I spotted this recipe by Francois Payard a while back in a cookbook and what immediately drew my attention to it is the nougatine part. A nougatine is a confection similar to praline made from a light caramel mixed with crushed almonds or hazelnuts, it’s poured onto a baking sheet and when the mixture cools down it becomes pliable and can be shaped in many different ways. When I was 7 years old there was an excellent pastry shop in my little village in Gascony that was reputed for their nougatine and chocolate creations from which I remember winning a human size replica of a cartoon character once. Now I think of it, the pastry chef/owner was a friend of my dad and the lottery was probably fixed but I guess I paid for it anyway in the form of thousands of dollars in dentist fees. I’m finally ready to take a bite again.
The filling consists of a layer of caramel topped with a layer of chocolate ganache which both play nicely against the crunch of the caramelized almonds, and there’s a touch of fleur de sel. The only “difficulty” in this recipe is to cook the nougatine just right, if it isn’t cooked enough it will remain pliable even after it has cooled off and you will end up with a nougatine “pizza” rather than a tart, if you cook it too much it will be.. well, burned and hard as a rock. Aim for a nice amber color and trust your inner chef if you have any doubts.
Chocolate-Caramel-Nougatine Tarts(Adapted from Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard)
- Serves 8
- 6 ounces butter
- 1 1/8 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 1/4 cup sliced almonds, crushed
- 2 ounces milk chocolate, melted (for the shells)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- pinch of fleur de sel
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (61%)
- 1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel
- 3/4 cup + 1 Tbs heavy cream
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Fleur de sel for garnish
For the nougatine shells:
- Preheat oven to 350′F. Line a half-baking sheet with a silpat.
- Combine the butter, sugar, milk and honey in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture reaches 230′F on a thermometer. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the almonds and orange peel (if using).
- Spread the mixture in an even layer, about 1/4 inch thick and bake for about 8 minutes until a nice golden brown.
- While still warm and pliable cut out 4-inches round and press the dough into tartlets pans, and let them cool (if the dough hardens too much before you can shape it, return to the oven for a minute or two).
- When cool, brush the melted chocolate inside the shells to patch the holes.
For the caramel filling:
- Place the sugar and fleur de sel in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When the sugar turns slightly golden gently stir with a wooden spoon to obtain an even caramelization. Once the caramel is a deep amber color carefully add the cream (it will splatter) and keep stirring with a wooden spoon until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter until smooth.
- Let the caramel cool until it doesn’t feel warm and pour it inside the nougatine shells. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
For the chocolate ganache & finish:
- Put the chocolate and fleur de sel in a medium bowl. Bring the cream to a boil.
- Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it melt. Whisk until smooth. When the mixture is just warm whisk in the butter until well incorporated and the ganache is smooth and shiny. Pour in on top of the caramel filling and let it set. Best made the same day or the nougatine dough might get soggy.
- Garnish with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.