Musings on Cookbooks and Chocolate Meringue Tart

IMG_2473This is the recipe that required the 12 inch pie dish that I wrote about a few days ago. Even without a 12″ pie dish I managed to figure out how to make this recipe and  in the end I was very happy with how it turned out, it’s basically a lemon meringue pie made with chocolate!

The recipe is from Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook.  I love Mast Brothers chocolate, I think that they are one of the best bean-to-bar chocolate makers in America. I’ve been buying chocolate from them for years and highly recommend buying their baking chocolate which they sell by the pound. If you are ever in NYC you must go to their shop in Williamsburg it’s amazing.  You can even sign up for a tour of the chocolate making kitchen.

Writing a cookbook is an  art form.  As I pay more attention to recipes and cookbooks now that I write about it and, cook more than I ever have before, I realize how there are a lot of badly written or downright wrong recipes in cookbooks.  Nice, expensive, beautiful cookbooks with recipes so wrong and so poorly written it’s kind of mind-boggling.  Last year I wrote about my adventures with trying to make the recipe that is feature on the cover of Homemade: Winter.

I’ve run into several cookbooks in my cooking adventures that seem to be for an audience who would rather look at pictures of food than they would make it.  To me a cookbook is about cooking so I find this cookbook-as-porn thing rather baffling.  You wonder if it’s too much bother for publishing houses to hire a proper test cook to make the recipes to make sure that they are clearly written and work or, do they realize that most people who buy them aren’t going to cook from then anyway so why bother?  The Fannie Farmer cookbook and Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food cookbooks are my go to cookbooks because I know I will always find a reliable recipe that is easy to follow.

Neither of those books have photographs.

My question is if cookbooks don’t inspire you to cook, what does?  If you just buy cookbooks for the pretty pictures then what is your relationship with food?  Do you page through your beautiful cookbook while you order in, or reheat prepared food or as you sit alone in a cafe waiting for your dinner to be served?

Writing and publishing cookbooks that encourage people to cook from them with recipes that are understandable, clear and have a predictable outcome seems to me to be the idea.  They can even have beautifully photographed food in them, but not at the exclusion of good recipes.

This brings me to the very beautiful, but often frustrating Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook.  Most families have 9″ pie dishes, not 12″.  I’ve already belabored that point and really what would have been so helpful is if it had said: if you don’t have a 12″ pie dish you could use..a springform pan or an 11″ tart pan.   Ultimately this is a great recipe it’s just written in such a cryptic style that it was frustrating to me.  I understand that there’s a value to minimal instructions, but I think if you really want people to cook your recipe at home you have to give them enough information to know what it is they can expect.

My biggest issue was the crust, a variation on Pâte Brisée does not call for the crust to be blind baked or even to have the dough punctured with fork tines in order to prevent it from puffing up during baking.  Blind baking also helps create a richer, denser more shortbread like crust.  The big difference between what I made and the original recipe is mine is a tart not a pie.  I had an 11″ tart pan which meant I didn’t have to go out and buy another baking dish which was the real deciding factor in making it a tart not a pie.

Herewith are my experiences with this recipe:

When I made the crust the first time it puffed up like a blister on the back of a sunburnt child’s back, leaving it cracked and puffy even after it deflated.   The second time I made the crust I blind baked.IMG_2450These are my pie weights (Dried Black and Pinto beans) I’ve been using them for about 20 years.

This is a very moist dough:IMG_2436The instructions say you should mix the butter into the dry ingredients until it is flaky? (I thought it got flaky after it was cooked?).  It goes on to say mix until “doughy”?  Then the most perplexing one: knead by hand until smooth?  Well, um, this is a very wet doughy dough that just needs to be scraped out of the bowl and refrigerated in parchment, for at least 2 hours or over night not the 30 minutes suggested.  I don’t see how you could possibly knead it? 

Then there is the little issue of rolling the dough out and baking it.IMG_2445I decided to use a combo of flour and cocoa powder on my marble to roll out my very cold dough.  From the start I had a bad feeling about this, the dough is so moist I knew I should have rolled it out between two sheets of parchment paper, but what the hell I’m a good boy who can follow instructions.   Above is what happened.

Often with dough like this I skip the rolling part and just spread the dough with my hands.  It’s very forgiving and pliable, but my suggestion, if you do decide to roll it, is to do so between two pieces of parchment or wax paper, once rolled remove the top paper and very carefully and swiftly flip it over.  Any rough spots can easily be fixed.IMG_2447baked mine for more than the 20 minutes recommended in the recipe.   I blind baked it with pie weights for 30 minutes removed it from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes, removed the baking weights then put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes.IMG_2449

The ganache didn’t call for anything but butter, cream, chocolate I added a quarter teaspoon of Sea Salt and a tablespoon of Bourbon just to perk things up.

Finally, I halved the amount of meringue, for a pie I think a higher meringue would work and you could go for the original cup of egg whites, but the tart didn’t need it. 

I was a little worried that the crust was going to be not sweet enough and would need to be redone with more sugar in it, in the end it was OK,  but if I made it again I would add 1/4 -1/3 cup of confectioners sugar instead of the three tablespoons of granulated sugar the recipe calls for.  The ganache and the meringue are sweet and provide a nice counter the bitterness of the dark chocolate crust, but still I think a little more sweet in it wouldn’t hurt.

