A few years ago, I felt so honored when I was asked to make dessert for the James Beard Award winners at their annual gala. I decided to do chocolate pudding tarts in a pecan shortbread crust. It was such a hit that I knew it’d be just as good, if not better, in a salted peanut crust. The secret to my technique is to fully bake the crusts, then fill them with warm pudding. This allows the tops to set evenly with no effort and it melds the flavors together. Each bite takes you from crunchy nut top to silky ganache to creamy pudding and back to crunchy nut. This tart captures my spirit as a baker: it’s all elegance with a down-home flavor that hits that happy, nostalgic sweet spot.
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 2/3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 ounces bittersweet (70%) chocolate, melted
2 ounces high-quality milk (41%) chocolate, melted
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Salted Peanut Shortbread, baked into twelve 4-inch tart shells (recipe below)
Milk Chocolate Ganache (recipe below)
8 tablespoons chopped roasted, salted peanuts
1. In a large saucepan, whisk the cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Gradually whisk in the milk and cream, then bring to a low boil over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat and whisk in the melted chocolate. Continue whisking until smooth.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until broken. Add the hot milk to the yolks, a little at a time, while whisking continuously. When the bottom of the mixing bowl is warm, whisk in the remaining milk.
3. Pour the mixture into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously. Be sure to scrape along the bottom of the pan and along the sides. Continue cooking and stirring until the pudding thickens, increasing the speed of your stirring as the custard gets thicker. You want to actually boil the custard but not burn it, so keep stirring while it bubbles and gets really thick. Let it boil for 30 seconds, then remove from the heat.
4. Strain the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Fold in the butter and vanilla until fully incorporated. Divide among the tart shells and refrigerate uncovered until firm and set, at least 4 hours.
5. Divide the ganache among the tarts, swirling to evenly coat the tops. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon peanuts on top of each. Refrigerate uncovered until set, at least 10 minutes and up to 1 day.
Carla’s Tip: Try to find smaller peanuts; they’re crunchier and less greasy than the big cocktail ones.
Salted Peanut Shortbread
Makes eight 4-inch tart shells
2 cups roasted salted peanuts
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
3/4 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Fleur de sel or other coarse salt, for sprinkling (optional)
1. In a food processor, pulse 3/4 cup of the peanuts with 1/4 cup of the flour and the salt until the peanuts are very finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with another 3/4 cup peanuts and 1/4 cup flour. Coarsely chop the remaining 1/2 cup peanuts and place them in another bowl.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until creamy but still gritty, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the remaining 1/2 cup flour, then the peanut flour, and finally the chopped peanuts.
3. Transfer the dough to a gallon-size heavy-duty resealable plastic bag and press it into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle, squeezing the dough all the way to the bottom and sides of the bag. (The rectangle will be about 3 inches shy of the top). Seal tightly and refrigerate until very firm, up to 1 day.
4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. To make tart shells, roll the dough between sheets of lightly floured parchment paper to an even 1/8-inch thickness. Use a 6-inch round cookie cutter to cut out rounds. Gather and reroll the scraps to cut more rounds; you should have 8 total. Carefully transfer the rounds to 4-inch round tart pans with removable bottoms, pressing the dough into the bottoms and up the sides. If necessary, trim the edge flush with the rim of the pan. Sprinkle with a little fleur de sel, if using. Prick the bottoms with a fork, then bake on a baking sheet until brown, about 15 minutes. Cool completely in the pans on a wire rack.
Milk Chocolate Ganache
Makes about 1 cup
Good milk chocolate is really good: silky and creamy with caramel undertones. Please, please use it here. This just won’t taste right or set properly if you use a candy bar. Look for milk chocolate that’s 35 to 45% cacao and bittersweet chocolate that’s 65 to 75% cacao.
1/4 cup chopped milk chocolate
1 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
Place the chocolate in a large bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until bubbles form around the edge. Pour over the chocolate, then gently stir with a wooden spoon until smooth.
Carla’s Tip: If your chocolate doesn’t melt all the way, whiz the ganache in a food processor until smooth.
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