Dessert is Necessary

Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. We cook, cook and cook some more and then eat. For days. This is our tradition and we love it. But maybe we overdid it, because when it was time to start thinking about a Christmas menu this year, neither David nor I had much to contribute. No to pork. No to anything grandiose. No to excessive cooking. No to excessive eating. No. No. No.

After deciding what we didn't want, we eventually concluded that we would celebrate with a Feast of the Fishes, the way Italians commemorate Christmas Eve. One year we enjoyed this Christmas Eve "feast" at Esca in New York and we continue to revel in this amazing experience. We speak lovingly of the food (grilled octopus, linguine with clams, sea salt crusted branzino, fritto misto) and the wine (Il Frappato). It was a great holiday meal that remains etched in our minds and mouths.

But rather than the luxurious and copious traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes, we agreed that we would scale it back this year (ahem) and have just three fishes. Baked clams, calamari salad and shrimp with pasta. 

David has been making baked clams for years--though The Palm is where we usually have them. They were especially garlicky this time since David used all seven cloves of the garlic I chopped for two of the three dishes we were making. Oh well, it's a good thing I love garlic. We also made Giada's recipe for calamari salad and it was exquisite, but when it came time to make the third course, we were full and postponed the third fish until Christmas Day.

For as long as I can remember, our Christmas morning tradition has been a toasted bagel with a shmear (cream cheese), smoked salmon, red onions and capers. Lots of capers for me. And plenty of mimosas with Prosecco and fresh oj. Since we are watching our carbs, we opted for toasted Bavarian rye bread instead of a bagel.

Being the baker that I am, I could not live with myself if I didn't make something special for dessert. After all, it is a birthday celebration. Without dessert, it would really seem sacriligious and I think we were doing enough of that already. So I tossed out a lot of sweet ideas until we finally agreed on a dark chocolate tart with an almond meal crust. The recipe I found was neither cumbersome, elaborate or required much time. Just melting chocolate and adding a few key ingredients and I was done. And I really liked that part of it.

This holiday season we decided to avoid anything commercial. No going to the mall. No insanity. No gifts. Just a few little stocking stuffers. No big meal. No nada. We took a vacation from it all and I took a vacation from too much cooking as well. And I really liked it. A lot.

We also really liked this tart. A lot.

Buen provecho and happy holidays!

Dark Chocolate Tart
The Cowgirl Gourmet adapted this recipe from who got the recipe from the December 2007 issue of Bon Appetit

Print recipe

This tart won me over, big time. It took a whopping 25 minutes to make, including the crust, and tasted deep, dark and rich. When we ate it, I felt like a real pastry chef. While I love chocolate, I really think this tart could be amped up a bit to make more of a statement. I think I would add orange zest to the crust, a nice splash of Grand Marnier to the chocolate filling and/or fresh orange juice (use the orange you zested for the crust) to the whipping cream for garnish. Or Grand Marnier would also be a fine choice to add to the whipping cream. Zest a little more orange on each plate to play to the orange in the dessert. Any or all of these add-ins would really make this spectacular tart even more over the top. While the tart should be refrigerated, please let it come to room temperature before eating...

Serves 10-16 

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used 70% cacao dark chocolate discs from the bulk department at Central Market)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 large egg yolks from happy chickens
1 large farm fresh egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour (I used brown rice flour)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional
1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Make the crust of your choice and prepare it as directed in the recipe. Choose from David Lebovitz's French tart recipe, a basic tart crust as offered by the New York Times, the gingersnap tart as featured in this recipe or  you could do what I did and make an almond meal tart crust. I really liked it. It is sturdy and easy to make, but I would add a Tablespoon or two of sugar or orange zest or something  next time as it lacked a little flavor and tasted a bit too almondy to me. But David thought it was a perfect combination with the rich, dark chocolate.

In a saucepan, add the chocolate and heavy whipping cream and place over low heat, whisking until chocolate is melted and smooth. This will take about 3-5 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, egg, sugar, flour, vanilla, salt and espresso powder and cinnamon (if using) until well blended.

Egg mixture

Egg mixture with espresso
Gradually stir in the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until smooth and combined.

Chocolate and egg mixture
Pour chocolate mixture into crust.

Bake chocolate tart until filling puffs slightly at the edges and center is softly set, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool tart in pan for 20 minutes.

Gently remove the sides of the tart pan and cool tart completely. Cut tart into thin wedges and serve with softly whipped cream.

The tart should be kept in the refrigerator, but bring it to room temperature before serving.
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