These Chocolate-Topped Ricotta Mini Tartlets began as a procrastination adventure by this chocoholic. But they ended up being a reminder of what is really important in life.
If you’re like me, craving chocolate is an almost constant state of being. Pair chocolate with ricotta, as in cannoli filling, and I’m in heaven. (Yes, the plural is cannoli. The singular is actually cannolo, but if you use cannoli for both, I doubt anyone will correct you.)
So it will come as no surprise that ganache on top of ricotta filling caught my attention. Last weekend, I procrastinated by scrolling through Instagram. As stories flashed by, Domenica Marchetti’s lovely ricotta and bittersweet chocolate crostata caught my eye.
A crostata can be either free-form, like a galette, or in a pan, like a tart. Domenica’s is the latter. While she called it a crostata in a recent Italy magazine version, in an earlier, Washington Post version, she called it a tart. No matter. With either name, it is a multi-portion pastry shell filled with ricotta and topped with ganache.
But I wasn’t in the mood to make a crostata or a full-sized tart. So I turned the recipe into these Chocolate-Topped Ricotta Mini Tartlets.
With Domenica’s permission, I provide my recipe for the mini tartlets below. It closely resembles her crostata/tart recipe, but with only half the filling and topping, I nestled them in mini crushed graham cracker shells, instead of a larger pastry crust. They don’t look as pretty as Domenica’s crostata, but we’ve gobbled them up and given away several to neighbors and friends. The flavor is all there, and so is the chance of portion control – if you stop at just one.
Before the tartlets, I can’t resist a few words about Domenica. If you don’t already know her, you should check out Domenica’s website (Domenica Cooks), as well as her books, articles and amazing Instagram. During the current Covid craziness, I’ve become addicted to her IGTV feed. Her short cooking lessons are so comforting and the results are mouthwatering. No fancy airs or silliness. Just a warm, knowledgable person guiding you through the Italian food world. (Hint – there are under a dozen. You can binge them in less than the run time of one of those ridiculous cooking channel shows.) I’ve got most of her books and can vouch for a number of the recipes. You won’t find better recipes for biscotti, focaccia, ribollita and many other Italian delights.
And now for the tartlets.
The first step is making the crushed graham cracker shells. You simply mix the crumbs, butter and sugar, press the mixture into the tartlet or mini muffin forms and bake.
While the shells cool, you make the filling.
While the tartlets and their filling bake, you make the chocolate topping. (It’s a simple ganache, with just chopped chocolate, a bit of cocoa, and heavy cream.
Then you spoon the topping over the cooled tartlets and chill them .
Tips for Making Chocolate-Topped Ricotta Mini Tartlets
- Shells or forms – Whether you use fancy tartlet pans or plain mini muffin tins, it is crucial to oil them. Put a teaspoon of oil in one and roll it all around, then drip the excess into the next shell or form. If you have a choice, there is a trade-off: it is much easier to get the tartlets out of round mini muffin tins than fancy mini tartlet pans with many edges. But scalloped edged ones look prettier. If you’re impatient and will go nuts moving a sharp knife around the scalloped edges of multiple shells, choose the rounded pans. If you have patience and love pretty, adorable tartlets, go with the fancy shells.
- Filling the shells/forms – The ricotta filling will expand during baking and then contract as the tartlets cool. If they are slightly rounded when you put them into the oven, they should contract to be flat when they cool. Don’t add more or you won’t have room for the chocolate topping. And that would be a shame!
- Serving the tartlets – Because the chocolate needs to set, you must chill the tartlets for at least an hour before serving. However, you will also want to leave them out of the refrigerator before serving long enough to let the chill subside. Domenica recommends a 2 hour chill for the large crostata and leaving it for 30 minutes at room temperature after that before serving it. The tartlets need less time on both accounts because of their size. Still, they need both the chilling and the gentle rewarming to bring out their full flavor.
I made two batches. The first batch was just perfect. Cocky cook that I am, I thought repeating my triumph would be a snap. But the chocolate gods had a lesson to teach me. Although I thought my ingredient and process were the same as before, the topping on the second batch lost its shine. When it first went on, it looked a bit too thick and not quite smooth.
