Friday, September 23, 2011

Chocolate Walnut Tart

Last week, I needed something to bring to my friend’s birthday party.  I didn’t want to bring cake, because they probably already had one of those.  I didn’t want to bring cupcakes, because those are really just more cake.  And I didn’t want to bring brownies, because someone else might bring those too.

How about a tart?  Those are kind of fancy, special, and birthday appropriate.

This Chocolate Walnut tart also happens to be incredibly easy to make.  The recipe is from Cooking Light magazine.  In the past, Cooking Light baking recipes haven’t been my favorite.  They’re pretty good, but if you really want to wow your friends, you’ll get more points for taste than calorie-shaving abilities.

This tart might have changed my mind about Cooking Light.  The filling is fudgy yet refined, like a brownie, and it’s got the perfect amount of richness.  Of course, in response to comments online, I added an extra two ounces of chocolate and ¼ tsp of espresso powder to increase the chocolate flavor.  For all I know that means the recipe isn’t “light” anymore.  But hey—if you can make it that much better by adding just a little more chocolate, go for it.  Next time I might even add chocolate chips.

Note:  When I read there was corn syrup in the filling, I started envisioning something more like a pecan pie, but the end result is much more like a brownie.  The corn syrup is for sweetness, not texture.

Chocolate Walnut Tart

Adapted from Cooking Light

1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light-colored corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter (at room temperature)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
¼ tsp espresso powder
1 cup walnut halves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury)
Cooking spray

1. Arrange 1 rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Combine brown sugar, flour, and salt in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring well with a whisk. Stir in corn syrup, and bring mixture to a boil. Cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add butter, chocolate and espresso powder; stir with a whisk until smooth. Cool to room temperature; stir in walnuts, vanilla, and eggs.
3. Fit pie dough into a 9-inch round removable-bottom tart pan coated with cooking spray, pressing dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
4. Spoon walnut mixture into prepared crust. Bake on bottom oven rack at 350° for 33 minutes or until set. Cool for 20 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Remove sides of tart pan; slide tart onto a serving platter. Cut into wedges.

Nutritional Information
Calories: 292 (for 1/12 original recipe)
 Fat: 18.3g

Monday, September 12, 2011

Deep Fried Cookie Dough with Fleur de Sel

In honor of the Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2 premiere two weeks ago, I knew I had to do something big to commemorate the occasion.  This is, after all, the show that brought us the deep fried whoopie pie.

I wanted to fry something, but it seems these days people are willing to deep fry anything.  As I learned at the Durham Fair, even some things you think might be good fried—like a s’more—aren’t actually as good as the regular version.  The Food Network Magazine recently ran an article explaining which foods taste better fried, and which you should leave in their more natural state (hint:  avocado is not a good idea.)  And really, if the Food Network Magazine is telling you NOT to cook something, you know the trend has gotten out of hand.

But then there’s cookie dough—think about it for a second.  Warm, melted cookie dough, chocolate chips, crispy exterior.  It makes total sense.  It more than makes sense—it beckons.

When I’m at home, my aunt usually discourages me from deep frying things on account of the mess and the hot oil that could burn someone.  Fortunately, I invited some friends over, so that we could make more of a mess and there would be more people to burn.

Here are a few things we learned:
-Make the cookie dough taste good.  You are not baking these cookies, so ratios don’t matter.  Just make the cookie dough taste as good as you can:  add more vanilla, more sugar, more chocolate, more salt, whatever you want.  Keep tasting and keep adjusting.

-Smaller batches produce better results.  In the beginning, we tried to cook multiple pieces at once.  The outsides stuck to the bottom of the pan and started to burn extremely quickly, but when we took them out, the cookie dough wasn’t completely melted (although it was still delicious)  Towards the end, I began frying the cookie dough one piece at a time in a small pan.  It was much easier to control, and each dough ball came out completely melted in the center without a burnt exterior.

-Add the sea salt.  Don’t forget it in the rush to shove deep fried dough goodness in your mouth.  The fleur de sel really makes this dish, so don’t forget it.

What are you waiting for?  There’s another episode of Top Chef this Wednesday that you can celebrate.  Check out the recipe here (there’s even a video online) and make these fried bits of glory for yourself!