Monday, January 30, 2012

Dark chocolate tart with salted caramel and pecan filling

Friday was a crazy day at work. One of those days when you barely have time to eat in front of your computer because it wastes precious time. Friday was also the day I was supposed to pick up my passport at the Consulate. And the day of a general transportation strike.

Luckily I ride a bike to work so it didn’t really matter. Not until I got on it and realized the bike chain had come off of the chain holder, when or how I have no idea. So I started fixing it like I have done several times in the past. I was in a real rush, stressed about work and about my passport (remember my red tape phobia) and to top it all off I was getting black grease all over my hands. It got stuck, completely stuck, as in the pedals no longer turned forwards or back.

So now I was stuck too: no bike, no public transportation. Loads of work to get done and the clock at the Consulate ticking away.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

“Do you need any help?”

A group of college students had stopped and one of them was reaching out to help me. I usually tend to smile politely and say “no thank you” when people offer to help me, out of shyness and/or sheer embarrassment but I was so relieved I immediately exclaimed “yes!”, only to realize he would soon be covered in grease too. I warned him and offered him my gloves, but he of course politely refused (in retrospect that was sort of a weird offer come to think of it. I mean, would you wear a stranger's gloves? A lady’s - I cringe as I write that word - gloves at that, if you were a pimply college kid?).

He worked on my bike for a while, almost gave up at one point, but finally managed to fix it. I was so happy I could’ve hugged him. I said thank you a million times and waved goodbye. Now I wish I had offered them all a coffee and a croissant as I instinctively wanted to, but I was in such a rush I didn’t. Well, that is the official reason. Also, I thought they (or I?) would be embarassed to hang around making polite conversation. I regret it now, in the name of what I will write below.

Isn’t it amazing how just the right thing sometimes happens at the right time and turns a really bad day into a good day? A person who is totally disconnected from you makes a small, kind gesture for no reason other than helping you and really makes a difference.

There are so many times we are about to do something for someone and we don’t because we don’t want to intrude, we feel shy or we are simply in a rush.

Don’t hesitate, just do it! It can make all the difference.

There are times when we do things for people, like hold a door or move out of someone’s way, and they don’t even acknowledge it, making us regret we even tried to be polite or kind. Sc**w them!

It doesn’t matter, just do it anyway! It may not make a difference to them, but it will to someone else another day.

My point being, when a total stranger reaches out to you, takes their time to help not only does it make your day a better one, but it reminds you that despite all the horror and rudeness and indifference out there, people are fundamentally good. The more people make small gestures, the better place the world becomes.

Thank you, college guy, for reminding me.

Making caramel

But now about the tart. I discovered a lovely new blog the other day, where I cam across this recipe. I wanted to make a special cake for a special friend, to belatedly celebrate his birthday. I wanted something a little more than the usual cake. This turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. It is a rich, decadent tart, the kind you eat on special occasions. The contrast between the dark chocolate, the sweet velvety interior, the crunchy pecans and the flakes of sea salt is an experience. I suggest you try it.

Make it on a day when you have time. It is not difficult but it must be prepared in three separate steps, cooling in between. I got worried when I started reading about candy thermometers and caramel, because I am a scaredy cat about that kind of stuff but it turned out to be much easier than I had predicted. And you don’t need a candy thermometer. If doubtful, just take the caramel off a little earlier rather than a little later.

P.S. I have a shiny, new passport. Now on to the next step.

1 1/2 cups (180gr) flour
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp (35gr) cocoa powder
1/4 tsp (2gr) salt
10 tbsp (150gr) butter, cubed and softened
2 cups + 2 tbsp (70gr) icing sugar
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tsp (2.5ml) vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (300gr) sugar
6 tbsp (90 ml) water
3 tbsp (45ml) light corn syrup
1/4 tsp (2gr) salt
6 tbsp (90gr) butter
7 tbsp (105ml) whipping cream
about 1 cup pecans
1/2 cup (115ml) whipping cream
115gr bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Fleur de Sel (or any kind of flakes of sea salt) for garnish

