Monday, December 13, 2010

In All Simplicity


I am not a fan of chocolate. Some of my friends snigger when they hear me say that; they assume that I am just a chocolate snob. While the years I spent in a pastry kitchen has taught me to appreciate the subtleties of a good chocolate, I truly am not a chocoholic. However, I understand that a good part of the rest of the world does adore the food of the gods (the cacao tree's Latin name is Theobroma, which translates to 'food of God'), and that it is often associated with special occasions and the holiday season.


So in honour of the coming holidays, I am sharing a foolproof recipe for a chocolate tart that will please keen chocolate lovers and children alike. The chocolate filling is a simple chocolate ganache, a versatile sauce that can be used as a filling, icing on a cake, and as a dipping sauce. The secret to a fine ganache is to use the best chocolate you can afford: said chocolate need not be particularly expensive, a very good baking chocolate will do the trick, as long as it is a chocolate you would enjoy eating out of hand (I would avoid a chocolate with more than a 75% cocoa content.) Also, make sure that it contains cocoa butter, and not vegetable shortening, otherwise the ganache will not set properly. Personally, I like to skulk around the candy aisle in drugstores and supermarkets: bars of fine chocolate often go on sale, and are -sometimes- cheaper than buying professional-grade chocolate in bulk.


The tart's crust is a sweet short crust that is so easy to make, you will want to make it your go-to crust for all your sweet tarts. This short crust was the first recipe I learnt in my pastry class, and I have been using it ever since. It is so simple to make, even an admitted pie-crust-dunce like myself cannot screw it up. It can be made in a food processor (use the plastic blade, if you have one), by hand, or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. The best part of this recipe is that all the ingredients can (should) be at room temperature, and the dough needs to be kneaded: no pussy-footing about, no need to fear overworking it, easy-peasy. A real cinch.


The clincher to this tart... are the crushed peppermint candy canes. What is there not to like about that? Chocolate and mint are a classic pairing, and the candy brings extra crunch to an already delightfully crisp tart. It will be a hit with everyone. You can leave the peppermint sticks out if you prefer; replace them with chopped, toasted nuts if you like; or just go for plain chocolate Nirvana. I, myself, am kind of partial to toasted pumpkin seeds, rum-soaked raisins and dried cranberries.


Ganache
Yields enough to fill one 20cm/ 8" tart

190g/ 7oz dark chocolate, more or less 1cup when chopped
190ml/ ¾ cup heavy cream

Roughly chop chocolate into  chunks about the size of a stack of 4 quarters (10p/ 20E cents). Set aside in a large bowl.
Bring cream up to the boil. Pour over chocolate, set aside for about 10 minutes.
Stir chocolate until every last bit is melted, and completely combined with the cream: the ganache should be shiny and smooth.
Set aside, at room temperature, until ready to use.


Pâte Sucrée (Sweet Short Crust)
Yields enough dough to make two 20cm/ 8" tarts

70g/ 2 small or 1 extra-large egg
100g/ 1 cup icing (confectioner's) sugar, sifted
2g/ ½ tsp salt
250g/ 1¾ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
100g/ ½ cup butter, room temperature

In the mixer's/ food processor's/ mixing bowl, place eggs, sugar, salt and flour.
Mix until everything is almost completely combined. Add butter.
Mix until butter is fully absorbed by the dough, and there are no visible bits remaining.
The dough might be slightly sticky, but it should be smooth and somewhat stretchy..
If you are mixing dough by hand, mix until a ball is formed, scrape out onto a floured surface, and knead the dough with the heel of your hand. 
Flatten dough out into two 2cm/ 1" thick disk. Wrap in plastic film, and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.
When the dough is completely chilled, roll out onto a floured surface as thinly as possible, no more than 3mm/ 1/8" thick.
Place dough in tart mold, making sure that every nook is filled and the sides adhere to the dough.
Chill the tart shell, at least 30 minutes. Trim the edges once the dough has fully chilled and relaxed. 
Pre-heat oven to 190'C/ 375'F.
If the dough is fully chilled, it should not require pie weights, but you can use them for added security.
Blind bake for about 12 minutes, or until the crust has a nice golden tan.
If the sides colour faster than the bottom, cover with foil, leaving only the centre uncovered, and bake until the bottom is fully cooked.
Leave the crust to cool down completely before filling.

Sprinkle the bottom with crushed peppermint candies. (Make sure they are crushed quite fine, you wouldn't want anyone to break a tooth!)
Pour ganache over candies.
The ganache should be just barely warm when filling the tart: if it is too hot, it will dampen the crust; too cold, and it will not have a smooth surface.
Leave in a cool place to set, about 45 minutes to an hour, but do not refrigerate.

The filled tart is best eaten the day it is made. Once the ganache is fully set, it can be refrigerated, but its sheen can be affected by the humidity in the fridge. Ideally, the tart should be kept in a cool room. Any left-overs will still be scrumptious, but expect the crust to soften with time.

Bon app'!




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