Milky Way Tart

Cookies are nice. Brownies are perfectly lovely. Simple joys in your run-of-the-mill long week. But then there are Those Weeks. The kind that start innocently enough, full of work and house stuff and errands and lots of c'mon! I just washed this!--same old thing. And then, without fair warning, the universe throws you a curveball the size of Charlie Sheen's list of issues. Before you know it, your normal cookie-and-brownie week has morphed into meetings and frantic phone calls and packing and airports (all for good--don't panic) on top of mothering a tiny person who constantly seems to be one step away from setting the place on fire and--kicker--a frenetic family trip to see Disney on Ice. I-yi-yi. Do they even make Calgon anymore?

When your saving grace is a dear friend inviting your crazy family over for pizza and wine on a Friday night and you've said you're bringing dessert, cookies and/or brownies aren't going to cut it. You need a flippin' Milky Way Tart in your life. This is one of Those Weeks, people. It's the only thing you can do to survive.

Last week, this creamy, dreamy, caramelly specimen shone like a beacon through the madness. This tart is basically a stone cold fox. I mean, we all know a little salted caramel never hurt anyone, but this sexy beast of a dessert has it drizzled over a pillowy milk chocolate mousse and in a generous slick atop the crust. Oh, my. My, my, my.

Let's (suggestively) touch on the subject of the milk chocolate mousse that fills this tart, shall we? In short, I could have happily disappeared into the recesses of my closet with the mixing bowl and a spoon. I would also like to develop a sort of moisturizer inspired by this mousse, so that I might completely enrobe myself with it. It's nothing more than melted chocolate and cream, whipped together, but the result is otherworldly.

This is the first recipe I've tried from Joanne Chang's totally perfect Flour cookbook, but I've gotta say, girlfriend is in serious contention for one of the seats at the loud, long lunch daydream that has become my happy place. I think I'd seat her between Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Shirley Corriher.
Lynne would have us all drooling with a very vivid LRK-esque description of Joanne's legendary Sticky Buns and Shirley could enlighten us all with the science behind their perfection. The table would be set by Ina, entirely in whiteware and vintage silver. Christopher Kimball would raise an eyebrow at our girlish giggles from across the table. There would be lots of Prosecco. I might wear something from Anthropologie. I dunno, I'm just throwing it out there, just saying. It could happen.
Milky Way Tart
Adapted from Joanne Chang's Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe
Makes 1 9-inch tart
For the tart shell, use your favorite pie or tart dough recipe, baked off in a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. I totally recommended my foolproof Favorite Pie Crust, made with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Or heck, use a good store-bought one and make it taste better.

There are few things as dreamy as a homemade caramel sauce like the one in this recipe for the filling and drizzling the tart, but there's no reason you couldn't use a nice, thick, high-quality store-bought caramel sauce. You'll need about 1 1/2 cups of it, and if it's very sweet, add salt to taste until you can taste a nice hint of salt.

If you are anti-corn syrup, you can leave it out of the caramel altogether, just be extremely careful not to let any sugar crystals cling to the side of pan while the sugar is caramelizing by washing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush. I like to throw in a dab of corn syrup for the anti-crystallization insurance.

There are a lot of instructions and notes here, but the process is actually really simple, and all the elements can be made several days ahead of assembly. Just read through the recipe a few times so you can time out the steps the way that will work best for you.
For the milk chocolate mousse:

5 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli chips and it was fine)
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the caramel filling:

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water

1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional--see note)
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the tart assembly:

One baked and cooled 9-inch tart shell (like My Favorite Pie Crust)
3-to 4-inch slab milk chocolate, at warm room temperature, for decorating

Place the chopped chocolate (or chocolate chips) in a medium heatproof bowl.
Gently heat the cream with the espresso powder and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as you see bubbles beginning to form around the edges of the pan, remove it from the heat--don't let the cream come to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl (I prefer a metal bowl for faster cooling, and poured it straight into the bowl of my standing mixer). Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until very cold, at least 8 hours and up to 3 days ahead. The mixture needs to be extremely cold in order for it to whip properly, so don't skimp on the chilling time. If you are short on time or generally impatient like me, throw the metal bowl into the freezer and give it a good whisking every 5-10 minutes or so--you can complete the chilling this way in about an hour.
To make the caramel, place the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium saucepan and stir well to combine. Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the syrup becomes a deep amber color. Pull the pan from the heat when you see it reaching a deep golden color--it takes only a moment for caramel to go from golden to amber to straight up burnt, so pull it early if in doubt. Stirring constantly with a whisk or heatproof spoon, stir in the cream all at once. Be careful--it will bubble up violently, but keep stirring until the lumps of caramel smooth out once again. Stir in the butter, salt and vanilla. When the caramel is smooth and well-blended, pour it into a small heatproof container and set in the refrigerator to cool and thicken, at least 4 hours or up to 1 week. Again, using a metal container (I use a loaf pan) will cut this time down significantly.
When the cream mixture and caramel have both cooled sufficiently, assemble the tart. Place the tart shell on a serving platter. Spread about three-fourths of the caramel evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Fit the bowl with the cream mixture onto a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form (or beat with a handheld mixer). Mound the chocolate mousse on top of the caramel and smooth evenly.
Using a vegetable peeler, make chocolate curls from the bar of milk chocolate: warm the bar slightly in the palm of your hand before pulling the peeler across it to get curls instead of just grating the chocolate. Drizzle the tart with the remaining caramel and follow it with a generous sprinkling of chocolate curls. Refrigerate the tart for 30 minutes before serving (or airtight for up to 8 hours).
Chocolate, PieShauna Sever