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Down With Pumpkin Pie

A luscious chocolate nut tart bumps a traditional Thanksgiving concoction from the dessert table

November 20, 2005|DAVID LEITE | David Leite last wrote for the magazine about cipollini onions.

To paraphrase the 1937 Harold Arlen hit "Down With Love," I say down with pumpkin. Don't get me wrong--I'm not a bigot when it comes to the gourd. Some of my best friends make delicious pumpkin dishes. All I'm asking is, this Thanksgiving, can't we move up the food chain a bit from pumpkin pie to a higher specimen of dessert--say, a chocolate tart? Shocking to some, sure. Heresy to others, no doubt. In fact, when I suggested the substitution to my family and friends for this year's menu, I was met with half-serious threats of rewritten wills and excommunication. But breaking tradition on a national holiday won't lead to disintegration of family values or moral decay, despite what some staunch culinary traditionalists I know believe.

But why a chocolate tart, my family asked. First, it's a 180-degree change from pumpkin pie. It's decadent, even sexy, where the pie is virtuous. Luscious rather than staid. Then there's phenylethylamine, the chemical in chocolate that quickens your pulse, causes a general sense of well-being and makes you feel in love. And what better place than a family gathering--when emotions are, shall we say, piqued--to have that love-thy-fellow-human feeling? It's a high-caloric ambassador of goodwill.

Despite my well-reasoned argument, I still was held in contempt of beloved traditions. I had only two weeks left till Thanksgiving to reform my family and change the landscape of my dessert table. So one night I made the tart for a dinner party. While everyone ate, I sat quietly and watched for what I knew would happen. One by one their resistance dithered until it drained completely like a tapped keg.

Of course, it's hard not to be won over by the soft ganache filling--nothing but bittersweet chocolate and cream--and a tender crust made with ground hazelnuts. But there are a few things to keep in mind while making the tart. For the filling, use chocolate with no more than 70% cocoa, such as Lindt Excellence. It melts easily and has a smooth consistency. Also, the crust is fragile because of its high nut content. If the dough falls apart while working with it, don't panic. Simply gather it into a disc and pat it into the pan with your fingers. No one will be the wiser.

To bump up the tart's festivity factor and make it truly memorable, reach for the gold leaf, diaphanously thin sheets of pure gold that have been used throughout history as decoration. It's not expensive. At Sur La Table stores, you can unearth a gold mine of the stuff for as little as $25 for a packet of four sheets.

Of course, even after you carry this gold-spangled creation to the table, there's bound to be someone still resolute in his conviction that pumpkin pie--and only pumpkin pie--appears at Thanksgiving. And that's why we should all give thanks for bakeries with holiday hours.

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Chocolate Nut Tart

Makes one 9-inch tart, about 12 servings

Crust:

3/4 cup skinned hazelnuts or pecan halves

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 large egg yolk

Ganache filling

11 ounces bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon Frangelico

1 cup heavy cream, lightly whipped and sweetened with 1 tablespoon sugar

Gold leaf for garnish

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Scatter the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until golden brown and fragrant, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the nuts, flour, sugar and salt into a fine powder. Add the butter and egg yolk and pulse just until the dough comes together. With your hands, gather the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper into a 12-inch circle. Ease the dough into a tart pan with a removable bottom, fitting it snugly against the sides and bottom of the pan. Trim the excess. Patch any cracks with the scraps. Line the dough with a circle of parchment paper and fill with beans or pie weights. Bake 20 minutes, carefully remove the beans and paper, and bake until golden brown, about 8 to 10 more minutes. Remove to a rack and let cool completely. The crust is delicate, so handle carefully.

Place the chopped chocolate in a large bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the cream just to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the cream over the chocolate. Let sit for a minute, then gently whisk until it's fully incorporated. Add the Frangelico and whisk until smooth. Set aside until it has cooled a bit, about 20 minutes. Pour the ganache into the cooled crust. Refrigerate for 1 hour until set. To serve, remove the tart from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Release it from the tart pan. Scatter the gold leaf on top to decorate. Cut into slices and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

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