It’s always good to have a few quick and reliable recipes in your back pocket, ready to pull out and bake at a moment’s notice. Recently I needed just one of these recipes when some friends invited me over for a last-minute Sunday brunch. The ingredients for this chocolate-caramel pie are all common baking goods, so I had everything I needed on hand. In just under two hours, I went from a bunch of ingredients in my pantry and refrigerator to a finished pie cooling on a rack in my sparkling clean kitchen (dishes done too)! See? Perfect for that last-minute dessert.
The flavor of this pie is a wonderful balance of chocolate and caramel, with an underlying complexity due to the coffee and rum. If you’re a fan of chocolate or caramel (or both!), this pie is just the thing for you. The texture is quite rich and more filling than you might imagine, so best not to pair it with a heavy meal, like I did. (As if the lasagna for brunch wasn’t filling in its own right!)
If you’ve never made caramel before, don’t stress. Making caramel is a relatively simple process at its core. You melt sugar until it liquefies and then continue heating until it caramelizes, turning an amber-brown color. If you continue heating past this amber-brown phase, it doesn’t take long before the sugar burns. The trick to making your own caramel is learning to identify how far to take the sugar into the amber-brown phase before it begins to burn.
My best advice on how to figure out when to stop heating your caramel is through experience. If you go too far and burn your sugar, there’s no saving it. Toss your burned sugar, clean out (and completely dry) your pot, and start over. Sugar is fairly cheap and once you successfully make caramel a few times, you’ll have the method down for life.
Some tips to help you along your caramelization journey:
1) Use a light-colored pot to help you judge the true color of the caramelizing sugar.
2) Use good overhead lighting on your stovetop, again to help you see the true color of the sugar as it darkens.
3) Make sure you use a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon to stir the caramel as its high temperature can melt less-resistant tools.
4) Use your nose to help guide you. As you get close to the perfect caramelization point, you’ll smell it. Similarly, if you’ve gone too far and burned your sugar, your nose will tell you. Trust your nose.
5) Lastly, once the caramel is done, it will be HOT. Molten sugar should make you think of molten lava and you should take care accordingly.
If you want more tips and step-by-step photos of making caramel, I highly recommend David Lebovitz’s tutorial.
This simple dessert is one of the fastest tarts I've ever made. From start to finish (and I'm talking pie finished and cooling, the dishes done, and the kitchen spotless) it took me just under two hours!
If you prefer a pastry-style crust, here's David Lebovitz's French tart dough
- 2 cups ground graham crackers, just under half of a box worth
- 8 tbsp (114 g) unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup (67 g) granulated sugar
- 1 1/4 cup (250 g) granulated sugar
- 6 tbsp (90 ml) warm coffee
- 8 tbsp (114 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 6 oz. (170 g) bittersweet chocolate
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup (35 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp dark rum
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat your oven to 400 °F (205 °C), with a rack in the middle of the oven.
- Combine the graham cracker, butter, and sugar in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Pour the crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie plate. Using a flat-bottomed glass, press down on the crumbs until they form an even, firmly packed crust along the bottom and sides of the pie plate.
- Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, watching out that the top of the crust doesn't burn.
- Remove from the oven and place the pie plate on a wire rack to cool.
- Adjust the temperature of your oven to 350 °F (175 °C). You may want to leave the door of your oven ajar to more rapidly drop the oven's internal temperature.
- Add the sugar to a large heavy-duty saucepan, spreading it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Cook the sugar over medium heat until the edges liquefy and begin to caramelize. Using a heatproof spatula, gently drag the liquefied sugar toward the center of the pan, encouraging the sugar to melt evenly.
- Once the sugar is melted, it will caramelize quickly (so don't walk away, even for a second). When it starts to smoke and is a deep amber color, but before it burns, turn off the heat and stir in the coffee. (The mixture will bubble vigorously and seize a little. Take a step back once you add the coffee to avoid getting any molten caramel splashed on your skin or clothes. If you have a vent above your stovetop, I recommend turning it on BEFORE adding the coffee, to help control the steam output from the liquid.)
- If the caramel has seized up in places, stir it gently over low heat until smooth. Add the butter and salt, and stir until melted, then stir in the chocolate until smooth.
- Mix in the eggs, then the flour, and lastly add in the rum and vanilla extract.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared graham cracker crust, then bake for 15-20 minutes, just until the filling starts to rise and crack at the edges but the center is still jiggly. Be careful not to overbake.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before serving.
The pie will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature, well-wrapped.
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Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz