I am continually amazed at the sorts of sweet, rich desserts that can be made low carb. When I first came to grips with the fact that I might be prediabetic, I thought I would rarely, if ever, get to taste these sorts of desserts again. I envisioned a life filled with nibbling on pieces of cheese after dinner while my dining companions got to devour cakes and pies and ice cream. And since so much of my identity is caught up in my love of baking, I was in mourning for that part of myself. I figured she was a goner. Good-bye, baking queen, hello boring old health-food chick, the sort that abstains from anything remotely resembling dessert.
Boy, was I wrong. Normally, I hate being wrong, but in this case, I am thrilled! Because low carb diets generally allow for a good deal of fats, many rich, decadent desserts can be made over into treats that barely register a blip on one’s blood sugars. Fats have gotten a bad rap over the years, and many people are afraid to use very much of them, even the “good” fats like avocados and nuts. My own thinking on all of this has changed drastically since I faced my blood sugar battle head-on. There is a fair bit of controversy on the subject, so I won’t try to convince you here, but my reading suggests that fat is not the enemy (not even the saturated, animal-based fats). Excepting trans-fats, which are mostly man-made and pretty nasty stuff, I no longer fear creams and butters and oils. I have to rely on fats to stay full and satisfied, and to avoid losing weight. In a funny way, diabetes has freed me up to eat more of some of the foods I love best!
So I decided to try my hand at a really rich, flavourful dessert that could satisfy my cravings for dessert. I wanted Dessert with a capital D, the sort of thing I might see in a bakery and gaze at wistfully. I was thinking of something with a nut crust, and the bag of hazelnuts in my freezer began calling my name. And what goes better with hazelnuts than rich, dark chocolate? At first I thought of filling the hazelnut crust with a chocolate mousse, but I decided I wanted it to be denser and creamier. So I opened one of my favourite cookbooks, America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, to the page on Chocolate Cream Pie and thought about how to make it low carb. Cornstarch and sugar were out, obviously. But the cream and the eggs would still make it wonderfully rich and satisfying, as long as I could thicken and sweeten it properly.
The Results: These tarts were exactly the type of dessert I was looking for. I was particularly pleased with the hazelnut crust, which was sweet without being overly so, and tasted delicious on its own and in combination with the chocolate filling. I will confess that my chocolate filling did come out a tiny bit lumpy, but I know where I erred. I was distracted by my children while baking this, and I added my thickener (xanthan gum) to the egg yolks, when I really should have added it to the custard at the end. Xanthan gum swells and thickens quickly and it gummed up and wouldn’t thin out properly when I added some hot cream to temper the yolks, no matter how much I whisked it. So we had to suffer through a few tiny lumps in our tarts. No matter, they tasted delicious!
These would probably best be made in tart pans with removable bottoms, but I don’t own any (yet). But once chilled and set, they did release from their pans fairly easily, with minimal loss of hazelnut crust.
This isn’t the lowest carb treat I’ve ever made, with each tart coming in at 24g total carbs. But they are fairly large and dense, so a proper portion would be half a tart. I promise I am not being stingy…I am a dessert fiend and I would have had a lot of trouble polishing one of these off all by myself! Subtracting erythritol, each serving (half a tart) has 8g of carbs and 3.5g of fiber.
Chocolate Cream Tarts with Hazelnut Crust
Serves 8. 12g total carbs and 3.5g fiber per serving (half a tart). Subtracting erythritol, each serving has 8g of carbs.