The Perfect Dessert for Mother's Day

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Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart The smoothest, creamiest, most milk chocolaty filling which melts in your mouth, contrasted with a fine layer of creamy caramel, and thin crisp buttery cookie crust. This is truly one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. It all began with an informal book signing that Woody and I had at the Belvedere Farmer's Market last summer. A neighbor introduced herself as the mother of a pastry chef--Lindsay Stewart, at a New Jersey culinary school restaurant called 90 Acres, in Peapack, a 40 minutes drive from Hope. We were waiting for a special occasion to visit and it arrived this past March when we invited Woody to celebrate his birthday. Lindsay and I exchanged a few emails in the course of which I knew I had met a kindred spirit. Here is an excerpt of one: Our two best selling dessert items are an ice cream sundae and a pie of the day. That's what people want, simple and delicious. I feel like some chefs lose sight of that when they are creating. That bleeds into the cake business as well. I don't consider something that is made out of cereal treats and a substance similar to Play-Do a cake. It's sad really how many people are surprised when they eat my wedding cakes that they actually taste delicious as well as being beautiful. It hurts my heart because that's the point of pastry, isn't it? To taste good. Yes! It was love at first write. We were all immediately impressed by the location of the restored carriage house set amidst the rolling hills of Somerset County NJ, and the refined but comfortably informal atmosphere of the main dining room.

Dinner began with a tasting of extraordinarily delicious salumi cured from the culinary center's own pigs. It was accompanied by bread so good I had to ask where it came from and not surprisingly, it was from Balthazar's Bakery in Tenafly. We were all completely sated by the time dessert rolled around so we decided to share just one and what a one!!! I woke up the next morning still thinking about it. A day later I found myself wishing I could have another serving. Finally I summoned my courage and wrote to Lindsay asking if she would share her recipe, hoping hoping. But I wasn't surprised when she said yes, because anyone who could create such a glorious thing would have to be a beautiful and sharing person. The original recipe was made in the form of a pie with the most tender/crisp crust that was, of course, made with lard, but not just any lard--it was lard from the culinary center's own pigs. Normally I prefer lard crusts only with savory pies but the flavor of this one was perfectly compatible with a dessert pie. Lacking access to this type of lard I decided to make the pie as a tart and use a cookie tart dough (pâte sucrée). An added benefit is that this dough never gets too firm when chilled and the richness of the chocolate filling benefits from slight chilling. We will return soon to 90 Acres but not for a special occasion because being there IS the special occasion.

Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart Adapted from Chef Linsay Stewart of 90 Acres Culinary Center Serves: 10 to 12 Oven Temperature: 425F/220C Baking Time: 25 to 35 minutes

Special Equipment One 9-1/2 by 1 inch high fluted tart pan with removable bottom, sprayed with baking spray with flour if not a nonstick pan; An expandable flan ring, 12 inch cake pan, or 12 inch cardboard template; One 8 inch round cake pan; A baking sheet lined with nonstick or lightly sprayed foil; A large coffee urn filter, or several smaller cup-style filters, or pleated parchment to be filled with beans or rice as weights (spray the bottoms lightly with nonstick cooking spray)

Sweet Cookie Tart Crust (Pâte Sucrée) Makes: 1 cup/11.3 ounces/321 grams

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Make the Cookie Tart Dough Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes and refrigerate until ready to use. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a food processor, pulse the sugar and the cold butter cubes until the sugar coats the butter. Add the flour mixture and pulse until the butter is no larger than small peas. In a small bowl, stir together the egg yolk and cream. Add to the mixture and pulse just until incorporated, about 8 times. The dough will be in crumbly pieces. Empty the dough into a plastic bag and press it from the outside of the bag just until it holds together. Remove the dough from the plastic bag and place it on a very large sheet of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap, knead the dough only a few times until it becomes one smooth piece. There should be no visible pieces of butter. (Visible pieces of butter in the dough will melt and form holes during baking. If there are visible pieces of butter continue kneading the dough or use the heel of your hand to press them in a forward motion to spread them into the dough.)

Chill the Dough Flatten the dough into a 6 inch disc. Wrap it well and refrigerate it for 30 minutes, or until firm enough to roll or pat into the pan. It can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 6 months. If chilled for more than 30 minutes, it can take as long as 40 minutes at room temperature to become malleable enough to roll.

Roll the Dough Set the dough between lightly floured large sheets of plastic wrap. Roll it evenly into a 1/8 inch thick disc larger than 12 inches in diameter. While rolling the dough, sprinkle it with a little more flour on each side as needed and if the dough softens significantly, slip it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate it until firm. From time to time, flip the dough with the plastic wrap and lift off and flatten out the plastic wrap as necessary to make sure it does not wrinkle into the dough.

