I present to you this prize of my recipe collection with what can only be described as…guilt.
My mother recently asked what I’d be posting in the lead-up to Thanksgiving. I knew she had pie on her mind because that is the topic of the hour at any given time in our house, starting at the outset of November. You’ll find her at the kitchen counter making lists for Thanksgiving, and most of that list will be dedicated to her pies. When we’re buzzing along in the car on a five-hour trek through the flatlands of her home state of Ohio, as we did just last week, for example, all of our conversational roads lead back to pie.
There will be at least four pies on our Thanksgiving table for our small-ish group of eight. We’ll have much pie leftover, which is exactly the point. I’m finally coming to understand that Thanksgiving dinner is more about leftovers than it is about Thanksgiving dinner. Leftover pie for breakfast (lunch and dinner too) the day after Thanksgiving is a sacred ritual at our house. Bathrobe, cup of coffee, piece of pie. Conversation will be about which pie was best. My mom loves to tell the story of how her own mother, Alice, would push a piece of pie across the table to my father, who she adored, and say: A little piece of pie won’t hurt anything.
Now. Chocolate-caramel pecan tart is better than good. It is amazing. Everyone who I have ever watched take a first bite gasps, talks with their mouth full to say Oh!, Oh my good God, and closes their eyes to take in the luscious flavor of caramel, salty toasted pecans, and chocolate.
A pecan tart is not, however, pie. It is a tart. There is a difference. According to my mama, a big difference whose gap is so wide it cannot be crossed. Why not a pie?, was my mom’s question when she heard the word “tart.” You’ve never done a pie for them, actually, she said.
What in the…. She is right; I scoured my back-posts and see that no, I have not posted about pie. I do love to bake pie, I promise you that, and have been making them with my mom’s spectacularly good crust for a lot of years. I like her flakey pie crust far better than any tart crust I’ve ever eaten. Pie is one of my mother’s great legacies of the kitchen, a love passed from her own mother to her, precious like the diamond lavaliere necklace worn around Grandma’s tiny neck on her wedding day and now resting in Mom’s velvet-lined jewelry box for similar special occasions. How could I not post about pie, especially at Thanksgiving.
Forgiveness was found, though, when I told her which tart we’d be making. She knows how good it is, and remembers that we often had this tart at one of our favorite Chicago restaurants, Mon Ami Gabi, over the years when she and my dad would visit my sister and me, and then on her own in the many years since he died. I loved the tart so much that I published my first piece of “food writing” for it when I wrote to Bon Appetit’s R.S.V.P. department and asked if they could get the recipe. They did, and they published it, and it’s still online here.
The thing made me a kind of dining rock star back at Mon Ami Gabi, where one of my dinner companions, my dear friend Ed, once told the waiter just who he was waiting on. I blushed, but only for a moment, because then the chef came out and told me the Bon Appetit column was taped to the wall in their kitchen, and here you go, a slice of tart on the house. I admit that happened more than once because from then on they knew who I was when I came a-eating-dinner there.
Usually I took my tart to go, though, to eat for breakfast the next morning.
Chocolate-Caramel Pecan Tart
This luscious tart tastes excellent chilled, which makes it an ideal make-ahead dessert (one day ahead). The crust can be made far in advance and frozen, unbaked or baked. Use high quality chocolate (not regular chocolate chips; they resist melting) like Green & Black’s, Scharffenberger, Callebaut, or Lindt.
For the crust:
1 2/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup slivered almonds
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the filling:
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 cup whipping cream
4 ounces best-quality milk chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups chopped pecans, toasted
½ teaspoon salt
For the topping:
3 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate (not from chips), chopped
1/3 cup whipping cream
For the crust:
Blend the flour, sugar, salt, and almonds in a food processor until the nuts are finely ground. Using on/off turns, cut in the butter until a coarse meal forms. Add the egg and blend just until dough sticks together when pinched. Dump the dough onto a piece of waxed paper or plastic. Gather the dough into ball with the paper; flatten into a square 1-inch thick, wrap, and chill 1 hour.
Line the bottom of a 9.5- or 10-inch round removable bottom tart pan with parchment paper. Cut the dough into 1-inch slices. Lay the slices in the bottom of the pan and push them together, closing all fissures completely. Line the edges of the tart with slices of dough placed horizontally around the fluted edges. Press this dough into the bottom of the crust, closing all fissures, and into the fluted rim. Refrigerate for one hour.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake the crust until golden brown, about 17 minutes. You will notice that the crust is somewhat puffed up; this should be tamped down with the flat bottom of a glass.
For the filling and topping:
Read a few tips about making caramel. Stir sugar and corn syrup in a heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Stop stirring and boil the mixture until the syrup turns golden brown, swirling pan occasionally, about 4 minutes. Stir in 1 cup whipping cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over the heat until any caramel bits dissolve. Remove mixture from heat. Place milk chocolate and honey in medium bowl. Pour caramel over and let the mixture rest for a couple of minutes while the chocolate melts. Whisk until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Stir in chopped pecans. Transfer filling to crust. Chill until set, about 4 hours or overnight.
Place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in small bowl. Bring remaining 1/3 cup cream to boil in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour over bittersweet chocolate; let the mixture rest for a couple of minutes while the chocolate melts. Whisk until smooth. Pour chocolate mixture evenly over tart. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead; keep refrigerated and serve chilled) Remove the tart from the fluted ring. Use a flat metal spatula to lift the tart off of the metal tart pan bottom. Place on a serving platter, cut tart into wedges and serve. Serves 8.
Print this recipe here.