A decadent dessert for Oscar night

March 19, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

When entertaining, I usually look for uncomplicated recipes that do not require hours in the kitchen. However, every so often an occasion merits a unique dish, one worthy of a little extra time and effort. I feel that way about Academy Awards night. My husband and I, both movie buffs, love to invite friends over to watch the Oscar presentation.

On March 26, I have decided to invite a small group to come for dessert and coffee. And I know exactly what sweet confection I am going to prepare. Several months ago while in Paris, I sampled a sublime chocolate-walnut tart. I knew this dessert was decadently rich, but it was so good I didn't care about the calories. I ate every morsel with abandon. Later, I was able to meet the talented chef and inventor of the dish, Philippe Excoffier, who gave me the recipe.

In my home kitchen, I tested the tart, making a few changes to streamline the techniques. This dessert is composed of a sweet, buttery pastry shell, which is filled with a walnut buttercream. After the filling is set, a chocolate glaze is poured over the top and, finally, the tart is garnished with a border of walnut halves.

The silky smooth buttercream filling requires careful attention, but if you have a candy thermometer, it will be quite easy to prepare.

For the recipe, you make a simple syrup, heating it to 238 degrees. Then, while beating egg yolks with an electric mixer, you gradually add the syrup and then a little cream. When the mixture is thick and light in color, you add chunks of softened butter and finish with ground walnuts. The tart can be prepared a day ahead and kept refrigerated.

At my house, each guest will vote for his or her favorite movie, director and stars. For those who don't pick winners, this irresistible dessert will be a fine consolation prize.

Chocolate-Walnut Buttercream Tart

Serves 8

CRUST:

1 1/2 cups flour

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into chunks

1 large egg yolk

1 to 2 tablespoons ice water

FILLING AND TOPPING:

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened (see note)

2/3 cup whipping cream

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cup walnuts, coarsely ground, plus 8 walnut halves for garnish

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

To prepare crust, place flour, powdered sugar and salt in food processor. Add butter and process, pulsing machine, until mixture resembles oatmeal flakes. With machine off, add egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water and pulse about 10 seconds to incorporate. With machine off, check to see if dough will stick together when pinched. If not, add remaining 1 tablespoon water and pulse. Remove dough and gather into a ball.

Pinch off about 1/4 cup dough at a time and smear with heel of hand in wide streak on work surface. (This technique will help blend fat and flour together for a better crust.) Continue until all dough has been smeared. Gather dough into ball, flatten into disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 minutes or longer.

Press chilled dough evenly over bottom and up sides of 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Trim excess dough. Pierce bottom of shell with fork, line with aluminum foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake at 375 degrees on center rack 15 minutes. Remove foil and beans and bake until pastry is lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Remove and cool.

To prepare filling, place egg yolks in bowl of electric mixer. Cut butter into small chunks and place on plate. Have 1/3 cup cream measured and ready to use. Butter inside of 2-cup glass measuring cup with spout and set aside. If you have candy thermometer, place it by stove.

Place sugar and water in medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir just to dissolve sugar, then do not stir again. Cook mixture until candy thermometer registers 238 degrees, 6 to 8 minutes. If you don't have a thermometer, cook until large bubbles form on surface and spoonful of syrup flattens into ball when dropped into ice cold water. Immediately pour sugar syrup into greased cup and set aside.

Beat egg yolks on medium speed 1 minute. Gradually, in thin stream, pour in sugar syrup, avoiding letting syrup touch beaters so it doesn't splatter against sides of bowl. When syrup has been added, beat until mixture is thick and very pale in color, about 5 minutes. Add 1/3 cup cream and beat until mixture thickens again and is fluffy, 8 to 10 minutes. Gradually, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, beat in butter. Remove and fold in ground walnuts. Spread mixture in tart shell and refrigerate until filling is firm, 1 hour or longer.

Place chocolate in small mixing bowl. Heat remaining 1/3 cup cream until just beginning to boil. Pour over chocolate in bowl and stir until chocolate has melted and mixture is smooth. Remove and cool 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly pour mixture over chilled filling and spread evenly with spatula. Arrange walnut halves as border on top of tart. Refrigerate 30 minutes or longer until chocolate is firm. (Tart can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate, loosely covered with foil, until ready to use.).

Note: It's very important that butter be softened, otherwise it can't be incorporated into egg mixture.

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