I first heard of the legendary Pierre Hermé when he made an appearance on Martha Stewart's television show back in the late 90s. At the time, I had no idea that he was the "Picasso of Pastry". I can't remember what dessert he made with Martha, but I do remember downloading the recipe and trying to make it myself. (After some internet searching today, I'm pretty sure the dessert was a carioca.)
So with youthful enthusiasm, I was determined to make the carioca for a party. Of course I was a spectacular failure. I tried to make hot sugar syrup (caramel) in a cheap Revere pan for the chocolate mousse portion of the dessert. Needless to say, the sugar burned very quickly in the thin-bottomed pan and just seized up. Boy, was it a big pain to clean the pot after that!
I salvaged what I could so it wasn't a complete loss. I still used the genoise I made earlier and then whipped up a simpler chocolate mousse (sans caramel) with my chocolate and heavy cream. I layered coffee soaked genoise rounds with my simplified mousse and topped it all off with chocolate shavings. My friends were very impressed with the dessert and had no idea about my failed attempt.
I've come a long way since then. My pastry and baking skills have improved over time and I have a gorgeous and very functional set of All Clad pots and pans. Heavy-bottomed pans are pretty important when making caramel.
For a long time I assumed that all of PH's recipes were too complicated and difficult to recreate at home. But I now realize that the carioca I decided to make was fairly advanced. Definitely not something for a novice baker (which I was at the time and probably still am). So when I finally purchased Dorie Greenspan's English translation of Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé last month, I thought I would start with something simple like the chocolate hazelnut tart.
The recipe for the sweet tart dough makes enough for four 9-inch tarts. According to PH, making a smaller quantity would increase the chance of overworking the dough. The dough came together quickly and easily in my stand mixer. It takes almost the same amount of time to make enough dough for four tarts versus just one tart, so why not make more? It's always nice to have extra tart dough ready and waiting in the freezer.
I did make some minor changes. For the tart dough, I used ground unblanched almonds instead of the blanched ones called for in the recipe. I think the crust would've been a bit more refined with the blanched almonds, but I was too lazy to blanch my almonds. Instead of making one 9-inch tart in a straight sided tart ring, I made four 3-inch fluted tartlets. For the filling, I used half a cup instead of one cup of hazelnuts. One cup seemed like too much for four tartlets. However, the recipes I posted below are per PH's book.
Although my tartlets didn't really turn out like the photograph in the book, it was still quite delicious. My husband thought it tasted like an elegant, grown up version of Ferro Rocher candy. I'm looking forward to trying other PH recipes now. Maybe I'll even try making that carioca again.
Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
1 fully baked 9-inch tart crust (see recipe below)
2/3 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella)
4 3/4 ounces (140 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (PH uses Valrhona 56%)
3 1/2 ounces (200g) unsalted butter
1 large egg, stirred with a fork
3 large egg yolks, stirred with a fork
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and cut into large pieces
Preheat oven to 375F.
Spread chocolate hazelnut spread over the bottom of the cooled crust.
Melt chocolate and butter in separate bowls either using a double boiler or the microwave oven. Allow both to cool until just warm to the touch.
Gently stir the egg into chocolate. Try not to beat air into the mixture. Then, a little at a time, gently stir in the egg yolks and then the sugar. Stir in the melted butter.
Pour chocolate-butter mixture over the chocolate hazelnut spread in the tart crust. Scatter the hazelnuts over the top.
Bake until the filling loses its shine and the center is still a bit jiggly, about 11 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes before serving.
Sweet Tart Dough
(makes enough dough for four 9-inch tarts)
10 ounces (285 g) unsalted butter, softened at room temp.
1 1/2 cups (150g) confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 cup (100 g) finely ground blanched almonds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temp.
3 1/2 cups (490g) all purpose flour
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter on low speed until creamy. Mix in sugar, ground almonds, salt, vanilla and eggs. On low speed, add flour in 3 or 4 additions and mix only until the dough comes together (a few seconds).
Gather dough into a ball and divide dough into 4 pieces. Flatten each piece into a disk and wrap in plastic. Each piece is enough for a 9-inch tart. Allow the dough to rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days before rolling. You can freeze the dough for up to 1 month. Thaw the frozen dough for about 1 hour at room temperature before rolling.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough to about 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick. Carefully transfer the dough to your pan, gently easing it into the bottom and sides and pressing it into place. If the dough tears, patch it with extra scraps of dough.
Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F. Line the chilled crust with a piece of parchment or buttered foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans or rice.
Bake crust until lightly colored, about 18 to 20 minutes. To fully bake the crust, remove the parchment and pie weights, and continue to bake until golden, another 3 to 5 minutes.
Allow crust to cool completely before filling.