Hello and welcome to Romance Recipes where I am happy to introduce you to a new author and a new recipe! Two of my favorite things! Today I am bringing you author, J.J. DiBenedetto, and his recipe for Chocolate Tarts along with an introduction to his book, Dream Student. Please join me in welcoming J.J. and savor his recipe for Chocolate Tarts as you read about his new book!
These tarts are a family specialty; my mother makes them every Christmas. They are, hands down, the best dessert ever.
The first step is to make the tart shells. You’ll need 18 mini-tart pans, plenty of aluminum foil and a good quantity of dried beans, rice or similar.
The ingredients are:
2 ½ cups of sifted, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar (this is probably the most important thing!)
5 ounces of butter, but into ½ inch chunks
2 egg yolks (in addition to the egg above)
Place the flour in a large mound on your work surface. Make a “well” in the center of the flour, and add in all the remaining ingredients there.
Using your hand, work all the ingredients in the center together. Then, gradually incorporate all the flour into the center, working from the outside, until all the flour has been absorbed and you have a nice dough.
Knead the dough until it holds together well, and then you’re ready for the next step – “breaking” and reforming the dough. You may find the next step easier if you refrigerate the kneaded dough for a few minutes to let it harden, before moving on.
When you’re ready, form the dough into a ball. Then, working ffrom the outside of the ball, using the heel of your hand, push off small pieces of dough (about 2 tablespoons worth for each piece). Continue until all the dough is “broken.” Then, re-form it, and repeat the process.
Once you’ve done it a second time, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Then come back to your dough. Break it into two even pieces; it’s easier to roll it working with only half of the dough at a time. Place your half of the dough on a floured surface, lightly flour the dough as well, and then roll it out until it’s about 1/8 of an inch thick, and even. Use a 4-inch round cookie cutter to “cut” out each shell. You can take the extra dough and re-form it, then re-roll it until you’ve used it all and you have all your shells.
Take each shell as it’s cut and place it into a mini-tart pan. Do this very gently; it’s easy to tear the dough if you’re not careful. Once you’ve got all your shells done, place them on a cookie sheet and refrigerate them until they’re firm.
Once that’s done (it shouldn’t take long), take your aluminum foil and tear it into 4-inch square sheets. Place one sheet over each tart, pressing down against the bottom and the sides. Then, fill each tart with dried beans or uncooked rice (this will weigh the aluminum foil down and also keep the shells from puffing up while they’re baking). Bake for 10 minutes, until the shells are set. Remove from the oven, carefully take off the aluminum foil from each shell (you can re-use the beans/rice if you like) and place the shells back in the oven for a few minutes, until the bottom of the shells begins to color and the edges are a nice golden color.
Remove from the oven, carefully remove the tarts from their pans (using your fingers) and let them cool. Once they’re cool, you can fill them immediately, or freeze the shells and prepare the filling at a later time (since the shells are the more difficult/time-consuming part of the recipe, I usually make them ahead of time, and fill them later).
The ingredients for the filling are:
8 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate (I usually use Ghiradelli baking chocolate, but you can use any brand you like. You can also use milk chocolate, or even dark chocolate if you prefer)
½ cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
In a large double-boiler, over hot water on moderate heat, melt the chocolate. Break it into pieces before placing into the double-boiler.
Then, stir in the sugar, and pour the heavy cream in, all at once, stirring as you do. Continue stirring (it takes a little while) until the chocolate is smooth. You’ll see it turn a beautiful brown color as you stir.
Once it’s smooth, cook over moderate heat for 30 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the double-boiler with a spatula often. Then, remove it from the heat, and place the top of the double-boiler into ice water. Stir continuously and gently as it cools, so that the chocolate does not set.
As soon as the chocolate is cool (this can take a little while), pour it into a pitcher. Using the pitcher, fill up your tart shells. Make them as full as possible, but be careful not to let it run over. Especially look out for spots where your shells are not even all the way around and chocolate could run out.
Once they’re all filled, carefully transfer your tarts to the refrigerator. Refrigerate them for a few hours until the filling is set, and then they’re ready to enjoy!
You can serve them exactly as they are (this is my preference), or you can serve them with whipped cream (my mother likes them best that way), or with chopped pistachio nuts or similar garnish.
What would you do if you could see other people’s dreams? If you could watch their hidden fantasies and uncover their deepest, darkest secrets…without them ever knowing? Sara Barnes is about to find out. She thought that all she had to worry about was final exams, Christmas shopping and deciding whether she likes the cute freshman in the next dorm who’s got a crush on her. But when she starts seeing dreams that aren’t hers, she learns more than she ever wanted to know about her friends, her classmates…and a strange, terrifying man whose dreams could get Sara killed.
The Blue Duck Inn used to be a farmhouse, years ago, but it’s been a restaurant since at least before I was born. Dad’s been taking Mom here for their anniversary every other year or so. From the outside, it doesn’t look like the fanciest restaurant for a hundred miles. The moment we walk in the front door, though, it’s like stepping into another world.
The lighting is dim, but somehow warm at the same time. The waiters are all in tuxedos, the waitresses in long black dresses. There are paintings along the walls – landscapes, mostly, in muted colors. And the smells – there are a dozen aromas that seem like they shouldn’t go together, but they somehow do. I realize that I’m salivating.
We step up to the Maitre’d. He takes one look at us. “Miss Barnes?” I nod. “Please give my regards to your father,” he says as he leads to our table.
