I have a chocolate chip snacking problem. It’s those cheap, sweet ones that get me, the bags that always end up on sale at the grocery store, where I buy like four bags (because, sale) and then I end up getting home from work each day and standing at the refrigerator with the door open for a good 10 minutes, just munching. Sometimes I try to save myself (and them) by mixing them in with the good stuff, the 60%-and-up cacao content types that are a tad too pricey for me to go stealing them from their baked good destinations, and then all that happens is that I stand at the fridge for even longer fishing out the little cheap ones from all the rest.
This is my life.
Anyway, after I realized a few weeks back that I’d polished off a few bags of dark chocolate chips without ever baking them into anything, these chocolate tarts were a rescue mission for the rest of my hapless chips — and, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, an excuse to sneak a little whiskey into dessert. I have a soft spot in my heart for St. Patrick’s Day — I always forget to wear green, but growing up, it was the one holiday close to my birthday, which made it feel special even if I got pinched all day. And after last spring, it’s now the day after Bowl #2 and I got engaged! (Last year was the best St. Patty’s Day ever. The whole world could have pinched me and it would have been a-okay.)
So there’s a snifter of whiskey hiding in both the chocolate filling and the meringue topping. It’s not strong, but just enough to add a subtle oaky undertone that I adored, especially in the billowy meringue on top. I went to a scotch tasting once that paired a square of chocolate with each type of scotch (best tasting ever) but before that I wouldn’t have guessed how well chocolate and whiskey went together. My favorite pairing from the tasting was a hazelnut chocolate with a young scotch, so (since you know I didn’t use anything fancy for baking) there’s a touch of ground hazelnuts in the crust, too. But feel free just to go with an all-graham crust if that’s all you have! Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends! (And happy belated Pi Day, too!)
For the chocolate filling, I was looking for something dense but still silky, so the filling here is a little bit of a cross between a classic chocolate pudding pie and a sturdier ganache tart. There's a little more cream than a ganache filling but not as much as needed for a pudding, and I used two egg yolks instead of one egg (which evens out the numbers perfectly for the meringue! I'm excessively pumped about that.) Feel free to substitute in your favorite chocolate pudding recipe if you prefer.
- for the hazelnut graham crust:
- 3/4 cup finely ground graham crackers (about 6 sheets)
- 1/4 cup hazelnut meal, or finely ground toasted hazelnuts (if unavailable, simply omit and use 1 cup ground graham crackers)
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- for the chocolate filling:
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (whole milk should also work)
- 2 large egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 5 oz dark chocolate (ideally 60% or more cacao)
- 2 tbsp whiskey
- for the whiskey meringue topping:
- 2 large egg whites (from the yolks, above)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
- 2 tbsp plus 2 tsp water
- 2 tbsp whiskey
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place graham crackers in a food processor and grind until fine (or smash in a large Ziploc bag). In a large bowl, mix together 3/4 cup of the graham cracker meal, 1/4 cup hazelnut meal or finely ground toasted hazelnuts, and melted butter until moist. Press into the bottom of the tart pan and bake for 10 minutes.
- To prepare the filling, combine the cornstarch, salt, and espresso powder in a small saucepot. Pour 2 tbsp of the cream into the mixture and whisk until smooth. Turn the heat to medium-low and pour the rest of the cream in a steady stream into the saucepot, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add the egg yolks and continue to whisk, heating the mixture until it thickens and just begins to bubble. For me, this took several minutes -- just keep an eye on it and keep whisking. Once it thickens and begins to turn pudding-like, immediately remove from heat and add chocolate and vanilla extract. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Last, stir in the whiskey until fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Pour the filling into the graham cracker crusts and chill in the refrigerator until cold, about 30 minutes.
- When you’re ready to serve the tarts, prepare the meringue topping. Let the egg whites come to room temperature, then use an electric mixer or stand mixer to whisk them to soft peaks. (Be sure to use a very clean, grease-free bowl -- some plastics may retain grease, which will inhibit whipping.) Set aside. In a small saucepot, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 2 tbsp plus 2 tsp water over medium-low heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the side. Stir just until the sugar starts to dissolve, then let the sugar mixture simmer until it reaches 238 F. You may have tilt the pot to get an accurate reading on the candy thermometer.
- Turn the mixer back to medium speed on the egg whites. Slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl as you continue to beat the whites. When all the syrup is added, turn the speed up to medium-high until the mixture forms stiff peaks and cools to room temperature, about 10-12 minutes. In the last minute of whipping, trickle the whiskey into the meringue, 1 tbsp at a time, and continue to whip until incorporated. The meringue will be slightly softer with the alcohol, but should still hold medium peaks.
- Dollop the tartlets generously with the meringue and use a spoon to form swirls in the top. Turn the oven to broil and slide the tartlets under the broiler for just a minute or two to toast the tops. Alternatively, bake at 500 F until golden, about 2-3 minutes, or use a chef’s torch.