the continuing adventures of the chief and the stick

this week marked a major milestone for me--two, actually. firstly, i closed on my new apartment. my very first home. the first place where i get to own furniture and pick out paint colors and bask in the overhead lighting of my choice and tell my mother that no, mom, i really don't care what you think because i like that color better.

but equally important was this: my first vacation day in my new job.

i've never had a summer like this one. in school, of course, you get the summers off. for two years in the congress, we had four hellish weeks in july followed by five weeks of pure, sloth-like bliss that we fondly referred to as the august recess. last year, in fact, i was able to take off every friday in august and 2 of the mondays.

this year, i started my new job at the dawn of summer, the third week in may. under the strict HR rules of my new employer, that meant no vacation days for three whole months. three SUMMER months, during which every day brought sunshine, warm weather, new absences and vacations--from colleagues and clients--while i sat at my desk and tried to prove myself worthy of that prized three-month tenure and the hope of future vacation days.

so for this, my third weekend in the now-officially-misnamed summer of gelato, with my uncle the chief coming to visit with his family, i designated friday as my first vacation day. we had begun planning the menu months ago, but ditched it all in favor of a new and unusual idea during the cold spell that hung over the early days of the week: braising.

i love to braise. it is easy, and delicious, and makes me feel productive on a cold winter's evening when i can use my classic line--"i can't go out, i'm cooking dinner"--instead of getting all dolled up and facing the weather for overpriced, watered-down drinks and bad pickup lines. but who ever heard of braising in the summer?

it started on monday, when the weather here in the big apple was in the low 50's. all day i dreamed of a warm, quick, light but filling dinner, and set about making my fantasy into reality: potato leek soup, pastina with parmesan and butter, a salad with greens and cherries. the next day, as is my habit, i was detailing this menu to my uncle who shared a similar tale of midwinter-in-midsummer. by wednesday, i had gotten an email with a wild idea--something hot, soupy and stewy for dinner on saturday. by thursday the details were clear: pork, fennel, tomatoes and polenta. fabulously, this gave me a chance to complete my month's mission on behalf of the daring bakers, the perfect dessert for this misplaced meal.

this month's challenge came out of the beautiful, inspiring and deceptively easy tome by eric kayser, pies and tarts. the challenge was his milk chocolate and caramel tart, which consists of a chocolate shortbread pastry crust, a layer of caramel, and a layer of milk chocolate mousse. i, unfortunately, had to deviate from the cardinal rule of the bakers (FOLLOW THE RECIPE EXACTLY) because reality intervened. i'll tell you, so long as you promise not to confiscate my apron:

firstly, i couldn't use hazelnuts in the crust. i went to three stores out in the hamptons and came up empty-handed. had i known in advance, i could have brought my own, but i had to settle for almonds instead. i confess that i preferred this situation, since i find hazelnuts more intrusive than almonds. almonds tend to blend into the main flavor while hazelnuts challenge it more directly.

secondly, i omitted the cinnamon, simply because i cannot stand cinnamon.

finally, and most egregiously, i didn't use milk chocolate. i had several reasons for this omission, all of them good, i swear. my sister, who was visitng for the weekend, doesn't eat milk chocolate. we're not sure if she is allergic or what, but she won't eat it. more importantly, my uncle the chief scoffed at milk chocolate and caramel as a combo. he said dark chocolate or none at all. what could i do but acquiesce?

this tart began with an odyssey. although i had remembered to pack my fluted removable bottom tart pan, the fridge was depressingly devoid of the unsalted butter i needed for the shortbread crust. i ran out to the king kullen on montauk highway (where i failed to find hazelnuts) for 2 pounds. i made the shortbread before lunch and left it to enjoy the cooler climate of the fridge for several hours. i actually did ok with the crust, since i have a fair amount of practice by now, and i took this as a good omen for my completion of the challenge.

next came the caramel element. i'd been reading all month about caramel strategies, dry method versus wet method, and techniques complete with photographs. it was my intention to tackle the wet method, because it seemed like it had a higher success rate, but during my early morning sprint to the kullen i had forgotten to get corn syrup. dry method it was. i used a deep, 2-quart saucepan, and to my chagrin the sugar did not melt evenly--but it also didn't burn. i exhaled and left it to cool for a few minutes while i prepared the butter and cream. except that nobody told me what happens to melted sugar when it cools, so i turned around to find my wooden spoon standing straight up in a 2-inch thick hard candy caramel. i blushed and scoffed and fluttered around anxiously for a good five minutes before i remembered that i could melt the sugar again. unfortunately for me, this got me overexcited and i added the next two ingredients in the wrong order. i was left with a twisted, hideous siezed piece of hard caramel candy, which i threw away and then vowed to master the sugar. (after i spent 20 minutes cleaning the pot)

i began anew. using a wider, shallower pot, i melted another cup of sugar. on this larger surface it melted both more quickly and more evenly and turned a delightful amber color. i added the cream and the butter--in the correct order--and was rewarded with a golden cream caramel mixture which would form the base of the tart's caramel layer. while the crust baked blind, this mixture cooled and i began prepping the chocolate mousse.

