The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (and a Chocolate Caramel Tart)

In a couple of days it will be my birthday.  It’s never a big to-do.  About 1 out of every 365 people share this day with me, right?  That’s almost 20 million of us, so the day is not exactly mine.  However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I get just a little giddy inside as the day approaches. Shhh…don’t tell anyone.

It’s not about gifts since my birthday hasn’t been celebrated with a party since I was a wee girl, though my friends and family have created wonderful birthday memories for me by remembering with a card, a phone call, or an email despite their busy lives.  These days, my husband and I escape for a day or two to the same place, stay in the same hotel and for a few years even dined at the same restaurant. Yes, it’s the people who remember that make my birthday so special.  I’m very lucky.

But the big event comes shortly after, the one I’m most thankful for:  Christmas.  For this girl who’s prone to tradition, this time of year is full of them.  It’s the one time a year that my husband will go to church with me (Christmas Eve),  a joy-filled hour followed by a party thrown by our close friends.  It is our friends’ non-Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve party.  The food is always crab and pasta (and many other dishes) while the main event is a white elephant gift exchange (theme changes each year) that brings out good-hearted competition.  Who can snag the best gift of the evening?  There’s always one.  It’s a wine-filled, love-and-laughter-abundant evening.  Despite our friends’ attempts to make this a non-traditional holiday event, it’s become just that for all of us who anticipate its arrival every year.

Then comes Christmas morning.  My husband and I have our own gift exchange as we sit next to the tree with its hodge podge of ornaments.  It’s quiet time we spend together before heading to my parents’ home for a higher-decibeled celebration with the crazy bunch that I lovingly call my family. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of my contributions to the festivities is typically dessert.  I try to make a different one every year, so I have fun scouring cookbooks and the web for new recipes to try.

This year, I had a special ingredient to use.  I was the lucky recipient of homemade sea salt from Linda of Salty Seattle.  I’m sure you’ve seen her fabulous blog but just in case you missed her salt-making post, here it is.

I wanted to mix sweet with salty.  I wanted to make caramel.  This recipe at Saveur would be perfect, I thought, and indeed it was.  It’s no surprise that chocolate and caramel are wonderful together but the mingling of textures–firm crust, liquid amber and silky ganache up the overall experience.

But can you guess what took this tart over the top?  A sprinkling of Linda’s sea salt pulled the caramel out of secondary position against the double-chocolate punch of the crust and the ganache.  The caramel is no wallflower here.  It shines thanks to its salty partner and I think my search for this year’s holiday dessert starts and stops here.

You will find the recipe here.  It is Saveur’s tweaked version of the Claudia Fleming original (Gramercy Tavern). I have never tasted Ms. Fleming’s version but I can’t imagine Saveur changing it enough to compromise the integrity of the original.  If you decide to make this tart, I urge you to make note of some minor hiccups I encountered along the way:

  1. I didn’t read the instructions ahead of time and this tart requires two separate 4-5 hour chill times.  This is why this post comes later than I intended.
  2. I don’t have an nine-inch tart pan, I have everything but.  So instead of one tart, I used an 8-, 4- and a 3-inch (brioche tin, actually).  In hindsight, my 10-inch pan might have worked.
  3. I didn’t have creme fraiche.  The recipe only called for 1 tablespoon so I substituted with plain, non-fat yogurt. It created a few tiny lumps in the caramel so I just used a strainer to remove them as I poured into the cooled crust.
  4. For some reason, my ganache didn’t come out as smooth as all the others I’ve made in the past.  The finished product suffered no adverse effects but I’ll be more careful next time.
  5. I planned to take a picture of all three tarts and post here but my husband discovered them in the refrigerator.  I think I will have to resort to leaving him “Do Not Touch!” notes.  Here’s the trio before the ganache was added and before my husband got his hands on the smaller two.


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  1. It’s definitely the most wonderful time of the year! And it’s even more wonderful because it’s your birthday!! What a lovely post, Jean. It’s the friends, family, partners, and of course food that make this day so awesome.

    Have a lovely birthday and holidays! I’m so glad I met you this year! All the best in the new year, too!

  2. A-ha! The fast disappearing tart and tartlets! It’s a good thing you took a shot of the trio before they all disappear!

    What a lovely post indeed! Thank you for sharing, and wishing you the best birthday and Christmas ever!

    • Ah, I had such big plans for that picture, LOL! I couldn’t be mad at him, though. His expression at being caught eating not one but two of the tarts was priceless!

      Merry Christmas to you and your family, too, Annapet! 🙂

  3. Looks divine!! On my list to try. I haven’t had any luck finding a tart pan here in Deutschland. They all look kind of weird- though after reading this recipe, I’ll suck it up and look online!

    I am giggling at your husband, because my husband does the same thing! Post-its do help. Your birthdays sounds a helluva lot better than mine 🙂 My goal in 2011 is to make a bigger deal out of birthdays.

