Halloween is on the way…yards are decorated with whimsical and gruesome scenes, stores are filled with witches, skeletons, bats and spider webs, and kids are obsessing over costumes and candy. This holiday has grown in popularity and scale over the years, and I admit it’s one of my very favorites. It’s all about fantasy and fun (at least in my house – I try to leave most of the gore to others). It’s the kick-off of the holiday season, and everyone seems to get into the spirit, from kids to grandparents. And even though it’s just one night, there’s no reason it can’t be celebrated in the weeks and days leading up to the big night. Up go the decorations, and out comes some fun twists on dessert.
Sometimes I get very elaborate with holiday food, and sometimes I play it simple, with just a nod to the season. It may be a kid-oriented holiday, but that doesn’t mean adults can’t have fun, too. A holiday that celebrates sugar and treats? I’m there! I have to admit, though, I get tired of the sweet treats made with all that fakey junk food stuff, like twinkies dipped in chocolate and decorated like coffins with black gum drop spiders on top. Sure, it’s cute food crafting, but do you really want to eat that? It’s not hard to make real, handcrafted treats that everyone will enjoy eating, and that have some eerily fun decorations as well. This week, I’m going to offer simple, spooky, yet delicious fare, and next week, we’ll look at some fun sweets that take a bit more time, but are definitely more intense in the Halloween theme.
Today I’m offering a simple chocolate ganache tart, with a spider web design drawn on top. The crust is an easy press-in chocolate tart dough, and the filling is nothing more than equal parts dark chocolate and warmed heavy cream blended until smooth. While the filling is still warm, melted white chocolate is piped on top in a spiral, then pulled with a toothpick into a web pattern. That’s it. A few creepy plastic spiders (wash in cool soapy water and hand dry) on top would definitely add that extra Halloween touch and a bit of fun to this luscious, deeply chocolate dessert. For a different garnish, leave off the spider web and chill the tart until firm. Place a Halloween-themed stencil on top and dust with cocoa powder or powdered sugar for a fun and graphic finish.More Spookily Simple Spider Web Tart ideas and recipes follow after the jump
EASY CHOCOLATE PRESS-IN DOUGH
Makes 1 (9- or 91/2-INCH) Tart Shell
This is a quick, easy tart dough with a deep chocolate flavor. No scary stuff – no cutting in the butter, no rolling out the dough, no blind-baking with foil and pie weights. The keys to success with this dough are chilling it before you bake it and an accurate oven temperature. It’s difficult to know when a chocolate tart shell has finished baking because the dark dough obscures the “golden brown” color that is the usual visual clue. This is when a good oven thermometer saves the day. Heat your oven to the correct temperature, set a timer, and you’ll be just fine.
Equipment: Stand Mixer Fitted with a Paddle Attachment, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Medium Bowl, Whisk, 9 or 9 ½ inch Fluted Tart Pan with Removable Bottom
- 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/3 cup (2-1/4 ounces) sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
- Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of the stand mixer and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. The mixture should be smooth and creamy. Scrape down the bowl with the spatula. If there are any lumps of hard butter still visible, beat for another minute to completely blend them into the mixture. Add the egg yolk and beat well. Scrape down the bowl.
- In the medium bowl, whisk together the flour and cocoa powder. Add to the butter mixture all at once. Turn the mixture to the lowest speed and blend just until the dough comes together (it should still have medium and small clumps) and looks moist, with a dark, uniform color. Scrape down the bowl. If there are any patches of flour or unincorporated butter, finish mixing the dough by hand with the spatula. If you beat too long or too vigorously on the mixer, you will have a smooth, batterlike dough, which will be harder to press into the pan because it is sticky. If this happens, chill the dough for 15 minutes before continuing.
- Scrape the dough clumps into the tart pan. Use the heel of your hand to press the dough into an even layer across the bottom and up the side of the pan. Press from the center of the pan outward, building up some extra dough where the bottom meets the side. Using your thumbs, press this excess up the sides of the pan to form the walls, making sure the dough is level with the pan at the rim. If the dough is too warm and sticky to press into the pan easily, place the pan (with the dough) in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes before continuing. Save any small bits of extra dough in case you need to patch a crack during the baking process. Make sure there are no cracks or thin spots – if there are, just pres the dough to bring it together. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Storing: The dough keeps for 3 days in the refrigerator.
