Saturday, February 21, 2009

Snow Day!

Grownups don’t get snow days. Work must go on, whether we have to dig out our cars and drive twenty miles through a blizzard or wait for the bus to finally arrive, packed full of sick, wet commuters dripping germs and snot.

So while we once prayed for snowstorms because they meant sleeping in and snow forts, we now dread them—perhaps most of all in Chicago, where it was recently -18 degrees before wind chill.

Today in Chicago, we are under severe storm watch for a storm that was supposed to blow in yesterday. The blizzard was going to begin at 6pm last night and last until 11am today. Six o’clock came and went and the sky was still clear when I went to bed last night. This morning, the news amended that the severe storm would now be arriving closer to noon.

It’s noon now, and we await the storm. Luckily, it’s Saturday, so there’s nowhere to go, no need for high heels in the slush, no need for a humid bus ride, no need to do anything but enjoy a snow day at home with the kitties. Gleefully anticipating the worst, F and I have stocked up on provisions. We have stacks of books to read and Netflix to watch. We are ready for a snow day. And I am ready for a day of cooking.

While we are awaiting the snowstorm t
hat may or may not arrive, F and I are spending a pleasant Saturday at the “kitchen” table. Our kitchen and living room are divided by a low counter, so our large table near the front windows doubles as a kitchen table, a dining room table, a computer table, and any other sort of table we might need. Right now, F is drawing and I am putting the finishing touches on my Oscar night menu.

We have invited a group of friends over to our little apartment tomorrow night to watch the awards. We are providing the snacks and the piece de resistance is a Milk-Chocolate Tart with Pretzel Crust from this month’s issue of Food & Wine. The introduction to the recipe reads: This dessert from pastry chef Colleen Grapes at the Harrison in Manhattan, a tribute to the chocolate-covered pretzel, hits just the right salty-sweet note. Grapes mixes crushed pretzels with flour, butter, sugar, and egg to make a crunchy crust, pours in a luxurious milk-chocolate filling, then sprinkles on more crushed pretzels as a garnish.

This is one of those decadent, delightful desserts that I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) make during the week for just F and me. Having guests over is the perfect excuse to make something really rich and indulgent, enjoy a single piece, and send the leftovers home with friends.

The Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups coarsely crushed think pretzels (3 ½ ounces)

¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour

1 large egg
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 ½ cups heavy cream
¾ pound milk chocolate, chopped

Maldon sea salt, crushed pretzels, and crème fraîche, for serving.The only ingredient I did not get was the crème fraîche, since I plan to slice the tart into smaller pieces for our party guests to nibble on as the night progresses.

Forecast: clear skies

First, the crust. As we do not yet own the bubble-gum pink standing electric mixer, I used our food processor with the blade, which seemed to work just fine. I mixed the butter, ¾ cup of the pretzels, and the confectioner’s sugar until creamy, then added the flour and egg. Once combined, I added the rest of the pretzels, making sure to leave some pretzel pieces intact. Then I flattened the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap and chilled in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Forecast: partly cloudy, no snow

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees as a rolled out the dough between the sheets of plastic wrap to a 12-inch round. I peeled off the top layer of plastic wrap and inverted the dough into (what I thought was) a 10-inch tart pan (more on this later). I pressed the dough into the fluted corners and trimmed the overhanging dough. Then into the fridge again for another 30 minutes.


Forecast: partly cloudy, no snow

As I do not have pie weights, I lined the bottom of the crust with parchment paper and filled with rice. I baked the crust for 20 minutes, and then removed the parchment paper and rice, covered the edges with tin foil so that they wouldn’t burn, and baked for 10 more minutes. Then let the crust cool completely.3:30pm
Forecast: gray sky, no snow

I melted the bittersweet chocolate and brushed it over the bottom and up the side of the crust, then back into the fridge for 10 minutes.

I brought 1 ½ cups of heavy cream to a simmer, turned off the heat, poured in ¾ pound of milk chocolate, and let it rest for 10 minutes. Then stirred with a whisk, poured into a bowl, and let it cool for one hour at room temperature.5:00pm
Forecast: getting dark, flurries

Then poured the chocolate into the crust and slid it back into the fridge, where it will rest until just before the party, when I will sprinkle the top with pretzel bits and sea salt.

I realized about halfway through this process that my tart pan is too small. I was so excited to actually own a tart pan that I put it to use with wild abandon, even though it is likely, upon reflection, approximately 2 inches smaller than the 10 inches the recipe calls for. Oh well. My tart may have more crust than chocolate, but I don’t think anyone will know how far I have strayed from Food & Wine’s recommended tart size—except that half of our party guests read this blog, so they will find out, and they will judge, as they are all gourmands and better cooks than I.

Forecast: Dark, cold, but no snow

There are worse things than having a cup of leftover milk chocolate. This evening for dessert, I made F a vanilla ice cream and milk chocolate crepe, drizzled with milk chocolate sauce.

Tomorrow will bring further party preparations, an Oscar party, and a photo of the finished tart…and maybe our winter storm.

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