Lemon Lime Tartlets & Chocolate Caramel Pecan Tartlets — A {ModBak} Twofer

With two weeks left to go in the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge, I found myself with four recipes remaining. The kids are out of town, and we decided to have a low-key day today, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to play a little catch-up. I decided to knock out three recipes at once. The lemon lime tartlet and chocolate caramel pecan tartlet recipes each make 24 tartlets, way too many to have around with just J and me to eat them. Since each recipe calls for the tart shells to be prebaked, I figured I would bake the shells together and then fill them.

As for the third recipe, well, that’s the tartlet shells for the chocolate caramel pecan tartlets. The recipe calls for shells made with chocolate nut dough, and since this is the first recipe to use that dough, I hadn’t made it yet. The lemon lime tartlets are made with sweet tart dough, which I’ve made for many of the recipes in this section.

I mixed up both doughs early in the day and let them chill in the fridge for a few hours. For the lemon lime tartlets, I rolled out the sweet tart dough, cut it into circles, and pressed each disk into a mini muffin pan. Then I did the same with the chocolate nut dough.

I chilled the dough in the pans for about an hour, then baked the shells in a 350°F oven for 12 minutes. Although I pricked the dough well with a fork before baking, the shells puffed up to the point where there was no room for filling. While the shells were still hot, I pressed the center of each one with a small ladle to make room for the filling. I cooled the crusts in the pan for a few minutes, then removed them to a cooling rack. A few of the bakers in the Challenge noted that their tartlet shells stuck when they baked them in mini muffin pans. Knowing this, I had sprayed my pan lightly with spray oil, and my shells came out beautifully.

While the tart shells were cooling, I toasted coconut for the lemon lime tartlets, then made the filling for the chocolate caramel pecan tartlets. (I didn’t have to make the lemon lime filling, as I had leftover lemon and lime curds in the fridge from making ice cream.) The chocolate filling isn’t particularly difficult, although it does require quite a few steps and dirties a lot of pans and bowls. The caramel is made in one pan while the cream is heated in another. These are combined, then scraped into a bowl to cool. Chocolate, which has been melted and cooled in another bowl, is then added to the caramel-cream mixture, and butter and nuts (which have been toasted in a separate pan) are added last.

After making the filling and shells, assembling the tartlets was a breeze. I spooned the chocolate caramel pecan tartlet filling into the shells and topped each one with a toasted pecan.

For the lemon lime tartlets, I had planned to mix my lemon and lime curds, which I had made and stored separately, but Nick cautions against overstirring the curd, lest it become too liquid. I tested this by putting a spoonful of each into a bowl and mixing them. Sure enough, the curd broke down and become too watery to hold up in the tart shells. So I filled half the shells with lemon curd and the other half with lime curd, then topped them with toasted coconut.

My wife and I enjoyed these tartlets for a late-evening snack. We loved the flavor of all three of the tartlets, although we did discover that it was best to eat the chocolate ones first, as they tended to taste a little bitter after eating the curd-filled tartlets.

These were delicious tarts, and I will definitely make them again. However, unless I’m making them for a finger-food event, I would be inclined to do them as full size tarts, rather than tartlets.

Bittersweet Chocolate Tart {ModBak}

This is the second tart recipe in the Sweet Tarts & Pies section of The Modern Baker. Having made the press-in cookie dough, I decided to make this tart to fill it.

Although the ingredients list is very short — heavy whipping cream, light corn syrup, bittersweet chocolate, and unsalted butter — I found the instructions a bit fussy. First, the whipping cream and corn syrup are heated, then cooled. That mixture is then whisked into the chocolate, which has also been heated, then cooled. Then the whole thing is allowed to cool before whisking in the butter a bit at a time.

None of these instructions is overly complicated. What bothered me about it was all the waiting time. Heat. Cool. Heat. Cool. Mix. Cool. It just seemed kind of unnecessary. But of course, I followed the recipe, as it was my first time making it. The next time I prepare this filling, I’ll heat the whipping cream and corn syrup, pour the hot mixture over chopped bittersweet chocolate, and whisk it until the chocolate has melted. Then I’ll cool it — once — and stir in the butter.

Once the whole thing was mixed, I scraped it into the shell and refrigerated it for an hour or so. The recipe said to bring it back to room temperature, but tell me, could you resist this?

It was delicious right from the fridge. In fact, I think I liked it slightly chilled more than at room temperature, although I wouldn’t turn it down either way. Nick wasn’t exaggerating when he said this tart needs no adornment. It was so good — sweet, a little tart, richer than a sugar daddy, and perfect with the cookie dough crust.

This is definitely one that will make frequent appearances around here.

Double Chocolate Mousse Cake {FFwD}

This week’s pick for French Fridays with Dorie seemed like a solid choice. Who doesn’t love chocolate? And baked mousse cake couldn’t be all bad, could it?