All in all this is an impressive dessert and very delicious once you get the recipe worked out 😉

Chocolate Meringue Tart

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment add: 2 cups of All Purpose Flour, 1/2 Cup of Cocoa Powder and 3 Tablespoons of granulated sugar (or for a slightly sweeter crust 1/4 cups organic confectioners sugar) turn the paddle on briefly to fully incorporate the dry ingredients, then add 1 cup of room temperature Unsalted Butter, mix on medium speed until fully incorporated.

With the mixer on low add 2 large Egg Yolks one at a time.  Mix well between each one.  Then drizzle 1/4 cup Ice Water into the mixture, mixing on low-speed until the liquid is incorporated – you will have a fairly wet dough.  With a spatula scrap the dough onto a piece of parchment or wax paper, top with another piece and flatten into a disc.

Refrigerate for 2 hours or over night. IMG_2439Once the dough is in the pan cover it with parchment paper and freeze it for 30 minutes.

Preheat the over to 350 F.IMG_2447Remove the dough from the freezer and on top of the parchment paper you covered the crust with, fill the tart shell with pie weights. Place on a baking sheet and put in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. (You’ll have some left over dough, roll it into walnut size balls, roll them in icing sugar and bake like a cookie. This works best if you make the more sugar crust version).

When the time is up remove the crust from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes.  Carefully remove the parchment and weights and place back into the over for another 10-12 minutes.  It should look dry and fully cooked.  Cool to room temperature .IMG_2449

In a medium size bowl add 8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate (64% is perfect – I used a mixture of bitter-sweet and semi-sweet, anywhere around the 60% ball park is good).

In a small sauce pan over medium heat bring just to the boil 1 Cup of Heavy Cream. When the cream has just started to boil take off heat and pour over the chocolate, let sit for one minute.  Add 1/4 Teaspoon sea salt and stir with a spatula until the chocolate has melted and the cream be completely incorporated.  Stir in 1 Tablespoon of Bourbon (or Whiskey or Brandy). IMG_2455Pour the ganache into the cooled crust and refrigerate until solid, from 2 hours or over night.IMG_2456Here it is out of the fridge. At this point remove the tart ring.IMG_2467To make the meringue, in the clean, dry bowl of a standing mixer add 1/2 cup of egg whites (about 4 Large organic eggs, reserve the egg yolks for custard or ice cream!) add a pinch of cream of tartar and with the whisk attachment on medium/high speed beat the egg whites until they are white and fluffy and hold soft peaks.  Sift 1 Cup of Organic Confectioners Sugar (non organic is made with GMO Corn Starch and is best avoided if you can.  Whole Foods sells reasonably price GMO free organic Confectioners sugar) and add it gradually to the egg whites until they hold their shape and have a silky glossy look.   Spread the meringue over the chilled ganache. IMG_2470and creatively spread to cover. IMG_2480Heres the thing, my Grandmother and mother when ever they made a meringue pie would brown it under the broiler. This is indeed tricky business and I can remember often when burnt meringue was on the menu.  Not being a big fan of unnecessary kitchen gadgets I was very happy to have on hand this “kitchen torch”.  Thanks to my brother Davids generosity one christmas and a gift certificate at a kitchen supply store I picked this up.  Originally my intention was to use it for Crème brûlée for which it is mostly useless for, so I was glad to find a purpose it excelled at: Browning Meringue. IMG_2486However if you don’t have the inclination to buy one and you own a blow torch that would work as would the broiler, but watch it like carefully and constantly!

Serve this dessert cold in small slices.  It’s great for parties, this 11″ tart could easily serve 10-12 people.  IMG_2484I’m going to continue cooking my way through the Mast Brother Chocolate: Family Cookbook and will keep you apprised of my progress.  Next up: Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treats.

About urbanfoodguy

I'm a self taught cook with a dedication to buying and eating food that is as humanely and sustainably raised as possible. Which is why in addition to recipes you will see a lot of environmental/political reporting here. I started cooking when I was about 6, it's something I always loved to do. Watching Graham Kerr - aka "The Galloping Gourmet" - was what got me started and I have never really looked back. Over the years I've been a private chef, a caterer, and a food stylist for magazines such as Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Real Simple, Oprah, Martha Stewart's Everyday Food and many more. I've also worked in the prep kitchen for the Food Network on the Bobby Flay and Paula Deen shows. Now I work at home in my kitchen sharing with you here recipes that I create or that other people have created that inspire me and I think you will like. I love my neighborhood (the Lower East Side of Manhattan) and I love to travel. Because NYC is such a big place I tend to focus mostly on my 'hood and the ones that are close by: The East Village, Bowery, Chinatown and Williamsburg. My love of travel has no limits really, I'm always ready to get on a plane. I was lucky enough to have a business for many years that allowed me to spend a lot of time in South East Asia. These days I've been spending time in Mexico, Germany, Canada and the West Coast of the U.S., but check back you never know where I might end up. I do consulting, cooking classes, and freelance lifestyle writing so if you are interested please send me a note: urbanfoodguy@gmail.com
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