These individual desserts, subtly infused with licorice flavor, are studies in texture. Creamy custard fills crisp, dense chocolate pastry shells, and a topping of lacy sugar crackles with each bite.
For the best results, prepare these tarts no more than one day in advance, and wait to caramelize them until just before serving. This way, the tart shells will remain firm and crumbly, and the sugary topping will keep its crunch.
Photography: Sang An
Source: Martha Stewart Living, October 2006
Yield Makes 8
For the Tart Shells
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/3 cups unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 teaspoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
For the Filling
3 cups heavy cream
7 ounces soft black licorice chews, about 1 1/2 cups
8 large egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Pernod
8 teaspoons superfine sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place eight 4-inch round flan rings (1 inch high each) on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper; set aside.
Make the tart shells: Process flour, cocoa, granulated sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. With machine running, add eggs; process until dough just comes together. Shape dough into a disk; transfer to a lightly floured work surface.
Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut out eight 6-inch rounds, and fit into the flan rings. Patch cracks with leftover dough if needed. Refrigerate tart shells on baking sheet until firm, about 30 minutes.
Prick bottoms of shells with fork tines. Bake on sheet until firm, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool completely on wire racks.
Make the filling: Put cream and licorice into a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring almost to a boil. Remove from heat, and stir. Cover, and let stand at room temperature 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Reheat licorice cream over medium heat. Whisk egg yolks, granulated sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk licorice cream into yolk mixture. Pour through a fine sieve into a medium bowl, pressing on solids. Pour mixture through another clean sieve into another bowl (do not press on solids), and stir in Pernod. Divide custard among tart shells. Bake on sheet until centers are just set, 14 to 15 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Refrigerate tarts on sheet until cold, about 1 hour (up to overnight).
Sift 1 teaspoon superfine sugar evenly over each tart. Hold a small handheld kitchen torch at a 90-degree angle 3 to 4 inches from surface of a tart, and move flame back and forth until sugar is caramelized and deep golden brown. Repeat with remaining tarts, and serve.