To make the crust: whisk together flour, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale and mix in egg yolks and vanilla. Mix in dry ingredients. Preheat oven to 350F/180°C. Press dough evenly into bottom and sides of a 9 inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, then prick the tart shell with a fork and bake about 15 minutes, until cooked. Let cool on a rack.
To make the caramel: whisk together sugar, corn syrup, salt and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until the caramel turns an amber colour (or until a candy thermometer reads 340°F if you have one. I don’t). In the meantime chop up about a cup of pecans. Remove pan from stove and whisk in butter and cream: watch out, the liquid will bubble up when you do this. Be careful not to burn the caramel or it will taste bitter, so watch that sauce pan like a hawk. Mix the pecans into the caramel and pour into the tart shell. Let cool and then place in refrigerator until firm, at least 3 hours.
To make the ganache: bring the cream almost to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Chop up the chocolate in a bowl and pour the hot cream over it, letting it sit for a minute or two. Stir slowly until the chocolate has completely melted. Pour ganache immediately over the tart: spread it by moving the tart pan in a circular motion. I got sidetracked and had to partially spread it with a spatula because it had started to harden. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 to 5 hours. Sprinkle tart with fleur de sel or sea salt flakes right before serving. I sprinkled way ahead of time and the salt melted leaving some unattractive marks on the ganache. Serve chilled, the tart will be easier to cut and you will avoid the caramel getting runny.

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  1. You are so right. Those small gestures of kindness, or even a simple smile, can make a difference to someone's day. Thank you for reminding me of that. I too tend to forget that strangers can indeed be kind.

    Your tart looks so decadent, I LOVE it! Caramel and chocolate, what a perfect combination.

  2. I remember so many of those random acts of kindness, especially from when I was living in Milan. It is not a place for kindness, and yet, when it did find a way to creep in, it would always make my heart melt.
    As is this pecan and chocolate and caramel and salt beauty.

    1. I agree, you tend to appreciate it more when you live in a city that is not known for its kindness.

  3. What a beautiful cake! Can I have a slice?

  4. How wonderful of the college students to help you! I usually decline help too, but such interactions are what makes our life richer. I really do love your blog for your sweet, pensive writing...and of course the gorgeous food!! My friend made this for Thanksgiving one day, and obviously it disappeared within seconds.

    1. Thank you, it is a real compliment from know how to use your words.

  5. OMG, amica, questa torta è una cosa irresistibile. Mi sento calamitata verso lo schermo! :)
    Se prima o poi facciamo quella famosa cena insieme esigo questa come dessert!

  6. Your pastry looks beautifully neat. And anything with chocolate and caramel in makes me go weak at the knees so I love this recipe - HAVE to make it very soon!

  7. Oh what a nice guy to help you and I'm so glad that you got your passport! And as for me, I'd happily devour a slice of that gorgeous, oozing caramel tart :D

  8. Those rare moments that strangers help me or go out of their way to be nice or even when someone (a shop worker or administrative hack) is nice AND efficient and does a great job I always, always tell them how much I appreciated it as it has become rarer and rarer these days. And to think that college kids stopped to help! Yay! I love your story and yay for getting that passport...and rewarding yourself with this amazing tart! Yum!

    1. I hate it when people say that kids today are not the way they used to be, that is why I specified it was a college student. I think it is a generalization and very much depends on the single individual and how they were brought up. Good for you, for telling them. I am sure it makes a difference in their day too.

  9. Thanks for sharing this delicious tart recipe and for reminding me of the innate goodness of the human race.

  10. Hi Amy, welcome! Thanks for stopping by, off to look at your blog.

  11. Looking so delicious.Added to my menu.

  12. Confused about what to gift to your loved ones on Valentines Day?? I think gifting a chocolate will be good this time: For delivery any where in india for customised photo chocolates Contact Chocolate Hut:9246217112 (or)

  13. This is a great story; an encounter you will not likely forget for a long time. Nice tarte, totally mouthwatering! Will check out the blog as well.

  14. And now I am DROOLING! I am bookmarking this to make later, possibly in autumn! This and your Nutella and ricotta cake... YUM!

    1. I had forgotten about that cake... it was delicious. Thanks for reminding me about it. ;o)

  15. 12. For a staggering number of people, chocolate occupies a major part of their lives. They sleep chocolate, breathe chocolate, and talk chocolate and what not! This site is dedicated to all such chocolaty people like you!!

  16. I'm terrified of making caramel/syrup. I always tend to either leave it too runny, or overheat it into toffee. It's just so tempermental! This had me wanting dessert at 7:55am, so kudos.

    And the kindness of strangers is a wonderful thing. My sister, her friend and I were driving at night in a snowstorm and went off the road into a 2-metre snowdrift, and 4 uni students stopped and in their track pants and jumpers (no jackets!) They pushed the car out, jumped back into their van & were off. Pretty amazing stuff, what strangers can do.

    1. Hi Lucas! I guess I just got lucky this time, but it turned out really good. Glad you liked the tart, try it and let me know if it worked for you.
      Thanks for sharing your story, it always makes me feel good to hear about strangers' random acts of kindness.


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