Of Chocolate and Caramel …

Milkcaramel1

It’s time for the August Daring Bakers challenge, and the hosts are yours truly, and the lovely Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen!

It was obvious that Patricia and I wanted tarts this time around but the question was more like: what kind? Fruit tarts would be tricky due to produce availability because, in case you haven’t noticed, the Daring Bakers’ membership have spread across the globe!

            So what ingredients can be easily accessible regardless of where you are in the world? Why, chocolate and sugar, of course!

            I had seen this gorgeous tart in Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts  book a few months ago and had shown the picture to Patricia. She concurred with me to make it this month’s challenge. I was really pleased since this would allow me to square off with my shadowy nemesis again: CARAMEL.

            I’ve recently gotten into the habit of playing Julia Child’s French Chef dvds to provide background company while I’m working in the kitchen. In one episode, she talked about a home cook’s fear of boiling sugar. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “A lot of cooks are scared of sugar syrup. Somehow this is related to fear of failure. Cooking is one failure after another – that’s how you learn. So learn how to make sugar syrup!”

Yes, Ma’am.

            Also I am not a fan of milk chocolate so I was a bit dubious about the taste of the chocolate layer. But to be a Daring Baker is to venture outside your comfort zone, so I was ready to give this a try.

            This challenge was more straightforward than previous DB endeavors, but it was not without its bumps on the road. A few of us, including myself, encountered horribly burnt sugar using the dry caramel method. This led to an alternate procedure of using corn syrup to stabilize the mixture which worked perfectly.

            The dough was difficult to work with and kept on breaking as I rolled it out. It appeared quite greasy too. I wonder if it had anything to do with using a food processor and softened butter – this did not make sense to me – but hey that’s what the recipe said so that was what I did. Anyway, I ended up with “patch-up” dough. I began grumbling about “Who picked this recipe anyway…”

Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart

From Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts

            

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Baking Time: 30 minutes

Refrigeration time: 1 hour

One 9-inch(24-cm) square pan; 1 10-inch (26-cm) round baking pan

Ingredients

·         ½ lb (250 g) chocolate shortbread pastry (see recipe below)

·         1 ½ cups (300 g) granulated sugar

·         1 cup (250 g) heavy cream (30-40 percent butterfat) or crème fraiche

·         ¼ cup (50 g) butter

·         2 whole eggs

·         1 egg yolk

·         2 ½ tablespoons (15 g) flour

·         1 ¼ cups (300 g) whipping cream

·         ½ lb (250 g) milk chocolate

1.      Preheat oven to 325 °F (160 °C).

2.      Line the baking pan with the chocolate shortbread pastry and bake blind for 15 minutes.

3.      In a saucepan, caramelize 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar using the dry method until it turns a golden caramel color. Incorporate the heavy cream or crème fraiche and then add butter. Mix thoroughly. Set aside to cool.

4.      In a mixing bowl, beat the whole eggs with the extra egg yolk, then incorporate the flour.

5.      Pour this into the cream-caramel mixture and mix thoroughly.

6.      Spread it out in the tart shell and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

7.      Prepare the milk chocolate mousse: beat the whipping cream until stiff. Melt the milk chocolate in the microwave or in a bain-marie, and fold it gently into the whipped cream.

8.      Pour the chocolate mousse over the cooled caramel mixture, smoothing it with a spatula. Chill for one hour in the refrigerator.

To decorate: melt ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar in a saucepan until it reaches an amber color. Pour it onto waxed paper laid out on a flat surface. Leave to cool. Break it into small fragments and stick them lightly into the top of the tart.

Chocolate Shortbread Pastry

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Refrigeration :overnight

To make 3 tarts, 9 ½ inches (24 cm) square

or 10 inches (26 cm round)

Ingredients:

·         1 cup (250g ) unsalted butter, softened

·         1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 g) confectioners’ sugar

·         ½ cup (50 g) ground hazelnuts

·         2 level teaspoons (5 g) ground cinnamon

·         2 eggs

·         4 ½ cups (400 g) cake flour

·         2 ½ teaspoons (10 g) baking powder

·         1 ½ tablespoons (10 g) cocoa powder

A day ahead

1.      In a mixing bowl of a food processor, cream the butter.

2.      Add the confectioners’ sugar, the ground hazelnuts, and the cinnamon, and mix together

3.      Add the eggs, one by one, mixing constantly

4.      Sift in the flour, the baking powder, and the cocoa powder, and mix well.

5.      Form a ball with the dough, cover in plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

Alternate Caramel method:

1 cup sugar

½ cup water

1 tbs corn syrup

Set a pot over medium-heat with the ingredients and stir slowly. When the mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring and wait until desired color is attained.

Cooking Notes:

            As I mentioned above, I had no luck with the dry sugar method of making caramel. What would happen was the outer edges turned amber quickly before all the sugar melted, resulting in a burnt grainy mess. Not wanting to waste more sugar, I relied on the old standby of corn syrup and water. Aside from making the caramel less brittle, corn syrup makes the caramel-making process easier too.

Caramels get ruined because of the formation of crystals which develop mainly because of the purity of a substance. Table sugar is mainly sucrose – a combination of glucose and fructose. To prevent crystallization, you introduce an impurity like corn syrup which is mainly glucose that will get in the way of sucrose molecules when they try to fuse.

Another method is to introduce an acid like lemon or vinegar right at the beginning. What this does is break down some of your sucrose molecules into its two component sugars. Now you have three different sugars: glucose and fructose which will now act as the impurities to prevent sucrose crystallization.

            I have tested taking the caramel color further than what the recipe had stated and I have discovered that I did like the resulting caramel layer better. Boiling the caramel to 325 °F makes for a layer that was just sweet and nothing else. But taking it further to a rich, dark amber color of about 340 °F makes for a more complex almost pumpkin-like flavor.

            To avoid lumpiness when you add the flour to the eggs, make sure the eggs are at room temperature and slowly whisk the flour in.

            Before you add the chocolate to the whipped cream, test the temperature by touching a little chocolate to your top lip, if it feels comfortably hot then it is okay to combine the two. If the chocolate feels too hot, it might dissolve your nicely aerated cream.

            I also wanted a thicker caramel layer section but it ended up looking a little sunked-in – maybe I should have cooked it a little longer? My chocolate mousse layer seemed out of proportion to the caramel but other than those aesthetics, the tart sure looked pretty (at least in my mind).

            The resulting tart was overly sweet which kind of disappointed me. My bottom crust was also a bit soggy; the sides were crisp and crunchy though. 

             What I would like to do next time is to take the caramel layer further in color and use bittersweet chocolate for the mousse. Milk chocolate, at 41%, is really not my type. I might give the crust another shot, and if it still misbehaves, I would likely try another recipe. I have also used half the cinnamon it had called for and I had liked the taste of the spice, but I’ve heard quite a few complaints about it overpowering the rest of the tart.

            Overall, this was a great exercise in making a set caramel and working with chocolate shortbread pastry.

            My thanks go to Ivonne and Lis for starting such a wonderful baking group and I am truly delighted to be a part of it.

            Please visit the different interpretations of this Milk Chocolate and Caramel tart on the other Daring Bakers’ blogs. Blog roll right here.

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