Adventures in French Pastry: Blonde Chocolate Tarts

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You guys… YOU GUYS. You know how sometimes you need a little time or distance from an important experience before you can truly understand it or reflect on it? That’s how I feel about these dreamy Blonde Chocolate Tarts. I haven’t fully grasped the magnitude of these little tarts, since it was just a few days ago; I had wanted to share these before Valentine’s Day, but I had to tweak the tart shells, so they had to wait– if there’s anyone you can go to for belated desserts, it’s –>this girl<–. I have visions of my desserts in my head, but they sometimes need a re-do before I feel like they’re ready to publish. Whether it’s for Valentine’s Day or any other occasion, if you want to rock your lovey’s socks, make these sexy little tartlets. No hearts, no sparkles, no pink-and-red; just luxurious blonde chocolate ganache nestled into a hazelnut sablé tart crust. Meow.

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I’ve never made anything like this, and in truth, I was going in with low expectations– although I’m always learning and expanding my baking repertoire, I am not (yet) a professional, and my classic French pastry technique is definitely a work-in-progress. I had bought 2 pounds of Valrhona Dulcey fèves, and I kept thinking about what I might make with such a valuable commodity; after all, Dulcey is not something you recklessly throw into a bowl of cookie dough or obscure by other flavors. Dulcey is something to be hoarded cherished and savored– in my opinion, it’s best reserved for the most sumptuous desserts. I saw this recipe on the Valrhona website… and my breath caught a bit in my chest. This is the one, I thought.

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Not familiar with Dulcey ’til now? You’re welcome. Dulcey is a new-ish chocolate produced by Valrhona. It is caramelized and tempered white chocolate; that’s right, I said caramelized white chocolate. It is roasted to the point where the sugars turn light brown (hence the term “blonde” chocolate) and take on a heavenly caramelized flavor. I am not a big white chocolate person, but this— this is amazing. As one might expect, it is not cheap to buy, somewhere in the neighborhood of $16-26 per pound in bar or fève form. You can find it on Amazon, ChocosphereWorld Wide Chocolate, and directly through Valrhona, among other places. (Buying 2 pounds or 1 kilogram is a way better deal than purchasing 1 pound.) Expensive? Yes. Worth it? YESSSSSS.

Incidentally, you can roast your own white chocolate, though I have not tried this myself. David Lebovitz has a recipe, but it seems that it works best with high-quality chocolate, in which case I might as well just spring for the original Dulcey.

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Oh– one more Dulcey product that I need to gush about: Dulcey Crunchy Pearls. You may have seen Valrhona’s other crunchy pearls, and now they also make a Dulcey version. Many online vendors sell them by the kilo, but since I didn’t want to buy 2+ pounds, I ended up purchasing directly through Valrhona. (I picked up some beautiful white chocolate Opalys pearls too… I’m so weak.) I wanted to garnish my tarts simply with a few Dulcey pearls, so I definitely needed them. (See how I justified that?!)

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Anyway, back to the tarts. I was entirely certain that these were not going to come out right on the first try, though I came closer than expected. For starters, I needed tart rings, which I’ve been meaning to buy for ages. I’d had my eye on these gorgeous Valrhona perforated tart rings for a while, so when I saw this recipe, I promptly clicked “submit order” over at JB Prince. Gawd, I am so easily seduced by beautiful bakeware. Damnit.

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Let’s talk about tart crusts. There are three types of classic French pie/tart dough:

  • Pâte brisée: Called a “fractured” dough, meaning a dough containing large butter chunks that will translate to flaky dough once baked.
  • Pâte sucrée: A sweet (“sugared”) dough with a similar flaky texture.
  • Pâte sablée: Called a “sandy” dough for its crumbly texture, like a cookie.

I was familiar with the first two doughs, but sablé dough was new for me, though I adore sablé cookies. This type of dough appears to be somewhat rare for home baking, and I’m not sure why; it is purported to be somewhat difficult to work with, but I found it no different than any other typical dough. It is the richest of the three, possessing a buttery, crumbly cookie texture, rather than a flaky one, due to the higher proportion of sugar in the dough. When you see those pristine French fruit tarts in upscale bakery cases, you’re probably looking at sablé tart shells. I never knew how they were formed or how that perfect dough retained its straight sides and smooth surface. Sablé dough + tart rings = pretty French tarts.

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Sablé dough should be handled carefully so as to maintain its sandiness; it often contains nut flour to aid in the texture. This particular recipe contains hazelnut flour, which is a lovely, subtle complement to the blonde chocolate.

This Valrhona recipe appears to have been written for professional pastry chefs, given the lack of direction and apparent assumption of certain techniques, i.e. the instruction to simply “make the tart crusts” without much guidance as to how to accomplish this. There seemed to be a lot of reading between the lines for a home baker, so I did some research (hereherehere, and here), and although there wasn’t a ton out there, I surmised that there are differing opinions as to whether one should use a stand mixer or combine the ingredients by hand, and whether the dough should be rolled out or hand-pressed into the tart rings. I went with mixing via stand mixer, and I tried both methods of getting the dough into the rings. I first tried hand-pressing, which yielded thick, clumsy, uneven tart shells.

