It's been snowing here in Vermont.  Yesterday morning the air was still.  Every tree had a perfect dusting of powdery white.  The dawn light filtered through the branches and all at once, our entire backyard sparkled.  

And what, do you imagine, was the first thing that came to my sugar obsessed mind?  The Black Forest.  Not the actual, and quite magical in its own right, German forest but the pastry.  But not in the shape of the traditional cake but as a tart.

I've had a bag of Nestle® Toll House® Cherry filled Delightfulls™ morsels calling to me from my pantry and that moment of pure natural beauty sparked an idea.  I saw a forest of meringue nestled atop a creamy filling of cherry-laced chocolate pastry cream and all of that splendid goodness cradled by a buttery crust absolutely brimming with those luscious, dark chocolate morsels filled with smooth cherry deliciousness.

And lo, I made it and it was as good as I'd imagined it would be.  Perhaps even better.


For the crust

4 ounces (one stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup Nestle® Toll House® Cherry Flavor Filled Delightfulls™

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Spray a 9 1/2" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom with non-stick baker's spray.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and sweetened condensed milk.  Set aside.

In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder.  Whisk for 30 seconds to distribute the leavening.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl.  Add the egg yolk and sweetened condensed mixture and mix until combined.  Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl.

Add the flour mixture all at once and mix until combined.  Removed the bowl from the mixer stand and stir in the morsels by hand.  

Dump the dough into the prepared tart pan and, using your fingers, press the tart dough in an even layer onto the bottom and sides of the pan.  Freeze the dough lined tart pan for at least 20 minutes.

Line the tart pan with parchment and fill with baking weights or dry beans.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the weights and parchment and continue baking for 15-20 minutes or until the tart dough is baked through.  Allow to cool completely.

For the chocolate/cherry pastry cream filling

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 egg yolks (keep the egg whites for the meringue)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 drops cherry flavored oil or 2 tablespoons Kirsch 
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, at least 60%, finely chopped

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the sugar, cornstarch, yolks, salt and flavored oil or kirsch.  Whisk to combine.

In a large saucepan, combine the cream and whole milk and heat over low heat until the mixture simmers  With the mixer running on medium/low, slowly pour the cream/milk mixture down the side of the bowl and mix to combine. 

Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and whisk over medium/low heat until the mixture thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise.  Immediately take from the heat and add the chocolate.  Allow to sit 5 minutes undisturbed and then whisk to combine.  Immediately transfer the mixture to the prepared tart pan and smooth the top.  (NOTE:  If you worry that your pastry cream is lumpy, run it through a sieve before filling the tart pan).  Cover the top of the tart with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until completely cool and set, at least 1-2 hours.

For the meringue

6 egg whites
1 and 1/8 cup granulated sugar
pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in the bowl (CLEAN!) of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Place the mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the sugar is completely melted, the mixture starts to feel "looser" and is hot to the touch.   Continue whisking constantly and add a thermometer to make sure the mixture has reached 160ºF. 

Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer and whisk on high until the meringue is stiff, white and shiny and the meringue clumps inside the bowl of the whisk.  Transfer the meringue to a large piping bag fitted with a large, closed star tip.  Pipe "trees" by pressing down to create a star, rotate the bag slightly and press down again to pipe another star, slightly smaller, on top of the first.  Continue piping until the tree is the height you prefer (usually 5 "stars" on top of the other is as high as you can go without the tree falling over).  Continue piping trees of varying heights all along the top of the tart.  

Serve immediately, using a dry, hot knife to cut cleanly through the tart.


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