Friday, March 06, 2009

Salty sweetness.

There's not much I need to say about this tart other than it made the top ten list of things I've ever had in my mouth. I think the pictures can convey the rest.

The recipe originally appeared in The Last Course by Claudia Fleming but the version I used comes from the Diner Journal from the guys at Marlow and Sons' in NYC.

Salted Caramel Tart

For the dough:

4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. flour
1/4 unsweetened cocoa
pinch of salt

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolk and vanilla. Sift the flour and cocoa and add to butter mixture. Mix until just combined. Wrap the dough and refrigerate for about an hour. Roll the dough out and press into a 12 inch fluted removable bottom tart pan. (I found the dough hard to roll out but it's easy to press back together. Just do the best you can to make it look pretty!) Prick the dough with a fork and refrigerate again while preheating the oven to 325 degrees. The recipe says to blind bake the tart shell with pie weights but I did it without and the tart didn't really shrink at all. You choose... Bake until dry and set, about 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, make the caramel.

For the caramel:

1/2 c. water
2 c. sugar
1/4 c. corn syrup (optional-see below)
4 oz unsalted butter
1/2 heavy cream
2 Tbsp. crème fraîche or sour cream

You can get away with not using corn syrup- just up the sugar by 1/4 cup. Invert sugars help caramel from crystallizing as you cook it. If you don't have much experience making caramel, I suggest using the corn syrup because it's one less thing to worry about. Put the water, sugar and corn syrup in a large, light bottomed saucepan (I say this because some have a black coating and then you can't see the caramel color so be sure to use a silver pot). Cook on high heat until the sugar starts to brown, without stirring. Turn the heat down and watch carefully at this point until the caramel is dark brown. Adding the cream will stop the cooking of the cream so have it ready to go but add it in a slow stream because it will cause the sugar syrup to bubble and spit like crazy. Add the butter and sour cream and stir over low heat until smooth. Pour the caramel into the baked tart shell and cool in the fridge until set.

For the ganache:

1/2 c. cream
3 1/2 oz. high-quality bitterseet chocolate, chopped

Put the chocolate in a bowl. Scald the cream and pour over chocolate. Let sit a few minutes and then whisk until smooth. Pour over the tart when the caramel has set. I had some leftover ganache from another project that I used for this and looking at the quantities here, I think I used more than called for- you might want to double the ganache recipe. You could always roll a few truffles if you end up with too much.

The recipe in Diner Journal doesn't mention the salt but it's key to the whole experience. I think Maldon is the perfect salt for this because it's crunchy but won't break a tooth. You can use any course sea salt. Use more than you might think is prudent. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Have your cake and your sanity too.

If baking freaks you out, you might want to try my favorite alternative to a traditional cake- a crêpe stack! The traditional crêpe cake (or Mille Crêpes) has pastry cream between the layers and the top is gilded with sugar and torched like a Crème Brulèe. I don't know when I first heard about this dessert but I know when I first decided to give it a try. I used to have a food cart and on market Saturdays I would cook up breakfast for the hungry hordes. One option was crêpes with local mascarpone chese and seasonal berries. For some reason, the breakfast burrito always way outsold the crêpes and sometimes I'd come home with a vat of crêpe batter. Pastry cream has never been my favorite so I used to fill my stack with whipped cream and apple butter.
I recently made a batch of citrus curd with lemon, key lime, grapefruit and orange juice for a local restaurant. Left with an extra pint for me, I had to come up with something to do with it besides watching it disappear one spoonful at a time. Lucky for me my favorite local coffee roaster indulges my need to bake by trading treats for coffee. I knew they'd love a curd crêpe cake! If you already have some fillings on hand putting one of this together is a cinch. My favorite crêpe recipe is Julia Child's.
You can make the batter in the blender and it needs and hour to rest. You don't NEED a crepe pan but it sure makes things easier. I didn't even mess up the first crêpe this time! If you want a truly impressive stack, I recommend a double batch of crêpes. For a single batch, I went through less than a pint of curd and almost a pint of cream for the whipped cream.
My original intention was to stack the crêpes between parchment and then assemble the finished product after I made them all. Lacking parchment, I assembled as I went and it seemed not to cause problems. I just cleared a space in the fridge to cool the cake so the crêpes wouldn't melt the cream. Really, it's a piece of cake!