Wednesday, 29 August 2007

milk chocolate and caramel tart – the Daring Bakers’ August challenge

From the moment I read the recipe Veronica and Patricia chose for this month’s DB challenge, I knew that this tart and I would make very good friends. Because, what’s not to like: chocolate hazelnut crust! Caramel! Chocolate cream! Not a drop of food colouring or a grain of gelatine in sight, just the bare minimum of no-nonsense instructions, and a recipe which didn’t generate leftovers enough to feed a small army. Apart from the crust that is, which made enough for three tarts, but the recipe duly mentions that and anyways it would be so easy to halve quantities for the crust recipe so it doesn’t count. Not that I halved the quantities, I just froze the leftovers so I can use them again in a few weeks or so. I originally planned to bake this tart when my family came to visit, but I was so frantically cleaning prior to their arrival I didn’t have enough time left to bake something as well. My parents, aunt and cousin didn’t get to sample this heavenly tart, but S’s and my work colleagues did. And they liked it. A lot.
Now, I may have purposefully ‘forgotten’ (ahem) to put cinnamon in the crust, but only because other Daring Bakers found it overwhelming and distracting from the chocolate. Which, in my book, is never a good thing. Nothing should ever distract from chocolate. Ever. I do like cinnamon, but I wasn’t convinced it would work in this tart and I was determined to love this tart (pease don’t take away my DB badge, pretty please!). I also had to substitute the ground hazelnuts with almonds, as I couldn’t find hazelnuts of the ground variety anywhere - I even went to the new ginormous Wholefoods in Kensington High Street. Also I don’t own any snazzy devices that could grind hazelnuts for me and I didn’t think my little hand held mixer would be up to this job. So almonds it was. I made the crust entirely without the aid of any electric appliances, partly because the butter was very soft anyway and partly because I made it at 11pm at night and didn’t want to wake the neighbours. The next day I rolled it quite thinly, as other DBs had experienced the crust rising exponentially. Just to make sure I stabbed it furiously with a fork and poured all my baking beans on top of it as well. I used a square, loose-bottomed tin and had no problems whatsoever rolling the dough over the square, unlike some other DBs who ended up with a brittle greasy dough, that needed to be patched onto the baking tin.
Making the caramel turned out to be really easy as well. I have heard quite a few horror stories involving caramel (massive splashing and horrible burns on forearms), so I was perhaps a bit too careful, but it all worked out nicely. Melting sugar I had done before, so I wasn’t afraid of that, but I made sure the heat was very low nonetheless. Of course the sugar seized up when I added the cream, but I continued to stir it over a low heat and it all came together nicely. I found it needed a bit longer in the oven than the suggested 15 minutes – after 15 minutes the edges had set but the centre was still liquid. Oh, and because I didn’t sculpt any edges on my crust and the crust shrank ever so slightly away from the edges of the tin during baking, the caramel of course dripped through the tin and onto the bottom of my oven, causing a terrible burnt smell which made me panic I had completely messed it up. But luckily I hadn’t, the caramel set beautifully and all I had left to do was whip up a chocolate mousse.

For the chocolate mousse, which was incredibly easy to make (and which I actually prefer to the one made with egg whites), I used a brand of fairtrade chocolate I only recently discovered: Divine milk chocolate with coffee. Since it was milk chocolate, and also since in my world chocolate, nuts and coffee are like a holy trinity, I figured I would not be breaking any DB rules. Plus I just knew this chocolate would be perfect for my tart.

Once the entire tart was finished, set and refrigerated, I cut it into rectangular individual servings and decorated the top with a single hazelnut and a shard of vanilla salt. Originally I had wanted to cover the hazelnuts in edible gold leaf, but I couldn’t find any in the shops and didn’t have enough time to order it online. But I was determined to have an elegant pastry, and even though the hazelnut was pretty enough by itself, the vanilla salt added a little extra oomph to the tart. Nut and salt got along wonderfully with each other and they lived happily ever after. No, not really, because the tart was a huge hit with everyone who tasted it and it didn’t survive very long at all. But it made all the people who ate it happy. And of course that’s the sole purpose of tarts in life.
Check out all the other Daring Bakers’ efforts here and the recipe here.

