High Country Baking: How to make a light and luscious chocolate hazelnut tart
Editor’s Note: High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Here’s a pretty tart styled after the desserts you’ll find throughout the French countryside. A thin, rich chocolate filling enhanced by rum and orange zest is tucked inside a buttery, sweet crust and topped with roasted hazelnuts. It’s light, luscious, elegant and surprisingly easy to prepare. Little active time is required of the baker; it takes about 10 minutes to make the crust in a food processor and, once the ingredients are assembled, the filling is ready in another 15-20 minutes. If I’m pressed for time, I make it over two days. On the first day I create, chill and prebake the crust and the next day I prepare the filling and bake it.
The chocolate you select makes a big difference in the tart’s success. Be sure to use a bittersweet or semisweet chocolate that you would enjoy eating; go with bittersweet for an adult, sophisticated taste, choose semisweet if you want to appeal to a wider audience. You can use regular granulated sugar in this recipe, but I prefer superfine granulated sugar because it dissolves more quickly than regular and results in a smoother, more velvety filling.
Adding a mild orange flavor to chocolate desserts is a frequent practice in Western Europe. If you prefer a hit of straight chocolate, feel free to eliminate it. If you don’t like hazelnuts you can replace them with pecans. The tart will still be delicious if you make both of these changes but it will lose its French accent and reside squarely on our side of the Atlantic.
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If you need a recipe for a sweet tart shell, please email me and I’ll send you one.
Chocolate Hazelnut Tart a la François
Make in a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom
1 sweet tart crust, prebaked and cooled
½ cup skinned hazelnuts
½ cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
4 tablespoons (half a stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon dark rum or brandy
2 teaspoons orange zest, finely chopped or 1/8 teaspoon orange oil
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the lowest position. While the oven heats, roast the hazelnuts on a cookie sheet until they are hot and aromatic. Remove them from the oven and the cookie sheet and let them cool. Place them in a plastic bag, close it and crush them with a rolling pin or the bottom of a heavy pot or coarsely chop them. Set aside.
2. Combine the cream and sugar in a medium saucepan, place it over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is hot. Check by rubbing some between your fingers; it should be entirely smooth. Reduce the heat to low, cut the butter into small pieces, add them and stir until they melt. Remove the pan from the heat, add the chopped chocolate, making sure it’s completely submerged, and set the pan aside for a minute or two so the chocolate can melt. Whisk or stir until the mixture is smooth and glossy and set it aside to cool until only just barely warm.
3. In a 2-cup measure or small bowl, whisk the eggs, rum and the orange zest until combined. Slowly stream it into the chocolate, whisking constantly until blended. Run a silicone spatula around the bottom of the pan to make sure all ingredients are well combined, then scrape the filling into the prepared tart shell. Scatter the hazelnuts evenly over the chocolate.
4. Consider covering the exposed edges of your crust with strips of aluminum foil or a pie crust shield to prevent them from overbaking. Place the tart on a cookie sheet to catch drips and move it to the oven. Bake until the filling puffs a little, sets and still jiggles slightly in the center, about 20 minutes. It should be dry to the touch. The lovely texture will be lost if the tart is overbaked, so watch carefully. Remove the tart to a rack to cool completely. Store, loosely covered, in the refrigerator for up to two days. Serve at room temperature, with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream. If you included a touch of orange flavoring in the filling, adding some to the whipped cream is a nice touch.
This recipe is a variation of one published in Malgieri’s “The Modern Baker.” Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks “Baking Above It All” and “Cookies in the Clouds,” (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Books and Nosh in Frisco), is a high-altitude baking teacher. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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