Cerines’ Chocolate Tarts


When Ioanna and I were just married, we treated ourselves to a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience at Le Bernardin in New York City, celebrated restaurant of Eric Ripert. It was by far the most amazing culinary experience we ever had and it was worth every penny. The standout item I ate in my three-course meal came at the very end: chocolate enrobed in a chocolate crust. Taste buds never forget: it was creamy yet bordered on fudge; ethereal enough that it disappeared on the tongue; the dark chocolate was just sweet enough yet had a pleasant cooked-chocolate bitterness to it at the same time.

I have never tried to replicate it and never knew how to go about trying. At a recent supper club, I had a last-minute guest who must eat gluten-free. My thoughts first went to a flourless chocolate torte. I already had in mind to prepare a simple chocolate pate sucree and fill with chocolate ganache (for me,  the best way to eat chocolate). I couldn’t very well serve my gluten-free guest a spoon of ganache, so therein lie the solution: make the flourless chocolate batter and fill the chocolate crusts with that and then bake the flourless batter in a ramekin. I raided the kumquat tree, caramelized the tiny slices and served it with a crispy chocolate cookie and a vanilla orange sauce smeared on the plate.

I stick by the rule of never making anything for the first time for guests. That’s a good rule, because the lobster ravioli I had been testing for the supper club was an absolute fail.  Nevertheless, I had less than 24 hours before the supper, so there was no time in the schedule for testing recipes. I had made all of these components at one time or another, just not for this ensemble. I got lucky, because when I tasted it, it was as if I was back in the dining room on West 57th. And the kids liked it, too, so you know it’s good (they’re the real critics!).

Cerines’ Chocolate Tarts

serves 6-8

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse until the texture resembles coarse meal:
1 1/4 cups flour
4 T. best-quality cocoa powder
4 T. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
120 gr/4 oz. unsalted butter, cold

With the motor running, add:
1 large egg yolk + 1 T. water

Mix just until the dough comes together, no more than 20 seconds. Turn onto a lightly floured worktop or silicone mat and lightly work the dough until it comes together.

Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes (do not prepare too far in advance as the presence of the egg yolk with the sugar will render the dough unworkable).

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out, stopping intermittenly to turn the dough thereby making sure that it doesn’t stick to the surface below. Place in a baking shell with a removable bottom or in a ceramic tart pan. (see POINTERS below)

Return shell to chill. Preheat oven now to 180°C/350°F. Prick the shell with a fork and then bake for 12-15 minutes.  Allow to cool on a baking rack. The finished shell can be prepared in advance. Cover with a tea towel in a cool, dark place until ready to use.

FOR THE FILLING (begin once the crust is baked):

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F.

In a double boiler, melt together:
120 gr/4 oz.dark chocolate (70%)
5 T. unsalted butter, room temperature

Take off heat and allow to cool. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes:
8 large egg yolks
4 T. sugar

Fold in:
cooled chocolate
dark chocolate chunks

Using a spoonula, pour the batter into the shell or, if using multiple, smaller shells, divide evenly. Smooth out with an offset spatula. Bake for 10-12 minutes, plate on large dinner plates, garnish and serve while still warm.

•It is far less time-consuming to use an 25 cm/9 in. tart pan, though making smaller, individual tartlets raises this dessert to the next level, a detail not to be overlooked by appreciative dinner guests

Luxury Touches:
The tart or tartlettes can be enjoyed as is, with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar) or try these accoutrements for a really special presentation.
•Since citrus is in season now in Cyprus, you can serve with orange sauce and caramelized kumquats.

In a small saucepan, boil until thickened:
3/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
2 T. Filfar Mandarin (or other orange liquor)
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, sliced in half

Remove from heat after 15 minutes or until thickened. Remove vanilla bean (place in sugar to make Vanilla Sugar). Reheat slightly just before serving. Smear a spoonful on the plate and, using a syringe, dot the sauce with a few drops of heavy cream. Run a toothpick through the center of each in one, uninterrupted direction to create a pattern.

In a small saucepan, boil until thickened:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
6 sliced kumquats (about four slices per kumquat)

Remove from heat after 30 minutes or until thickened, being careful in the last five minutes of cooking not to caramelize the syrup. Adjust heat accordingly. Remove the kumquat slices and place on a sheet of parchment paper to cool and dry.
•Serve with raspberry puree. This is always the go-to combination with dark chocolate. Frozen raspberries work perfectly so you can make this for Valentine’s Day (or any day) without paying a small fortune for fresh ones out of season.

If you’re pressed for time, you can process the raspberries and skip the step of straining them. Whatever effort it takes to remove the seeds, it is worth it, as in ‘lick-the-plate’ delicious. Your choice.
Process in a food processor:
@4 cups frozen raspberries, thawed

In small batches, push the puree through a fine, mesh strainer using a large heavy-duty spatula. Discard seeds. Add to the finished puree:
1 T. superfine (caster) sugar
2 tsp. lemon juice

Stir to combine just until the sugar dissolves. Cover and keep at room temperature. Store any unused portion in the refrigerator.  Great for using in vodka martinis or for breakfast over yogurt.