Spring has sprung!

It seems like everything turned green overnight here in Colorado, and while we’ll still probably see a dusting or two of spring snow, the trees are flowering, tulips are starting to show and violets, pansies and violas are popping up everywhere. These early flowers are perfectly edible (if they haven’t been sprayed) and offer a delicious taste of spring – floral, sweet, tender and beautiful.

Here at Ginger and Baker we’re using pansies and violas in salads, making violet-infused syrup from the tiny purple beauties in our yard, and candying violas and violets for a bit of pretty color all year long. (To candy flowers, use a paintbrush to lightly coat petals with beaten (pasteurized) egg whites, sprinkle with fine sugar and arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet to dry overnight.)

But one of our favorite uses for these fresh spring flowers is to top desserts – pies, cakes, ice cream and, most particularly, these little chocolate chess tarts.  We love the combination of flaky dough, luscious, super chocolaty filling, fluffy whipped cream and a burst of seasonal color.

The tarts come together in a snap, simply line tart shells with pie dough, melt chocolate and butter, then whisk together the egg custard filling and bake. The result is a perfect-sized taste of classic Southern baking. Rich, gooey, buttery, double chocolate decadence, with a dash of spring sass. Enjoy!

Chocolate Chess Tarts

  • 1 recipe Basic Pie Dough (see below), or 1 pkg. refrigerated pie dough
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (or chocolate chips)
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup heavy cream whipped with 1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
  • fresh violets, violas or pansies, for decoration

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and chopped chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, or in a bowl in the microwave. Set aside and cool to room temp.

Roll out one disc of pie dough. Drape over 12 (2-inch) tart molds and gently press dough into bottom and sides of each mold. Repeat with second disc and 12 more molds. Place tart shells on a baking sheet and pop in the freezer while you make the filling. (NOTE: you can also gently press dough into a 24-cup mini muffin pan if you don’t have tart molds.)

Whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, flour and salt. Whisk in evaporated milk. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and chocolate/butter mixture, mixing well. Pour into prepared tart shells. Bake for 20-30 minutes until set.  The time will vary depending on the size of your tart shells, just wait until center of tarts no longer jiggle. Cool and serve with whipped cream and fresh flowers.

Basic Pie Dough

  •  2 1/2 cups flour
  •  2  tsp. fine sea salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, chilled
  • 1/4 cup Tbsp. non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, chilled (or 6 Tbsp. additional butter if not using shortening)
  • 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp. ice cold water
  • 1  tsp. lemon juice or vinegar
  • Combine flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add chilled butter and shortening and toss to completely coat with flour. Using your hands or a fork, quickly smash the pieces of butter/shortening between your thumb and fingers to flatten each piece to the size of a dime.  Gently stir the flour and butter to make sure you flattened most of the pieces.Combine ice cold water and lemon juice (or vinegar), and drizzle half of the lemon water over cold flour mixture and stir until the dough just starts to come together or turns “shaggy”.  We prefer to use our hands but a fork works nicely too.  Begin adding a few more tablespoons of water at a time, stirring between each addition. Once most of the water has been used (but you have a tablespoon or two remaining) use your hands to gather the shaggy strands into a ball and knead the dough two or three times. If you have dry bits remaining in the bowl, add a little additional water.  (Your dough may appear wet or dry depending the climate in your area, so you will need to go slowly and adjust accordingly.)Gather the dough in a ball, dust your counter with a tiny amount of flour, and quickly pat dough into a small flat disk. Cut dough in half and then stack one piece on top of the other, flour side down. Use the heel of your hand and press the dough down and divide in half once more. Cover both pieces with plastic wrap.  Chill the dough for at least 4 hours or overnight. This dough can be made a day or two in advance. Makes enough for two 8 or 9-inch pie crusts.

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