After repeatedly looking through the Leiths ‘How to Cook’ book which I had purchased in preparation for my course, I felt inspired to experiment a little before my course starts.
I selected a Chocolate Tart as my first trial. I knew this recipe would include pastry (which previously has always been a semi-disaster in my kitchen), but I felt motivated by the chocolate content and bolstered by the reassuring presence of the Leiths ‘How to Cook’ book.
Although I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen, baking is probably not one of my strongest points. Unlike cooking, where I feel I have a natural instinct for the flavours that work, baking leaves me feeling uneasy. It’s as though I am at the mercy of the ingredients and method and feel lost without the frequent taste tests that I am used to with cooking.
My sister is the most incredible baker. I always look on with envy and awe as she unveils her wonderful cakes that not only look amazing but taste incredible. I can see she has a confidence as she prepares her sweet treats like she ‘owns’ the recipe as I look on with doubt filling my mind about how the batter doesn’t look quite right.
However, not one to be put off by a challenge, I persisted and I have to say, the pastry turned out the best I’ve ever managed – but I still wasn’t fully convinced. It will be interesting to compare notes once I bake the tart again at Leiths. The tart itself seemed to turn out fine and tasted delicious (also confirmed independently by a friend of mine and of course Mr M) but in my mind any recipe that includes three blocks of chocolate and a tub of cream is guaranteed to taste good!
I’ve outlined the recipe from the book for you below and added my hints on the method where I was feeling uneasy. Hopefully these will give you the confidence to try it for yourselves. Let me know how it turns out if you do!
Chocolate Tart (Serves 8)
Pastry – Pate Sucree
Makes enough to line a 24cm flan ring – however I used two 12.5cm flan rings to make individual tarts and bizarrely had enough to make 4 mini tarts.
250g plain flour
Pinch of salt
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
4 small egg yolks
2-3 drops of vanilla extract
Sift the flour and salt onto a clean work surface and, using the side of your hand, spread the flour out into a large ring.
B’s tips: Make the ring larger than you think as the once you add the other ingredients you will need the space to comfortably mix it together without encroaching on the flour.
Place the softened butter in one piece, in the middle and, using the fingertips of one hand, push down (‘peck’) on the butter to soften it a little more, but without it becoming greasy; it should be soft but still cold. It is important that the butter is uniformly soft, as if there are small lumps of cold, hard butter in the mixture they can cause greasiness and holes in the finished pastry.
B’s tips: Leave your butter out the night before to be sure that you have the consistency described above
Sprinkle over the sugar and ‘peck’ until the sugar is fully incorporated.
Add the egg yolks and vanilla extract and continue to ‘peck’ until the egg yolk is fully incorporated and there is no colour streakiness.
Using a palette knife, flick all the flour onto the butter, sugar and egg yolks and using the edge of the palette knife, ‘chop’ the flour into the butter and sugar mixture. This technique helps to keep the flour from being overworked. Use the palette knife to lift any flour left on the work surface to the top occasionally.
– I didn’t have a palette knife so used a butter knife which although wasn’t as efficient did the job.
– The book didn’t explicitly say this, but overworking the dough can also make it tough, so using a utensil will help avoid the overworking
As you continue to do this, you will create large flakes of pastry. Continue until there are no obvious dry floury bits among the pastry; it should be a fairly uniform colour. Floury patches at this stage will mean having to overwork the pastry at the next stage to incorporate them.
Now shape the pastry into a long sausage and, using the palette knife on its side, scrape a little of the large flakes together at a time. This will finally bring the pastry together and is called ‘fraisering’. As more pastry sticks to the palette knife scrape it off using a cutlery knife to avoid overworking it. Continue on in this manner until all the pastry is fraisered: one or two more fraiserings are possible, but the more you fraiser the more the pastry will be overworked.
B’s tips: Fraisering essentially allows you to blend the dough/pastry without overworking it. I only performed the fraisering once and used the heal of my hand pushing the dough away from me flattening it. This smoothed out my dough sufficiently which helped with rolling.
Bring the pastry together with your hands to form ball.
Now shape the pastry into a flat disc. Wrap well in cling film and chill to allow the butter to firm before rolling out.
B’s tips: The book didn’t advise how long to leave in the fridge but I left it to chill for 45 mins which seemed enough to allow the pastry to be rolled out properly.
Makes enough to fill the 4 mini (12.5cm flan ring) tarts or according to the book 1 x 24cm flan ring
300ml double cream
50g caster sugar
275g good quality dark chocolate (I used Green and Black’s)
60g unsalted butter
3 eggs, plus 2 extra yolks
Roll out the pate sucree on a lightly floured surface into a disc about 30cm in diameter and 3mm thick. Use to line a 24cm loose-based flan tin set on a baking sheet. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge until very firm to the touch. Meanwhile heat the oven to 190c/gas mark 5.
– As I was using the smaller tins, I rolled out my pastry until it was about 3 inches bigger than the circumference of my tin and about 3mm thick.
– I noticed that as I had already chilled the pastry previously it didn’t need too long in the fridge again – around 15 to 20 mins.
Once firm, blind bake the pastry for 15-20 minutes (see notes below), ensuring the paper cartouche is pushed well into the corners of the pastry and the excess is folded over the edge of the pastry case, to help prevent it from browning. Remove the beans and cartouche, taking care as the pastry is still very soft, and bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 150c/gas mark 2.
– As I was using the smaller tins, I used rice instead of beans
– Ensure that the cartouche is tucked well over the edge of the tin otherwise the edges will start to brown and they may burn once you put the tarts back into the oven with the filling.
To make the filling, put the cream and sugar into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Break the chocolate into pieces, cut the butter into cubes and put both into a bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and butter and stir until melted, then keep stirring until the mixture is shiny and glossy.
Beat the eggs and yolks well with a fork in a separate bowl. Add to the chocolate and cream mixture, stir well, then pass the mixture though a sieve into a jug.
– You might think you can miss this step as the mixture seems very smooth at this point. However, I found that some of the egg wasn’t blended until I passed the mixture through the sieve.
Carefully pour the filling into the pastry case and transfer to a shelf in the middle to lower part of the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes until softly set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. Serve the tart at room temperature.