First published Canberra Times 20 July 2011.
July to October is birthday central in our house, calling for a serious round of creative cake making and planning on my part. For inspiration I turn to my shelf of well-thumbed cook books. I flick past the cakes I have made previously, to avoid the most unforgivable of sins - making the same cake twice for any one of the four birthday girls.
My notes pencilled in the margins tell me which ones work, what some of the fun variations are and who’s had what cake over the years to avoid repetitions. Those young memories are bound to remind me in any case.Accounting for an assortment of increasingly sophisticated tastes can be a risky business, because I know that one doesn’t like coffee, another won’t eat carbs but will eat soy, another loathes dried fruit and custard and so on; you get the picture.
Do I rely on old family favourites from my grandmother’s handwritten notes, her fail-proof sponge with a hint of orange blossom, or a death by chocolate, or a glorious meringue and macaron concoction?
It’s hard work on this cold Saturday morning and, as often happens, I get sidetracked, lost in recipe readings. By now, I’m hanging out for a morning tea treat and have a taste for something rich and sinful. The salty, sweet combination brings out the whole umami thing and it’s what I need to keep me going.
Should I opt for salty, dark chocolate chip cookies or a batch of silky bittersweet chocolate tartlets with a tickle of fleur de sel and a double shot coffee? I can’t settle on either, there’s no turning back now. I’ll just have to make both.
Quick, check the fridge. Yes, plenty of butter and cream and to the pantry for the fleur de sel and a load of 70% chocolate. Get rolling, the birthday cakes can wait – coffee’s on.Don’t mess with these, they are both perfect as they are, rich and seriously addictive.
Chocolate chip cookies with fleur de sel
1 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1 ½ tspn baking powder
1 ½ tspn fleur de sel (sea salt)
275g unsalted butter
275g brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tspn vanilla extract
550g dark chocolate, 80% cocoa solids, roughly chopped
fleur de sel (sea salt) for sprinkling
Sift flours, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, then stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, about 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Roll dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap, refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper or a non-stick baking mat. Set aside.Scoop 8 balls of dough, the size of golf balls onto baking sheet, making sure to push any chocolate pieces that are poking up. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. When cooked transfer baking tray to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin. Recipe adapted from Jacque Torres through Marjorie Taylor.
Bittersweet chocolate tartlets with fleur de selRoll of chocolate Careme shortcrust pastry (if you cannot source ready-made pastry, see below for chocolate pastry recipe)
1½ cups double cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
300g dark chocolate, 80% cocoa solids, chopped2 eggs
fleur de sel ( sea salt) flakes for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 180C. Quantity should make about 10, depending on size of tins.Grease the tartlet tins, mine were about 2 inches in diameter and quite shallow. This makes them easier to remove when cooked. Roll out the thawed pastry till it’s quite thin and press into tartlet tins. Prick with a fork, and place in the oven to bake for about 12 to 15 minutes. The crusts should be dried when fully baked.
While the tartlet shells are baking, heat the cream and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Pour over the chopped chocolate and whisk together until combined. Whisk the eggs into the chocolate just before the shells have finished baking. You should have a glossy ganache type consistency.
Remove the shells from the oven and turn off the oven. Spoon the filling into the shells, finishing with a twist. Return the tartlets to the oven and leave them in the hot oven for about 5 to 8 minutes. This will set your filling.Place tartlets on a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle each tartlet with a few grains of salt while still hot.
If you choose to make your own pastry for these tartlets, see the following recipe.Chocolate tart pastry
200g plain flour50g good quality cocoa powder
2 tbsp icing sugar200g cold butter, diced
160ml sour creamPreheat oven to 180C. Quantity should make 6 to 8 tartlets, depending on the size of your tins.
Sieve the flour, icing sugar and cocoa together. Pour into the bowl of a food processor, add the butter and pulse to combine the butter and flour, until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add most of the sour cream slowly, keeping a little back and pulse until combined. Add the rest of the sour cream if the mixture is too dry. Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to rest for half an hour.Roll out the pastry quite thinly and cut larger circles than the diameter of your tartlet tins. Fit into the tins and prick the shell bases with a fork. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and fill the tartlet shells with the chocolate ganache as above.