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Easy recipe for Valentine's Day success: Heavenly chocolate tartlets

Creamy Chocolate Tartlets.
Creamy Chocolate Tartlets.

“No relationship can be perfect.” That’s what my mother told me every time I’d have a tiff with the boyfriend of the moment. She told me that again before I got married. Not exactly the most encouraging send-off, but a realistic statement nonetheless.

Of course, she was right. All I had to do was look around to see every couple I ever knew had their moments. Every couple, that is, except Valentine’s Day + Chocolate. There’s a match made in heaven and good for the ages.

Chocolate is everything you want your valentine to be: sweet yet surprising; a good mixer, happy to be matched with all kinds of other flavors; a pleaser; and a looker. Call me silly, but I think chocolate is gorgeous in all its states, from glossy, when it’s in bars, to velvety, when it’s melted.

I always make something chocolate on Valentine’s Day for my husband. In my early years in the kitchen – which were also my early years with Michael – I made only complicated things. I was learning how to cook and bake, and I wanted everything to be a challenge. Now, I just want everything to be delicious. And if it can be easy and delicious, that’s even better. These tartlets are easy and delicious. They’re also beautiful.

The filling for these tartlets is everything. It’s a chocolate ganache: a mixture of semi- or bittersweet chocolate, heavy cream and butter. Yes, it’s rich. Very rich. But that’s what it’s supposed to be, and you really wouldn’t want it any other way. Chilled, the filling sets to a creamy cuttability. Once it’s in your mouth, it does the chocolate magic thing: It melts slowly and, because it’s so creamy, its flavor releases slowly and hangs on. Chocolate is famous for melting at body temperature, and you’ll appreciate that with these small treats.

As for the crust, have it your way. You can use store-bought pie dough or puff pastry or buy ready-made graham cracker or chocolate cookie crusts. Or you can make your own.

And if you want to decorate the tartlets, do it.

Takeaway tips:

• Either semisweet or bittersweet chocolate is the best choice for the ganache. Choose a chocolate that tastes great out of hand, because the flavor won’t change much with the addition of cream and butter.

• The bywords for ganache are “slow” and “gentle.” Be patient with the chocolate-cream mixture. Warm the ingredients over very low heat, stirring ceaselessly but with a light hand. Don’t let the mixture get too hot; if you do, the fats in the butter and chocolate will separate.

• Pull the pan from the heat as soon as the chocolate is melted; the ganache should be smooth and velvety.

• The butter should be at room temperature – but not oily – when you add it to the ganache.

• Pour the ganache into the crusts as soon as it’s made, so you get a smooth top. If you want to make the recipe in stages, you can make and refrigerate the ganache ahead of time; just be sure to warm it gently to return it to a pourable state. If you’d prefer to swirl the ganache (as in the photo), allow it to set to the consistency of frosting before filling the tartlets. Use a small spatula, a knife or the back of a spoon to pattern the top of the ganache.

• Refrigerate the tartlets for at least 2 hours or overnight. You want the ganache to set and chill, so that you get all the pleasure of the mixture going from cold to warm, from semi-solid to melted.

I usually finish the tartlets with a spoonful of crème fraîche and a shower of chocolate shavings and serve them with kisses and hugs, extras that make any relationship – perfect or a smidge less than perfect – even sweeter.

Dorie Greenspan’s Creamy Chocolate Tartlets

4 servings

These luscious treats come together even quicker when you use store-bought tart shells. But Dorie Greenspan has included an easy way to make them here, in case the prepared shells are hard to find.

If you bake your own shells, you’ll need four 4-inch tartlet pans. If your pans are slightly larger, prepare double the ganache filling.

Make ahead: The tart shells can be made a day or two in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature; do not unmold them from the pans until you’re ready to assemble the tarts. It helps to freeze the tart shells for 10 minutes before unmolding and filling. The assembled tarts need about 2 hours’ refrigeration to set; they can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. From cookbook author Dorie Greenspan.

For the tart shells:

1½ cups graham cracker crumbs or chocolate wafer crumbs (5½ ounces)

2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch fine sea salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped, plus optional chocolate shavings, for garnish

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into small pieces

Lightly sweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche, for garnish

For the tart shells: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the tartlet pans with cooking oil spray.

Combine the crumbs, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Pour the butter over the mixture and stir with a fork until all the crumbs are moistened. Divide the mixture evenly among the pans; use your fingertips to firmly press it along the bottom and up the sides. Freeze the pans for 10 minutes.

Place the tart shell pans on a baking sheet; bake (middle rack) for about 10 minutes or until the crusts take on some color. If you plan to assemble the tarts right away, cool the shells to room temperature, then freeze for 10 minutes before unmolding very carefully – these are fragile – and filling. If you are not assembling right away, store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 days, then freeze for 10 minutes and unmold before filling (see headnote).

For the filling: Combine the cream and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is velvety smooth. Be careful; you don’t want to give this too much heat and you certainly don’t want it to come to a boil. Turn off the heat, keep the pan on the burner and add the butter a little at a time, stirring the small pieces in until they melt. Once again, the mixture will be smooth and, this time, a little shiny (a ganache). Transfer the ganache to a liquid measuring cup with a spout. The yield is a generous 3/4 cup.

Place the tartlet shells on a tray. (That makes it easy to move them around.) Fill them with the ganache, dividing it evenly among the crusts and pouring it as full to the rim as possible. Use an offset spatula to help spread the filling as needed. If you have any ganache left over, save it: You can reheat it gently in a microwave and then pour it over ice cream.

Loosely cover the tray with aluminum foil and carefully slide it into the refrigerator; chill until the ganache is cold and firm, about 2 hours, or for up to 1 day. At serving time, top the tartlets with whipped cream or crème fraîche and scatter over some chocolate shavings, if using. Serve right away.

• Nutrition per serving: 610 Calories, Total Fat: 49g, Saturated Fat: 22g, Cholesterol: 100mg, Sodium: 270mg, Total Carbohydrates: 50g, Dietary Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 19g, Protein: 6g.

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