    Thanks for sharing!! I love sweet and salty combos. Can not wait to try.

    • You know, I think this would work in a springform pan, too. Are those easier to find? Heck, I’d use a pie tin, too.

      My birthdays have always been low-key–it’s been a long time since I celebrated with more than just my husband but you know, quiet birthdays are sometimes just as nice. 🙂

      Good luck finding a pan for this! 🙂

  4. Happy (upcoming) birthday! 🙂 I am with you in saying that I get a little giddy when my birthday comes up. Mine’s in the summer so christmas doesn’t closely follow it, but I still get excited. There, I admitted it! This is a beautiful tree and beautiful tart – I love the combination of salty and sweet.

    • Thanks, Roxan. I guess we’re on the same page about birthdays. I didn’t intend to publish mine but I thought, why not? I was just being honest with everyone–birthdays are good no matter how old we get, right? Thanks! 🙂

  5. Happy almost birthday!! Love the sea salt combination of flavors.

  6. sweet and salty hmmm sounds like a tease and especially with all the different layers and texture…

    How wonderful to have your birthday during this season of love and joy. May you always have love and find joy in all that you do… Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas!


  7. Your Christmas decorations are beautiful…everything looks so warm and inviting, including that tart! Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas.

  8. Don’t sell yourself so short on your birthday, woman- it’s a great time of year DESPITE the fact that we both got the short shaft and have to endure competing with Xmas mere days after.

    God-damn- that tart was the wrong thing to look at before dinner- now I want to forego my chicken and dumplings all together and fly straight to your house for dessert. Salt, caramel and chocolate are a gift from god. Thanks for the swell shoutout, xo, linda

  9. Your Christmas tree is beautiful! Happy early Birthday :)! This tart looks so amazing…with the gooey salted caramel and decadent chocolate! Whoever had the pleasure of enjoying this with you was very lucky!

  10. Have a wonderful birthday my friend….and enjoy the time with your husband.
    Your caramel creation with that lovely sea salt looks delicious! All of that ooey gooey caramel…..sigh…….
    And your ganache looks perfect!

  11. That tart looks fabulous!
    My birthday is right after Christmas. I’ve never really made a big deal out it either, I guess the holidays just overshadow it. But as long as those you love are around that’s all that matters!

  12. I may be as bad as you are about reading recipes ahead of time. It looks like the tarts turned out beautifully! What a decadent treat! Happy birthday, Sagittarius is my favorite sign of the zodiac.

  13. Happy Birthday Jean!!! Sounds like a wonderful tradition that you have with your husband – Enjoy! I have long wanted to make this tart from Saveur – yours looks divine! The addition of homemade sea salt is just perfect. Enjoy your special day! See you soon! 🙂

  14. I’m with Linda…your birthday is an important day! Despite what you say, though, it seems to me you get to celebrate it pretty well. No big parties are needed, the important thing is having around the people that really matter…and let’s say it…the dessert that you really deserve 🙂 I love love love this tart. Way to go for the holidays, girl! (almost) happy birthday!

    • Thanks, Sara! When we have a foodie get-together in 2011 (and I plan to have one), I’ll let you pick what dessert I should make. It’s to make up for all the times that you think I didn’t invite you over to share. 🙂

  15. Love the “do not touch notes!” My kids have been pretty good at asking “Can we eat this yet?” but have to admit to having to make a loaf of bread twice after I came home to most of the loaf gone.
    Love the tart! And Happy Birthday (a little early!) to you!

    • Hi Kim. I love that your kids are so great about asking you first. My husband is the same way–mostly–so I couldn’t be upset about this little mishap. Maybe I’ll use the notes only in extreme situations. 🙂 Thanks for the birthday greeting!

  16. That looks wonderful. We play white elephant too within my family and we alway end up cracking up and arguing. It is so much fun.

  17. Happy Birthday! What a great way to celebrate the holidays. I would devour these tarts. Love the salty sweet combo.

  18. Happy early birthday, Jean!! Hope it’s fabulous. Your Christmas tree is so beautiful. My hubby is the same- Christmas Eve is the only time of year I can convince him to go to church. The tart looks so wonderful. I bet the sweet and salty flavors are delicious.

    • Hi Trish! Sounds like your hubby and mine are like-minded when it comes to church! I’m just happy that he won’t let me attend Christmas service alone. 🙂 The tart will be making an appearance again on Christmas–it’s a keeper of a recipe. Thanks for the birthday greeting! 🙂

  19. this is amazing!!!!! slurp!!!! 😀

  20. Nothing like caramel for naughty indulgence. With a kick of sea salt, even better. Lovely tree! Hope you have a fantastic birthday!

