Monday, February 27, 2012

Double Chocolate Chess Tart

I didn't read the book "The Help" so when the movie came out I didn't rush to see it. I don't know? For some reason it just didn't appeal to me. A lot of "chick flicks" don't and I'd somehow got the impression that "The Help" was one. But, it got really good reviews and even some of my more manly men friends liked it. Hmmmm, maybe it wasn't your typical "chick flick". I was curious. So, one afternoon, while folding laundry, I queued it up on the ole DVD player. WOW, I loved it, what a great movie. I even paid for an extra rental day so my daughter could see it. (BTW, she loved it.) Of coarse I was immediately drawn to the character of Minny. Sassy, opinionated, strong and the best cook around. We were instant imaginary BFFs. (Does anyone else have imaginary fictional character BFFs? Or, am I just crazy? Wait, don't answer that!)

Seeing the movie inspired me to get back to my southern roots and rediscover chocolate pie. Not just any chocolate pie. Not fluffy, crumb crusted, chocolate cream pie. No, I wanted that most southern of chocolate pies, Chocolate Chess Pie. I fumbled around on the web and found a few recipes settling on one from In Jennie's Kitchen. But, I wanted to put my own spin on it, you know, up the wow factor. What's more "wow" than more chocolate so I decided to use a chocolate crust. My next concern was sweetness. Chess pies are super sweet, I mean really sugary. So I went the same route as I did with my Pecan Tart and adjusted the filling for a tart rather than a pie, yielding a more even ratio of crust to filling. I'm happy to report that the resulting Double Chocolate Chess Tart was a huge hit with everyone in my family and the two good friends who were kind enough to taste it for me. A buttery tender chocolate crust and filling that's light and crispy on top and fudgy in the middle. I hope you'll agree. . .

For the chocolate pastry crust here's what you need: AP flour, Dutch process cocoa, sugar, salt, butter, shortening and some ice water. You could probably use all butter, eliminate the shortening, but your crust may be a bit more crumbly and harder to work with. I've found the combination of butter and shortening works best.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, sugar and salt.

You may need to sift it a couple of times, you want a nice uniform mixture. Use a whisk to get the last bits of cocoa and flour mixed in.

Cut the butter and shortening into 1 inch-ish chunks and toss it in.

Mix it around with a fork, pastry cutter or I like to use my hands, until the fats are broken up into smaller pieces. Don't go too far. The "coarse cornmeal" texture called for in most crust recipes is too much. 

Sprinkle in the ice water, a tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture around until it starts to hold together. Divide the mixture in half.

Form each half into a ball then flatten and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least an hour before using. The recipe makes enough for two crusts. You only need one for this recipe.

After the dough has chilled turn it out onto a generously floured sheet of waxed paper. Lightly dust the top with flour.

Roll out into a circle about 2-3 inches larger than your tart pan. Dough should be a generous 1/8 inch thick and no thinner.

Using the wax paper, gently lift the dough into a 9-inch tart pan. Fit the dough into the pan making sure it's snug into the corners, try not to stretch the dough too much. If you get any cracks or tears just repair with the excess dough from the edges. Trim the excess even with the top of the tart pan. Refrigerate until you are ready to fill.

For the filling you need: butter, sugar, salt, Dutch process cocoa, eggs, vanilla and yellow corn meal.

Start by first browning the butter: Heat the butter in a small saucepan over low heat until melted. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the butter starts to bubble and the solids sink to the bottom and brown. As soon as you see the browned bits and the mixture smells nutty, remove from the heat. Seriously watch it close, it will go from browned to burned in about 10 seconds. Let the butter cool for at least 5 minutes. This is a good time to start preheating the oven to 350°F.

This is what the browned butter should look like: just slightly brown liquid with darker brown bits on the bottom.

Add the rest of the filling ingredients, except for the corn meal,
to the melted butter and whisk into a thick batter.
(Note: The recipe lists a specific order for adding and mixing ingredients. I made two pies, one exactly like the recipe and one by just dumping all the ingredients in at once. There was no difference in the finished pie.)

Sprinkle in the cornmeal and stir just until combined.

Put the pastry lined tart shell on a rimmed baking sheet and pour in the filling. You may need to use an offset spatula to level the filling into the crust. It's just a bit thick to level on it's own.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 30-35 minutes until the top has a hard crust and the filling doesn't "jiggle". Allow it to cool for a good 3 hours. It will cool faster if you take it off the sheet pan and set it on a cooling rack.

This is a rich dessert so start with fairly small slices. Serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream for a truly delicious and traditionally southern dessert. I think Minny would be proud.

(Note: When I first tasted this pie I immediately thought of a Kellog's Chocolate Pop Tart. Then when my husband tasted it he remarked that it "tastes like a Pop Tart". So, if you like chocolate pop tarts, this is the pie version of one.)

Double Chocolate Chess Tart
(Adapted from "In Jennie's Kitchen" blog)

1/2 recipe Chocolate Pastry Crust (below)

3 T. unsalted butter
1 C. granulated sugar
1/8 t. salt
3 T. Dutch processed cocoa powder
2 eggs
1/2 t. vanilla
2 t. yellow cornmeal

Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it just starts to brown and smells nutty. Let cool.
While the butter is cooling, roll out the chocolate pastry and fit it into a 9-inch tart pan. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to fill.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
In large bowl, stir together, melted butter (including all the browned bits), sugar, salt and cocoa until well combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk into a thick batter. Stir in cornmeal just until combined.
Pour filling into chilled pastry crust. Level filling using a knife or offset spatula. Set pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes until top has a hard "crust" and filling no longer jiggles.
Allow pie to cool at least 3 hours but overnight is best. Pie should be served at room temperature with a small dollop of whipped cream.

Chocolate Pastry Crust
(Yield: 1 double or 2 single 9-inch crusts)

3 C. AP flour
1/4 C. Dutch processed cocoa powder
2 T. granulated sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/2 C. vegetable shortening
1/2 C. unsalted butter
6-8 T ice water

Stir together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Cut shortening and butter into 1/2-inch chunks and  add to flour mixture. Using your hands or a pastry cutter, quickly cut in the fats until the bits are smaller (1/4 inch). Do not overwork the dough. Sprinkle in the water, a tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture around until it just starts to hold together. You should still see bits of fat here and there in the dough. Form into two equal balls, flatten slightly and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for a least 1 hours before rolling and lining your pie tin.

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