Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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.

48 Comments:

At 11:29 am, Blogger Leslie said...

This looks awesome!!!!! Your mousse is SO much better looking than mine is (all grainy). I love your spun sugar too! Great job!

 
At 12:33 pm, Blogger The Baker & The Curry Maker said...

Ooo that looks so good. I wish I'd done a deep one myself. Your decorations look good too, I found it hard to decorate.

 
At 1:33 pm, Blogger Dharm said...

KJ, very nice indeed! You really went to town with the spun caramel too! Great Job! I think mine was starting to get a little grainy too... yours is sooo smooth

 
At 1:52 pm, Blogger Anh said...

Kj, I love your sugar ball! I am still refining my skills with it. Great job you have done!

 
At 2:17 pm, Blogger Dolores said...

Gorgeous! And I can think of worse fates than stalked by chocolate and caramel. )

 
At 3:59 pm, Anonymous steph said...

that looks great! your spun sugar came out very well, and i like your "rubble centerpiece!"

 
At 4:57 pm, Blogger Meeta said...

You're complaining about being stalked by chocolate and caramel?!!
Love the caramel decoration on this. Great job!

 
At 5:00 pm, Blogger Peabody said...

I love the droplettes, they are very cool looking!

 
At 5:23 pm, Blogger Baking Soda said...

Love the sugar droplets! Great job!

 
At 6:02 pm, Blogger Anne said...

Oh, I love the caramel droplets and the spun sugar! Great job!

 
At 6:11 pm, Blogger Kelly-Jane said...

Your tart looks fabulous. I love the rain drops of golden caramel on top :)

Well done for trying spun sugar, it looks lovely! If you have hard caramel in the pan, just add water and leave in the sink for an hour or two and it will all become liquid.

 
At 6:31 pm, Blogger Anne said...

lovely tart! It looks heavenly and the well done on your spun sugar :)

 
At 7:55 pm, Anonymous veron said...

KJ,what a gorgeous tart! And look at those caramel ornaments! I've always wanted to make spun sugar but have not been successful yet. well done!

 
At 8:11 pm, Blogger sunita said...

Looks gorgeous...love the caramel decorations.

 
At 11:19 pm, Blogger Janet said...

Yours looks beautiful! Mine sucks. :-)

 
At 11:40 pm, Blogger kellypea said...

You are completely hilarious. Highlights of your post -- "Like a limpet to a rock," "an overwhelming feeling of impending doom," and "screaming great catastrophe written all over it." I'm cracking up, and oogling your lovely tart all at the same time. Very, very nice job. And I agree, substance is for the birds -- Bwah-hahahaha!

 
At 1:33 am, Blogger Anita said...

I like the caramel droplets you made...look like leaves on a pond!

 
At 2:34 am, Blogger Lis said...

hahahaha very funny post, I enjoyed reading this! I love your tart with the drops of amber sugar.. I think it's just gorgeous!

xoxo

 
At 2:57 am, Blogger Deborah said...

You are so ambitious to try the spun sugar!! Your tart is gorgeous!!

 
At 3:03 am, Blogger Patricia Scarpin said...

KJ, I absolutely love your tart! The caramel drops look beautiful and I love the work you did with spun sugar as well.
I'm also glad you liked the flavors.

 
At 4:47 am, Blogger Amanda at Little Foodies said...

I am so jealous of your spun sugar! Doing that was my favourite part, despite the burnt fingers! Yours looks beautiful!

 
At 5:07 am, Blogger Sara said...

Way to go with the caramel! It looks great.

 
At 5:21 am, Blogger Erin said...

I tried doing spun sugar as well and it didn't work for me either. I wanted to do a gigantic spider web that could go over the tart, but I couldn't get the sugar off the wax paper. I love the balls though!

 
At 6:58 am, Blogger Brilynn said...

Working with hot sugar is always a treacherous adventure, well done!

 
At 7:16 am, Blogger Elle said...

Beautiful tart and elegant write up. The combination of spun sugar by the slice of tart, drops (very artistic) around the edge and shards in the middle really makes a nice presentation.

 
At 7:29 am, Blogger Mary said...

Your spun sugar sphere is simply angelic!

 
At 7:39 am, Blogger Andrea said...

Oh how pretty! Your spun sugar looks lovely!

 
At 11:14 am, Anonymous Ivonne said...

Wonderful experimenting with sugar art! Your tart looks beautiful!

 
At 12:36 pm, Blogger Aoife said...

You're so brave to try spun sugar! Both your cage and caramel droplets are very pretty and elegant.

 
At 1:04 pm, Blogger Chelsea said...

Love your post. I also had the thought to spin the sugar and just ended up with unattractive blobs everywhere and not a sugar strand in sight. I think you recovered better than I did. Your tart is beautiful. Thanks for the laugh!

 
At 1:20 pm, Blogger Jenny said...

Ahh the caramel droplets remind me of the pastry challenge a few months back.

Nice job on the tart!

 
At 2:33 pm, Blogger SimplePleasures said...

SPUN SUGAR???? that is so professional of you! looks great the milk chocolate layer looks so smooth and creamy that I want to dive in it!

 
At 4:49 pm, Blogger Cottage Smallholder said...

The spun sugar looks so pretty! As always your photographs and descriptions are totally seductive.

 
At 6:20 pm, Blogger *fanny* said...

Im so jealous of your crust! And your spun sugar definitely looks heavenly.

Love xxx
- fanny

 
At 1:25 am, Blogger Ilva said...

I just love your closeups, they are beautiful! And so is the cake!

 
At 2:01 am, Blogger Quellia said...

It looks lovely! Great work!
(Oh and feel free to send some of that chocolate and caramel to my place - I'll trade you for some plain chocolate if you'd like!)

 
At 2:55 am, Blogger wmpe said...

Your decoration at first glance looked like Fall leaves. Like those droplets. I love your sense of humor! Your pie looks delicious. I understand how the caramel chocolate flavor grows on a person. Wendy

 
At 3:17 am, Blogger Tartelette said...

Excellent hilarious write up! The caramel droplets look like amber jewelry!

 
At 4:27 am, Blogger Inne said...

Your tart looks great, and the spun sugar very glamorous. I had to use almonds instead of hazelnuts for my crust, but I agree with you - couldn't taste them at all.

 
At 7:13 am, Blogger Nora B. said...

Hi Karen, such a wonderful entry, LOL! I love the spun sugar part of the story. I would have had tp oick off caramel on my hair. :-)

Your cooking class sounds like fun. Is it just one class or a series of classes?

Have a good weekend ahead.

 
At 8:32 am, Blogger Jen the Bread Freak said...

The spun sugar is beautiful, it looks like golden threads. Lovely tart :D

 
At 9:38 am, Blogger Renz said...

Oh, I agree that the caramel drops are very pretty. And kudos for giving spun sugar a try.

 
At 11:39 am, Blogger Chris said...

Well done! I love the sugar and your crust looks great!

 
At 12:59 pm, Blogger Amy said...

Wow the spun sugar is just gorgeous!

 
At 5:40 pm, Blogger Katie said...

Your tart look wonderful. You made me laugh with how your pastry stuck to the foil - me too, me too!
Your caramel drops for the topping look great.

 
At 3:57 am, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

At least you have sweet dreams.
Your tart is really beautiful and the decorations are wow! Any leftovers, I could help out.

 
At 3:24 am, Blogger Jerry said...

I love the way you did the caramel!

 
At 2:43 pm, Blogger breadchick said...

WOW!!! Lovely job, especially the spun sugar!!

 

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