Sometimes the best gifts arrive before Christmas. My husband’s auntie and uncle, they of the cider press, are in the habit of buying large quantities of hazelnuts. They are also in the habit of sharing their haul of hazelnuts, which is one of the many qualities they possess that I greatly enjoy.
You may notice that when I get my hands on a certain ingredient, recipes that involving that ingredient tend to take over the site for a while. When the strawberries start producing, the tomatoes ripen, and markets everywhere start offering fresh pears, I tend to focus pretty hard. Garden fresh vegetables and fruit are only available for a short period of time, so why not settle down with them for a bit? Predictably, things were no different with me this time around, so as soon as I opened the big tin of nuts and saw what was inside, my mind immediately began to buzz with possibilities.
I’ve never been great at meal planning, and I think the creation of this tart points towards one of the main reasons I struggle so much to look an entire week or more ahead when it comes to thinking about what I am going to cook. I like inspiration, and when every time I have sat down to plan a week’s worth of meals, my plans undoubtedly become derailed by the spotting of something at the market that just called to be brought home. Maybe delicata squash wasn’t on my grocery list, but when I see the first fall squash of the season, chances are I am going to go all swoony and buy it. While I wasn’t anticipating having a large amount of hazelnuts sitting around my house, I sure was glad to see them when they arrived.
And while I subsequently may not have known at the time that I really, really wanted to make a baked chocolate tart topped with flakes of sea salt and savory hazelnuts, I sure was pleased to see it come together a few days later while I literally made things up as I went along, led by the promise of something incredible.
Some of you may recall that I have very recently made another chocolate hazelnut tart. That tart, with its creamy, pudding-like filling made from hazelnut milk, is an entirely different animal. The heft in that tart comes from its graham flour crust, while the filling is soft, light, and faintly scented of hazelnuts. This tart almost functions as the reverse of that tart, with the buttery shortbread crust serving as the crisp counterpart to the dark, deep, bittersweet chocolate filling topped with flavorful toasted hazelnuts and the unexpected bite of sea salt. While I might be tempted to call the previous chocolate hazelnut tart subtle, I would never even think of accusing this tart of being as such. It’s CHOCOLATE and HAZELNUTS rendered BOLD, in ALL CAPS, and it demands your attention, straightaway.
Salted Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
I like a lightly salted bite, so I sprinkle only a modest amount of sea salt on this tart. If you are in search of a more pronounced salty flavor, by all means, add a bit more. I have included options for both less salty and more salty preferences in the recipe.
1 partially baked sweet tart shell (this is a great sweet tart crust that I love to pair with this type of tart)
1 cup whole hazelnuts
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
¼ cup Dutch processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/8-¼ teaspoon flakey sea salt
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast for 10 to 15 minutes, until you see the skins begin to curl up slightly and come loose. Place the nuts in a clean dish towel, fold the towel over the nuts, and vigorously rub the towel around, sloughing loose the hazelnut skins. Continue to rub the hazelnuts in the towel until most of the skins have come free. It is perfectly fine if some skins remain intact. Very coarsely chop hazelnuts, mostly to cut them in half, then set aside.
In a double boiler, or in a heat-proof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, combine the chopped chocolate, butter, cocoa powder, and pinch of salt. Slowly stir until the ingredients have melted together, then stir until well mixed. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and heavy cream.
In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until light and ribbony, about 3-5 minutes. Very slowly pour the slightly cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, beating as you pour. Beat for 1 minute to combine completely.
Pour chocolate mixture into the parbaked tart shell. Place tart on a baking sheet, and bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, until the chocolate filling has just begun to set. Remove the tart from the oven while still on the baking sheet, scatter the hazelnuts over the top of the partially baked tart, press them very gently into the filling, then return to the oven to bake an additional 15 minutes, until the edges of the tart appear a bit dry and have started to crack.
Remove tart from oven. Sprinkle your desired amount of sea salt evenly over the top of the tart. Cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes. The tart will appear quite puffed up when you first remove it from the oven, but it will sink as it cools, allowing the hazelnuts to nestle in quite nicely.
If desired, top with unsweetened whipped cream flavored with just a hint of vanilla.