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Layer chocolate, caramel, cashew tarts at your leisure

A labor of love in the kitchen can leave plenty of room for other pursuits. One strategy is to accomplish steps in a recipe as time and enthusiasm allow.

There are still days remaining in the week before Valentine’s Day to make pastry dough from scratch. But these chocolate tartlets would be no less impressive if store-bought, ready-to-roll pastry was used. It’s the combination of caramel and cashews that’s going to wow recipients, even more if the topping is finished with a pinch of French fleur de sel.

Form the pastry into whatever pans are at your disposal (even a muffin tin would work), bake, then refrigerate. You’ll need enough dough for a 9-inch double-crust pie.

The next day, you can make the caramel, fill the baked shells and refrigerate to that point. Resume the recipe by making the chocolate ganache and smoothing it over the tartlets’ caramel layer. Bring the dessert to room temperature before serving for maximum impact.

Never made caramel? Here are some helpful tips, courtesy of Tribune News Service:

Caramel tends to foam during cooking. Use a saucepan larger than you might think for the amount of ingredients (at least three times the volume) to prevent boil-overs.

Do not use a pan with a nonstick surface; caramel temperatures are too hot for it.

Avoid dark saucepans, it will be difficult to judge color.

Use only heat-resistant utensils (spoons, spatulas, etc.)

Caramel scorches easily. Stir continuously during cooking, if indicated in recipe; moderate the heat.

Pay attention. Do not step away from the stove during cooking. The flavor can go from mellow to burned in an instant.

Judge caramel color by using a metal teaspoon to dip a tiny amount onto a white plate.

Salted Cashew Caramel Chocolate Tartlets

Filling:

2/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon honey

1/3 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup roasted salted cashews, rubbed in a paper towel to remove excess salt, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

12 fully baked 2 1/2-inch tartlet crusts

Topping:

3 ounces dark chocolate (60 percent cocoa solids), melted, cooled

1/2 cup whipping cream

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

For filling, combine in a medium saucepan 2 tablespoons water and the sugar; stir to mix. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until syrup turns a deep amber caramel color. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, stir the honey into the cream; heat to a slight simmer over low heat. Cover; set aside.

When sugar mixture is ready, remove pan from heat and begin pouring in hot cream-honey mixture a little at a time to avoid caramel boiling over. Stir until caramel is smooth, returning pan to heat for a few seconds if caramel hardens. Stir in the cashews. Divide filling among baked tartlet crusts, using about 1 tablespoon for each and filling within 1/4 inch of top.

For topping, place the chocolate in a mixing bowl. Heat the cream and corn syrup to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat; pour over chocolate. Whisk smooth. Spoon topping onto each tartlet, smoothing surface. Cool tarts to room temperature.

Makes 12 to 18 tartlets.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from Nick Malgieri’s “Pastry” (Kyle Books, $29.95).

Tribune News Service photo