Daring Bakers - Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart
Help, I am being stalked by milk chocolate and caramel. Seriously.
First, it seems that every local school, junior orchestra and under-10 sports team is fundraising at the moment, and they have all chosen these little beasties as the best means of extracting cold hard cash.
Like all desperate parents everywhere, my work colleagues have decided that the office is the best place to flog these things off. There are currently four boxes stationed within 5 seconds of my desk. They have me in a pincer movement. I generally hold out until about 4pm and then I cave. I must have personally funded at least a dozen soccer balls by now.
And then, as if that's not enough, this month's Daring Baker challenge turned out to be a milk chocolate and caramel tart. I am starting to dream about this stuff. Just as well it is so delicious.
Resigned to my fate, I buckled down and made the tart over one weekend. There are four key elements.
Element 1 – Pastry
The base for this tart is a shortbread pastry flavoured with chocolate, hazelnuts and cinnamon.
I mixed up the dough and left it in the fridge to rest. Then I went off to a cooking class which just so happened to be on tarts and pies. And the problems began.
The pastry chef who taught the class used alfoil sprayed with oil to line his pastry cases for blind baking. He folded the alfoil over the sides of the tin to protect the edges of the pastry. Naturally, I thought 'What a teriffic idea!' and decided to do the same for my own pastry.
Unfortunately, my pastry took to the alfoil like a limpet to a rock. The only way to get it off was to peel off the top layer of the pastry. Luckily, there were no holes. Unluckily, it was now quite thin. I was really worried that the caramel would just soak right into it and I would be left with a soggy mess.
But it turned out surprisingly well. The pastry was lovely and light and crisp. It was quite delicious. I’m actually quite glad to say that I couldn’t taste the cinnamon at all. Cinnamon and caramel is just not natural I think.
I also have to admit that I couldn’t really taste the hazelnuts either. I totally forgot they were even in there. Glancing through the recipe again a few days later, I got quite a shock when I saw them listed. In a total panic I raced back into the kitchen to check the packet. It was half empty. Whew!! I had put them in there alright, they were just not particularly perceptible.
Element 2 – Soft Caramel
The recipe specified using the dry method to make the caramel. Basically, putting sugar into a pan dry and heating it until it melts and caramelises. Veronica and Patricia, this month's hosts, had kindly given permission to use the wet method instead (adding water to dissolve the sugar before caramelising).
But the solid gold Daring Baker rule is to follow the recipe. To honour this, I felt that I had to at least try the dry method. I was scared stiff. I admit it. With an overwhelming feeling of impending doom, I got stuck in. It did not go well.
What I did was to set out an even layer in the pan with about half the sugar. I set a low temperature and waited. As the sugar melted I sprinkled over the remaining sugar and kind of poked at it with a wooden spoon. What I ended up with was a solid layer of unmelted sugar over the top hiding a burning molten mess underneath.
Well that was that. Almost swooning with relief that it was over and done with and my kitchen and I were still intact, I tossed it down the sink. Now I could get cracking. This time I set out all the sugar and added a few tablespoons of water. I left it to boil and pretty soon I had some lovely molten caramelised sugar. Much better.
I added cream, which I had gently warmed. While it fizzed and crackled it remained lovely and smooth. I quickly mixed in butter and left it to cool. Finally, I stirred in some flour mixed with eggs. I had no real problems with this. I sprinkled small amounts of the flour around the very edge of the bowl and then whisked the eggs in the middle, allowing the flour to ever so gradually incorporate itself. No lumps, no problems.
I had caramel. The next step was to get it cooked. This just did not want to happen. The recipe said 15 minutes at 160C. At that stage it was still perfectly liquid. 40 long worrying minutes was what it took. Finally, it was set.
Element 3 – Chocolate Mousse
This was the easiest part of the whole tart. It was simply a case of melting chocolate and folding it into some heavy whipped cream. The mousse in the photo above had only had short time in the fridge and was still quite soft. Due to time constraints, I simply could not wait any longer to take a photo.
Another few hours in the fridge and it had set beautifully, and gave a lovely clean smooth line when cut.
Element 4 – Hard Caramel
Now, I was absolutely determined that this tart was going to look nice. I have been inspired by my fellow Daring Bakers who turned out some truly beautiful cakes during the last challenge (see here and here).
If you have looked through my blog you will see that presentation is not my strong point. I am all care and responsibility during the cooking process. But once it is done I just want to eat it. My 'presentation' usually involves plonking on a plate.
Just once I wanted pretty. I wanted style. I wanted glamour. Substance is for the birds.
To achieve a beautiful effect, I decided to experiment with sugar art. I wanted to make spun sugar. I've seen French chefs doing it on TV. It looks pretty simple..............I can hear you all groaning from here you know!!!!!!
It does kinda have screaming great catastrophe written all over it, doesn't it.
Anyway, as I understood it, you simply caramelise some sugar, dip in a whisk and wave it madly over something non-stick. Right?..........Right?........There's that groaning again!!!!!!
The answer as it happens is no. No, not quite.
I started the process too soon. The sugar was so liquid all I got was a splattering of big droplets. I’m still picking them off the kitchen cupboards. Somehow, I ended with a lovely stalactite of caramel hanging down from the underside of my kitchen bench.
As the sugar cooled it started to work a little bit. Then suddenly it was too hard to do anything with. I had to chip the remaining caramel out of the pan.
But all was not lost. Like the great artist I would like to be, I saw potential. The droplets of caramel were really beautiful. They were all different shapes and sizes. I laid them around the tart in an interesting pattern.
The chipped out caramel I crushed into a rubble and added it as a centrpiece to the tart.
The little bit of spun sugar I managed to form into a few small but pretty balls. It still had lots of droplets mixed in with it though. I'm not sure how you prevent this. Anyway, I served these alongside slices of the tart.
Overall, I was very pleased with how it came out. It would never be the centrepiece in a french patisserie, but it wasn't too bad.
And how did all this taste. Delicious. I really liked it. The caramel and mousse were lovely and smooth and the flavours melded beautifully. The crunchy hard caramel added a great taste and texture accent. The light pastry also added a lovely crisp contrast.
I will make this again. I want to make it for my sister. I know she will just love it. It's almost like this recipe was written just for her.
Thanks to Veronica and Patricia for choosing a great task. The full recipe (which is adapted from Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts) can be found on their sites. My fellow Daring Bakers will also be posting their efforts over the next day or so. I encourage you to check them out, a listing can be found here.