in the food processor, but SoupAddict doesn’t want to push her luck any further. She’ll finish the dough by hand.
The mixture is nice and crumbly, but holds together when squeezed. Instead of rolling the dough, she’s going to press it right into the pan, per the instructions.
This picture reminds SoupAddict of the Great Apes dragging their knuckles on the ground, and she wonders if this is how they make tart shells, too.
The original recipe’s instructions did not say to do this, but always prick the tart shell with a fork all over the bottom and up the sides to reduce bubbling and puffing.
SoupAddict had intended on using hazelnuts, until she got to Trader Joe’s and saw this bag of roasted—and salted—pecans. Salted pecans in caramel sauce? Oh my. Angels sang and butterflies frolicked, right there in the aisle, and SoupAddict suddenly had to have the salty pecan goodness.
Roasting makes the pecans smell absolutely divine.
SoupAddict has thus far restrained herself from dipping into the bag. But her resolve is weakening.
Mm mmmm, MM. It’s all in the name of quality control testing, people.
Now on to the caramel sauce.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble….
Eventually, the sugar syrup starts to brown up.
Then the cream brings it all together. Cream does that to things.
Bring all the world’s leaders together, along with a bowlful of cream, and a bowlful of dark chocolate for good measure, and SoupAddict believes magical things could happen. Like this caramel sauce. World peace, and caramel sauce.
Look at that. Who could be angry with their neighbor in the presence of salted pecan caramel sauce? As long as there’s enough to go around, of course. Otherwise, we’d end up back in the same, world-grumpy boat.
Now we need to back up for a second. While we’ve been lingering dreamily over the caramel sauce and envisioning a better world through cooked sugar, the tart shell has been in the oven. And a mere 10 minutes into the bake, one of the recipe flaws is already showing itself: the shell is puffing up above the pan’s top.

Most tart shells do that; that’s why they make pie weights. But the magazine article makes no mention that the shell’s interior should be weighted. SoupAddict never remembers to purchase pie weights or dried beans (a perfectly acceptable pie weight substitute); nonetheless, she’s not going to show you how she weights down the tart, because she’s a lazy girl and does things the way no self-respecting pastry chef would ever do them.

Okay, she changed her mind. She’ll show you afterall. First, she fitted a layer of foil into the interior of the tart shell (which, in really good shell recipes, is all you need to do to keep the shell from misbehaving). Then she grabbed whatever tart-pan-sized containers she had handy, including her favorite strawberry coffee mug, filled them halfway with water (to keep the containers from cracking in the heat), and placed them in the tart pan. Then, the pan goes carefully back into the oven.
Two things to note about this picture: First, the shrinking tart. See how the tart has pulled waaay back from the pan? It’s not that big of a deal, since the tart will not be served in the pan, but, the shrinkage is another characteristic of this recipe.

Second, the uneven browning is due to a couple of factors. SoupAddict does not like non-stick pans with their dark surfaces, but that’s all she could find that day in the required size. Dark surfaced pans tend to brown baked goods unevenly. And, the layer of foil blocked heat from directly reaching the top interior surface of the tart. But, this, too, is not a big deal, since most of the surface of the tart will be hidden under caramel and chocolate goodness.

Enough with the shrinkage and brownage, already. Let’s get to the good stuff.
Holy moly. SoupAddict stares disbelievingly at this nummy scrumptiousness, and unconditionally forgives the recipe’s author for using a cantankerous shell formula with scant instruction.
SoupAddict gropes for the caramel sauce pan and looks into its depths. What’s that, she wonders hopefully? A bit of caramel sauce clinging to the sides?

SoupAddict sees no other recourse than to sample. (Scraping it into the tart pan with the rest of the caramel is just crazy talk.) Quality control, people. Quality [slurp] control [nom nom].

Please move along while SoupAddict resets her eyeballs properly in their sockets from their rolled-back position.
And as if things couldn’t get better than the caramel, there’s the chocolate. SoupAddict is also veering from the original recipe in both ingredients and preparation. These days, lazy girl SoupAddict prefers to make ganache using the microwave. (Simply heat the cream, add the other ingredients, stir, done. No hovering over a hot burner.)

This ganache recipe also calls for espresso powder. Good call. Espresso powder adds less of a coffee flavor than a deep richness to the chocolate. SoupAddict toys with the idea of adding Kahlua to the mix, but decides against it.