CHOCOLATE GANACHE SPIDER WEB TART
Makes 1 (9- or 91/2-INCH) Tart, Serving 8 to 10
This tart couldn’t be simpler or more satisfying for chocolate lovers. The filling is ganache – a mixture of equal parts dark chocolate and cream that sets up rich and velvety. To add an extra layer of flavor, spike the filling with a tablespoon or two of liqueur (think Kahlua, Grand Marnier or Amaretto) or ¼ teaspoon extract (try mint, ginger, or almond). It’s definitely rich, so cut small slices. You can also make this recipe in mini-tartlet pans for a sweet little all-to-yourself dessert. The dough will yield about fifteen 2-1/2-inch mini tartlets, and you’ll need only about half the ganache to fill them.
Equipment: 9 or 9 ½ inch Fluted Tart Pan with Removable Bottom, Cooling Rack, Medium Bowl, Small Saucepan, Whisk, Two Silicone or Rubber Spatulas, Hand Mixer and a Medium Bowl, Large Metal Spatula (optional), Thin and Sharp Knife, Small Bowl, Coffee Cup, Resealable Plastic Sandwich Bag, Plastic Spiders For Decoration (optional).
1 recipe Easy Chocolate Press-In Dough (see above)
- ½ ounce white chocolate, finely chopped
- 10 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (up to 64% cacao), finely chopped
- 1-1/4 cups (10 ounces) heavy whipping cream
- Whipped Cream, for serving
- Bake The Shell: Preheat the oven to 350F and position an oven rack in the center. Bake the tart shell for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven (hold the pan by the sides and not the bottom), close the oven door, check the crust for cracks, and repair any with a bit of reserved dough. Return the pan to the oven and bake 15 to 17 minutes longer. Remove the pan (again, holding by the sides) and place on a rack to cool completely.
- Prepare The White Chocolate Garnish: Place the white chocolate in the small bowl. Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in the saucepan, then remove it from the heat. Place the bowl with the white chocolate on top and stir with a spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth – this will happen quickly, so don’t walk away. As soon as it is melted, remove from the heat and wipe the bottom of the bowl dry. Place a resealable plastic sandwich bag in a cup and fold the top of the bag over the rim of the cup to hold the bag in place. Scrape the melted white chocolate into the bag, then use your hand to squeeze the chocolate into one corner. Set it on a plate in a warm place (like the griddle portion of your stove), where the chocolate will stay melted (you can also heat some water in a small sauté pan, turn off the flame, set a clean dry bowl into the water and place the bag with chocolate into the bowl to stay warm).
- Prepare The Filling: Place the chopped dark chocolate in the medium bowl. In the small saucepan, heat the cream just until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and immediately pour it over the chocolate and let the mixture sit for 1 minute; then whisk to blend. If any lumps of unmelted chocolate remain, heat the mixture gently by placing it over a saucepan with an inch of simmering water in the bottom. Stir gently with a silicone or rubber spatula until the lumps have melted. Scrape the filling into the cooled tart crust.
- Draw The Spider Web Pattern: Immediately cut a small hole in the corner of the bag of white chocolate using a pair of scissors. Pipe the white chocolate in a spiral, beginning in the center of the tart and spiraling outward. Use a toothpick, skewer, or tip of a sharp knife to drag a pattern in the spiral. Beginning in the center of the tart, pull the tip outward to the edge. Lift the toothpick, clean it off on a paper towel, then begin at the center again, pulling another line about an inch away from the first. Continue until the web pattern in complete. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until serving time.
- Unmold The Tart: Place the tart pan on top of a large can from your pantry (the 28-ounce tomato cans are good) so that the bottom balances midair as the rim falls to the counter. Use the large metal spatula to transfer the tart to a serving plate or cake cardboard, or simply leave the bottom of the tart pan under the tart for support. Place plastic spiders (washed in cool, soapy water and dried) on top of the tart, if desired. Cut the tart with a thin, sharp knife that has been warmed in hot water and wiped dry. Clean the knife with a warm towel between each slice to keep crumbs from collecting on the top of the tart. Serve each slice with a spoonful of whipped cream.
Storage: The tart may be kept in the refrigerator for 3 days. For best flavor and texture, remove it from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving.
Want to see Cindy in Action? Check out her baking tips on video via the Gourmet site, click here.Tools of the Trade:
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.