for my next trick, i baked the caramel until it had a slightly springy top. i was surprised by how much the caramel had risen within the tart shell and worried that i made too much mousse. but, really, when does chocolate mousse ever go to waste? i couldn't wait for the caramel to cool completely, since dinner was nearly ready, but i stuck everything directly in the fridge after smoothing the mousse on top. i melted a few ounces of unsweetened chocolate into the leftover caramel cream with the hope of making brittle. this, unfortunately, did not set up before dinner, but they made lovely free-form truffles when topped with the leftover almonds.

and so i present this month's challenge: the milk (dark) chocolae and caramel tart, my fifth DB challenge and the first one i have managed to both complete and complete successfully. dare i take this as a sign that things are changing for the better?

(the other members who participated in this challenge can be found here)

Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart
Daring Bakers Challenge #9: August 2007

Hosts: Veron (Veronica's Test Kitchen) and Patricia (Technicolor Kitchen)

Allowed Modifications:
1. Caramel fragment toppings are optional but make sure that the caramel-cream and chocolate layers are true to the recipe

2. If you have no luck with the dry method of making the caramel, you may use the alternate method shown at the end of the recipe.

3. You may eliminate the cinnamon if you don't like cinnamon.

4. Recipe ingredient exception allowed only if allergy or an ingredient not available or cost prohibitive in your region

Recipe Quantity: One (1) 9" Square or one (1) 10" Round tart

Chocolate Shortbread Pastry
Note: The Chocolate Shortbread pastry can make 3 tart shells. So, if you want to cut that recipe into thirds then do so but Veron and Patricia are not promising it will scale down properly.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Refrigeration: overnight
To make 3 tart shells: 9 ½ inches (24 cm) square
or 10 inches (26 cm round)

  • 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.

Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Baking Time: 30 minutes
Refrigeration time: 1 hour

  • ½ lb (250 g) chocolate shortbread pastry (see recipe above)
  • 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.

Alternate Caramel Method:

If you have problems with the dry method, you may use this method.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup

Set mixture in a pot over medium-high heat and stir slowly. When the mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring and leave it alone. Wait till desired color is attained .

Proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Caramel Fragments:

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.


Dharm said...

Well done on the challenge! yes, I definitely think this is a sign that you can only get better Puu!

Peabody said...

Congrats on your new apartment...how exciting. And congrats on a tart well done.

Deborah said...

A successful challenge - you really can't ask for more!!

Anita said...

Wonderful job on the tart! And congrats too on the apartment!

Tartelette said...

Well done on the tart, hiding behid that ice cream, makes it more tempting! Congrats also on the new apartment!

Anne said...

Ice cream and chocolate milk tart looks like a good combination. Well done!

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Congrats on the new apartment. Nothing like your first home! Well done on the tart too.

wmpe said...

Your tart looks tasty and decadent with dark chocolate and ice cream. How was it with ice cream? Wendy

Aoife said...

Ooh, free-form truffles! Also, I think I have the same shirt as the one you're wearing in the picture!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Your first place of your own - that's always a marvel! Congratulations.
I was surprised how well the milk chocolate and caramel went together!

Dolores said...

What a wonderful 'housewarming' dessert. Congratulations on your new place... and a beautiful tart!

Elle said...

Super job...youkept going through the whole caramel thing as a daring baker does...lots of us seemed to experience the caramel seizing up. The finished tart looks lovely!

Amy said...

Yay for your first apartment! How exciting! Your tart looks wonderful, great job!

Quellia said...

Congrats on the new apartment!
Lovely looking tart, well done!

Chris said...

A new place - so exciting! Congrats. And, great job on the tart!

Morven said...

Great post - great effort.

I had to look up the word egrarious. It's always good to add a new word to one's personal dictionary.

breadchick said...

Congrats on your new home!!! You will have so much fun in the paint aisle (and we might see each other there!!)

Second, great job on the tart!!