I will admit that the recipe seemed a little daunting. Although the ingredients list is short — bittersweet chocolate, espresso/coffee, butter, sugar, salt, and eggs — there are four variations suggested in the recipe. And whichever one you make, there are multiple steps, including mixing, baking, cooling, baking again (or not), more chilling, etc. It wasn’t that any of the instructions seemed particularly difficult. For me it was the fact that all of the options are given throughout the recipe. So rather than following the recipe straight through, you have to jump here or there depending on which variation you’re making. It reminded me of those choose your own adventure books from when I was a kid, but not nearly as much fun.

I decided to make the twice baked version, in which about 1/3 of the mousse is spread in the pan, baked for about 15 minutes, then cooled. Then the rest of the mousse is dumped in, and the whole thing is baked for about half an hour.

Sounds easy enough, right? And perhaps it is. But apparently not for me. My first issue started with the pan. Dorie says to use the ring from an 8-inch springform (not the bottom). I remember thinking two things when I first read this part of the recipe. First, I don’t have an 8-inch springform. My spingform pan is 9 inches, which I didn’t think should be too big a problem, although the thought did occur to me to increase the amount of mousse a bit, an idea that I completely forgot about when it came time to actually make the recipe.

The other thing that occurred to me when I read about using the springform ring and placing it on a Silpat or parchment paper was: Won’t it leak? But if Dorie said it was OK, I would believe her. So I made the mousse, preheated the oven, buttered my ring, put it on a Silpat on a pan, loaded in the mousse, and put the whole thing in the oven. And here’s what I ended up with:

I’m too embarrassed to show you a picture of the bottom of my oven. Suffice it to say the smoke detector went off every time I opened the oven door for the rest of the day.

I cooled what was left of the crust, then topped it with the remaining mousse.

I baked the cake for about 20 minutes, at which point it seemed to be done. I figured since it was spread more thinly in the pan than the recipe envisioned, it would bake more quickly, and it did. I cooled it in the pan for a few minutes, then unmolded it. I didn’t even try to get it off the Silpat, as we were just snacking on it at home, and I’d had enough disasters for one day.

If you have Around My French Table you know that Dorie’s cake is pretty thin. But not nearly as thin as mine. The combination of the too-big pan and losing a good bit of batter from the bottom of the ring left me with a wafer-thin cake that even Mr. Creosote could have finished without exploding.

After all the trouble I had with this cake, I figured it better be pretty good. And you know what? It was. In fact, it was absolutely delicious. I was skeptical about the layers, thinking that since they were made from the same mousse, they couldn’t be all that different. But each had its own distinct flavor and texture. The cake was rich, moist, and very chocolatey. The coffee really brought out the chocolate flavor.

When I bake this cake again, I will make a few alterations to the recipe. First, I will use the entire springform pan. This business of using just the ring doesn’t make sense to me. Why not use the whole pan and remove the cake when it’s baked? And since I will be using my 9-inch springform pan again, I will double the mousse filling, which should result in a cake that’s a bit thicker than the one in the book. Which to me sounds perfect.

Marbled Chocolate Brioche Loaf {ModBak}

The second recipe in the third section of The Modern Baker is another brioche loaf. The basic recipe is similar to Quick Brioche, with the addition of rum and lemon zest. After making the brioche dough, it is divided into three pieces, and one of the pieces is then enriched with bittersweet chocolate and cinnamon.

I patted one of the plain pieces of dough into a five-inch square and set it aside. I did the same with the chocolate dough, then stacked it on top of the plain dough. Finally, I patted out the last piece of plain dough and added it to the stack.

After pressing the dough together, I cut it into three pieces.

Then I cut each strip into about 10 pieces, which I put into a bowl and tossed together.

I added a teaspoon of water, squished the dough into a ball, then pressed it into a loaf pan.

I allowed the dough to rise for two hours. Even though it hadn’t crested the top of the pan, it was ready to bake.

I baked the bread in a 350° oven for 40 minutes. The loaf smelled so good baking, with the chocolate, rum, and butter begging to be tasted.

I cooled the loaf on its side to keep it from deflating.

I sliced into the loaf and liked what I saw. It had a nice even crumb and the marbling looked like the picture in the book.

This was a really delicious bread. The chocolate gave it a wonderful flavor without being cloying sweet. It was good plain, toasted, and with a little marmalade. And after a few days, it made great chocolate bread pudding.

Chocolate Babka Loaf {ModBak}

The first of my two “official” blog posts for the Yeast-Risen Specialties section of the Modern Baker Challenge is a delicious recipe, Chocolate Babka. This bread is Eastern European in origin, most likely Russian. The dough is enriched with milk, butter, egg yolks, and sugar, and filled with bittersweet chocolate and nuts.

I began by heating the milk, then mixing in the yeast, butter, sugar, salt, egg yolks, and vanilla. I stirred in half the flour with a rubber spatula, then mixed in the rest, one-half cup at a time, with the electric mixer. After all the flour had been added, I mixed the dough for two minutes, rested it for 10 minutes, then mixed for another two minutes.

