in the kitchen x Natasha: tarte aux mendiants

recipe by Natasha Pickowicz | photos and styling by Maggie Prendergast

i know we're all conditioned to think of overpriced jewelry and boxed chocolates when Valentine's Day rolls around, but this year, i've teamed up again with the immensely talented Natasha to bring you a splendid recipe for the holiday. it's French, it's chocolate, it's made with love!

read on for Natasha's inspired take on the French classic, tarte aux mendiants.

Tart aux Mendiants // by Natasha Pickowicz of Foragers NYC

I love desserts with a rich narrative history, and for inspiration, I often gravitate to France, a country with seemingly endless amounts of dishes packed with incredible stories and intricate traditions. The mendiant tart, a traditional French dessert, has a wonderful story that goes back hundreds of years. Though the dessert is popular at celebrations around Christmastime, I think it would be so lovely and romantic to serve it up on Valentine's Day, too.

"Mendiants," the chocolatey, disc-shaped French confection, translates to "beggar" in French. These little sweets refers to the mendicants, or religious orders, that relied on charitable donations to survive around the holidays. Mendicant religious orders go all the way back to the Middle Ages, and in this dessert the toppings are meant to symbolize the various colors of the robes of the four major mendicant orders of the Roman Catholic Church: almonds (Carmelites), hazelnuts (Augustins), dried figs (Franciscans), and raisins (Dominicans).

In my version of the tart, I like to play around with the sweet and salty ingredients, looking for a delicious balance of beautiful, delicate, and handmade toppings. At Foragers, the Chelsea restaurant where I work, I really sprinkle the goodies on: nuggets of candied pistachio, pomegranate seeds, raspberries brushed with apple glaze, thin slivers of candied orange peel, chewy dried apricots, flat discs of spicy candied ginger, and more Maldon sea salt for a slightly salty finish. But so many other toppings would be lovely, and you can personalize it to make it your own. There are so many sweet Valentine's treats to explore, too: think candied rose petals and rosemary scattered on top, ground cardamom and orange blossom water stirred into the ganache, a sprinkling of lavender blossoms -- even your favorite Valentine's candies would be a totally charming finish. And of course, the most fun part is arranging your candies it in a thoughtful and composed way.

This dessert is easy to make and assemble, but has quite a few components that need to be approached carefully and in order. When finished, a slice of this rich tart has an incredible candy bar-like texture and look and would be a show-stopper final course for a Valentine's dinner party. A fat dollop of whipped cream on the side would really send this tart over the top. Have the sweetest Valentine's and happy decorating!


Chocolate tart dough
Yields: 1 12" tart shell

2/3 C unsalted butter, softened
3/4 C powdered sugar, sifted
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 C all-purpose flour
1/3 C cocoa powder

In a medium sized bowl, cream the softened butter and powdered sugar until fully incorporated and creamy. You can do this by hand, with a wooden spoon, or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and stir thoroughly to combine.

In another medium sized bowl, sift and whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder. Add the dry mixture to the butter and sugar powder and fold together until the dough just comes together. Stop mixing as soon as the dough comes together as to not overwork the dough.

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator until completely chilled, at least two hours.

When ready to roll out, remove from the refrigerator and let slightly soften at room temperature. Using a rolling pin, flatten dough into a rough circle and to 1/2" thickness. The dough can be chilled again at this point if it is too soft to transfer to the tart shell. Carefully transfer the rolled tart dough to a 12" tart ring or mold sprayed with PAM, or a non stick spray. Let chill again before baking.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove tart shell from refrigerator and prick the bottom of the ring mold with a fork. Bake until the edges of the tart feel set, about 12-15 minutes. Remove and let cool completely before pouring in the caramel.

Salted crème fraiche caramel

2 C white sugar
1/4 Clight corn syrup
1/2 C water
1/2 C heavy cream
4 ounces unsalted butter, diced
2 ounces crème fraiche
1 teaspoon sea salt (like Maldon)

In a medium-sized pot over high heat, bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water up to a boil. Do not stir! If the sugar crystallizes on the side of the pot, grab the pot with hands and swirl gently to loosen the sugar. Cook, without stirring, until caramel is a deep golden brown and just about to start smoking. Remove from the heat and add the cream, butter, and crème fraiche and whisk until thoroughly combined and smooth. Careful - the caramel may splatter up when adding the cream mixture, so add gradually and stand back! Pour caramel into cooled chocolate tart shell. Sprinkle the surface evenly with sea salt. Refrigerate until completely set, about three hours.

Honey chocolate ganache

60 grams high-quality bittersweet chocolate (at least 70%)
1/4 C heavy cream
2 tablespoons raw honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

In a small saucepan, bring the cream, honey, and salt to an even simmer. Remove from heat.

In a medium, non reactive bowl, weigh out the chocolate (chop it up into smallish pieces first if it comes in big bars) and vanilla extract. Pour the cream and honey over the chocolate and vanilla and let sit for a few minutes. Whisk together until completely combined and smooth and glossy. Immediately pour ganache into the tart shell with the cooled caramel and refrigerate until completely set, at least two hours.

Once the ganache is set, it can be decorated with the toppings of your choosing. Arrange in an artful and composed way, pressing the toppings gently into the surface to adhere. Slice the tart with a hot knife for a clean cut. Eat immediately!


let me know if you try this recipe! do you have any plans for Valentine's?


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