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For my second attempt, I rolled the dough out and used a large circle cutter, which worked much better for more uniform tart shells. Although the recipe doesn’t specify, I decided to blind-bake them to help them hold their shape. (Unfortunately the folds of the parchment paper made impressions in my smooth pastry shells, so I may try it without blind-baking next time…)

The tarts can be eaten at room temperature or chilled. If you want a gooey filling, simply let them set for at least 2 hours on the countertop. The filling texture will be similar to soft caramel. My preference was to chill the tarts, then let them warm up for about an hour on the countertop. They were not cold, yet retained a semi-solid, velvety texture. Words do not do justice to this tart– Dulcey is unlike anything else. An unsuspecting taster may guess it’s caramel, but it truly has a flavor all its own. Hold me.

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Blonde Chocolate Tarts
Adapted from Valrhona
Yields 12 3″ tartlets

The original recipe makes 24 tarts, which I wish I could eat… but I cut it in half, mostly to reduce my guilt. Valrhona uses weight measurements, which are more accurate than volume; you can therefore adjust the recipe to yield as many as you want.

For pâte sablée crusts:

  • 120g unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 83g confectioners’ sugar
  • 28g hazelnut flour
  • 1 egg (50g)
  • 235g all-purpose flour, divided

For ganache filling:

  • 405g Valrhona Dulcey blonde chocolate fèves (or roughly chopped from a bar), or homemade caramelized white chocolate
  • 200g heavy whipping cream
  • 32g invert sugar, purchased or homemade

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the salt, confectioners’ sugar, hazelnut flour, eggs, and 60g of the flour on low speed, then turn it up to medium-low until all the butter and egg have been incorporated. Do not over mix.

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Add the remaining 175g of flour on low speed until almost all the flour streaks have disappeared. The mixture will look nubby and shaggy; it should not form a ball.

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Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface (not floured), and gently bring the dough together into a ball with your hands. It will be very sticky, but workable. Divide the dough into two equal portions (use a scale for the best accuracy), wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and press them into disks. Chill the sablé dough in the refrigerator overnight.

When ready to work with the dough, preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the insides of 6 tart rings (about 3-4″ in diameter) and set them on a Silpat mat set in a rimmed half-sheet pan; set aside. (If you have 12 rings and 2 Silpat mats, you can prepare 2 sheet pans; I prepared the crusts in 2 batches, as I have only 6 rings.)

Remove one dough round from the fridge and allow to soften slightly, about 5-7 minutes. Lightly flour a work surface and your rolling pin; roll out the dough to a thickness of about 3 millimeters, rotating the dough after every few rolls to keep it from sticking. Try to avoid over-flouring.

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Using a cutter about 2″ bigger in diameter than your tart ring (5″ inches, in my case), cut as many circles as you can from the dough. Lay a circle over one of the tart rings (there will be about ½-inch of dough overhanging) and gently press it into the bottom and up the sides of the tart ring. Press the sides as uniformly as possible so that your tart shells are even all the way around. Carefully trim the overhanging dough with a sharp knife and tidy up the dough edges with your fingers if needed. Repeat with the other dough circles and tart rings, then the second dough disk; you’ll need to re-roll the dough a couple of times, but each dough disk will yield enough dough for 6 tarts.

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Prick the bottom of each tart several times with a fork. Place the sheet pan the freezer for 25 minutes to re-chill.

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Line each tart ring with a piece of parchment paper and fill them with dried beans or rice. Blind-bake the crusts for 15 minutes (they should be dry to the touch, not buttery), then remove the parchment and weights, and continue to bake until the crusts are set and have picked up a touch of golden color, about 8-12 minutes. Let the tart shells cool on the sheet pan set over a wire cooling rack. Immediately remove the tart rings from around the shells– they should slip right off since the dough shrinks a tiny bit. If you’re using these Valrhona perforated rings, your shells may have tiny dots around the sides, which you can gently “brush” off with your fingers while the crusts are warm.

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Once the tart shells are cool, make the ganache filling. Melt the Dulcey in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Make sure that no water or steam get into the bowl– I recommend a wide-mouthed bowl to help keep the water vapor out. Meanwhile, bring the cream and invert sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally to incorporate the liquid sugar.

When the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl from the pot of water. Slowly pour in the hot cream while stirring with a spatula. Allow the cream to blend in gradually before pouring it all in. Give the ganache a final mix with an immersion blender. (If you do not have one, stir vigorously for several seconds, making sure that the mixture is completely emulsified.)

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Divide the mixture between the tart shells, filling each nearly to the top edge. Allow to cool and set for about 2 hours at cool room temperature for a gooey filling texture, or in the fridge for a firmer consistency. Garnish the tarts with Dulcey pearls, or any topping of your choice.

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.

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