The Daring Bakers are back and this time we're bringing you a milk chocolate and caramel tart! Who are the Daring Bakers you may ask? Well, we're a group of rogue operatives strategically placed all over the world and secretly trying to conquer our baking fears one recipe at a time. At least that's how I see it. In actuality, we're a group of food bloggers who, once a month, make the exact same recipe and then blog about our experience on the same day. It's a fun way to try new recipes and techniques. Everyone has such a unique experience preparing the same recipe and the posts are always interesting to read.
I have to admit that I wasn't overly excited when this month's challenge of Eric Kayser's milk choclate and caramel tart was announced. No offense to kind hostesses Veronica of Veronica's Test Kitchen and Patricia of Technicolor Kitchen, but I'm just not a big fan of milk chocolate or caramel. But being the obedient Daring Baker that I am, I put my personal preferences, and perhaps even food prejudices, aside, and tried my very best with the assigned recipe. [And on a side note, I was so excited to meet Veronica for dinner when she was visiting San Francisco a couple weeks ago. She's super sweet and super smart!]
Like with most of our challenges, there were some positives about this challenge. Once again I would be tackling caramel like I did for the Gateau St. Honore challenge. I'm still not completely over my fear of caramel making, but I'm slowly finding my way to a comfort zone. But I think one can never get too comfortable with making caramel. I always have a big bowl of ice water within arm's reach. And to complicate matters a bit, the caramel would be turned into a caramel cream sauce which is then turned into a caramel cream "custard". Hot molten sugar! Furiously bubbling cream! Potential clumping from the eggs and flour! Oh, the dangers we face as a Daring Baker! And to top it all off, I still have trouble rolling out tart and pie crusts into a circular shape. It always looks so easy on television. So here was another wonderful opportunity to practice my rolling skills. This is why I love these challenges. I always find something new to learn, techniques to refine or discover an appreciation for an ingredient or certain component of the recipe.
I don’t normally use milk chocolate but since I vowed to follow the rules, I tried to find some high quality and, hopefully, high cacao percentage milk chocolate. I found a couple of milk chocolates at my Whole Foods market that seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Michel Cluizel's Grand Lait 45% and El Rey's Caoba 41%, which is, according to El Rey's website, "a fluid, smooth 'dark' milk chocolate with wonderful caramel, nut and earthy flavors. Its notable flavor is the result of increased cacao content, among the highest of any milk chocolate on the market". The combination of the two milk chocolates for my chocolate mousse layer would be nice. With my milk chocolate secured, I was ready to move forward with the recipe.
I had no clue how thick to roll out the shortbread dough for my crust or how high the sides should be to hold both fillings. The chilled shortbread dough rolled out nicely but transferring the rolled dough to my springform pan in one piece was a total pain. So I just patched and pressed the dough into the pan as evenly as possible until I had no more dough left. So that's how thick and how high it ended up.
To blind bake my crust, I lined my crust with parchment paper and filled it with pie weights. After baking for 15 minutes the bottom dough was still uncooked and actually stuck to the parchment paper as I lifted it away. I really, really didn't want to roll out another disk of dough since the other two-thirds of the shortbread dough were frozen. Instead, I tried to save my swiss-cheese looking crust. So I removed my pie weights, scraped the dough off the parchment paper, patched my bottom crust with the scrapings, returned it to the oven for a few more minutes and hoped that I managed to salvage the crust. It ended up a tad lumpy and bumpy but at least it didn't have any more holes. I guess it was okay, but I wouldn't know for certain until I cut into the finished tart.
lumpy and bumpy crust
I have to say making the caramel wasn't too scary this time. I used the wet method by adding 1/4 cup of water and 2 teaspoons of corn syrup to my 1 cup of sugar. I placed my saucepan with the lid on over medium heat for about 4 minutes and then removed the lid and increased the heat to high until my desired color and temperature. The lid traps some of the condensation and actually "washes" down the sides of pan so I wouldn't need to do that with a wet pastry brush.
Sadly I think I let my caramel get too dark before adding the cream. My goal was to let the caramel get to 335F (per Veronica's recommendation) to 350F (per Sherry Yard's "The Secrets of Baking"). But I don't think I got an accurate temperature reading since I couldn't immerse my thermometer more than 1 cm into the caramel without touching the bottom of my saucepan. I guess I can call this a burnt caramel.
Also, my caramel cream custard refused to set in the oven after 15 minutes of baking. So I actually continued baking it until the edges were set and the center still wiggled a bit. I think it took a total of 30 minutes. At this point the top of the baked caramel was pretty dark (and I mean as dark as black coffee). So this meant that my caramel could be doubly burnt. The outlook was grim.
From the chatter during the days prior to posting, some Daring Bakers had issues with their cream deflating when the melted milk chocolate was added. I had the opposite problem. My melted chocolate seized up a bit when I folded the cream and chocolate together. So if you look closely, you may see little bits of chocolate speckled throughout the chocolate mousse. So now I may have to call this a double burnt caramel and mini milk chocolate chip mousse tart.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH
So after the required chill, I finally cut into my tart. I was really afraid that the caramel layer would be dark all the way through and be completely inedible. I told myself that I could still salvage dessert if I scraped off the chocolate mousse and serve the mousse in cups. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw that the caramel was not black but a rich caramel brown. Thankfully, the caramel didn't taste burnt either.
I liked how the crust held together nicely when the tart was sliced and was very tender. Sadly I felt it was a bit flavorless though. The crust was neither chocolaty nor hazelnutty nor buttery. The flavors were a bit muddled. I did like the hint of cinnamon. (BTW, I only used 1/2 tsp cinnamon in the dough since 2 tsp seemed overwhelming.)
I expected the finished tart to be super sweet. But surprisingly, it wasn't as sweet as I thought it would be. Perhaps it's because the caramel was a bit darker and the milk chocolate had a high percentage of cacao (and therefore less sugar). The mousse was delicious even with the tiny random bits of chocolate I encountered and the caramel was pretty delicious. The two fillings definitely made a nice pairing. So overall I would call this challenge a wonderful success. I would definitely make both fillings again, but I would probably use a different tart dough. The tart was an excellent breakfast with my morning coffee. (Yes, I am admitting to having a slice for breakfast.)
And as always, you can find links to the other Daring Bakers' tart posts on our blogroll.
Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart
(from Eric Kayser’s "Sweet and Savory Tarts")
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Baking Time: 30 minutes
Refrigeration time: 1 hour
One 9-inch (24-cm) square pan or one 10-inch (26-cm) round baking pan
1/2 lb (250 g) chocolate shortbread pastry (see recipe below)
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 g) heavy whipping cream (30-40 percent butterfat) or crème fraiche
1/4 cup (50 g) butter
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
2 1/2tablespoons (15 g) flour
Chocolate Mousse Layer
1 1/4 cups (300 g) heavy whipping cream
1/2 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. (Or alternatively, caramelize using the wet method by adding 1/4 cup water + 2 tsp corn syrup.) Incorporate the heavy whipping 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 on low or in a bain-marie, and fold melted and slightly cooled chocolate 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.
Optional decoration: melt 1/2 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.
Chocolate Shortbread Pastry
Preparation time: 10 minutes
To make 3 tarts, 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
1/2 cup (50 g) ground hazelnuts
2 level teaspoons (5 g) ground cinnamon (optional)
4 1/2 cups (400 g) cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons (10 g) baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons (10 g) cocoa powder
Prepare dough at least one day before you need the dough.
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.