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Cookbooks entertain for many reasons.  Old, out-of-print ones evoke other times and ways of thinking and doing things–in the kitchen, at the table, in a family.  New cookbooks often seem less atmospheric…Perhaps because the atmosphere is all around us, here in the making, and it takes time and distance for it to distill and become apparent.

Southwest:  The Beautiful Cookbook falls into the ‘new’ category. Nevertheless, its photos, commentary and recipes are evocative of a cultural atmosphere.  Through the culinary histoy of the region, the book describes a culture that has a strong love for its past, but is not frozen in it– whose traditions are very much alive and adaptable.

Mexican Dark Chocolate Tart is a reflection of the quality of the book’s recipe collection.  It is a beautiful and delicious way to eat chocolate.   It is a case in point of how Southwestern cuisine accommodates itself to all sorts of occasions–including elegant ones.

Mexican Dark Chocolate Tart (for 10 people)

Ingredients for the pastry:

  • 1/2 cup of butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder:  Hershey’s, for example–the recipe specifies not to use Dutch cocoa
  • 3/4 cup of flour

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 10 ounces of dark or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 and 1/4 cups of heavy cream

Ingredients for decorating the tart:

  • Powdered sugar
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Hershey’s

Equipment:

  • a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom
  • waxed paper
  • a small strainer for sifting sugar and cocoa powder over the finished tart
  • a piece of plain white paper and scissors to make a stencil to use for decorating the tart
  • an electric mixer, useful but not essential

1.  Make the pastry by placing the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beating it until it is light and fluffy.  Add the cinnamon and vanilla.  Then sift the cocoa and flour together and add them to the butter and sugar mixture.  Shape the dough into a circle.  If it is very soft, wrap it in waxed paper and refrigerate it for about 30 minutes.  (Longer chilling will harden the dough and make it difficult to roll out.):

2.  Place the dough between two sheets of waxed paper and roll it out in a circle of about 12 inches in diameter.  Remove the top sheet of waxed paper and invert the pastry into the tart pan.  Peel off the second sheet of waxed paper and press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan.  The dough is more like cookie dough than pie crust pastry and may tear but can easily be pressed back together and moulded into the pan.  Press it firmly against the sides to help prevent its shrinking during baking.  (Because of its consistency, the pastry shell can’t be lined with paper and weighted down with dried beans to prevent shrinking when it is baked.)  Chill the unbaked tart shell for 30 minutes, or until it is firm:

3.  Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Prick the bottom of the tart shell with a fork and bake the shell for about 15 minutes. As soon as it comes out of the oven, press the hot pastry up against the inside rim of the tart pan with the tines of a fork where the sides of the shell  have collapsed a little during baking.   Let it cool before adding the filling.

4.  To make the filling, put the chopped chocolate in a large bowl.  Heat the cream until it is ready to boil and pour it over the chocolate.  (The temperature to which you heat the cream isn’t important.  It is only important that the cream is very hot when you pour it over the chocolate.  Let it sit for 3 minutes, and then stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth:

5.  Pour the chocolate into the shell:

6.  Spread the filling smoothly over the shell, out to the edges of the tart’s rim:

7.  Refrigerate the tart for about 3 hours, or until the filling hardens:

8.  Decorate the tart when it is cold.  (If the tart is decorated several hours in advance, it should be kept in a cool, dry place so that the powdered sugar doesn’t become damp.  Alternatively, decorating the tart right before serving it will take only a few minutes.)  First, draw or trace a simple design on a plain sheet of white paper and cut it out.  The tarts in the photos were decorated using a coyote drawing…

…and a homemade cactus stencil, stapling two sheets of paper together to make a form large enough to fit the surface of the tart:

9.  Unmould the tart by pressing up on the bottom of the pan and loosening the crust from the sides of the ring.  Remove the ring and place the tart, still sitting on the circular bottom of the pan, on a flat serving tray or wherever you intend to cut it.  Put some powdered sugar in a small strainer and sift it all over the tart.  Then place the stencil over the tart, replace the sugar in the strainer with cocoa, and sift it over the cut-out spaces in the stencil to make, for example, cactuses:

…or a coyote:

A stencil pattern with multiple images has a couple of advantages.  The figures act as a guide for cutting the tart into pieces of fairly equal size and each piece is then already decorated with a figure:

A Note:  The tart can be made, but not decorated, and kept in the refrigerator, a day in advance.

Mexican Dark Chocolate Tart is the Dessert in the Lunch Menu:   Southwestern Elegance.

© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011

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