Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chocolate Cream Tarts . . . Good Things Come in Small Packages!

In the middle of summer, a great big gooey dessert doesn't always sound too appealing. It's smallness that suffices, much of the time. A charming little tart can be the perfect fit. One of these chocolate cream tarts won't make you feel as if you've just rolled yourself away from the Thanksgiving table, but likely will satisfy a modest craving for something decadent and sweet.

The filling in these tarts is genuinely creamy, beautifully chocolatey, and--of course--homemade. That said, you should be aware that it doesn't resemble what you'd get from preparing a box of Jello pudding; that is, it doesn't firm up like . . . like . . . well, like Jello pudding. When I was critiquing these tarts yesterday evening with my dessert-loving 12-year old son (hey, is it pathetically obvious that I'm savoring his 12-year-oldness before it's gone for good? . . . before I must legitimately refer to myself as the mom of two teenage boys? . . . the little dude turns 13 next week). The 12-year-old said to me, when I was commenting about the texture of the filling, "Oh, Mom, it's more like Snack Pack pudding!" Hmm . . . well, ok. Not exactly my goal, but I guess maybe the texture's more like Snack Pack. Is Snack Pack any good? From peronal experience I don't know. I'll just have to take his word for it.

The crust is super simple and quick to mix up. The recipe is similar to the type of dough you'd use to make rugelach, though softer, and the batch it makes is pretty small. In fact, I just used a hand mixer to make these.

Because I was only planning to make about eight little tarts (ultimately the dough could have made 10), I decided to roll out the dough for each one individually, and I kept part of the dough in the fridge as I went along so it wouldn't get too warm. This worked fine and it didn't take me too long, all things considered. If I had to make a few dozen of these tarts, however, for a larger special event, I'd need to roll out a bunch at a time and plan out how I'd keep the dough chilled throughout the process.

I garnished the top of the tarts with sweetened whipped cream, and sprinkled a tiny bit of shaved chocolate on the top. I keep a little shake-jar of shaved chocolate around, usually leftover from some other recipe(s), and it comes in handy for just such occasions. It's a combo of milk and dark Callebaut chocolate shavings; the light and dark look nice mixed together.

Chocolate Cream Tarts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  • Gather at least ten little tart pans, around 3" in diameter and 1" to 1.5" tall.
  • Have ready a pan with shallow sides, or just a cookie sheet, to hold your tart shells for baking and to use for moving them around after the shells are filled.
  • Also, you'll probably have a little leftover chocolate filling. If you want to, you can fill a couple of custard cups or any little bowls/cups you like, with the extra filling. Chill them, and eat them with a spoon just like pudding. (Maybe get a 12-year old to eat them for you.)
  • Have a round cookie cutter ready, of sufficient diameter for your tart pans. I used a 4" cutter for my 3" tart pans and that worked perfectly.

For the tart dough:

4 oz. cream cheese, cool
4 oz. unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
2 tsp. of granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 and 1/4 cups All Purpose flour, unbleached

Using a hand mixer, or your regular mixer with the paddle attachment and a small mixer bowl, cream together the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and salt until completely smooth.

Add the flour, a bit at a time, on very low speed until it's incorporated and the dough can form a soft ball.

Press the dough into a disk shape and wrap it in plastic. Chill it in the fridge for about half an hour.

When you're ready to roll it out, ideally have a cold surface on which to do so, like a chilled marble board if possible. Sift some flour onto the board. Using a lighter weight rolling pin (for this I used a wooden French pin; works well for this because the pin is thin and so lightweight it won't compress this delicate, soft dough, and flour coats it well--that's not so true with a marble pin), roll the dough out no thinner than 1/8th of an inch, a little thicker if you like.

Cut them with your cookie cutter. Use a thin metal/plastic spatula to lift up the cut pieces and put them onto the tart pans.

Gently, gently, gently (did I remember to say "gently"?) urge the dough down into the tart pan and shape it with your fingers into the scalloped sides, pressing so the thickness of the dough is relatively even all over. The heat from your hands will soften the dough, so don't belabor this step if you can help it.

Using a little fork (I used a funny old shrimp fork, or maybe it's a pickle fork?), dock the dough on the bottom of each tart shell, to help prevent it from puffing up when it's blind-baked.

Bake the shells for about 10 minutes or so, until golden brown. Let them cool a few minutes in their tart pans on a rack, then remove them from the pans to cool completely.

For the chocolate filling:

1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 salt
2 cups whole milk
2 and 1/2 ounces good chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet), in small pieces
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. butter, unsalted

In a medium saucepan whisk together thoroughly the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Pour in the milk and chocolate pieces. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove the pan from the heat. In a small bowl, whisk the two egg yolks, and add a very small amount of the hot chocolate mixture into the eggs, stirring quickly; pour this back into the sauce pan, stirring constantly, and return the pan to the burner, over medium heat. Cook, and slowly stir, about two minutes.

Remove from heat and add the butter and vanilla extract, to combine. Let this mixture cool to at least room temperature before filling the cooled tart shells.

Once you've filled the tart shells, refrigerate them until completely cold.

When you're getting ready to serve them, whip about a cup of heavy cream, and garnish the tarts as you like.

Be sure to keep any uneaten tarts in the fridge. If there are any!

**Recipe info full disclosure: The crust dough recipe comes from King Arthur Flour (I didn't alter this one at all, never having made it before); the filling recipe is my variation of one I saw on

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Unknown said...

This looks soo good! Thanks for the great tutorial sort of post :) Could you please post your filling recipe? It looks mouth-watering!

Jane said...

Hi Avanika--
Thanks for the compliments! The filling recipe is actually already in the post, buried kind of far down. It starts right above the photo of the chocolate bar with the gold paper. See it?

(I hope you can! Let me know if there's some strange reason it's not showing up for you, okay?)


Riana said...

Hi Jane, thank you for coming by my blog. Yours is great as well!
Yes, I take all the photos myself. I teach food photography so it probably heps a little :)
Btw, this post is great, i'm craving for one tiny chocolate tart now. No, the big one :D

Anonymous said...

These are so cute!! I love those little pans! My husband owuld kill for one of these beauties!

Jane said...

Thanks Katie! I got those little pans at Bed, Bath, and Beyond one day last spring when I was there looking for a new vegetable peeler. I think they were something like fifty-eight cents a piece! So I got twelve of them. :)