Monday, 27 August 2007

SHF#34 going local

Passionate Cook Johanna chose local or regional specialities as the theme for this month’s Sugar High Friday. Which meant I could go a few different ways with this one - British, Asian or Belgian.

For the past six years I’ve been calling London my home, so I could opt for something quintessentially English - trifle, Eton mess, spotted dick, ... None of these really rock my boat though. Not to mention the fact that I haven’t got a clue what spotted dick might be. Or, since the area in East London where I live resembles Bombay (especially on a sunny Saturday afternoon), an Indian sweet perhaps? I absolutely love ras malai but wouldn’t know how to make it myself. Halwa I also like - I once made carrot halwa, which was absolutely delicious but took me about half a day to make. And seeing as I would be working my way through mountains of laundry in addition to adhering to the most clich├ęd cliche of Englishness, ie spending the bank holiday weekend doing DIY, I thought I’d better opt for something quick and easy.

Which left me with something Belgian. Most of the sweets I recall from my childhood were store bought, or made from a packet. However, one of the few things I do remember making regularly in my parents’ kitchen (apart from pound cake), is a simple chocolate mousse. I don’t even like it that much, but it is an absolute doddle to make and S loves it. And since as he has had to ‘endure’ lots of non-chocolate-and-vanilla kind of desserts lately, I thought I’d humour him and make a simple chocolate mousse.

quantities needed per person

25g chocolate
1 egg white
1 tbsp icing sugar

Whip egg whites until stiff, adding icing sugar gradually. Melt chocolate and carefully fold into egg whites. Pour into ramekins and refrigerate until firm.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

matcha cookies

Still trying to get through that humongous pile of laundry, but I couldn’t resist continuing my Japanese love affair and baking these bright green matcha cookies. I first saw them on Mae’s website; Fanny also made them and so did a whole bunch of other people. And all those people are definitely on to something, those cookies really are amazing – crumbly, buttery and very matcha-y.

Other than the fact these cookies are totally delicious and you simply must make them with the leftover matcha from when I urged you to make matcha ice cream (which remains my favourite, the cookies come in a close second), I’m afraid I don’t have a personal or interesting or funny story about these cookies. Those work issues are still dragging me down, I haven’t exactly been the most cheery person to be around these last couple of weeks, and I'm very guilty of seriously neglecting my blog. But if anything is going to cheer you up, it will be these scrumptious little matcha sweets!

Kelli from Lovescool, who makes these cookies for a living – lucky girl! – kindly provided the recipe on her website. She’s in the process of opening a shop in New York, which should be open next time I go there, and visiting that shop will be the very first thing I do.

Friday, 17 August 2007

afternoon tea

It seems I’ve been neglecting my little blog a bit the last few weeks – mainly because some work issues that are dragging me down, a ginormous pile of laundry that I seem unable to get rid of, and the never-ending DIY. On the bright side, S and I have found the perfect colour wood stain for our floors and a nice finishing oil that doesn’t lift the stain out of the wood and turns the colour into something really nasty.

Also, last weekend, my parents, auntie and cousin were visiting, which meant S and I got to play London tour guide for a few days. We joined the hordes of tourists for a look inside Buckingham Palace, went on the London Eye and had a very posh afternoon tea at Brown's hotel. Which was every bit as good as I remembered it from the previous times.

As we were so busy doing touristy things and catching up, our kitchen didn't see much action, but I’ve got a few sweet things lined up for the next few weeks. If I ever get all that laundry done, that is.

Friday, 3 August 2007

shamelessly plugging a friend

A friend of mine and wonderful artist, Freddy de Vierman, is exhibiting in the Mary Place Gallery (12 Mary Place, Paddington, 2021 NSW) in Sydney until this Sunday, 5 August. If you live in Sydney, like the look of his work and have spare time this weekend, please go see his show - and, while you're there, buy his work as well :-).