I scraped the dough, which was very slack, into a buttered bowl, then put it in the refrigerator. It was supposed to chill for an hour and a half, but I had some errands to run, so it stayed in the fridge for about three hours. I don’t think the long, cold fermentation hurt the dough, but when I scraped it out onto the bench, it was still very slack.

I sprinkled the board with flour, but should have floured it more heavily. I should also have floured the top of the dough a bit. I patted out the dough, but it was so sticky, it was hard to manage. After pressing it out into a rough rectangle, I sprinkled the dough with the bittersweet chocolate mixture (chocolate, dark cocoa, sugar, and cinnamon) and chopped nuts.

I had quite a time rolling the dough, as it wanted to stick to the mat, my hands, and itself. It wasn’t pretty, but I finally got the dough rolled into a rough loaf shape, which I cut in half, then wrestled into two loaf pans.

The loaves proofed for about two hours, until the dough crested the tops of the pans. I baked the loaves for 45 minutes at 350°.

I took the bread out of the oven, cooled it in the pan for 10 minutes, then removed the loaves and finished cooling them on their sides so the loaves wouldn’t collapse.

What this bread lacked in appearance and manageability, it more than made up for in taste. The bittersweet chocolate was delicious, and the cinnamon gave it an additional depth of flavor.

The next time I make this bread — and there will certainly be a next time — I’ll flour the board and dough more heavily to make it easier to handle. But even with the difficulties I had, this bread was definitely worth the effort.

Perfect Birthday, Perfect Birthday Cake {ModBak}

I remember when M. was a baby. Everything was so new and exciting. I loved being a father so much that I didn’t even mind the crying, midnight feedings, and smelly diapers. I loved the baby stage. Everything was perfect. And it just kept getting better.

Soon, she was smiling and babbling, learning to sit up, then crawl, and eventually walk. She was speaking in complete sentences by 18 months. And I fell head over heals in love with the toddler stage.

And before I knew it, she was a preschooler, exercising her budding motor skills and imagination. I watched her play and learn and explore her world. And I knew this was my favorite age.

Soon M. was starting school, and I watched with great delight as she made new friends and soaked up everything she was taught. And while I was enjoying this new favorite stage, along came A., and I realized how much I loved the baby stage all over again.

I can honestly say that my favorite stage has always been the one my girls are in at any given time. So right now, my absolute favorite ages are 13 and six. A. is at such a fun age — learning to read, exploring her world with curiosity and imagination. She can create anything with paper, scissors, and tape. I came home the other day to find an elephant swimming in a pond at the base of a mountain in the living room. Six is an awesome age!

And I love seeing the young lady M. is becoming and watching her grow in beauty and confidence. She is a great student and a good friend. And to my great delight, she is starting to really enjoy cooking and baking. So when she said she wanted to make my birthday cake this year, I suggested a recipe from The Modern Baker then got out of the way. It was called “Perfect Birthday Cake”, and the name turned out to be quite fitting.

So here are my girls, baking my cake and making me proud.

M. knows the importance of mise en place

Reading the recipe

Checking the recipe one more time

OK, so I am an unabashedly proud daddy, but I’m also a serious baker. And as such, I can honestly say this was the best birthday cake I’ve ever had.

So, I guess my three favorite ages are six, 13, and 42. Until next year, that is.

Triple Chocolate Scones {ModBak}

This is the 11th recipe, and the last of the scones, in the Modern Baker Challenge.

As the name indicates, these scones are loaded with chocolate. They have Dutch process cocoa, milk chocolate, and bittersweet chocolate. The three combine to make these scones rich and deeply flavored. Surprisingly, though, they are not overly sweet.

As with Real Welsh Scones, Ginger Scones with Almond Topping, and Butterscotch Scones, the dough is mixed up quickly in the food processor. The milk chocolate, sugar, and cocoa are pulsed a few times, then the flour, baking powder, and salt are added, and the mixture is pulsed again before adding the butter and pulsing until it resembles coarse corn meal. Finally, the bittersweet chocolate, egg, and milk are added and pulsed a few more times.

I finished kneading the dough on a Silpat, divided it into three pieces, and formed each piece into a sphere. I cut each sphere into four wedges and placed the wedges on a baking sheet. Although the recipe didn’t call for it, I sprinkled each scone with turbinado sugar, both for a little additional sweetness and for appearance.

The scones were baked at 400° F for about 17 minutes.

They were moist, gooey, very chocolately (of course), rich, and delicious. These scones just barely edged out the ginger scones as my favorite scones in the book. In fact, they rank near the top of my list in the whole Quick Breads section.

If you’ve been thinking of giving The Modern Baker (the book and/or the Challenge) a try, start with this recipe. It will make a believer out of you.

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