When I developed this recipe I didn’t really know when I would use it. A rich butter shortbread crust paired with chocolate ganache and toasted pecans is, in my opinion, basically heaven but it’s not an everyday dessert. And then I thought, well this would be the perfect finish – elegant yet not too fussy – to a Christmas dinner. And that’s what my family is gonna do this year.
The tart does require a bit of work but on the whole I think it probably takes less time to make the tart than it does to bake a batch of cookies start to finish. And for less work than cookies would take, this tart is really a showstopper.
Toasting the pecans is essential. Toasting enhances the warm, sweet flavor of the pecans. I always toast nuts in a pan on the stove. To me the oven is dangerous. After all – out of sight, out of mind. I’ve burned any number of trays of nuts by leaving them in the oven too long. But if you prefer to use the oven, feel free.
The crust of this tart uses more butter than a regular tart crust or shortbread might. You can reduce if you want a slightly sandier texture, but I like the intense flavor and flakiness you get from basically over-buttering the crust. The extra butter does make this crust a little more difficult to handle, but is well worth it in the end.
How is it more difficult you ask? Well, when you’re working with that much butter it’s nearly impossible for it not to get soft and a bit sticky. But for maximum flakiness you really need cold butter to go into the oven. To solve this problem I freeze the crust solid before putting it into the oven. It might seem a bit odd, but it works.
A momentary departure from crust talk to discuss this photo. I wanted to make sure you understood what I mean by “glossy” to describe the ganache in the recpie. When you melt cream and chocolate together you get this amazing shine. Look for this.
Back to crusts. When you bake this crust you might get a little nervous. It needs to get brown. Really brown. A well-browned crust has lots of flavor. A light crust tastes like, well, not much. You may start to worry – I nearly always panic when I bake this crust – but hang in there and let the butter do its thing. You’ll thank yourself in the end.
Let the crust and the chocolate each cool almost completely before filling the tart. Otherwise, you could end up with re-melted chocolate that doesn’t maintain the soft texture you want. Plus, if the chocolate has firmed up just slightly from cooling, you can make cute swirls in it like this one.
I like to finish the tart with a few chopped toasted pecan pieces and a bit of sea salt. You can omit them altogether or use something else. Make the dish your own with a few raspberries or a dollop of whipped cream. If you want to finish without any toppings, use an offset spatula to smooth the chocolate for a glossy finish. Enjoy!
- 1/2 cup toasted pecans (see Note)
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 1 1/2 sticks very cold butter cut into small cubes
- *special equipment: removable-bottom tart pan
- 1-12 ounce bag high quality semi sweet chocolate chips (see Note)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- additional toasted chopped pecans
- flake sea salt (such as Maldon)
- Pulse pecans in a food processor until made into a fine meal similar to flour. This may take a while but be careful not to over process - your pecans could turn into pecan butter.
- Add flour, sugar, and salt to chopped pecans and pulse 3-4 times to combine.
- Add butter pieces and pulse until the mixture reaches a texture similar to wet sand (see photo above).
- Spoon crust dough into a fluted tart pan and using your fingers or the back of a spoon, press the mixture into the bottom of the pan to 1/4 inch thick. Press dough up the sides of the pan to create an outer crust as well. If butter becomes overly sticky before crust is prepared, place in refrigerator for 5-10 minutes before continuing to form the crust.
- Press aluminum foil into the crust, folding it snugly around the edges of the pan. Place crust in the freezer for 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Remove the crust from the freezer and, using a fork, pierce the aluminum and crust several times to allow steam to escape while baking. Leaving the aluminum in place, bake 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, carefully remove the aluminum from the crust and bake another 10-15 minutes or until the edges of the crust are golden brown or slightly darker and the center of the crust feels firm and dry when you touch it. Center of the crust will not get as brown as the sides.
- Set crust aside to cool.
- Fill a large saucepan about 1/3 of the way with water and bring to a boil. Combine chocolate, cream, vanilla and salt in a medium saucepan and heat over the boiling water, stirring constantly, to melt and combine the ingredients. Make sure that you allow the mixture to heat long enough to melt out any lumps or bumps and to allow a glossy shine to appear in the mixture. Once smooth, remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Pour the cooled chocolate into the cooled tart crust. Using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, press the chocolate into the sides of the tart crust, making sure that the chocolate sticks to the crust and extends throughout the tart pan. If desired, garnish with toasted pecan pieces and about 1/8 teaspoon of flake sea salt such as Maldon.
- To de-pan the tart, hold the pan from the bottom keeping your fingers inside the rim ring. Hold the rim ring steady on the outside of the tart crust with your other hand. Slowly make very small side-to-side movements with the hand holding the rim ring, allowing the crust to loosen from the ring. Once the crust moves freely (but just BARELY) within the ring, push up with the hand holding the tart from below, allowing the ring to slide down your arm. Let the ring hand from your elbow as you place the tart on a flat surface or cake stand for display.
- TOASTING PECANS - for best results in this recipe, toast pecans in pieces. Place a single layer of nuts in the bottom of a pan pre-heated over medium flame. Stirring frequently allow the nuts to cook for about 7-10 minutes or until just fragrant. If you smell a strong scent of roasted pecans, your nuts are probably already burned. When you start to smell the nuts, remove from the heat and taste one for texture and flavor. A properly toasted nut will taste slightly sweet and very nutty and will have a good crunch. If the nut lacks these characteristics, place pan back on the flame for increments of 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the nuts are deepened in color, sweet tasting and crunchy. Set aside in a single layer to cool - if you place in a bowl the nuts could steam themselves as they cool, thereby negating all your hard work to toast them!
- CHOCOLATE CHIPS - for a more intense flavor, use 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, 6 oz. semi sweet. For a sweeter flavor, use 6 oz. milk chocolate, 6 oz. semi sweet.