I had a massive chocolate craving last week, which I decided to satiate with these salted caramel tarts. I’d picked up this really nice Valrhona 70% dark chocolate (with little cocoa nibs in it) at Changi Duty Free in Singapore and I felt guilty not putting it to some good culinary use. I’d devoured alost a third of it (35g, in fact), but there was just enough left to make a batch of tarts.
I’ve also written out a recipe for a tropic-friendly pastry that works well with tarts. Pastry dough is usually a pain to make in warm climates, because good pastry counts on butter staying frozen as it gets cut into smaller and smaller bits into the flour. If it all melts, you end up with an overtly soft dough that will eventually bake way too hard. This recipe uses almonds and eggs to lighten the consistency of the dough, and you can actually use your hands to beat it into fluffiness.
The recipe is based on one that I came across in an episode of Masterchef Australia’s masterclasses with the pastry chef Vincent Gadan. I’ve adapted it to use whole almonds and 50% whole wheat flour. The original recipe used almond flour, but since that isn’t very easy (or economical) to come by here, I’ve tweaked it a bit to let you make your own almond flour. Grinding almonds to dust in a dry grinder is extremely tedious, because the heat and friction eventually brings out the oil from the almonds and causes the flour to clump up and get quite damp. I solved this by pairing the chopped up almonds with actual flour, which cuts the mix in the just the right way to let the almonds powder as fine as your machine can make them.
Once the dough is rested, divided, rolled and gently laid in the tart tins, make sure you freeze it for a few hours at least. The shock of heat from freezing cold to the heat of the oven is crucial in creating a flaky crumb. I blind bake the pastry crusts by cutting little squares of tin foil and sitting them inside the frozen tartshells, with dried chickpeas as baking weights.
Relatively, the pastry is the most complicated part of the recipe. Caramel is easy. It quite literally involves burning sugar till it becomes caramel. You have to be careful though; I made the mistake of using a heavy bottomed pan and ended up burning the first batch of caramel. I usually use a thin non stick pan. Once the caramel starts to darken, it also starts to absorb heat faster, accelerating the burning process. I usually like my caramel extra dark and bitter, but the bitterness would compete with the chocolate in a way that would thoroughly undermine it. So you want the colour to be a nice golden brown, almost the colour of good honey. Let the caramel cool just a bit before you add the cream, or it’ll protest madly with a lot of steam and spitting. You shouldn’t wait too long though, or the caramel will harden and you’ll have a hard time mixing it up evenly with the cream and butter.
The ganache is actually the easiest part of the process. I love making ganche because it transforms bars of chocolate into this sinuous concoction that is glossy and dark and makes the whole house smell like chocolate. Using a heavy bottomed saucepan would be a good idea in this case, because the heat it retains would help melt the chocolate with the cream faster, especially if it is cold from the fridge.
Even though this is a three part recipe, it’s actually quite a simple exercise. The caramel and ganache can both be prepared in about thirty minutes and only require a little mise-en-scène of weighing out sugar, butter, cream and chocolate, making it the perfect weekend experiment.
The recipe below should yield about six tarts worth of caramel and ganache. Depending on how you roll your pastry dough, the dough recipe should yield between six to eight tart shells.
Hot hands tart dough
90g unsalted butter
50g sugar, powdered fine
1 pinch salt
1tsp vanilla extract (or more preferably, a single vanilla bean)
1 large egg
20g almonds, chopped fine
80g whole wheat flour (atta)
80g all purpose flour (maida)
(yields 6-8 medium sized tarts)
100g pouring cream
80g pure cream
50g dark chocolate, chopped
(I used Valrhona Noir Guanaja)
25g milk chocolate, chopped
Hot hands tart dough
- Grind the whole wheat flour and almonds together to make a fine powder.
- Using your fingers, beat the butter (at room temperature ideally) with the salt and vanilla and then the sugar till fluffy.
- Crack in the egg and mix. If the egg is cold, it might look like it is curdling. This happens because the cold from the egg hardens the butter, making it look like it has split. Just continue to beat the mix till it becomes a little more even.
- Add the whole wheat flour-almond mix and all purpose flour and mix till even.
- Transfer into a cling wrap; use your hands to press the dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disc.
- Refrigerate overnight (minimum 2 hours).
- Divide the dough into six parts and roll out into discs.
- Lay these in your tart tins and freeze for at least an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 160º.
- Bake the tart shells for 15 minutes with baking weights and then for another ten minutes (or till the shells turn a golden brown).
Making the salted caramel
- In a saucepan, heat the sugar and water on a medium flame. Ensure that the sugar is spread flat and not in a pile or mound.
- Shake the pan a bit as it turns brown so as to ensure the sugar caramelises evenly.
- Turn the heat off and add the cream (careful, it might spit) and whisk till even.
- Add the salt and whisk some more.
- Add the butter and mix till evenly incorporated.
- Pour about halfway up into the tart-shells baked in the previous bit.
Making the chocolate ganache
- Heat the cream till it starts to bubble at the edges. Don’t let it burn.
- Add the chocolates and turn off the heat– mix briskly till all of it dissolves and leaves no lumps.
- Mix the butter and brandy/rum in till evenly incorporated. Transfer into a piping bag (ideally).
- Pipe or pour the ganache over the caramel in the tart shells to the brim.
- Chill for at least half an hour before serving/consuming.
Note: By soaking orange peel or fruit or chilli with the brandy/rum (you’ll have to use a little more than specified here to allow proper soaking– a peg at least) to flavour the chocolate. Don’t forget to strain the alcohol clean before mixing with the ganache.