Toying in the Kitchen #9: Valentine’s Chocolate Tart

By Thomas Madrecki

In advance: I don’t know if it will ever be possible to write another post that better captures the spirit of “Toying in the Kitchen” than this one.

In honor of Valentine’s Day … ahem, Tuesday, I wanted to bring a chocolate tart to work. No, not to woo some young and brilliant coworker, but simply because I can’t think of any other day that deserves chocolate dessert more, regardless of whether you’re dating someone or not. And let’s be completely honest — if you’re single and you have a chocolate tart, that’s really just another way of saying you have twice as much you can eat, which is never a bad thing.

While working at Le Chateaubriand in Paris, I acquired an impossibly rich, decadent aerated chocolate ganache recipe (if ganache can have a recipe). We’d combine chocolate, cream and egg whites, heat the mixture gently, then pour into N20 canisters (the kind you make whipped cream in). Keeping them in a hot water bath, the aerated ganache was warm, voluminous and out-of-this-world tasty.

All that being said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to liking the ganache after it had cooled and firmed. In fact, because of the addition of egg white — an ingredient most traditional ganaches lack — it was just a bit jiggly, like a pudding, but not quite. It sets up well, holds a sheen and delivers a wallop of flavor. So with that in mind, I’ve been meaning to sub out the typical ganache of only cream and chocolate with the Le Chateaubriand-style one in an easy to make tart that would elevate the usual to the level of the sublime.

I’ve made dozens of chocolate tarts in the past year, so this should have been a piece of cake last night. I made a quick pastry dough from flour, sugar, butter and a bit of egg yollk, rolled it out and popped it in the oven. I then opened the fridge to grab the cream and …

Oh crap. I forgot to buy cream. And the pastry crust was already baking and I didn’t have any other ingredients really besides chocolate to make a filling …

I don’t quite know what I was thinking at that point, because it probably would have been wise to just call it a night and clean up the counters. But by God I was determined. This chocolate tart was going to happen. Somehow.

I reached for the milk in the fridge and poured into a pan…

Oh crap. Perhaps as a result of never really measuring — blame my time in Europe for that — I poured too much.

Rather than do what everyone else would have done, i.e., pour some of the milk out, I reassured myself that if I just added all of the chocolate as opposed to half, it’d totally come together. And then the timer on the oven went off…

Oh crap. The pastry crust’s edges had shrunk down in the pan, resulting in an edgeless base. Not exactly something into which I could pour a ganache, especially one that was currently more like a thick hot chocolate soup than anything you could eat with fork.

So let’s recap: liquid ganache, crustless crust. A recipe for success if there ever was one.

Uhhh… time to get creative.

Chocolatiers and pastry chefs regularly use gelatin to set chocolate for use inside petits four and other treats, and I knew I might be able to do the same with this peculiar milk “ganache.” I also wanted to duplicate the fatty, mouth-coating feel that heavy cream gives you, so I added a third of a stick of butter to the pan. Because of how gelatin also enables you to mold and unmold the final product, I used a silicone baking sheet normally used for miniature tart shells to craft the “filling,” which I’d add on top of a to-be-determined base.

I first tried cutting the flat, generally useless crust with a metal ring mold, but even the mold’s slightly sharp edges wouldn’t give me the results I wanted. The crust was too flaky and so broke up in shards, not even pieces suited to holding the new gelatin-set ganache.

Also at Le Chateaubriand, we experimented with unusual dessert pairings, serving final courses like raw mushrooms and melted chocolate or roasted beets and the aforementioned aerated ganache. I didn’t like those combinations much, but I understood the point — it’s not as if a vegetable can’t be used in a dessert. For all practical purposes, what’s the difference between it and a fruit? Sweetness? You don’t always want sweetness, especially in a chocolate dessert. Texture? Maybe, but vegetables can have lots of different textures, too.

I had a jicama root in my fridge, and it was going to be my ticket to chocolate tart glory. Yep, I said it. You didn’t see that one coming, did you? A jicama root! In dessert! With chocolate! What was I thinking?!?!?

Shockingly — and I swear on my life and future writing for this blog — it works. Actually, it more than works, because if it just “worked,” I wouldn’t have brought it to work and I wouldn’t be writing about it. The chocolate mixture itself somehow ended up being a near duplicate of a very famous Parisian chocolatier’s tart filling (don’t ask me how that happened, but Jacques Genin better watch out), and the jicama’s sweetness and crunch was a delightful, unusual and thought-provoking foil. A sprinkle of cinnamon, and there you have it, a “modern Mexican” take on a very classic dessert… and all because everything went drastically wrong.

Valentine’s Chocolate Tart


12 oz of the best dark chocolate you can buy, finely chopped
1.75 cups of whole milk
2 egg whites
1/3 stick of butter
1 packet Knox powdered gelatin
1/2 cup of boiling water

1 Jicama root, peeled and cut into thin rounds
cinnamon, for dusting

Make the Ganache

You don’t have to toy around like I did to make this tart; in fact, the finished recipe here is unbelievably simple. Heat the milk and butter until just below boiling, remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Stir to incorporate, being careful to not beat in air. Add the two egg whites and stir again until thoroughly combined. While you’re stirring the ganache, bloom the gelatin in the 1/2 cup of boiling water, mix well, and add to the chocolate. Pour into round silicon tart shell molds or another type of mold from which you can easily remove the set chocolate ganache. Chill in the fridge until ready.

Unmold and Eat!

Told you it was easy! Working extremely carefully, unmold the chocolate-gelatin ganache rounds and place on the jicama slices. Dust lightly with cinnamon. Absolutely. Positively. Wonderful.

Thank Tom For Best Valentine’s Day Ever

Not necessarily required, but much appreciated.

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