Line the Tart Pan Remove the top sheet of plastic wrap and use the expandable flan ring, or a pizza wheel or small sharp knife with the cardboard template as a guide, to cut a 12 inch disc. If using the pizza wheel or knife, take care not to cut through the bottom plastic wrap. (Excess dough can be frozen for several months.) If the dough softens after cutting, refrigerate it until firm. It will not drape over the pan unless it is flexible, so if it becomes too rigid in the refrigerator, let it sit and soften for a few minutes. Invert the 8 inch cake pan onto a work surface. Use the bottom sheet of plastic wrap to lift the dough and set it, plastic side down, over the 8 inch cake pan. Smooth down the sides so they will fit into the tart pan and place the removable bottom of the tart pan on top. Then carefully place the fluted ring, upside down, on top. Place a flat plate or cardboard round over the tart pan to keep it from separating. Invert the pans and remove the cake pan. Carefully peel off the plastic wrap. Gently ease the dough down to reach the bottom and sides of the pan. If the dough breaks when transferring it into the pan, patch and press it into the pan with your fingers. Fold down the excess dough to create a double layer for the sides of the tart and press it against the sides of the tart pan so that it extends 1/8 to 1/4 inch above the top. If the dough is thicker in places, press it so that it becomes thinner and rises no higher than 1/4 inch. Use small sharp kitchen scissors to trim it to 1/4 inch above the top of the pan. Also, if patting it in by hand, press the dough at the juncture where the bottom meets the sides, which often tends to be thicker. For a decorative border, use the back of a knife to make diagonal marks using each flute as a guide.

Chill the Tart Shell Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate it or freeze it for a minimum of 8 hours.

Preheat the Oven Thirty minutes or longer before baking, set oven racks at the middle and lowest levels and preheat the oven to 425˚F/220˚C.

Bake the Tart Shell Run a finger along the outside fluted edge of the pan to make sure that no dough is attached. The dough must not extend onto the outside of the pan or, because the sides slip down a bit on baking, it will make a hole when the baked crust is removed. Line the pan with the coffee filter or parchment and fill it three-quarters full with beans or rice to weight it, pushing the weights up against the sides. Carefully transfer the tart pan to the foil-lined baking sheet and set the tart on the lower rack.

Bake for 5 minutes, lower the heat to 375˚F/190˚C, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until set. If not set, the dough will stick more to the filter. Lift out the filter with the weights, and continue baking for 5 to 10 minutes more. If the dough starts to puff in places, press it down quickly with your fingertips or the back of a spoon. Bake until pale gold (the edges will be a deeper brown) and the tart shell feels set but still soft to the touch. (It will continue firming while cooling, just the way cookies do.)

The Caramel Layer

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Make the Caramel Place the baked tart shell near the cooktop. Have ready a small offset spatula lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray beside it.

In a medium heavy saucepan, preferably nonstick, stir together the sugar, water, corn syrup, and cream of tartar until all the sugar is moistened. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring completely and allow the syrup to boil undisturbed until it turns a deep amber (370˚F/188˚C).

Remove it immediately from the heat as it will continue to rise, or remove it slightly before it reaches temperature and just as soon as it does, pour in the hot cream and then the butter. The mixture will bubble up furiously. Add the optional salt and gently stir just to incorporate all the ingredients. Immediately pour the caramel onto the baked tart shell. Tilt the tart shell back and forth to spread the caramel evenly to cover the entire bottom of the tart shell.

Allow it to cool completely until the caramel has hardened. If necessary, set it in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes before adding the chocolate.

Milk Chocolate Ganache

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Make the Milk Chocolate Ganache Have ready a fine-mesh strainer suspended over a medium glass bowl. In a food processor, process the chocolate until very fine. Pour the corn syrup over the chocolate. In a 2 cup microwavable measure with a spout (or in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often) scald the cream (heat it to the boiling point; small bubbles will form around the periphery).

With the motor running, pour the cream through the feed tube in a steady stream. Process for about 15 seconds until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir to make sure all the chocolate has melted. If any particles remain, process for a few seconds more.

Press the ganache through the strainer into the silicone or glass bowl or the top of a double boiler.

Complete the Tart Microwave the ganache for about 20 seconds or heat just until lukewarm (an instant-read thermometer should read 96˚ to 100˚F/36˚ to 38C). Pour it over the caramel. It will form a smooth layer. Any large bubbles that form can be pricked with a clean needle.

Note: If using a lower cacao percentage chocolate the filling will be sweeter and less firm so you will need to increase the cacao percentage by adding unsweetened chocolate. Guittard 38%, for example will require the addition of 10 grams/0.5 ounce of unsweetened chocolate. Calculate how much you need based on the difference in percentage, for example, if 35%, which is 5% lower than 40%, you will need 5 grams unsweetened chocolate for every 100 grams of milk chocolate which totals 22 grams for 454 grams/1 pound. Refrigerate the tart, uncovered, for at least 4 hours or until the ganache has set.

Unmold the Tart Remove the tart from the refrigerator. Place the tart pan on top of a canister that is smaller than the opening at the bottom of the tart pan's outer rim. Press down on both sides of the tart ring. It should slip away easily. Set the tart on a hot towel to soften the butter that will have hardened between the crust and the pan bottom. Slide the tart onto a serving plate. Allowed it to sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. The chocolate filling is most creamy and delicious when slightly cool. If desired, spoon unsweetened lightly whipped cream on the side of each slice.

Store Refrigerated, 5 days; frozen, 6 months