Still, I was not going to ditch them. Just to be sure, I cut into one – the inside looked fine.
But after chilling in the refrigerator, the ganache on this batch lost its shine.
I went back over the recipe and did research on ganache, but never figured out why the topping on this batch did not stay shiny. Not exactly a tragedy – still delicious. And a reminder that sometimes, one has to overlook the small imperfections. Hopefully your ganache will keep its shine. But even if it doesn’t, remember what is really important in life. And while they are a fun diversion, these tartlets are just a dessert. Besides, I promise that if you close your eyes and bite into one, the gloss on the ganache is the last thing you’ll be worried about.
Chocolate-Topped Ricotta Mini Tartlets
Single serving tartlets featuring a cannoli-like filling (but thicker, more like a cheesecake) with a chocolate "cap"
Graham Cracker Mini Tartlets
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or safflower, for oiling the tartlet or mini muffin shells
- 1& 1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs, lightly pressed into measuring cup (see note) About 12 4-part crackers/6 oz./172 g.
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 8 ounces ricotta, preferably whole milk, drained (see note) 227 g. (approximately 1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar 16 g.
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream 14 g.
Chocolate Topping (Ganache)
- 4 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 113 g.
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder 7 g.
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (see note) 4 oz./120 ml.
Crusts for MIni Tartlets
Preheat oven to 350° F/177°C. Oil 12 or more tartlet or mini muffin shells. The number of shells depends on their size. For tartlet shells like mine that are 1 & 1/2 -inches on bottom and 2 & 1/2 inches on top, about 3/4-inch high, the recipe will make about enough for 12 shells, with a bit of filling and frosting leftover. For smaller mini muffin pans (less than 2-inches on top), you will fill closer to 24 shells.
Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter in a medium bowl and toss until well mixed. Spoon equal amounts into the tartlet or mini muffin pans. Using your hands, press the mixture well into the bottom and up the sides of each pan.
Bake the shells for about 10 minutes, until they turn golden brown. If they puff up during baking, as soon as you can touch them, gently push the filling down with the back of a spoon. Cool the shells to room temperature on a wire rack before filling. Leave the oven on.
Combine the drained ricotta, confectioners' sugar, vanilla, and heavy cream. Fold until combined.
Spoon the filling equally into the tartlet or mini muffin shells. Smooth out the tops and bake them for 20-25 minutes until the filling is set and begins to look a bit cracked, but not browned.
Cool the tartlets or mini muffin shells on a wire rack until they are cool enough to handle. Using a sharp knife, gently pry the baked tartlets/mini muffins away from the shells, then tapping them out into your hand or onto a wire rack and then placing them right side up for the final step, adding the chocolate topping.
Put the finely chopped chocolate and the cocoa in a medium-small bowl.
While the baked filling in the shells is cooling, heat the heavy cream just until it comes to a simmer. Remove it from the heat and pour it over the chocolate and cocoa. Let it sit for about 30 seconds, then gently fold the heavy cream into the chocolate and cocoa until the mixture is glossy and smooth.
Using one or two spoons, spoon the ganache over the baked tartlets. (I like to use two spoons, drizzling with one and using the second to push the ganache off the first spoon.) Although you can even the drizzle out using a knife or the back of a spoon, it should be thin enough to coat without much help from you and looks best if there is a minimum of fiddling after you pour the ganache on. It's fine if a bit of the ricotta filling shows around the edges.
Graham cracker crusts - Although a rolling pin works to crush the graham crackers for the crust, these small delights need finely ground graham crackers for the crust to achieve the right look and texture. A food processor works well for this task - use it if you have one.
Ricotta filling - Of course, homemade ricotta is the best and fresh ricotta from a specialty store is lovely too. But good quality store-bought ricotta works just fine in this recipe.
Heavy cream - Regardless of how it is labelled (as either heavy or whipping cream), try to find the ingredient without thickeners. But if you only have cream with thickener, it will work.