A tender, buttery, shortbread crust filled with caramel, peanuts and topped with chocolate. Sounds divine, right (and kind of like a Snickers)? If you thought the inspiration for this decadent combo was a good old candy bar, you’re only half right. My inspiration actually came from the lovely and fearlessly experimental Hannah Sullivan, who happens to be the daughter of Sarah Hart, proprietor of my favorite sweet shop in Portland (and, really, anywhere): Alma Chocolate.
I often cross paths with Hannah and Sarah at Portland Picnic Society gatherings, food events, or even coffee shops. One evening, just before Christmas, the newly-wed Hannah and I were both at the Olympia Provisions book launch, and ended up deep in soul-baring conversation about life and love and happiness.
And of course that led to chocolate.
She told me about a dessert she had concocted that was super easy because she just took a jar of Alma caramel sauce, mixed in some peanut butter, spread it in a tart shell and poured chocolate on top. Kind of like a fancy Snickers bar, she said.
I couldn’t wait to give it a try. I used a shortbread crust I had come up with years ago for Margarita bar cookies, but at the last minute I added an egg, because I wanted the crust to be more tender than traditional shortbread. I used natural peanut butter (rather than, say, Skippy) because I really wanted the peanut flavor to come through and didn’t think the filling needed more sugar, what with the addition of caramel. And I added peanut halves because I couldn’t remember if Hannah did, but I’m a texture fiend so it seemed like a good idea.
For the ganache, I played with the usual 1:1 ratio of cream to chocolate and scaled the cream back a bit, so that it would end up more firm and sliceable. A little butter, I thought, would add enough gloss without resorting to corn syrup. Then I finished it off with even more Alma.
Valentine’s Day is on a Sunday this year, and though technically that means I should have all day to spend in the kitchen, the reality is that our weekends are packed. Thankfully, this is a special dessert that can fit into any busy schedule.
Each component is super quick to mix up, and can be done days in advance. Give yourself 10 minutes to make the ganache one day, and five to make the caramel-peanut filling the next. Make the shortbread dough and pat it in the pan the following day, bake it the next. You can even have the tart assembled and ready to go a full day ahead.
Bake, fill, chill, serve. It’s that easy. Then bask in the glow of your family’s adoration.
Caramel Peanut Chocolate Tart
Makes 10-12 servings
As elegant and impressive as this tart looks, you don’t need any technical expertise to execute it. Store-bought caramel takes a huge load of pressure off. Then the ganache is just a simple mix of hot cream and chopped chocolate, with a little butter added for gloss. And the crust is as forgiving as Play-Doh, with none of the finicky-ness of pie crust. The recipe makes enough dough to cover a 10-inch tart pan (or four 4-inch tart pans) with a removable bottom. I don’t like a super thick crust, so I often have some dough left over. I’d cut the recipe in half, but then it’s not quite enough (and I hate splitting eggs). So I just gather the remaining dough into a log, freeze until firm, then slice and bake like cookies.
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 egg, beaten
1 10-ounce jar salted caramel sauce (I use Alma) or 1 1/4 cups
homemade caramel sauce
1/2 cup peanut butter (I use natural style)
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, broken into halves
8 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (65-70 percent cacao)
6 ounces heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup caramel sauce
Jacobsen’s Vanilla Sea Salt (available at New Seasons), or other flaky sea salt
To make the crust: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the beaten egg and pulse until combined and the dough starts to come together. Turn it out onto a clean, dry work surface and gather it together into a cohesive ball.
Use your fingers to press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch round tart pan (or four 4-inch tart pans) with a removable bottom. (Aim for uniform thickness and make sure the top edge is flat. Try using the flat underside of a metal measuring cup to help press and smooth the dough into place. You’ll likely have to dip it lightly in flour as you go, to prevent sticking.) Refrigerate the tart shell for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prick the chilled tart shell all over the bottom and sides with a fork. Butter a piece of foil large enough to cover the inside of the tart and nestle it into the shell, butter-side down. Fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 20 minutes until the crust is set and beginning to brown. Remove the foil and beans, prick a few times again, and bake until the bottom is golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (I will admit that I
like love shortcuts, so I’ve tried baking this without the foil and beans. The sides slump down a bit and the bottom puffs, but not so much that you don’t still end up with a nice shell. Using the foil and beans is ideal, but not vital.)
To make the caramel-peanut filling: In a medium bowl, mix together the caramel and peanut butter. Fold in the peanut halves. (Can be made and refrigerated several days in advance.)
To make the ganache: Place the finely chopped chocolate in a medium mixing bowl.
Set a small saucepan over medium heat and bring the cream just to a boil (it’ll start to steam vigorously). Remove from heat and pour into the bowl of chocolate. Stir until smooth. Add the butter and stir until combined. (Can be made and refrigerated several days in advance. Before using, rewarm gently on the stove over low heat or microwave at 50% power just until pourable.)
To assemble: Spoon the caramel-peanut filling into the bottom of the cooled tart shell and smooth the top. Pour the warm ganache over the filling and smooth the top. Allow the chocolate to set for at least an hour before serving. Refrigerate it to speed up the process or if you’re not serving it within the next few hours. The chocolate should be soft but sliceable, not runny. (Can be assembled a day in advance.)
To serve: If refrigerated, allow the tart to come to room temperature an hour before serving. When ready to serve, drizzle caramel over the top and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Cut into wedges and serve.