Mexican-spiced chocolate and dulce de leche tart

The cinnamon and pepper infused chocolate crust may be crumbling beneath a gooey dulce de leche and bittersweet chocolate ganache, but the flavors here are worth repeating.

This recipe was kind of a disaster from the very beginning, but for some reason I trudged on until the very – somewhat disastrous - end. The photo above might not look too horrible, save the crumbly crust, but appearances can be deceiving.

It all started when I made these Cinnamon-Spiced Hot Chocolate Cookies, by the reliable Aaron Sanchez, last Sunday. I had wanted to just try the recipe and bring them into work the next day, but they ended up being way too crispy to be serve-able. The taste was great – they were the darkest chocolate cookies I’d ever seen, and the combination of chocolate, cinnamon, and pepper is one I particularly love. However, I should have read the comments and reviews, because a lot of people complained about how dry and crispy they were! Well, if you make these, take some of their suggestions to heart: try reducing the baking time to 10 minutes, add a bit of hot water or hot coffee to the dough, and try subbing Splenda for the sugar (one commenter had success with that). Also, be careful with the cayenne – there is such a thing as too spicy!

One good thing that came out of this recipe, however, was the homemade dulce de leche I made. This was really, really easy and really, really, really, really (do you believe me yet?!) worth it! I simply simmered a can of sweetened condensed milk, continuously covered with 1″ of water, in a pot of boiling water for 3 1/2 hours. Be sure to remove the can’s label, and put a disk of aluminum foil down at the bottom of your pot – unless you want it to end up scratched (like what happened to mine … good thing it was a cheap IKEA pot!). The result, left, is sweet, caramel-ly goodness tinged with a hint of warm milk – which doesn’t mar the taste so much as tone down the sweetness. You can do so much with dulce de leche: drizzle it over cookies (like the above cookie recipe suggested), put it in strudels or filled cookies, use it in sandwich cookies, spread some over a cracker or cookie, dollop it in brownie batter, or simply use a spoon – which is what I did with a vast portion of the can. Ye-ahhhh … not so good for hips, but my tummy loved it!

Well, so what to do with too-crispy cookies? I could have brought them in for dunking into our morning coffee, but what would I have said? “So, guys, this turned out to be a baking disaster, but I’m bringing in the scraps for you anyway. Enjoy!” Umm, no. Instead, I froze them until I could think up a good use. Or, really, any use.

A few days later, I thought up my solution: mash the cookies into crumbs for a pressed tart crust, then layer on dulce de leche and chocolate ganache. I even had an event: a housewarming party on Saturday. Brilliant! So, that’s what I did yesterday.

And here were the problems.

1. I don’t have a food processor, so I couldn’t get the cookies ground into fine enough crumbs. The result was a crust that had too many chunks (the size of half a pea – not too large, really, but apparently large enough) to stick together once I’d mixed in about 4 tablespoons of melted butter and baked it in the tart shell at 350ºF for 12 minutes. When I removed it from the tart shell for serving, most of the crust fell apart. Not what you want….

2. The ganache was too stiff compared to the dulce de leche, so when eating the tart, the dulce de leche squirted out the opposite end. Well, what actually happened is the piece of tart folded in the middle where the fork attempted to break away a bite, such that the entire piece looked like the Titanic capsizing. Again, not what you want….

3. The chocolate I used for the ganache, a 4-oz 70% Extra Bittersweet Ghirardelli bar, just didn’t have the right flavor for this. The texture was silky when mixed with 1/2 cup of boiled heavy cream, but it was just … off, somehow. I love dark chocolate and also bittersweet, but I wonder if this just wasn’t sweet enough. Not that I’d go too far the other way and get semi-sweet or something horrid like that, but maybe a touch of cinnamon mixed in would help. Or maybe 60% bittersweet would be better here.

That being said, I think this is worth making again, and I will do so. If you try your own version of this promising tart, keep some of these suggestions in mind, as I will:

1. If you’re going to go with a pressed cookie crust, definitely use a food processor to get the crumbs fine enough. However, I think I might go with a dough crust next time, but I’ll keep the spirit of the flavors the same by going with a chocolate crust, spiced with cinnamon and cayenne pepper. This will probably be softer and easier to cut.

2. I am thinking of two options for the ganache: either spreading that down below the dulce de leche or not using a ganache. The chocolate top could simply be a chocolate filling, even a custard-like filling. Am pondering, pondering….

3. Speaking of chocolate, definitely go for something around 60% bittersweet. It shouldn’t be too sweet so the sugar is overpowering when combined with the already-sweet dulce de leche, but there has to be a happy medium. If you have any suggestions, my ears are open!

If you do make a version of this or have suggestions and ideas, please let me know! When I try this again, I will update this post….

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3 thoughts on “Mexican-spiced chocolate and dulce de leche tart

  1. Oh, I love the idea of using these cookies as a crust. What a great way to save the time and energy and ingredients that went into them! I’ve read about making the dulce de leche that way, but I’ve always been afraid that it would explode! You swear it won’t?

    This LOOKS wonderful. It’s a great idea. I’m wondering if a chocolate-spiked whipped cream instead of the ganache might work? Lighter than the ganache, it might be just the thing.

    Or maybe not.

    Are you serious about applying for a job at NATO? email me at the yahoo address below and let’s chat about it! Cool.

  2. Dulce de leche is so much easier to make than I thought – you should do it, trust me. Just help yourself by setting a timer for 30 minutes; that’s a good interval to check your pot to add more boiling water (from a tea kettle, say).

    I like the idea of the chocolate whipped cream – with cocoa powder, you think, or melted chocolate stirred in? Perhaps with a dash of cinnamon, too? I’m not sure how the cream would mesh with the dulce de leche, but it would balance the crust well (which has very deep chocolate flavor.

    I will email you … great!! :)

  3. Definitely a great idea, I love these elements together. Sounds like you just need to do more recipe testing and it will eventually be perfect. I recommend getting a little food processor if you have the room to store it. We have an ancient one my mother in law gave us and actually, I use it all the time. It is a huge time saver for so many recipes.

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