Sometimes you just feel like a challenge, a recipe with multiple steps which extend over a couple of days, right? Well, I do. Lately I’ve been attracted to slightly more complicated recipes. I think I am in a bit of rut and find myself anxiously waiting for spring and all of the fresh fruits and vegetables the new season will bring my way. In the meantime, I am trying to keep myself busy. My fancy dessert phase started with the Tres Leches  cake and has lead me to this Aurora Tart. I made this bit of decadence a couple of weeks ago when we had friends visiting—everyone loved it. It took longer than I thought, but tasted better than I expected- which seems like a good trade-off. And guess what, friends? There is chocolate in this recipe! (Okay, only an ounce of chocolate. But still!)
The recipe is from Frank Sitt’s Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair with Italian Food, which is an outstanding cookbook. Both this and his first book (Frank Stitt’s Southern Table) are favorites of mine and put Birminham, AL on my list of Places I’d Like to Visit. Not only are they both beautifully produced cookbooks, the recipes are elegant and delicious. This tart looks so gorgeous in the book that I had to give it a try. Caramel custard is topped with a thin layer of chocolate ganache and praline whipped cream. It all comes together into a seriously fancy dessert that will impress anyone you share it with. Make sure you plan in advance so that you have time to get this all done. I started two days early with the pie crust and praline. It wasn’t much work, just a little extra planning. I got about 14 slices out of this but depending on appetites I would say this serves anywhere from 10-14. The praline whipped cream is so good that I had a hard time not eating all of it before it made its way onto the tart. A bowl of fruit topped with the praline would be a simple but equally delicious dessert.
Aurora Tart (from Bottega Favorita … A Southern Chef’s Love Affair with Italian Food by Frank Stitt)
For the Caramel Custard Filling
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1 large egg
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 baked Basic Tart Shell, cooled (recipe below)
For the Chocolate Glaze
- 1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Praline Cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter for the pan (unless using a silicone pan liner), softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup almonds or pecans, lightly toasted
- 1 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
To make the caramel custard, bring the heavy cream to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and keep the cream warm while you caramelize the sugar.
Put the sugar in a 2-quart saucepan and cook it over medium-high heat, stirring continuously, until it dissolves and the caramel syrup turns dark amber, 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the warm cream to combine-be careful, the mixture will bubble up. If it seizes and hardens, stir it over low heat to liquefy the lumps of caramel, then remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, and let the caramel cool for about 5 minutes so that it will not cook the eggs when added to them.
Whisk together the egg and egg yolks in a heatproof bowl. Slowly at first, then in a steady stream, add the warm caramel to the eggs, whisking constantly until incorporated. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve, then pour it into the prebaked crust in the springform pan.
Bake the tart, rotating the pan occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is just set-it should still jiggle slightly in the center when the pan is shaken. (for some reason this took me about 40 minutes to achieve, it might be a problem with my oven.) Transfer the pan to a rack to cool to room temperature, then transfer it to the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
To make the chocolate glaze, melt the chocolate with the cream in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water. Add the vanilla and stir to blend.
Spread the warm glaze over the chilled custard in a thin layer, then chill the tart again for at least 1 hour.
To make the praline cream, line a 12-by-17-inch jelly-roll pan or baking sheet with parchment paper and grease with the butter, or line it with a silicone liner.
Put the sugar in a small heavy saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it dissolves and the caramel turns light amber, about 6 minutes. Add the nuts and continue stirring over the heat, being very watchful, just until the sugar syrup turns dark amber, 1 minute more. Carefully pour the hot praline onto the lined pan, spreading it evening into a thin layer. Let it cool completely.
Break the praline into pieces and grind into a coarse powder in a food processor. (The praline powder can be made ahead and stored in a jar for several weeks at room temperature or frozen in an airtight container for 1 to 2 months.)
Whip the cream in a medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold in 1/2 cup of the praline powder.
Pipe or spread the praline cream over the chilled tart. Sprinkle the remaining praline powder over the top, and refrigerate the tart for at least 8 hours, or overnight. (The tart can be refrigerated for up to 2 days)
Basic Tart Shell
Makes one 10-1/2-inch tart shell
- 1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter,
- cut into cubes and chilled
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Whisk together the yolks, cream, and vanilla in a small bowl, add to the butter mixture, and pulse until the dough comes together. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, or overnight.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 14-inch circle, turning the dough with each roll to prevent it from sticking. Carefully drape the dough over the rolling pin and ease into a 10 1/2-inch springform pan, pressing it evenly over the bottom and up the sides. (This was a disaster for me, the sough fell apart as I tried to unroll it into the pan. No worries though, I just pieced it back together and it was fine.) Chill the tart shell in the freezer for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Line the tart shell with foil and weight with dried beans or pie weights. Bake until the pastry is set and cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake for about 5 minutes longer, just to brown lightly. Cool on a rack before filling