Salted caramel chocolate torte-pie

Salted caramel chocolate torte

Ok, so we’ll deal with the obvious first. A torte-pie? The torte part is in deference to the original recipe on which this is based, James Martin’s Salted Caramel Chocolate Torte, and the pie part is because, well, I made it into a pie. Of sorts. Two reasons really. The original torte just has a biscuit crumb base, and I thought extending it up the sides would be a nice touch, and since the filling is so rich, adding a little extra crumbly, buttery base to contrast this works well. Plus it saves lining a springform tin and then having to gingerly peel parchment paper from the sides of the torte and praying for a neat edge. Secondly, I really wanted to use my fluted tart tin, since I don’t as often as I feel I would like to, and anything that comes out of it looks somehow prettier for the scalloped edges.

So, this salted caramel chocolate torte-pie is a rich chocolate ganache, covering a layer of salted caramel, in a buttery biscuit base. Indulgent, rich, and, although actually it’s fairly straightforward to make, a bit of a showstopper. The caramel used is ready made, which, aside from a bit of melting, makes this practically a no-bake recipe. Specifically, I used a tin of carnation caramel condensed milk, which is readily available (at least in UK supermarkets) and seems to be a terrifically inspired response to the frankly terrifying notion of boiling a whole, unopened tin of standard condensed milk for several hours, and praying it doesn’t explode. Any thick, creamy, dulce de leche type caramel sauce will do the job.

Salted caramel chocolate torte

Adapted from James Martin’s Just Desserts – I’m sure it must be in a book, and I’ve got it in a Good Food Magazine somewhere, but it’s also on the Just Desserts Free iPhone app.

375g digestive biscuits

75g unsalted butter

397g tin Carnation Caramel / 400g thick caramel sauce

1 teaspoon sea salt

300g good 70% dark chocolate

600ml double cream

25g icing sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. Process the digestive biscuits into crumbs, or crush them in a plastic bag using a rolling pin. With the motor running, pour the melted butter down the funnel of the processor and continue to process until the butter is evenly mixed in and the consistency is like damp sand. If you’re not using machinery, tip the biscuit crumbs into the pan with the butter and stir well to combine thoroughly. Press the mixture into the bottom and sides of a deep, fluted tart tin – mine is about 22cm across the base, and 4cm deep. Stick it in the freezer, or the fridge would do at a push, for 15 minutes.

Open the tin of caramel, and scoop out 2 tablespoons into a small bowl. Stir the teaspoon of salt into the remaining caramel. Carefully spread it across the chilled biscuit base, leaving a 1-2cm border around the edge. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes while you make the chocolate filling.

Break the chocolate into chunks, and gently melt it in a large bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally. Add a tablespoon of the double cream to the 2 tablespoons of caramel you saved earlier on, and stir well to mix. Put this little bowl into the fridge. Once the chocolate has melted, turn off the heat but leave the bowl where it is. Add about a quarter of the remaining cream, and stir until completely combined. Repeat this, adding another quarter of the cream and stirring well to combine each time, until you have added all of the cream. You will have a thick smooth and shiny chocolate sauce. Sieve (and don’t be tempted not to bother) the icing sugar into the chocolate, add the vanilla, and stir well once again to combine. Lift the bowl off of the pan and let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes.

Pour the sauce into the base, first going around the edges to seal in the caramel layer, then pouring in the rest slowly and gently shake the tin to give a smooth, even surface. Put back into the fridge and chill for at least 5 hours, preferably over night, until the chocolate is firm. When you’re ready to serve, carefully remove the tin and transfer the pie to a serving plate. Spoon the reserved cream-caramel mixture into a little freezer bad, and snip off the tiniest corner, and drizzle lines of the caramel over the pie. You could serve this with a little extra sea salt and/or single cream, but I don’t think it needs either.

Serves quite a few – I would normally suggest 8 – 10 for a pie this size, but this will easily stretch further, maybe up to 14+, after a meal since it is quite rich – but leftovers do seem to keep well in the fridge for at least a day or two.

Salted caramel chocolate torte

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Tarte tatin

I’ve already touched a little on this tarte tatin in my post on Danish pastry, which is used as the base of this otherwise traditional French apple and caramel tarte. If you don’t know, the story goes that this tarte was invented by accident, starting off as apples cooking for an apple pie being overdone, and rescued by putting the pastry base on top of the apples in the pan, baking in the oven and being turned out onto a plate. You want to use firm eating apples here, rather than cooking apples which will disintegrate into a puree as you cook them. I used Granny Smith, which I think work well here as its slightly acidic taste counters the sweet, buttery caramel somewhat.

This recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess,  and the adapting, really, was just making this a little easier, for me, resulting in a slightly more ramshackle, homespun looking tarte. That is to say, the recipe calls for halved and cored apples, arranged fairly neatly, hump side down in the pan, and thus gleaming, hump side up in the plated tarte. I like to use my all in one apple-corer-and-wedger (and I’m not one, really, for single-application kitchen gadgets, but this is one labour-saver I’ll make an exception for) which divides each fruit into eight perfect segments and removes the core at the same time, so I ended up with apple slices, rather than halves. A quick internet search will show you that the popular way of presenting a tarte tatin made with sliced apples involves arranged the apple slices neatly in a spiral or concentric circles. This seems like far too much effort for the same end result, taste wise, and also, despite slightly enjoying the element of danger inherent in upturning the hot tatin, scalding caramel and all, onto a serving plate, arranging the slices individually in bubbling sugar is where I draw the line.

