Some cookbooks should come with a warning sticker. I'm not talking about health warnings here though I could see a point sometimes. Something on the lines of "The subject of this cookbook is classified as chemical weapon according to the latest UN report. Probable side effects after ingestion: loss of taste, intense oral pain, excessive sweating, hyperventilation and next-day rectal inflammation." would go very well with The Habanero Cookbook. That's not what I mean though. The warning I have in mind should be somewhat along the lines of "The recipes contained in this book are dangerously delicious and addictive. After trying them your taste will be spoilt forever and you'll become a demanding eater." That's what should have been pasted on the cover of Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme. I've only made two of the recipes in the book and I'm totally hooked: will any other chocolate sweet ever taste the same after this?
Herme', in case you've never heard of him, is an acclaimed French patissier, considered by some the best pastry chef of the world. If you want to have a look and read a bit about some of his delicious creations, take a look at Pim's recent post about Herme's shop in Paris.
I wasn't sure if I wanted to buy "Chocolate Desserts" for some time: my previous experiences with celebrity chef's cookbooks have been quite disappointing. I was absolutely wrong. Herme's (and Dorie Greenspan's) book is well written and the recipes are properly explained: most of the times the reason why you're advised to do something with a particular method is laid down in a logical and understandable way. This is something I'm coming to appreciate more and more: the more cookbooks I buy the rarer good instructions seem to become. Clearly the focus of the book is the recipes, ranging from cookies to cakes, ices to puddings. I haven't been able to find a single one that doesn't look appetising. Even the chocolate rice pudding is inviting, and I avoid rice pudding whenever I can. This is probably the first cookbook that makes me really feel like trying every single recipe listed: with a little time on my side I probably will. The final part of the book is an added plus. The last chapter, basic doughs, creams and co., and the appendix are information gold-mines. It really helps to read these two sections before trying out any of the recipes, since many tips are pinned down here.
As a first test I followed my heart and made the Nutella tart. Herme' created this recipe for his wife, mine said I don't need to go that far: she'd be satisfied if I bake this tart every now and then. Her comments to the cake were something on the lines of Homer Simpson's doughnut-eating noises and a "best chocolate cake I've ever eaten", once the slice had disappeared from her plate. I almost agree with that, but I'd like to try the other cakes in the book before being so definitive. What makes the tart so delicious is the balance of different flavours: the crunchy hazelnuts on top, dark chocolate "ganache" and thin Nutella layer spread on top of the delicious tart create a great balance and a very intriguing succession of tastes in your mouth. At first the dark chocolate, with its concentrated powerful taste, seems to dominate, but is soon replaced by the toasted nuts and finishes with a mellow Nutella note. It was quite hard to resist eating more and more of it: a look at how much butter comes into this tart helps :-).
1 fully baked 22 cm (8 3/4 in) tart shell*
200 g Nutella (2/3 cup)
140 g bittersweet chocolate (Herme' uses Valhorna Noir Gastronomie) (4 3/4 oz)
200 g butter (7 Tbsp)
1 large egg, room temperature, stirred with a fork
3 large egg yolks, room temperature, stirred with a fork
2 Tbsp sugar
140 g Hazelnuts (1 cup)
Toast the hazelnuts 10 minutes in a 180C (350F) hot oven. Remove as much skin as possible by rubbing the hazelnuts inside a kitchen towel. Chop coarsely.
heat oven to 190C (375F)
Melt chocolate and butter separately. Allow to cool till 40C (104F).
Spread the Nutella at the bottom of the tart shell
Mix the egg into the (cooled down) chocolate. Do this gently to avoid incorporating air. Add yolks, little by little, then the sugar. Finally, fold in the melted butter, always stirring gently. This will take a little time. Pour on top of the Nutella and sprinkle with the toasted hazelnuts.
Bake for about 11 minutes. The sides of the filling should be set but the middle still slightly wobbly if shaken (that's how it's supposed to be). Let cool to room temperature. Eat :-). Any remaining tart, stored in the fridge, will taste great cold, the next day.
*Herme's recipe for tart dough uses 285 g (10 oz) butter, 150 g (1 1/2 cups) confectioner's sugar, 100 g (1/2 cup) finely ground blanched almonds, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp vanilla bean pulp, 2 large eggs and 490 g (3 1/2 cups) all purpose flour to make enough dough for 4 tart shells, using the standard procedure to make tart dough. This dough tastes great but is quite fragile, i.e. not too easy to work with. You could also use any other sweet tart crust dough.