Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Daring Bakers: Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart
I'm a Daring Baker! Yes, indeed! I've seen this group emerge over the past half-year or so, and I've been wondering about how to join. It finally dawned on me that all I had to was ask - so I did. And I'm in!
The way this works is that each month has a challenge - one member of the group decides on a recipe, and everyone makes it. No alterations are allowed (unless specified) and some of the recipes will be well outside of your comfort zone. That's the point.
This was my first challenge, and it was for a tart. Great, I don't even like tarts that much, was my first thought. However, it was for a milk chocolate and caramel tart - and if anything can makes a tart good, it's milk chocolate and caramel. So I was pretty eager to bake this! It had three basic elements - the pastry dough, the caramel layer and the milk chocolate mousse layer. And an optional topping of caramel shards - I went my own route here.
My first problem was the dish. I don't have a tart pan with a removable bottom. I thought I did - I'm sure I had one before - but I couldn't find it. And it probably would have been too small anyway. So I used a regular pie dish.
I made the pastry the day before and let it rest over night. It was soft - very, very soft. I didn't think I would be able to roll it out, so I didn't even try - I did what I usually do with tarts, cut it into thin slices and patched them together. That worked out nicely.
The great thing about the Daring Bakers is that you're not in it on your own. There's a whole group of bakers, all working with the same challenge, and there's always someone to ask if things go wrong. So, before I even started, I knew that many were having problems with the pastry which is definitely not like normal pie dough.
It's much more cookie-like, and it has baking powder in it. Now, that means it's going to rise - so I had to weigh it down during the blind baking, something I normally skip. I've never used pie weights before - I don't have any pie weights (but I'd love a set of ceramic beans) so I used dried peas. It worked out reasonably well, and my dough didn't puff too much, nor shrink down the sides. It smelled rather strongly of cinnamon, which also many of the others had said.
For the caramel, I used the original dry method of melting the sugar, caramelizing it and then adding the rest of the ingredients. It worked reasonably well - the sugar seized like crazy when I added cream and butter, but after fifteen minutes of stirring, all lumps had melted and it was perfectly caramelized. Nice.
The mousse was a very simple one - just melted milk chocolate folded into whipped cream. I used Lindt milk chocolate, which in hindsight was not the best choice. I find Lindt very sweet and caramelly - which is nice for eating, but was a bit over the top in this tart. Anyway - I had no problems with it, but I had read that many found it a bit difficult to spread it evenly across the tart. Spreading is not my strong side, so I decided to pipe it on instead. That worked out well - except that it started to melt towards the very end, and the middle of the tart shows a little bit of that. Oh well - no worries, as I had plans to cover the whole thing in caramelized hazelnuts.
See, since there's hazelnuts in the dough, I immediately thought of caramelizing some nuts to throw on top as well. Not only would it echo the nuttiness of the pastry, and bring a much-needed crunch to this otherwise rather mushy tart, but it would also alert people that there was indeed hazelnuts in this. Hidden nuts can be a real danger - there are so many allergics nowadays.
Verdict? Ah, mixed reviews, I'd say. Sure, it tasted good. It looked good, too. It was real hard to get out of the pie dish though - not surprisingly, I should add. (Really, DO use a tart pan with a removable bottom. Do!) The crunchy hazelnuts on top was actually a big hit - I'm glad I decided to stray a little bit and add them. I served this as a dessert to our crawfish party, and to be completely honest, I think we had a little too much to drink before even getting to the dessert, and I can't remember all that much about it. So, I decided to have another piece in the morning, just to remind myself. It was still good - but not as good as the night before. The mousse doesn't keep very well so I would definitely not keep it around for more than two days.
If I make this again, I'll change quite a few things. First, I don't think I'll have hazelnuts in the pastry dough. I'd like to try something with a bit darker flavor - maybe walnuts, maybe pecans. And no cinnamon! The caramel was fine as it was, but a bit fiddly to make. I also am not sure why it has eggs and flour in it - I think I'd like to experiment with a thinner layer of straight caramel. And the mousse - well, I'd probably do a more normal mousse (something like this, stabilized with eggs) and use a dark chocolate. That would make the whole dessert less sweet, and to my palate, more interesting.
For the caramelized hazelnuts, I toasted 200 g of hazelnuts and rubbed them with a towel to get rid of most of the skins. I then mixed them with 70 g of confectioner's sugar and one teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice in a saucepan over high heat. I stirred constantly until the nuts were evenly caramelized, and then I stirred in a tiny pat of butter just to get the nuts to separate. I spread them out on a teflon baking mat (silpat would be nice!) and then separated them quickly. That's it! It made more than I used for the tart, but the remaining nuts make great snacks.
You can find the recipe for the tart, which is from Sweet and Savoury Tarts by Eric Kayser here, or here for example. I'm not re-posting it - I doubt I'll ever make it again. And to check out all the other Daring Bakers, go to the blogroll!