Sunday, January 11, 2009

Our longtime friends G and M came over for dinner last night to ring in the new year. SJG and I made our pork dish with juniper berries (see the recipe) and served cooked carrots for contrasting color on the side.

For dessert, I made a chocolate tart (above) garnished with sugared pistachios from an Alice Medrich recipe in this month's issue of Fine Cooking. Raving about the successes I've had so far, I showed the magazine to M, and she asked if I had yet made the chocolate cake on the cover. It's gorgeous, with a shiny chocolate glaze and garnished with bright red pomegranate seeds. (See the photo and recipe.)

I laughed heartily, because I had indeed been tempted, but in reading the recipe, it had become obvious that it was more of a chemistry experiment than anything else. And the chocolate glaze is a cooked, candylike affair, for which I am known for...well, let's just say that everyone knows my 7-minute frosting slides off any cake.

The chocolate-pistachio tart is a stunner, with an intense, smooth chocolate mouth experience enhanced by the saltiness of the nuts and the fleur de sel. Below is the recipe, adapted to my methods).
For the tart crust:
1 stick unsalted butter (at room temperature)
¼ cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
4-1/2 ounces (1 cup) flour

1. In a medium bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and salt. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla. Add the flour and mix until blended.
2. Press the dough into a 9-1/2-inch fluted tart pan (the kind with the removable bottom). Start with the sides and press the rest of the dough evenly over the bottom. At first, it will seem as if there’s not enough dough, but there is. As you carefully work the dough, using your fingers and palms, it will eventually fill the pan.
3. Let the crust sit for about 30 minutes while you make the filling.

4. When ready to pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the tart pan onto a cookie sheet and bake in the lower third of the oven until the crust is golden brown (15-20 minutes). Check the crust at about 15 minutes and use a fork to press down any puffiness. Shortbread cooks more slowly than a regular pie crust so this isn’t too long to bake it.

For the chocolate filling:
1 cup half-and-half
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
7 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or in chips (I used 70% cacao, but you can use a lower percentage for a less intense chocolate experience)
1 egg

1. In a small saucepan, slowly bring the cream, sugar, and salt to a simmer over medium low heat. Take the pan off the heat to add the chocolate, whisking until melted and smooth. (A whisk really does work better than a spoon.) Keep the chocolate warm (by covering it rather than heating it) until ready to pour into the pre-baked crust.
2. Just before you’re ready to take the crust out of the oven, add the egg to the chocolate and whisk well.
3. Take the crust out of the oven when done and reduce the heat to 300 degrees. Pour the chocolate into the hot tart crust and return it to the oven (still on the cookie sheet).
4. Bake 10-15 minutes more, until the edges of the chocolate filling have set but the middle still moves a little in the center when you tap the pan. Cool completely on a rack before taking the ring of the tart pan off.
5. Serve the tart at room temperature with a spoonful of the sugared pistachios and a light grinding of fleur de sel on top. The salty-sweet combination really works.

1/2 cup salted, roasted whole pistachios (shelled)
¼ cup water
½ cup sugar
pinch of sea salt

1. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil.
2. Heat the nuts in the microwave for a minute or two. You want them to be warm when you add them to the hot, melted sugar.
3. Pour the water into a 3-quart saucepan. Add the sugar and the salt to the center of the pan and pat down until evenly moistened. There should be a ring of water around the sugar when you’re done. (It'll happen naturally.)
4. Cover and cook over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves (about 4 minutes).
5. Uncover and cook without stirring until the sugar syprup begins to color a little (2-4 minutes). Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking, swirling the pan if necessary for uniform coloration of the syrup.
6. When the sugar is a pale to medium yellow (a matter of a few minutes), add the warm pistachios. With a spatula, stir gently to coat the nuts. Continue to cook until the sugar turns an amber color. (This is supposed to happen within a couple minutes, but it never happened for me, even though I cooked it for almost 5 minutes. It’s still delicious if the color isn’t perfectly amber.)
7. Quickly scrape the sugared nuts onto the cookie sheet and spread as thinly as you can before it all hardens.
8. When slightly cooled but still warm, slide the foil with the nuts into a plastic bag and seal. Cool completely, then chop or crush or otherwise break apart. You can make the nuts a couple days ahead of time; store them in an airtight container until ready to use.


fresca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PaulD said...

HEY! fresca said almost exactly what I came to say: You have achieved yet another higher level: photography. And so well related to your pieces. On another note: I like Friese's writing, but you've got him beat Domenica.

ddip said...

Great to hear! I think maybe it's just that I've figured out how to manage the flash on my camera. It goes wild if you don't whip it into shape.

windyjean said...

Lovely recipe. You make it sound so easy but I am not sure I believe it! This blog is a gift and I appreciate you. I look forward to each Friday!

PS I finally figured out how to make a comment.

ddip said...

So glad WindyJean is commenting on my blog. I see you're commenting on other blogs too. Yeah!

PaulD said...

Well now, some time later, I come back to say, Thank You Domenica, for your recipe and your writing.