“You remember him?”
The Maitre’d looks scandalized that I asked. “I remember every patron who honors us with his custom. Especially those who do us the honor of doing so regularly” he says. I guess for a place like this, a visit every two years or so probably does count as “regular.”
He pulls out my chair, and I sit. Brian waits until I do to sit down, and the Maitre’d hands him the wine list. There are no menus at the Blue Duck Inn – I’m glad I told Brian what to expect on the way here. It’s very simple – you eat whatever the chef has decided to serve.
Brian hands the wine list over to me, but I don’t need it; I wouldn’t know the first thing to look for anyway. Dad told me what wine to order. I assume that when he called to change the reservation, he must have spoken to the – whatever they call the wine expert. I know there’s a fancy word for it, but I don’t have any idea what it is.
I look around, but it’s difficult to really see any of the other tables very clearly. I don’t know how, but they’ve done some real tricks with the lighting and the acoustics. You can see and hear everyone at your own table perfectly, but you can barely see or hear anything else. It’s easy to imagine that Brian and I are the only ones in the whole place.
For a while we just stare at each other. He’s overwhelmed, and I can’t really blame him. After a while, I order the wine, exactly what Dad told me, and then the first course arrives: vanilla sorbet with mint. “To properly clear the palate,” the waiter explains as he sets it down.
We clear our palates and then the wine comes, brought not by the waiter but by – if I remember right – the wine steward. He opens it very efficiently, and sets the cork down atop a napkin on the table. Brian and I both look at it and then at each other – neither of us know if we’re supposed to do anything with it, so we just sit there and wait for the steward to do something. He comes over to my side of the table. “Would the lady prefer to sample the bottle?”
Yes, the lady would.
He holds the bottle to me so I can see the label. It looks like what I ordered, and I nod. He pours just a swallow into my glass, and – even though I feel ridiculous – I do what I’ve seen a hundred times in movies and on TV. I swirl the wine around in the glass, sniff it, and only then take a tiny sip.
And now I know what a $120 bottle of wine tastes like. It’s very good. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it any better than that. The steward asks, “Shall I?”
I answer, “Yes, please,” and he fills my glass and then Brian’s. He then pours the remainder of the bottle into a crystal decanter and leaves it for us.
I raise my glass. “Here’s to dreams coming true,” and in the instant before he clinks his glass to mine, I add, “the good ones, anyway.”
We both sip our wine. I don’t have too much to compare it to, but it really is excellent. Brian’s smiling at me. “If you’re going to be making the big doctor money, you’ll have to get used to this,” he says.
“It’s like your mother said on Christmas Eve,” I say. “It’ll be nine or ten years before I’m making any kind of doctor money at all, and that’s if everything goes perfectly from now until then,” I answer. He gives me a blank look; he doesn’t recall that part of the conversation. I can’t blame him; there was a lot going on that day!
“It’s not just med school. That’s four years, is that what you’re thinking?” He nods. “There’s residency after that. Usually it’s in a hospital. You get to work eighty hours a week, maybe more, for not much money. That’s three more years, maybe four depending on if I want to go into a specialty. It’s a long road.”
Wow. I didn’t really give it much thought when Brian’s mother talked about it, but it feels so much more real hearing the words come out of my own mouth.
The last few weeks I’ve been thinking one night at a time, just trying to get through finals and cope with the nightmares. But even before that I’ve always thought one step at a time: finish this paper, meet that deadline. I haven’t been looking at the big picture. “It’s kind of a lot to think about, when I put it that way, isn’t it?”
Brian agrees. “I guess we better enjoy tonight, then.” Fair enough. I’m all for that!
Our first course arrives. It’s caviar, which I’ve never had before. I have to admit that I close my eyes as I take the first bite, but it’s – well, surprisingly good.
That’s followed by a whole succession of things I never imagined I’d eat, or never heard of before, period. There are oysters, there are truffles, there are more kinds of mushrooms than I knew existed, and that’s the less exotic portion of the meal.
Brian is very game; he follows my lead and eats everything put in front of him. He honestly seems to be enjoying it, too. As the escargot is cleared away, I finally tell him what happened the morning of Christmas Eve. “You saved her life,” he says in an awed voice. “You really did.” And he takes my hand and stares at me with wonder in his eyes for the longest time. A girl could get used to that.
Dessert comes and goes so quickly I almost don’t notice it. The waiter is still clearing it away – a honey and apple tart with handmade cinnamon-ginger ice cream – when the lights brighten, and suddenly we’re surrounded by twenty other tables.
The Maitre’d wheels out a cart with a small TV set on it, turns it on, and the voice of Dick Clark counting down the final minutes of 1989 fills the room.
Buy the Book:
Link for 10 minute audiobook sample:
J.J. (James) DiBenedetto was born in Yonkers, New York. He attended Case Western Reserve University, where as his classmates can attest, he was a complete nerd. Very little has changed since then.
He currently lives in Arlington, Virginia with his beautiful wife and their cat (who has thoroughly trained them both). When he’s not writing, James works in the direct marketing field, enjoys the opera, photography and the New York Giants, among other interests.
The “Dreams” series is James’ first published work.
Amazon author page:
As a special treat J.J. is giving away Dream Student in ebook format of the winner’s choice to one lucky commenter so be sure to leave your EMAIL so we can notify you if you win!!!
Thank you for joining us for another Romance Recipes! I hope you’ll stop by next week to meet another author, try a new recipe and pick up a new book!