And then changes her mind. SoupAddict cannot resist the call of the Kahlua siren’s song.
While the cream/espresso/Kahlua is still nice and hot, add the chocolate and butter.
When the chocolate begins to melt, stir until completely incorporated.
SoupAddict must compose herself as she pours the chocolate goodness over the caramel goodness. (Math alert: while 1 wrong + 1 wrong might not equal 1 right, 1 goodness + 1 goodness = Massive Quantities of Goodness. Or something like that. SoupAddict’s brain is bedazzled by all the goodnesses going on here, so her logic might not be spot on.)
Finally, the recipe calls for a sprinkling of cacao nibs. Another good call. Cacao nibs are roasted cacao beans. Delicious on ice cream. Or chocolate pecan caramel tarts.
Now let’s observe a moment of silence as we take in the wonder of the finished tart.
Shhh! SoupAddict is still taking in all the wonder.
Why, look at that. There was still a bit of ganache in bowl. You know what that means.
That’s right. Quality control, people. Qual-i-ty-con-trol.
Yes, indeedy. If there’s one thing SoupAddict believes in, it’s quality control testing.
And doing a really, really thorough job of it.
(Um, what were we talking about?)
Chocolate Pecan Caramel Tart
Adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2010
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon (or more) ice water
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon Kahlua (optional)
2 ounces high-quality milk chocolate, chopped
2 ounces high-quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cacao nibs
Special Equipment
1 13 3/4×4 1/2-inch rectangular tart pan with removable bottom

Make the crust:  Blend flour, powdered sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1 tablespoon ice water; process just until dough begins to clump together, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dry. Transfer dough tart pan. Press dough onto bottom and up sides of pan. Freeze crust 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Prick the crust thoroughly with a fork. Line the crust interior with foil and weight with pie weights or dried beans. Bake crust until golden brown and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Cool crust completely in pan on rack.

Make the caramel filling:  Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup is medium amber, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 8 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Add cream (mixture will bubble up). Place saucepan over medium heat; stir until caramel bits dissolve. Add butter, vinegar, and salt; stir until butter melts. Stir in pecans. Spoon filling into crust. Chill until cold and set, about 30 minutes.

Make the chocolate topping:  In a medium bowl, heat the cream in the microwave until it begins to bubble. Add espresso powder and stir until completely dissolved. Stir in the Kahlua (if using). Add chocolate and butter and let sit until the chocolate begins to melt, then stir until smooth. Spread chocolate mixture over caramel. Sprinkle with cacao nibs. Chill tart until topping is set, about 1 hour.

Remove tart pan sides. Place tart on platter; cut crosswise into 8 bars and serve.

DO AHEAD:  Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

  1. PhyllisRyan permalink
    February 2, 2010 2:17 pm

    What would you suggest to replace the crust? Looks lovely.

  2. February 4, 2010 8:06 am

    I am not sure which I am in more in love with, the thought of a chocolate pecan tart or the very cool pan! You can never, ever, ever have enough kitchen wares. I am having pan envy.

  3. SoupAddict permalink
    February 4, 2010 9:27 am

    Phyllis: I think smitten kitchen has a tart shell that works really well. If I remember correctly, it at least has an egg yolk in it. (The shell I sometimes use is in an old book that I don’t have handy at the moment.) I really did not care for this shortbread crust – but the fillings more than made up for it!

    Cher: I have a real gadget problem – I have to force myself to stay away from Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table. Sometimes, I suspect the manager on duty dispatches someone to keep an eyeball on me because I’m suspiciously and dreamily lingering over the Le Creuset or bakeware sections. For me, it’s better than shoe shopping!

  4. PhyllisRyan permalink
    February 5, 2010 8:03 am

    Found the recipe. It is called “The Great Unshrinkable Sweet Tart Shell.” And it contains one egg. Will try this. Hope it tastes as good as it looks. Thanks

  5. February 6, 2010 8:07 am

    This is food porn at its finest. You do all caramel junkies proud. It IS the year where caramel is the new chocolate don’tcha know.

  6. SoupAddict permalink
    February 7, 2010 1:46 pm

    @Phyllis: That’s it! If you try it, do let me know how it turns out … I haven’t made many tarts this year and I’ve been meaning to try that recipe myself. (Success seems built right into the title 😉 )

    @Habanerogal: I could’ve just stood there, eating the stuff out of the pan, it’s so good….

  7. February 8, 2010 9:44 pm

    My pan envy got the best of me & “forced” me into WS this weekend. I think you are right – that sales lady smelled my infatuation with wares and had her eyeballs on me all the way…

  8. SoupAddict permalink
    February 8, 2010 10:35 pm

    Cher: LOL!

  9. Tom M. permalink
    April 8, 2011 4:09 pm

    Wow, talk about food pron. My pants are going crazy (sorry in advance).

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