Chocolate tart sure to win Valentine's heart

Hey, Valentines and Valentine wannabes. You've got one week to figure out how to make an impression, and I'm here to help.

I'm somewhat obligated to endorse the adage that the way to that certain someone's heart is through his or her stomach, and my own personal experience shows that chocolate is a pretty fool-safe means to that end. So let me suggest an edible token of affection that even the most culinarily challenged Romeo or Juliet can whip up in a reasonably short period of time.

In the February issue of Bon App�tit (always a reliable source of recipes for Valentine's Day offerings) I found this chocolate, pecan and caramel tart, and can attest that its ratio of sensuous, edible properties � namely, chocolate to goo � is just about right.

The only downside is the likelihood that the cook will be tempted to lick the spoon so frequently at various stages of the cooking process that certain key ingredients will come up short. Exercise a little self-restraint, and you'll do just fine.

It's all here: butter, nuts, chocolate and caramel made from scratch. The aroma of the melting chocolate, the crackle of the cream mixing with the butter and the subtle sense of triumph as the syrup gradually thickens and changes color will put the cook in a romantic frame of mind, long before the finished dessert reaches its final destination.

The recipe calls for toasted pecans but I skipped the toasting, and the results didn't suffer. This will be best as a Tuesday night project, something to occupy your time on Valentine's Eve, but you can let the tart chill in the refrigerator for a couple of days without compromising the desired effect, contrary to what the recipe suggests.

Chocolate, Pecan and Caramel Tart

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7 whole graham crackers, broken into pieces

2 tablespoons plus 1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 cups pecan halves, toasted

1/4 cup water

1 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 ounces milk chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Blend crackers and 2 tablespoons sugar in processor until fine crumbs form. Add melted butter; process until moist clumps form. Press mixture firmly over bottom and up sides of 9-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Bake crust until golden and firm, about 7 minutes. Cool completely on rack.

Stir bittersweet chocolate in top of double-boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Pour chocolate into tart crust.

Using a small metal spatula, spread over bottom of crust. Arrange 1 1/2 cups pecans in single layer over chocolate.

Mix 1/4 cup water and 1 cup sugar in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high; boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber color, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 6 minutes.

Remove from heat. Add 3/4 cup cream and 2 tablespoons butter (mixture will bubble vigorously). Set over low heat; stir until caramel is smooth, about 1 minute. Pour over pecans atop chocolate in crust. Chill until set, about 45 minutes.

Stir milk chocolate and 1/4 cup cream in heavy saucepan over low heat until smooth. Pour over caramel; spread evenly. Arrange 1/2 cup pecans around edge of tart. Chill at least 8 hours, and up to 1 day.

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