the last instalment of the techniques series (for now at least) is caramel. i should note that the combination of the pâte sablée and the chocolate cream is a perfectly adequate dessert and no further additions are required. however if you wanna get crazy then the additions can add your own signature to a dessert, either by upping the decadence factor or just adding your own enhancements. you could top or serve the tart with fresh raspberries or a chantilly cream or a coffee flavoured cream. you could top the tart with a sprinkling of toasted pistachios to add colour and texture. there are a myriad of options.
having added whiskey to my pecan pie a few weeks earlier i was interested to see what whiskey would do to a straight up caramel. i loved the depth of flavour that the whiskey had added to the pie and i thought a boozy hit to the chocolate (though probably completely over the top since the chocolate was pretty rich already) would add an unexpected twist to the tart. so enough why and more how…
i started by chopping up some pecans. i can’t tell you exactly why i did this but i felt like the nuts would help carry the caramel. i went with a rough chop but how much or little chopping is up to you. this was about 30g of pecans.
when you are making caramel makes sure all your ingredients are prepped and at hand. i wasn’t following a recipe so i hadn’t measured the ingredients out but i laid out what i thought i needed.
i started with 4 tablespoons of demerara sugar. i usually make caramel with castor sugar and wanted to see if a more flavourful sugar made a difference. its important that the layer of sugar is relatively thin and even.
when you are caramelising sugar you can choose to dissolve the sugar in water first and then boil off the water before the caramelisation takes place…or you place some sugar in a pan and let it caramelise. both options have their difficulties. when you dissolve you can get areas of crystallisation which means that your caramel won’t be perfectly smooth. when you don’t dissolve you can get unequal heating of the sugar (especially when you have a wonky stove-top like mine) which means that some of the sugar starts to melt before the rest which may result in that ahead-of-its-time sugar being burnt while the rest of the sugar catches up. i would recommend trying both methods and seeing which one works for you. point to note: if you are dissolving you can use any type of sugar you like. if not i would highly recommend sticking to a fine castor sugar. it just gives you a batter chance of not burning the caramel when the sugar is fine. the choice of demerara here resulted in a very dark caramel.
that spoon in the image on the left was a very naughty spoon and had no business being there…even if the holder of the spoon was stressed that the sugar was heating unevenly and thought mixing would help. it doesn’t help. all that happens is that you end up with a hard lump of solid sugar on the spoon. then you scrape it off with a knife and you end up with large lumps in your melted sugar, which you then have to let melt again, all the while knowing that the caramel is getting darker and darker (more bitter).
so my friends, i know its hard but leave that sugar alone until its all melted.
i then added a generous blob of butter, i would estimate around 2 tablespoons.
gently swirl the butter in before you get in there with a spoon. i then added too much whiskey and then once the whiskey had cooked off a bit, in went the pecans.
you see from the images that i got a very dark caramel. it was bitter. 😦
at this stage i left the caramel to cool and went back to prepping the tart shell. i was seriously considering leaving out the caramel. the chocolate cream was already a rich dark chocolate flavour. adding a bitter element would ruin the tart.
it is important to add elements that balance each other. its also important that each element tastes good on its own. add components to enhance, not fix. if each component of your dish tastes good on its own you’re on to a winner. then before combining check that they compliment each other. be critical with those tastebuds of yours.
while i was rolling out the pastry a thought struck me. i rummaged in the grocery cupboard for a bit and finally found some golden syrup. i added a few squirts to the caramel and boom! back in the game! though still a deep dark flavour, the golden syrup had helped to equalise the bitter after taste.
after blind baking the tart shell i spooned in the caramel and spread it as evenly as possible. i then added the chocolate cream on top and baked it for around 11 minutes.
you will see that the baked chocolate was slightly darker colour. it had also formed a skin on the top of the tart.
removing the cooled tart from the tart pan revealed a beautifully golden crust. for me the true test of a pastry shell is the cutting. if you can cut into it without it breaking then you’ve got good crust. i had good crust 🙂
the filling though…i mean…wow! light and creamy in texture, rich and decadent in taste with the occasional boozy hit.
the caramel layer was not visibly discernible and from what i can gather the pecans soaked up the whiskey caramel flavour. what this meant was more of a scattering of the caramel instead of a solid layer. it actually worked out well because i think a more solid layer may have proved to be overwhelming.
i would recommend that if you are adding a caramel base to your tart that you don’t prick the base. some of the caramel oozes through the holes and makes the tart stick to the tart pan.
in short it was a success. the tart actually tasted better the next day. i kept it tightly wrapped up in the fridge.
i hoped these technique posts are helpful.
lessons learnt: fine sugar is better for making caramel.
lesson learnt: i have a heavy hand with whiskey 🙂