To start, you'll need to make your tart pastry dough.
Tart Pastry Dough
1 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup flour (unbleached all-purpose)
pinch fleur de sel
1/4 tsp. vanilla powder
9 Tbsp. unsalted butter
To start, I remove the egg and unsalted butter from the refrigerator to start bringing them up to room temperature. In a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, fleur de sel (sea salt is a fine substitute) and vanilla powder. In a food processor, once the butter is sufficiently soft, pulse the butter until smooth. Add the flour mixture and combine, then add the egg. The dough may not completely come together, it may be more of a meal (like cornmeal). You have two options, you can either add ice water one Tablespoon at a time, which will make it combine nicely, or you can just keep it kind of mealy- but the texture of your crust may be ultimately drier. In any event- divide the dough into two balls and wrap them in plastic wrap, chill one hour or overnight. I LOVE using my food processor to make pastry dough, it is so fast!!!
In the meantime, let's make our caramel!
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream (I know, crazy, right?)
In a small sauce pan, combine the sugar and water. Probably this will be easiest using a whisk! Heat the sugar and water over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the granularity of the sugar seems to have disappeared. It is alright if it is still white in color, though! Increase the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. I usually stir once during the 5 minutes. Uncover, and increase the heat to medium high- boil without stirring for 5 minutes, during which time, use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down any crystallization on the sides of the pot. The next part is important to do very quickly! Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the cream and stir! This will bubble and steam a little and the caramel will at first want to harden due to the temperature of the cream. Stir vigorously and it will combine nicely! Stir in the sour cream also. This will be a very light colored caramel. Place in a small bowl and refrigerate. (Sneak a taste also!)
Let's get our tart pans ready! This amount of dough is enough for two 9" tarts. When I was making this, though, I used slightly more than half of the dough to make one 9" tart and two small tartlets (as shown in the picture). Spray your tart pan(s) with Pam (great, great stuff!) and lightly flour, tapping away the excess. Get yourself a clean work area to roll out the tart pastry dough- either a clean counter top or a large enough cutting board. Using flour as needed, (on the cutting board, on top of the dough, on the rolling pin), roll out the dough, which may need to come closer to room temperature for a few minutes before it's sufficiently pliable. You want about 1/4" or a little more thickness. You may recall from the Apple Pie post, http://ladolceduchessa.blogspot.com/2010/11/amazing-apple-pie.html, how to transfer pastry dough from the workspace to the baking vessel. If so, good for you! I hope you have tried it and agree that it's not terribly hard! If you aren't familiar with the technique, my sister's beautifully manicured hands will walk you through it! (This is pie dough and a pie dish, a tart pan is not as deep)
This tart dough is on the crumby side, so what I end up doing is transferring the dough using the rolling pin and then filling in the areas where I need more dough (mostly the edges and crust) just by pressing the pieces of dough together with my fingers. It's sufficiently sticky because of the butter content, so this should work fine! Cut the excess dough- don't want extra hanging over the lip of the tart pan(s). Prick the bottom of the tart crusts with the tines of a fork several times- trust me, this is needed! Place your beautiful tart pastry crusts in the refrigerator to chill for a few minutes while you get these next steps together!
Preheat the oven to 325, make sure your rack is in the center of the oven. Using the Pam spray again, spray pieces of aluminum foil- each of the pieces should be the right size to completely cover each tart. After the tart pastry crusts have chilled for a few minutes and your oven is preheated, place the pieces of aluminum foil, greased side down, over the pans. Use either raw rice, dried beans or pie weights (the picture to the left shows dried beans being used as weights for one of the small tartlet pans).
We recently discovered that my husband has an allergic reaction to white beans. So I use them as pie weights!
With your wonderful chilled tart pastry crusts covered with aluminum foil, bake for 13 minutes. Remove the foil, discard the foil and the beans, then bake uncovered for 8-9 minutes. They won't change color much. Cool the baked tart shells before filling and topping with caramel and whipped milk chocolate cream!
Now- on to the milk chocolate cream!
Milk Chocolate Cream
7.5 ounces milk chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream (chilled)
pinch sea salt
I usually put my metal Kitchen Aid bowl in the refrigerator for a few minutes before whipping cream. Using a whisk attachment, whip the cream until you've achieved firm whipped cream- but not so much you start veering off to the 'butter side,' basically if your cream becomes 'chunky,' things have gone too far... In a small bowl, melt the chocolate in the microwave. Add the milk chocolate and the pinch of salt to the whipped cream using a spatula to fold gently. Try to fold as opposed to mix, this motion will keep it from becoming quite so deflated. Definitely taste this- isn't it great!?
Now, we assemble our beautiful tart! Take your tart shells and pour a thin layer of caramel. Keep it thin- the caramel is very sweet and keeping the layer thin will keep it from overpowering the other elements, your pastry and the milk chocolate cream. Sprinkle a pinch or two of salt over the caramel. Using either a pastry bag, a mechanical pastry bag, or a zip lock bag, pipe the milk chocolate cream on top of the caramel. There is no right design, just something that looks pretty! I covered both small tartlets in a tight spiral, so I didn't have a lot left over for the larger tart- so I just did a few rings in the center and at the outer edge of the caramel. Get creative! Make a happy face or a zig zag line! Enjoy!