  21. Beautiful post! Love love love the tart with sea salt!

  22. It is the most wonderful and beautiful time of the year…and what a month for a birthday. My Hubb’s bday is this month and our anniversary in a couple of days. A busy month with the holidays, to be sure – but it’s my favorite month too.

    Now this chocolate caramel tart – looks fantastique! I think it was on the cover of Saveur too. Your trio of tarts looks challenging to resist, so I feel for your Hubby. 🙂 Where do you find creme fraiche? I’ve looked for it before, but have yet to find it in the mkts.

    Happy Birthday to you Jean and a Happy Holiday to you and your loved ones.

    • Cristina, sounds like December is a busy month for you, too! Happy Birthday to Mr. Teenie Cakes and Happy Anniversary to you both. 🙂

      Yes, this tart was on one of last year’s covers, I believe. As for the creme fraiche, would you believe I’m lucky enough that most of the stores around me carry it? I would guess that Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s might carry it as well? I don’t know that plain nonfat yogurt was the best substitute but I was very happy with the results. I don’t think I’d even bother with anything else next time.

      Thanks for the birthday greeting, Cristina, and I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas, too! 🙂

  23. i love your decorations..they are just gorgeous and that chocolate caramel tart, oh my, it looks so delish!! thanks for sharing.

  24. That really could not look any more tantalizing.

  25. Happy Birthday, Jean! It really is the most wonderful time of the year – and I’m so happy that our lives intersected through this wonderful world of food. I can’t think of a better way to indulge than with this gorgeous tart, oh my goodness! The sweet, the salty, it’s no wonder your hubbie was unable to resist snagging the two teenier tarts. I don’t blame him a single bit.

    Here’s to a wonderful birthday and Christmas (and I can’t wait to see you soon!).

  26. Caramel, chocolate and salt? Oh my! 🙂
    This is definitely much better than any birthday cake I’ve ever had. The sea salt sounds like the perfect finishing touch, and just the thing to keep the tart from being overwhelmingly sweet. Thanks for sharing your lessons learned… sounds like I would probably have made a few of those mistakes along the way, too!

  27. What a beautiful tart recipe. I imagine that sea salt was such a heavenly addition! My birthday is also approaching (on the 16th!) Happy Birthday to us both! I loved hearing about your Christmas traditions…all the small things that you do to celebrate the season. Thank you for sharing with me. I hope you have a Wednesday full of wonder and joy!

  28. I hope you have an absolutely fabulous Birthday! Eat lots of good food and have a wonderful time with your husband 🙂 Your tree is absolutely gorgeous and this tart!? I am heading over immediately took have a look at this recipe. Celebrate well!

  29. My two favorite sweet ingredients are caramel and chocolate. I HAVE to make this at some point. It looks to die for! 🙂 It sounds like you’ll have a wonderful Christmas with your friends, family and husband. Your tree looks so beautiful and I’m sure you and your husband will have a special Christmas morning opening gifts together. Our tree looks hilarious this year – all of our ornaments are hanging 3 feet and above so the baby won’t grab them. Our Christmas will be crazy-hectic but that’s how our life is now and I’ll appreciate it as much as I used to enjoy our quiet Christmases. 🙂 Merry Christmas, Jean!

  30. PS – Happy Birthday!

  31. Lovely. The sea salt is an excellent touch.

  32. Jean, this is such a warm and lovely post (and not just because of the chocolate tart). I absolutely LOVE how huge your tree is. Happy holidays, friend!

  33. Your Christmas traditions sound so perfect, Jean – a little bit of quiet, a little bit of festive rowdiness, a lot of food and laughs. I can almost imagine your family clamoring over each other to get a piece of this tart too. Happy holidays to you and your husband and I hope we’ll see more of each other in the coming year!

    • I would love that, Angi. In fact I want to start the year off with a foodie get-together at my house. Will throw out dates after the holidays. Hope you and Nathan have a wonderful holiday too. 🙂

  34. If you B-Day was in a couple of days when this was written. Maybe today is the day? Did I hit it just right? Happy Birthday anyway. I usually count the whole month anyway for mine. GREG

  35. Happy Birthday!!!!! I think December is the perfect month to arrive on the scene. Everybody has all their decorations up and are ready to include you in any and all celebrations. I love this tart, it just hits every note in my mind wish it was also experienced by my mouth but oh well, will have to try your recipe. ps. Great use of your salt;-)

  36. You deserve a very big happy birthday!!!! And that torte???? Well, I hope you are enjoying every single bite of that chocolaty goodness.

  37. Happy Birthday, Jean! And Merry Christmas, too! Hope you have the most magical time with your husband, family, and friends. Nothing about that tart says wallflower 🙂 What a delicious combination of flavors and textures, topped by Linda’s Sea Salt – absolute heaven!

  38. Your Christmas tree is gorgeous so is the tart! Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year to you and your family:D

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