Sometimes I can't decide between vanilla crème brulee and a chocolate tart for dessert. For some strange reason, if both are on a dessert menu and nothing else strikes my fancy, then it usually comes down to those two items (both of which I like equally). If I'm dining with companions who like to have dessert after dinner and are the type of people who like to share dessert, then maybe I would have a chance to taste both. But if none of my companions want to have crème brulee or a chocolate tart then I'm out of luck. I've always thought to myself "Wouldn't it be great if the two could be combined into one single dessert?" I've seen crème brulee tarts and I've seen chocolate crème brulees, but it's not exactly what I had in mind.
After scouring my many cookbooks, I came across a photo of an apricot tart topped with a caramelized disk of crème brulee in Sherry Yard's "The Secrets of Baking". It wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it gave me the inspiration to come up with my own version.
First I had to decide on the chocolate tart. Instead of doing a refrigerated chocolate ganache made from equal parts chocolate and heavy cream for my tart filling I opted for a chocolate truffle cake batter since it would be sturdy enough to support a disk of crème brulee. Most chocolate truffle cake batters could work as a filling for this tart. The recipes usually have names like chocolate intensity, chocolate oblivion, chocolate indulgence, well, you get the idea. The ingredients are usually just chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar. Some recipes, like this one, have a bit of flour too. The cake batter is baked in the tart shells until it's just set. The center is still a bit gooey when you take it out of the oven but will take on the texture of a chocolate truffle when cooled. A sweet nutty crust like an almond pate sucree complements the dark chocolate truffle filling perfectly.
For the vanilla crème brulee disks, I used Sherry Yard's recipe. The custard is baked in a large baking dish, frozen and then disks can be cut out with a cookie cutter. That woman is a genius with desserts. I would've never thought to do something like that in a million years, but I'm so glad that she did.
This chocolate truffle tart with vanilla crème brulee is definitely not everyday food, but it's perfect for special occasions or holiday entertaining. There are a lot of components to this dessert, but each can be made in advance. But the final assembly should be done on the day you plan to serve it and the tart should be served as soon as the tops have been caramelized. I know it seems like a crazy concoction, but it was really worth all the effort. The smooth and creamy custard with the caramelized sugar combined with the rich chocolate truffle encased in a sweet sugar cookie crust is my best invention to date. I'll never have to choose between the two again.
Chocolate Truffle Tart with Vanilla Crème Brulee
Ingredients for Crème Brulee
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
6 large egg yolks
Additional sugar to caramelize the tops
7 (4 3/4-inch x 3/4-inch) tartlet shells made with Sweet Almond Cookie Crust, prebaked (see recipe below)
1 recipe Chocolate Truffle Cake Batter (see recipe below)
Directions for crème brulee:
1. Preheat oven to 300F. Make sure you have a 9x13 inch baking pan and another baking pan large enough to hold the 9x13 inch pan.
2. Bring the cream, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla bean and scraped seeds to simmer in a large nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat, cover pan with lid and let cream steep for 15 minutes.
3. Gently whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl.
4. Remove the vanilla bean and gently whisk the cream into the egg yolks. When the cream and egg yolks are incorporated, strain the mixture through a fine meshed strainer into a clean heatproof bowl.
5. Pour the mixture into the 9x13 inch baking pan and set it in the larger pan. Add enough hot water to the larger pan to come up halfway up the sides of the 9x13 inch pan. Cover loosely with foil (Take care not to let the foil touch the crème brulee.) Bake at 300F until crème brulee is set, about 40-45 minutes. Remove pan from water bath and set on a cooling rack for 1 hour. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight.
6. Remove crème brulee from the freezer. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet pan. Run the edge of a paring knife dipped in hot water around the crème brulee. Flip the crème brulee out onto the parchment paper. (If you have trouble getting the crème brulee out of the pan, place the inverted pan on the parchment paper lined baking sheet pan, and warm the bottom of the pan with a warm towel or with a hair dryer. The heat will loosen the crème brulee until it falls onto the parchment paper. If the top is too melted you can put it back in the freezer for a few minutes before cutting.)
7. Cut out seven circles using a 3 1/2- or 4-inch cookie cutter. Immediately place the circles back in the freezer until it's time to brulee the tops and assembly your tarts. You will have some crème brulee leftover.
Chocolate Truffle Cake Batter
(enough cake batter to fill seven 4 3/4-inch x 3/4-inch tartlets)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour, sifted
Directions for cake batter:
1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. In a bowl set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water), combine the chocolate and butter and stir occasionally until smooth and melted. Set aside.
3. In the bowl from a stand mixer heat the 4 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk and sugar, set over the same pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally to prevent curdling, until mixture is just warm to the touch.
4. Attach bowl to the stand mixer, and using the whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until just lemony yellow and doubled in volume.
5. Whisk the flour into the chocolate mixture. On low speed, add the chocolate mixture to the eggs all at once. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to mix until well combined, about 1 minute. At this point the cake batter can be refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for up to 5 days. Or you can use it right away.
Sweet Almond Cookie Crust
(makes enough dough for seven 4 3/4-inch x 3/4-inch tartlets)
2 ounces ground blanched almonds
3 tablespoons superfine or granulated sugar
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 ounces (1 cup) all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Directions for dough and prebaking the crusts:
1. In a food processor, add the ground almonds and sugar and pulse to combine. Add the butter cubes and pulse about 15 times or until no loose bits of almonds/sugar remain. Add the flour and salt and pulse about 15 times or until the butter is about the size of small peas.
2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and the cream. Add it to the mixture in the food processor bowl and pulse until the ingredients are just barely incorporated, about 8 times.
3. Dump the mixture into a plastic Ziploc bag and flatten the dough. Chill dough in refrigerator for 30 minutes or until firm enough to pat into the tartlet pans.
4. For seven 4 3/4-inch x 3/4-inch tartlets, divide the chilled dough into 7 equal portions. Press each piece of dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of each tartlet pan. Chill the tartlet shells in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before baking.
5. Preheat the oven to 425F. Bake for 5 minutes at 425F. If the dough starts to puff in places, prick it lightly with a fork or press down lightly with your fingertips. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F and continue baking for another 5-8 minutes or until it turns pale gold, feels set but is still soft to the touch. Cool tartlet shells (still in the pans) on a wire rack.
To assemble the tarts:
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Pour cake batter into the seven prebaked tartlet shells. It's okay to fill the shells all the way to the top. (You might have some batter left over.) Bake at 375F for 13-16 minutes until the filling is just set and slightly wobbly in the center. Allow tartlets to cool for at least 30 minutes. Carefully remove the tartlet from the pans.
2. Remove the crème brulee circles from the freezer and place one circle on top of each tart. Sprinkle each circle with 1 tsp sugar and caramelize the tops using a kitchen torch. Serve immediately.
Crème Brulee recipe adapted from "The Secrets Of Baking" by Sherry Yard
Chocolate Truffle Cake recipe adapted from "Desserts By The Yard" by Sherry Yard
Sweet Almond Cookie Crust recipe adapted from "The Pie and Pastry Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum