Death by chocolate (tart)

It wouldn’t be the worst way I could think of, to go by chocolate tart; being engulfed so thoroughly by this thick, dark, oozing, slightly bitter lava. If they found me, my face covered with dark remnants, the odd pastry crumb, a fork clawing helplessly at the…last…bite. They’d know I’d bit off more than I could chew…

I’m partial to a sliver of chocolate tart, as you can tell. It has to be dark, it cannot be sweet – well, not too sweet anyway. The sort of richness that makes you feel like you really could not eat anymore at all. That sort of tart is the one I love.

I came across a number of recipes, whilst perusing many sources for this tart. My conclusions: you need chocolate, cream and butter. In really any quantities. Beyond that, it’s pretty hard to stuff up. I made a couple of little tarts and a couple of chocolate pots with mine, but this would yield enough for a 23cm tart shell.

You will need:
– 300g chocolate. I would say get dark aka semi sweet chocolate. I couldn’t find any. I used a mix of 70% and milk, half a half. Though a 70% tart would have been pretty good too. The mix was sufficiently dark that it wasn’t too sweet, but still reminded everyone it was a delicious dessert-y chocolate tart.
– 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg (use the egg whites for a bomb alaska! see picture at end)
– 300mL thickened cream
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 tart shell. I used the standard shortcrust from my pecan pie a few blogs ago – I like the ever so slightly salty contrasting shell to my filling. Otherwise you could go for a sweeter tart shell, perhaps a chocolate version

Step 1 – shellshock: make your tart shell as per the pecan pie recipe. Blind bake with rice, and then bake for a further 10 mins or so without the rice. Cool.

Step 2 – get tarted up: to make your filling, break your chocolate into pieces and place in a bowl along with the butter. Bring the cream to the boil and then pour over the chocolate. Let it hang out for a few minutes and then stir to combine. Yes, the chocolate will melt. Pour this mixture into your cooled tart shell/s. Bake at 160 degrees for around about 25 minutes, or until you can just see the centre of the tart slightly wobbling. If you want to make it look ever so slightly fancy, either sieve some cocoa powder over the top, or alternatively combine a little melted chocolate with cream to a liquidy consistency and spread over the top. Simples.

You old tart

You old tart

 

Oh – bonus shot. Bombe alaska!

The nice sort of bomb(e)

The nice sort of bomb(e)

Various fruitlicious crumble

The crumble. No one I have ever met has ever turned away a hot bowl of crunchy, crumbly, apple-y crumble. This time, having desperately needed a dessert hit, and not having managed to venture past the fruit bowl and to the shops, I decided to take the beggars-can’t-be-choosers option and go with what I had. Various fruits.

You will need:
– various fruits. I went with a jumbled concoction of an apple, a couple of plums and a couple of nectarines
– zest and juice of one lemon
– 120g caster sugar
– 120g plain flour
– 100g ground almonds
– 150g butter (chopped)
– a couple of handfuls of chopped / slivered almonds
– nutmeg and cinnamon

Step 1 – Fry-day: this sounds kinda weird but you want to fry the fruits for a bit to get a bit of char on. Melt a tablespoon or so of butter (along with a teensy bit of olive oil) on quite a high heat so they don’t soften heaps (you’ll be baking it later), but go goldy on the outside. During the frying process, add about a teaspoon each of nutmeg and cinnamon and a quarter of the sugar and also the lemon juice.

All fried up

All fried up

Step 2 – The world crumbles: Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celcius. In a bowl, mix your flour, remaining sugar, ground almonds and the butter. Rub together until the mixture turns all crumbly (doesn’t have to be too fine like breadcrumbs).

Eat me

Eat me

Step 3 – Assembly of Fools: place your fruits in a baking dish, toss in the lemon zest and scatter the crumble mixture over the top. On top of that, sprinkle the almonds. Bake for around about 40 mins or until the crumble is golden (and the fruit is tender).

IMG_0861

You old (pear frangipane) tart

There used to be this really good cake shop, Jenny Cake, in this beachside town of Byron Bay, a few hours from where I grew up. There I was introduced to the world of chocolate eclairs, cherry strudels and one of my favourite tarts – the frangipane tart. So feeling fairly tarty – as I have been lately, what with the goats cheese and asparagus and pecan varieties of late – I’ve decided to go with a pear frangipane tart in the hope of reliving memories of Jenny Cake gone by.

You will need:
– 125g softened butter
– 125g caster sugar (for the frangipane)
– 125g almond meal
– 2 eggs
– 1tbsp plain flour
– 3 large pears (depending on how peary you like your tarts), peeled
– 200g caster sugar (for the pear poaching)
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 5-6 cloves
– the juice of half a lemon
– the zest of half an orange (as in, big strips of)
– vanilla – I use about a teaspoon of those bottled vanilla pod/seed things, or you could use a vanilla pod, or just some vanilla essence
– one lot of everyone’s favourite shortcrust pastry, from that pecan pie recipe from a while back, baked and shell-like

Step 1 – like a frangipani: in a mixing bowl, cream the butter and first lot (125g) of caster sugar. Once that’s nice and fluffy, beat in the eggs, one by one (or, as I did, accidentally all at the same time). After that, fold in the almonds and flour. I just left this in the fridge until I was ready to bake.

Step 2 – get poached: in a saucepan, dump your second lot (200g – or less, depending how sweet you want your pears; 200g is not overly overly sweet) of caster sugar and then also about 500ml of water. Heat on medium until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cinnamon stick and cloves, as well as the lemon juice, orange zest and vanilla to the pan (if you’re using an actual vanilla pod, split the pod in half and scrape out the seeds and whack the lot into the pan). Add your pears and some more water to just cover the pears. Whack the lid on and bring to a simmer (or if you’re being all fancy pants, you can do the cartouche thing – cut a circle of baking paper and lay over the top of the water, touching the water and simmer – it slows down the moisture reduction process…orrr you could just put a lid on). Simmer for about 20 minutes and then remove the pears from the liquid and cool.

Poaching pears

Hi pear!

Step 3 – fill ‘er up: pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees celcius (fan forced). In your beautifully baked tart shell, spread your frangipane mix – I filled it about halfway up the shell. Slice your pears how you like – I went for long, chunky slices – and place these into your tart. You could lay them delicately on top of you like; I went for the “dig into the frangipane mix” method. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until it’s all looking delicious and golden and the frangipane is set. Serve with a nice, big fat dollop of cream or something equally delicious and wolf down! (Oh, PS, I’ve been using a smaller tin in the dumb hope that I’ll eat less junk food – so the recipe will actually make a bigger tart – like one of those 23cm tart tins 🙂

Yumbo!

I can, you can, pecan, toucan

I’m not sure where I was going with that title, but I am sure where I’m going with this post: pecan pie. The greatest of all pies, and if you disagree, then we’re absolutely not friends (unless you’re allergic…in which case, how unfortunate).

Anyhoo, pecan pie. Crunchy, nutty, golden, caramelly – what could possibly be better? There are two components to this recipe – the shell and the filling, so it does take a little bit of prep time – but it’s definitely worth it. And you’ll feel ever so vaguely healthy. Anything with nuts in it is good for you, isn’t it?

First up, the shell. You will need:
– 250 grams plain flour
– 190 grams unsalted butter, chopped
– 1 egg yolk (not strictly necessary, it just acts as a bit of extra shortening and gives the pastry more of that epic golden colour)
– Iced water

Step 1 – the world is crumbling around me: whack the butter and flour into a bowl and start rubbing it together. You want to rub the flour and the butter together so that you ultimately end up with what looks like really course bread crumbs. That way you’ll know the butter has been properly dispersed and you won’t end up with these random oily bits and random crumbly dry bits in your pastry. It usually takes me, say, 5-10 minutes to really get it all mixed. Now add your egg yolk if using.

So crumbly

Along with that, whack in a tablespoon or so of iced water. The idea is to add JUST enough water so that the pastry JUST comes together. Add a tablespoon, have a mix, add another tablespoon if you need (you really shouldn’t need more than that). If you use too much, it’ll basically mean that when you bake your pastry it’ll end up steaming and you’ll have this limp, soggy, sorry wonder instead of a crisp, short, crumbly shell of brilliance. Knead the dough for a couple of moments, flatten it into a disk shape of sorts, wrap in gladwrap and chill for an hour or so. (or longer…if, like me, you’ve forgotten about it)

Something like this…

Step two – shake and bake: Ok, so there’s no shaking per se, but we are baking. Roll out your perfectly chilled pastry into, say, half a centimetre thick. It really doesn’t matter – I’m a fan of a decent chunk of crispy pastry but you can make it thicker or thinner if you like – it’ll just effect how long you back it for. Lay your pastry in a pie tin (grease it first if it’s not non-stick), use a fork and prick little holes all around (this way you won’t get random air bubbles around the base of your pie crust), cover with baking paper and fill with dry beans / rice / baking stones, and bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove the baking paper / weight and bake until just golden.

Pie shell…with a nice little bit where it’s cracked on the left. Oops

Now, the filling. For this one, you’ll need:
– 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter
– 1 cup of golden syrup (well, I never said it was good for you)
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 3 large eggs
– 2 cups of pecans
– pinch of salt

Step 1 – stairway to caramelly heaven: Melt the butter in a saucepan, and simmer it until golden brown (give it a bit of a stir). Let the butter cool to room temperature, then add the golden syrup, sugar and salt and mix it all in. One at a time, whisk in the eggs, and then stir in the pecans. At this point, control your drooling.

Caramelly, pecan-y heaven

Pour this epic sea of deliciousness into your perfectly baked pie shell and bake at 190 degrees celcius (fan forced) for 10 minutes and then turn down to 180 degrees for another 15-20 minutes (or until it looks nice and golden). Let the pie hang out for a while, while the pecans get to know each other. It’ll set and go all treacle-y and also will cool down to avoid the brutal error of eating hot sugar. Ouch! Serve with ice cream, cream or just guzzle by itself!

Yum, yum pig’s bum

Some say macaroon, some say macaron

Ah, macarons. The dish that makes Matt Preston say that Adriano Zumbo is the “dark horse” of patissiers every single season of Masterchef. But in all seriousness, he’s kind of right. They’re actually kind of difficult to make! I’ve made a couple of batches now – the first turned out supremo; the second sorted of ended up looking like cracked whoopie pies (though that was due to my brash confidence after my first attempt and my apparent ability to skip steps) and then finally the third worked out well again. Eh – two outta three ain’t bad!

But they’re sort of beautiful, really. It’s a beautiful texture to have this slightly crispy shell that morphs into this slightly softer, chewy interior and perhaps a little zing of a tangy filling. Incredible.

I read many, many (oh so very many) sites on macarons after my dismal second attempt and the main reasons people seem to point to are factors like overmixing, a humid environment, differing temperatures in the oven, dryness/wetness and just, plain, taking your time with things. I’m gonna make it my tip (because everyone has to have a tip on this) to get yourself a set of scales. Everyone has a different definition of “a cup” and I think it’s kind of important to get the specifics right.

So there’s basically two ways to make a macaron – the Italian way and the French way – and the main difference occurs in the egg white-whisking process. The Italian method basically involves making this sugar syrup get to a certain temperature (100 degrees?) and pouring it into your egg whites whilst whisking – they say this makes the macaron more “stable”, but also risks making it too crunchy and hollow in baking. The French method, which I have been using, is just pouring the little granules of sugar into your egg whites as you whisk – less stable, but easier to get to that “slightly crispy shell morphing into chewy interior” effect.

The recipe that follows is actually super basic. A basic almond macaron, there for the flavouring and the colouring and the filling. When I say basic, the process is not difficult. It’s not the sort of…dish (?)…that takes technical excellence. You just want to be following the steps and not taking shortcuts. Have a read around the net – EVERYONE has a different method, a different idea of what is right and wrong, a unique tip that they “swear by”. It’s kind of like stock tips: everyone claims to know what they’re talking about. Make up your own mind. If your first one screws up – hey, you wouldn’t be the first. Find a recipe you like, like I did with this, and stick to it. Hone it, flavour it, develop it.

Here we go…

You will need:
– 120gm almond meal
– 200gm powdered sugar (as in, icing sugar, not icing mixture)
– 100gm egg whites
– 30gm caster sugar
– colouring. Most people seem to recommend powdered or gel colours because (a) you need less of it to get the desired effect; and (b) it won’t upset the wet-dry ingredients balance
…and then whatever you want to fill it with. Chocolate ganache? Raspberry Jam? Passionfruit creme? It’s all gonna be good!

Step 1 – get prepared: Line a few baking trays with two layers of baking paper – maybe even draw little circles to help with sizing / placement when it comes to piping (the size of an upturned champagne glass, perhaps). Also get yourself a piping bag prepared – I actually just used one of those disposable sandwich bags and cut a little hole in one of the corners.

Step 2 – let the sieving begin: you want to be blending your almond meal and powdered sugar. In case your almond meal has a little moisture, “toast” it in the oven on about 150 degrees for up to 10 minutes then let cool (cool. not warm). I found that a good way of (a) blending; and (b) making the grains even more fine is to whack your almond meal and powdered sugar into a blender and whizz it up for a few pulses. Now it’s sieving time. Sieve your almond / powdered sugar mixture a couple of times into a bowl and don’t force the little grainy bits (you want nice, smooth biscuits here). Set aside.

Getting friendly

Step 3 – just beat it: tip your egg whites into a metal bowl – hand whisk, electric mix – however you like. Beat the whites for a while until they’re really frothy and only then start adding the sugar bit by bit. (And gel / liquid colour, if you’re using it). When the egg whites are stiff, stop. Do the old test – if you can hold the bowl upside down over your head without becoming egg white sally, then you’re good to go. Once you get to this stage, just stop. You don’t want to keep whisking and get these gross dry egg whites.

Egg whites (pinks)!

Step 4 – I’ll have the combination, thanks – quarter by quarter tip your almond mixture into the egg whites. Fold in and then add the next quarter. Your concern here is not so much about trying to keep heaps of volume in the egg whites – we’re not making a souffle. But you don’t want to overmix the thing so that it comes really runny and goopy (otherwise your macarons will spread and become really thin instead of plump and inviting). They say that your mixture should ultimately look like lava. Not having hung out in many active volcanos, I have no idea what this looks like but for me, what worked was to think of it as if you were to pick some of the mixture up in a spoon, it should slowly ooze back into the bowl, and then after maybe 20 seconds, settled back into the mixture and not stay as this obvious lump that you’ve just dropped back in. In my excitement, I actually forgot to take a picture, but it should look something like this:

Step 5 – the pied piper: Scoop your batter into that piping / sandwich bag you had lying around. Pipe the mixture into those rounds you conveniently drew on your baking paper (or freehand if that’s your style). Once your little rounds are piped, bang the tray a few times – this evens out the surface and also brings air bubbles to the top. You need to leave this alone for, say, an hour, until the top starts to almost dry out a little – i.e. if you lightly touched the top with your finger, you wouldn’t get a big goop of macaron batter coming off. Preheat your oven to 140 degrees (fan forced) and I mean preheat. Leave it for a good 10 minutes – you don’t want to be wasting precious oven time with a mediocre heat oven.

Once again…too excited with the process – your resting macarons should look like this:

Step 6 – get baked: times vary, but for my oven, 15 minutes seemed to work pretty well, turning the tray 180 degrees half way through cooking. None of this “take it out when it’s golden” – actually do time it. A minute is the difference between a soggy and a crunchy / hollow macaron. Also only do one batch at a time – pain in the ass, yes, but ovens are often terrible in their heat distribution. Once they’re done, take the macarons out of the oven, let them cool for a little while and then peel them off the paper. If you’re having a bit of a difficult time, I find it a good idea to slide the baking sheet onto a damp cloth – only for a little while – so that a little moisture / steam loosens the biscuit. Woohoo – this time I actually DID manage to remember to take a picture.

Woohoo!

The filling can essentially be whatever you want. I went with a raspberry jam. I did this by mixing a cup of frozen raspberries along with, say, half a cup of water and a few tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan, bringing to the boil (and mashing up the raspberries as I went) and then mixing in the teensiest bit of cornflour/water to thicken it a little. It was a nice, tart touch (especially because I had topped my chocolate frosted cupcakes with these).

Anyway, the point is, take your time and be patient. This site here is epic on the topic of unbelievably in-depth experiments with macarons – check it out!

Oh, and what to do with all of those spare egg yolks? How about my deathly chocolate ice cream recipe? or maybe this freakin’ delicious lemon and lime curd?