Book clubs come in all different shapes and sizes. Some have professionals come in to lead scholarly discussions. Others hardly talk about the book, spending the allotted time chatting with friends about their daily lives and family dramas. Some book clubs meet for breakfast, some for lunch or dinner. Others only share a dessert or a light snack. While some book clubs enjoy a glass or two of wine, others cater to a more teetotaling crowd. And then there’s location, with some meeting at members’ homes and others at a restaurant, library, workplace, or other arena.
Now, for our book club there are very specific parameters, and rules are not to be broken! There are 12 of us and we meet every four to five weeks at an alternating member’s house. Each member, in alphabetical order, comes to book club with three well-researched choices for the group to vote on. And, don’t just rip out a page from People for your suggestions, as you will definitely be censured! And once the book has been picked, you are expected to arrive at the next meeting with your prepared list of book club discussion questions. But I must say while the conversation is important to our group, food trumps everything. Most of us are serious chefs or bakers, and our book club cuisine tends to be both gourmet and homemade.
As an example, last year’s holiday book club at my friend Doreen’s featured filet mignon with a burgundy glaze, truffled mashed potatoes, popovers, and bourbon pecan pie. (There probably was a vegetable, but I can’t remember it!). Doreen even made caramel-drizzled popcorn as a take-home party favor, although I ate mine in the car as soon as I left. So, needless to say, when I arrived with a grocery-bought dessert at the last book club (hey, it was a busy week!), it wasn’t especially greeted with open arms. That is why I felt the need to redeem myself at this month’s meeting.
Going through my growing pile of recipes I’ve ripped from the pages of The New York Times and printed out from various online sources like Epicurious.com and the foodnetwork.com, I came across a recipe for “Salted Dark Chocolate Tart with Pistachios” from and old issue of Westchester Health and Life magazine. BINGO! This dessert not only sounded delicious, the photo of velvety chocolate sprinkled with crushed pistachios and flakes of sea salt made my mouth water. Certainly, this would put me back n the good graces of my beloved book club members!
The problem was, as usual, I had a time crunch. How then to make and impress? The answer was to construct the tart in stages, a perfect solution for any working woman and/or busy mom! With book club coming up on a Wednesday, I did my grocery shopping the Sunday before, buying the bittersweet chocolate, heavy cream, and pistachios (BTW, get unsalted), and incurring the wrath of my husband when I asked him to pick up the $25 bottle of Chambord liquor, that, while optional, I decided I must have for the recipe to stand out. At home, I had the requisite sugar, cocoa powder, flour, milk, salt, butter, and vanilla powder. Note: take out that butter from the refrigerator a few hours before you are going to use it in this recipe so it comes to room temperature.
Sunday night was for shelling the pistachios while watching Ray Donovan on TV. In between the killings, beatings, and assorted infidelities (on the show that is!), I also made the crust, creaming together the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in an electric mixer. Adding the flour, I kept the mixer on medium until the contents looked like dark brown, clumpy sand. After adding milk and vanilla, I mixed on low until the dough came together. I kneaded the dough a few times, then molded it into a hockey puck shaped disk that I wrapped in plastic and stuck in the frig for half an hour.
After the dough had chilled, I sprinkled it with flour and rolled it out in my piecrust bag (see my blog on this topic for more details and instructions), but you can do it on a well-floured surface. I draped the rolled-out dough inside a 9-inch pie pan, making sure to clip off the excess dough with a cooking shear (or else you can take taking your rolling pin across the top). When this was completed, I wrapped the piecrust and pan in a “double dose” of saran wrap and stuck it in the freezer.
Tuesday night, I pulled out the piecrust and lined the top of the dough with tin foil. then I added some pie weights (dried beans do the trick) so that the pastry would not pucker or shrink while in the oven. While the crust was cooking, I started on the filling, combining the chopped-up chocolate with the Chambord in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, I heated up the cream and butter until I saw bubbles forming around the edges. Caution, do not let this boil! The next step is to pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and let it sit for about a minute. Then gently whisk just until smooth. Miraculously, this does melt the chocolate, which I was a little wary about to tell the truth. This was the perfect time for me to stick my finger in the rich, gooey filling and make sure it tasted good – of course it did, but you’ve go to try it!
Once the piecrust cooled, I poured the chocolate mixture inside and set in the refrigerator. All that was left was to run home after work and sprinkle the tart with crushed pistachios and sea salt. All I can say is my book club is talking to me again. Homemade chocolate desserts will do the trick every time!
Salted Dark Chocolate Tart with Pistachios
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon milk
Few drops vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate (this worked out to 12 ounces)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Chambord or creme de cassis (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finel chopped pistachios
1-2 pinches coarse sea salt
- Cream together butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium bowl with an electric mixer
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the flour and mix on medium speed until the mixture looks like clumpy sand.
- Scrape down the bowl again. Add milk and vanilla, and mix on low speed until dough comes together.
- Tear off a sheet of plastic wrap and lay the mixture in the center. Knead the dough a few times, and then press it into a disk, wrap it up, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle the dough with flour and roll out in a pie bag or on a well-floured surface into a circle about 1/4 inch thick and 12 inches in diameter.
- Drape the dough inside a 9 or 10-inch pie pan, gently pressing the dough into the corners without stretching it. Cut off excess dough with cooking shears or roll a rolling pin over the top of the pan edge to clip of the excess dough. For best results, freeze the dough for 30 minutes before baking
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the tart pan from the freezer and line pastry with foil. Fill with pie weights all the way to the sides to keep the dough from shrinking (dried beans work well).
- Bake the crust for 20 minutes, and then carefully remove the weights and foil.
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bottom of the crust is cooked and dry. Let it cool completely before filling.
- For the filling, combine the chocolate, sugar, salt, and Chambord in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream and butter until the butter has melted and the cream is hot with some bubbles forming around the edges. Do not boil.
- Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate mixture and let it sit for 1 minute.
- Gently whisk just until smooth so as not to create air bubbles.
- Pour the filling into the tart pan and set on an even surface in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or until firm.
- Just before serving, sprinkle with chopped pistachios and 1 to 2 pinches of large, course-grained sea salt.
- Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.