It has been the type of overcast February day when it looks like nature has turned down the dimmer switch and everything has sunk to varying shades of grey. Even the brightly painted houses that wind up my street have dulled to muted pastel. It all makes you want to turn on your heels and charge straight to bed, but failing that it is absolutely the kind of day to cook sweet things. Nothing combats that depressing gloom quite like filling the house with the warm, comforting scent of vanilla, freshly baked cakes and – most intoxicatingly of all – chocolate.
When it comes to cocoa I am a woman of vast extremes. I love the occasional Snickers or a Diam bar (always bought in Ikea when flat-pack heaven has turned to crowd dodging, trolley-wielding hell!) but when it comes to dark chocolate – my favourite and the only type I generally have in the house – I will only buy the best quality. For me there is just no middle ground when it comes to cocoa! Today I was lucky enough to have some gorgeous 100% cocoa chocolate bars from Artisan Du Chocolat, whose Willy-Wonker-wonderful shops sell the most incredible quality chocolate in some really original, highly addictive flavours.
There is something about the intense complexity of chocolate that is nearing 100% cocoa that makes it the most versatile and interesting partner to so many flavours. I often add a grating of it to rich, meaty ragus and stir a little through the jus when cooking venison and duck to add a deep earthiness. But today I needed something sweet so an afternoon of pottering around the kitchen resulted in a trio of gorgeous little tarts: buttery pastry filled with a glossy dark chocolate ganache, sweetened with agave and spiked with a variety of flavours that caught my fancy. Now that blood orange season has arrived I have been making a lot of chocolate orange desserts for clients but today I wasn’t in the mood for fruit so instead I turned to the pantry.
The first tart I flavoured with the vibrant green of Japanese matcha tea. I have heard matcha described as the espresso of the tea world and I enjoy the comparison – it certainly packs a punch. The full-bodied, almost grassy flavour of matcha can be a bit of an acquired taste (Mr Sticky Toffee Tofu is convinced it tastes exactly like liquidised Weetabix) but I can’t get enough of it and teamed with dark chocolate it is particularly moreish.
For my other two tarts I plumped for bold Middle Eastern flavours, as I so often do when cooking at home. Like matcha, rosewater can be a bit divisive. To some (myself included) its floral notes make everything that little more sumptuous and exotic…to others it is akin to chowing down on a bowl of pot pourri. The key with rosewater is to remember that less is most definitely more. It is pungent stuff so a few drops can go a surprisingly long way, and the advantage of using very dark chocolate is that it holds its own next to its flowery friend. Get the balance right and these tarts are an absolute delight, and decorating them with a few dried rose petals makes them really rather pretty.
The last in the trio is my favourite. Staying firmly rooted in the Middle East, I flavoured the remaining ganache with the smooth, toasted nuttiness of tahini. I usually save this gorgeous sesame seed paste for adding to hummus and garlicky sauces for dipping falafel but it also works beautifully with chocolate – think a grown up version of that all-American classic the peanut butter cup that is not anywhere near as sickly sweet. I topped the tarts with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, toasted to a light gold. For someone who doesn’t usually have all that much of a sweet tooth, this combination is a real winner. It is complex and satisfying without being cloying.
A Trio of Chocolate Tarts
I am avoiding refined sugar at the moment but if you would prefer to use normal sugar then substitute the same weight as the agave nectar.
The pastry is easy enough to make but shop bought shortcrust or sweet pastry works very well too.
The quantities for the flavourings are what I used having divided the ganache into three lots. However, these are all strong flavours so I would go by taste to find the level that suits you. Time to experiment!
- 105g cold butter
- 220g plain flour
- 2 egg yolks
- 2-3 tbsp cold water
- pinch of salt
- 190ml double cream
- 80g agave nectar
- 150g 100% cocoa chocolate (like the bars by Artisan Du Chocolat)
- 50g butter, diced into small cubes
Flavourings (each for 1/3 of the ganache recipe)
- 1 1/2 tsp matcha powder + more to dust over the finished tarts
- 4-5 drops of rosewater + dried rose petals to decorate (available from Middle Eastern and Asian supermarkets)
- 2 tsp tahini + 3tsp toasted sesame seeds to decorate
To make the pastry delicately rub together the butter, flour and salt with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. In a separate bowl mix together the egg yolks and water. Add two thirds of the egg mix to the flour and butter and mix with a wooden spoon until it starts to come together. If the mix is too dry, add the remaining egg and water. Turn the mix out onto the work surface and bring it together with your hands until it forms a smooth dough. Do not over work the pastry. Chill for one hour.
Lightly butter a 12 hole cupcake tin (mine had 7cm holes). Roll the pastry out to 2-3mm thickness and cut out 12 circles using an 8cm round (non-fluted) cutter. Gently place the pastry into the tin to form your tart cases. Prick the bottoms of each tart lightly with a fork and chill for at least half an hour.
Line each case with baking paper squares and fill with baking beans (I use rice as these cases are so small). Blind bake for 10 minutes. Remove the baking beans and paper and return to the oven for 4-5 minutes or until the bottoms of the cases are a lightly golden. Place on a wire rack and leave to cool.
For the ganache chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl. Pour the cream into a heavy bottomed saucepan and heat. When the cream is about to boil remove from the heat and add the chocolate and agave nectar. Whisk gently until the chocolate is melted and you have a smooth ganache. Gradually add the butter, whisking all the time.
Quickly divide the ganache into three bowls, add your flavourings and pour the mix into your tart cases (or use a piping bag for a really neat finish). It is important to work quickly at this stage as you want to get the ganache into the cases before it sets. Give the tarts a gently shake to ensure a shiny, smooth surface. Leave to set in a cool place.
Finish the tarts with the various garnishes and enjoy!
Makes 12 individual tarts (4 of each flavour)
Artisan du Chocolat is a wonderful chocolatier with shops in various lovely locations around London (including Chelsea, High Street Kensington and in Selfridges). Have a look at their website or pop in to one of their mouth-watering boutiques. I guarantee you will thank me for it!