You will need a suitable dish in which to cook the tatin, one that you can use to make caramel and cook the apples on the hob, and then, once enrobed with pastry, use in the oven, of somewhere between 22 and 28 cm in diameter. I use a flame-safe shallow casserole, which is approximately 25cm across, or you could use a similarly proportioned frying pan with a handle that can go in the oven. You could, naturally, use a tarte tatin dish if you possess one.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess

100g unsalted butter

150g caster sugar

Enough apples to cover the base of your pan in a single layer once sliced how you want them – as a guide, I used 6 medium-sized Granny Smiths

a half portion of this Danish pastry recipe, thawed if previously frozen

Preheat the oven to 200C and put a baking sheet in to heat up with the oven. On the hob, melt the butter in whatever dish you are using, and then add the sugar. When it starts foaming, carefully add the apples, pushing them around with a spatula to try and get them in a more or less single layer. Cook on a high heat until the butter-sugar sauce is a golden caramel colour, and the apples have softened. Take the pan off of the heat and leave the stand for 10 minutes.

While the apples are standing, roll out the pastry on a floured surface (and see the introduction of the Danish pastry post), quite thinly, into a circle large enough to fit the top of the dish with an overhang of a couple of centimetres. Transfer it to the dish, laying it on top of the apples and carefully tucking the edges down the sides of the apples. Place the dish onto the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, definitely checking at 20, until the pastry is golden brown and the caramel is bubbling.

Take the dish out of the oven, and do this next bit with care and definitely oven gloves: place a large plate on top of the dish, and turn the whole thing the other way up. Carefully put it down, and then remove the dish, leaving your tarte right way up on the plate. Place any apple pieces stuck to the dish back into the tarte, and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 6.


Strawberry and almond pavlova

I’m sure that as I add more recipes for puddings to this blog, I’ll describe many of them as my favourite, but truly, The Pav is right up there. The killer combination of meringue, lightly whipped cream and fresh fruit screams summer, although, this would equally brighten a table on the coldest of winter days. Of course, to be The Perfect Pav, each element has to be right (but don’t worry, it’s not difficult – mainly whisking followed by a bit of an assembly job). The meringue should have a crisp shell, with a squidgy, marshmallow-like interior, topped with silky, softly whipped cream and crowned with glorious fruit.

Here, the traditional combination is meddled with slightly. I’ve added some vanilla and sugar to my cream, and the strawberries are macerated (that is to say, left to sit) with a little sugar and balsamic vinegar (stay with me), which not only brings out their flavour (and by all means skip this step if you have really good, ripe strawberries, but consider it mandatory for flavourless supermarket imports) but makes their red redder. Finally, I’ve added some toasted almonds for a bit of crunch.

Making the meringue is the most time consuming bit, simply because you need to cook it, or rather dry it out, in a relatively low and then cooling, switched off oven to achieve the desired texture. I don’t worry too much about its appearance, simply because without fail, my meringue always sinks a little and cracks, sometimes quite drastically. When it comes to the assembly stage, I use the cream as a sort of delicious mortar to stick it back together again, and then pile more cream over the top to cover everything up. By the time you’ve added fruit, it will look magnificent, and even if it’s a little wonky, it still beats a solid, dusty, albeit perfectly swirled, shop-bought meringue shell. I’ve specified, with characteristic lack of restraint, 600ml double cream. You probably don’t need this much, but will need more than 300ml, the next commonly available sized container down, so if you’re opening a tub…

4 egg whites, at room temperature

250g caster sugar plus 1 tablespoon

2 teaspoons cornflour

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

600ml double cream, and see above

2 tablespoons icing sugar

400g punnet strawberries

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

50g flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180C / 160C fan, and cut a piece of baking parchment to fit the baking tray you’re going to use to cook the meringue on. With an electric whisk, or a freestanding mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until you just have firm peaks. Still whisking, add the 250g caster sugar, a (large) spoonful at a time, making sure it’s fully incorporated before adding the next. As you add the sugar, the whites will become stiff and glossy. Once all of the sugar is incorporated, add the cornflour, white wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and give the mixture a final quick whisk to incorporate these final ingredients.

With a teaspoon, dab a little meringue in each corner of your baking tray and use it to glue the baking parchment into place. Pile the meringue onto the baking tray in an approximate circle, perhaps around 25cm across if you were to measure (and if it helps, you could draw a circle onto the underside of the baking parchment), and smooth the top and sides with a spatula. Place it into the oven and straight away reduce the temperature to 150C / 130C fan and cook for an hour. After an hour, switch off the oven (don’t open the door) and leave the meringue inside to get completely cold.

About an hour before you want to serve, hull and chop the strawberries – the smallest in half, the bigger ones smaller – and place in a bowl. Spoon over the tablespoon of caster and balsamic, give it a quick stir, and leave in the fridge to get juicy, red and delicious. Next, toast the almonds. Heat a frying pan over a medium flame, and without adding any oil, tip the almonds into the pan. Keep the almonds moving until they start to turn golden and smell toasted and delicious (and don’t leave them alone, they’ll turn from toasted to burnt in mere seconds), and tip onto a waiting plate to stop them toasting any further.

You can whip the cream and top the meringue with it now, or when you’re just about ready to serve. In either case, whisk until firm, but still creamy rather than dry, adding the icing sugar and final teaspoon of vanilla as you do so. Once you’re ready to assemble, place the meringue onto a plate and pile on the cream. Spoon over the strawberries, and their delicious juices, and finally sprinkle with the toasted almonds. You could easily serve 8 with this, and generously so.