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by meg

I've never been one to celebrate Valentine's Day. It's not that I have something against the holiday. I generally think that more reasons to celebrate love and kindness are good things. But then, you know how your car will make a noise for weeks, reliably, and then you take it to the mechanic, and the noise just stops? The same thing happens with romance. The more you plan for it and anticipate it, the less likely it seems to want to surface.

Maybe you got reservations at a nice, expensive restaurant (I hope for your sake that you didn't). You spend two hours and a lot of money talking over the music and ambient noise in the crowded dining room.  By the time you make it home you're stuffed to the gills with rich food, probably tipsy, and end up falling into bed and waking up feeling like your head is stuffed with cotton balls. Distinctly unromantic.

Maybe the best thing you can do is not make plans. Wait until the last minute to decide what to make for dinner. Pick up a nice but understated gift. Make a playlist. I have recipes for lots of things, but romance isn't one of them. But then, I don't really believe anyone has that.

This chocolate blood orange tart is everything I hope your Valentine's Day turns out to be--simple, beautiful, classic, and delicious. It is based on a dessert we made at the restaurant last year. I owe the idea to my former boss, friend, and talented pastry chef Helena Root at Irving Street Kitchen here in Portland. It's a simple chocolate tart dough with a bright and rose-tinted blood orange curd. Blood orange segments compliment it perfectly. It really doesn't need anything else. At the restaurant, we sprinkled the tarts with sugar and torched them for a subtle brûlé effect. You could do this if you wanted.

Don't let the length of this recipe fool you--it's very simple but heavy on technique. If you've ever made a pie crust and lemon curd, you already know how to make this tart. I've included lots of detail for those who may need more of a guiding hand, but the components are quite easy to make.

Other citrusy things to make: Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake, Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Modern Ambrosia

Chocolate Blood Orange Tart
Makes one 9-inch tart (serves 6 to 8)

Note: You will have enough dough left over for another tart or for some other use. The dough can be kept in the freezer for up to 3 months or so (longer if you have a good freezer and wrap the dough really well). I should also note that the curd for this tart is fairly soft. If you want or need the tart to cut easily into neat, restaurant-like slices, whisk in 1 teaspoon of bloomed gelatin after you take the curd off the heat. The gelatin will help the curd set and hold its shape.

For the crust:
Beat in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth and combined but not fluffy:
           1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, slightly softened
           3 tablespoons sugar
Scrape down the bowl and paddle. Add and beat until just combined:
           1 egg plus one egg yolk, beaten
Scrape down the bowl. Whisk together in a small bowl:
           2 cups pastry or all-purpose flour
           1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
           1 teaspoon salt
Add to the mixer bowl and combine on low speed until the flour mixture is moistened and a rough dough starts to come together. When you squeeze some of the dough in your hand, it should come together without being sticky or crumbly. If the dough is too dry, add a teaspoon of cold water at a time until it comes together.
Shape the dough into a ball. Cut the ball in half. Flatten each half into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight (the dough can also be double-wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months).
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Take one round of dough out of the refrigerator. At first, it will probably be too hard to roll out without cracking, so let it warm up for 15 minutes or so. Unwrap the dough, and lightly flour your work surface.
Roll out the dough into a 1/8-inch thick circle. A little thicker is fine. Line a 9.5-inch tart ring (or a shallow tart pan) on a parchment-lined baking sheer with the dough. Make sure you get the dough down into the bottom edge of the ring (where the ring meets the baking sheet). Trim off the excess. The dough should be level with the top of the tart ring or pan. Place the dough in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Once the dough is very, very cold, line it with parchment and fill with pie weights or beans. Be sure to fill it to the brim and pack the beans down to make sure they're weighing down the bottom edges of the dough. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges of the dough feel dry and are matte.
Remove the pie weights carefully, and return the dough to the oven for 5 more minutes to dry out the bottom of the crust. Allow to cool completely.

For the blood orange curd:
Whisk together in a medium stainless steel or enamel saucepan until light in color:
           2 large eggs plus 4 large egg yolks
           2/3 cup sugar
           1/2 cup strained fresh blood orange juice (about 2 1/2 blood oranges-- zest them before you juice them and reserve the zest of 2 oranges)
Cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, over medium heat until the curd reaches 175°F on a digital thermometer. Make sure to get the spatula into the corners of the pan and never stop stirring. If it makes you feel more comfortable, feel free to use a double boiler for this step.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in:
           (1 teaspoon powdered gelatin bloomed in 2 tablespoons cold water--this is only necessary if you want a thicker curd)
           10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Add the butter slowly (do not dump all the butter cubes in at once), stirring constantly. You can use a blender to speed this up. Simply transfer the curd to the blender and add the butter slowly with the blender running until all the butter is incorporated. I usually just do this by hand rather than add to the pile of dishes in the sink.
Once all the butter is incorporated into the curd, stir in:
           1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pass the curd through a fine mesh strainer, stirring it with the spatula to coax it through the strainer. Once strained, stir in:
           The reserved orange zest
Pour the curd into the chocolate tart shell and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to one day. (Protip: if you have a propane torch, you can quickly and lightly pass it over the curd to pop any bubbles on the surface--this is totally not necessary. Just a way of making the surface perfectly smooth.)
To garnish, place blood orange segments on top of the tart or slice the tart and serve with segments on the plate. To really gild the lily, whip up some heavy cream with the seeds of a vanilla bean and a tiny bit of sugar and serve dollops of the cream alongside the tart.

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