Chocolate cream pie was always the ultimate treat when I was a child. No matter the occasion, my Dad asked for one of my Mom’s pies piled high with beautifully browned meringue in the place of a more conventional cake.
I have never been a big pie baker, however. The crust intimidated me for years before I learned that a food processor would do a far better job of cutting butter into the flour than I ever could. Even then, the dough had to be rolled out and mine always stuck to the pastry board until I realized that I actually was using too little flour on the board in my fear of using too much. I won’t even talk about my failures with meringue.
So when I was inspired to make chocolate pie–actually tarts–for Valentine’s Day, I decided to keep it simple enough even for the pie-phobes among us. The crust is a peanut butter cookie dough pressed into the pans rather than rolled out The filling is a rich pot de creme quickly made in a double boiler, which is easy to improvise. The topping is straight out of an iSi cream whipper, although it’s not hard to whip cream with a wire whip or electric mixer.
Think of these tarts as deconstructed peanut butter cups with much better ingredients. Deep, dark chocolate beats out wimpy milk chocolate in my book any day.
Makes 1 9-inch tart or 3-4 individual tarts
¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cold butter
½ cup natural peanut butter
1 large egg
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
2 3.5-ounce bars dark chocolate (70 percent cacao preferred)
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup granulated sugar
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
Whipped cream for topping
CRUST: In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, whirl the brown and white sugars together for a minute or so until very fine. Cut the butter into half inch cubes. With the motor running, drop the butter through the feed tube into the work bowl and process for about 20 seconds. Add peanut butter and whirl until mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix just until incorporated. Add flour and salt and pulse a couple of times until incorporated.
Dump the contents of the food processor onto a large sheet of plastic wrap spread on the counter. The mixture will be very crumbly. Use the plastic wrap to bring the crumbs together into a smooth, flat disk. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
Press the dough evenly into the tart pan by hand, making sure to keep it fairly thin, about 1/8-inch thick, all over. Cover crust with plastic wrap again and chill for 1 hour more. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove crust from refrigerator, prick all over with the tines of a fork and bake on the lower shelf of the oven for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on a rack while you make the filling.
FILLING: With a serrated knife, chop chocolate bars into very small pieces. Mix cream, chocolate and sugar in the top half of a double boiler suspended over boiling water. (If you don’t have a double boiler, bring a couple of inches of water to a boil in a saucepan and suspend a heat proof bowl above the water. The bowl should be large enough to sit on the rim of the pan without touching the water.) Stir mixture with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until chocolate melts and bubbles begin to form on the surface. Beat eggs lightly in a small bowl. Stir about half a cup of the hot chocolate mixture into the egg yolks to temper them, then stir the yolk mixture back into the chocolate in the double boiler. Stir in vanilla. Continue cooking and stirring until the custard thickens, about 5 minutes. If you have any lumps, pass the custard through a mesh strainer. Otherwise, pour directly into the tart crusts.
Let tarts cool, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until about an hour before serving. Whip cream, garnish tarts, and serve.