Mocha custard tart

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Fall is definitely in full swing here in west Michigan, even though we've had some unseasonably warm days of late. But we'll take it! Winter will be here soon enough.

This weekend's dinner for the Galloway household consisted of Steve's layered onion/carrot/garlic/chicken/potato dish oven-cooked low and slow in our Staub enameled cast iron cocotte. Mom contributed a spinach strawberry salad, and I opted for a tart recipe I've had my eye on for awhile. I mean really, it's all about tarts for The Tarte!

I believe I've previously mentioned Alice Medrich's book Flavor Flours which I discovered in our local library some months ago. I've since purchased my own copy and am so satisfied with the recipes I've made so far. The book focuses on a number of alternate flours like teff, sorghum, chestnut, rice, oat and corn as well as nut flours (which I am totally on board with!).

The tart recipe calls for a GF teff chocolate crust, but I opted to use my stand-by chocolate short dough from the CIA's Baking and Pastry book. It was the first book I purchased after completing my Diplôme de Pâtisserie and mon stage in Paris in early 2007. Even though it's an older 2004 edition I still turn to it time and time again for all sorts of tips, techniques and recipes.

And I've been using this chocolate short dough ever since. 

Tart ring lined and ready to bake

Tart ring lined and ready to bake

After fork-pricking the dough all over, chill the lined ring in the freezer for 15 minutes or so while heating the oven to 325ºF. The chill stabilizes the butter and helps the dough keep its shape during blind baking. Line the firm dough with a round of parchment, fill it with dried beans and bake for 12-15 minutes with weights, then another 5-8 minutes without weights. The crust should be set and look dry. Remember - it's your job to watch what's going on in that oven!

All baked and ready to fill

All baked and ready to fill

Lower the oven temp to 300ºF for the next phase of the project.

Just a note here. If you'd like to change things up a bit, you can use any pie or tart dough your little heart desires - choose your favorite pâte brisée or pâte sucrée (and it doesn't even have to be chocolate) or even a chocolate wafer or graham cracker or toasted coconut crumb crust. Add some chopped nuts if you want - you decide. Just remember to blind bake it first.

The KEY part to this tart is THE FILLING, and, once you make it, you'll know what I mean. So easy and so deliciously smooth it involves heating 1.5 cups heavy cream, 130 g sugar, 35 g cocoa powder (Dutch process or natural) and 55 g unsalted butter in a saucepan on the medium heat, stirring until everything is blended and it starts to simmer around the edges.

Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder and 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Set aside.

Once the blind baked shell is out of the oven, whisk 1 large egg plus 1 yolk into the cream mixture and pour the filling into the hot crust. It's pretty loose so steady yourself for gentle placement into the oven without sloshing. You can do it.

Filled and ready for the oven

Filled and ready for the oven

Bake for 10-15 minutes or even longer. I baked mine around 18-20 minutes before I was content with a nice wiggly/jiggly custard without waves rippling across the surface.

Cool on a rack and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Here's my cooled tart - kinda reminiscent of a moonscape don't ya think? 

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While Alice dusts her tart with cocoa powder I was going for a bit more pizazz. I usually have some baked cookie or streusel crumbs in my freezer to use at a moment's notice whether it's to top ice cream, add a crunchy layer to a cakey-creamy type of concoction or to garnish a tart. Yup.

Out came the chocolate shortbread cookie crumbs which I sprinkled over the top of the tart, leaving a clear edge around the periphery.

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Next up -crème Chantilly! But of course. Steve claims that anything is better with whipped cream on it, and, in this case, he was absolutely right. But then I pretty much knew that already.

For one cup of heavy cream I add 1-2 tablespoons powdered sugar and a splash of pure vanilla extract. Whip to medium soft peaks, enough so it will hold its shape, and spread or pipe as you wish.

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Soft, pillowy mounds of cream like a string of rustic pearls entice us to dig in. And dig in we did.

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This is one of the BEST fillings I have had in a long time. Smooth, luscious, creamy yet light with just the right intensity of chocolate and a hint of espresso - aaaaahhhhh. And the chocolate short crust, chocolate crumbs and whipped cream provided just the right marriage of textures and flavors. Oh boy.

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Yes there were leftovers but the good news is this will keep covered in the fridge for a couple of days. Don't waste a bite of this one folks.

Before I leave you I'd like to share a few autumn images from our corner of the planet. Enjoy the season wherever you are and take care.

Easter desserts, happy spring and one more chocolate babka


Happy Easter everyone.  Steve and I are in our second spring since our move back to Grand Rapids, and this has been the first burst of color in our little garden two years in a row.  The lovely primrose - ahhhhhhh.  

Our day began misty, windy and overcast and is winding down with glorious sunshine, lovely breezes and no humidity.  We'll take it, thank you very much.

We spent the afternoon with the Galloway and TenHave clan for a delicious Easter dinner and good conversation and companionship.  Thanks Scott and Jen - you're the best!

Of course I simply had to make dessert for the gathering, and what better flavor to choose than something lusciously LEMON.  


I turned to that tried and true (and now my favorite tarte au citron) recipe from Jacques Genin, topping it with a thin layer of crème Chantilly and some fresh raspberries.



A good lemon tart is one of THE best things in the pastry world à mon avis, but I wanted to throw something else into the mix for the holiday meal.  I'd been thinking about coconut and chocolate and ended up following Alice Medrich's coconut chocolate meringue recipe in her book "Flavor Flours" (a recent and exciting discovery for me). What better way to use up some of those egg whites I had sitting in the fridge.


Make a basic meringue, taking it to stiff peaks.


Fold in a delightful mixture of chopped dark and white chocolate, coarsely chopped roasted, lightly salted almonds and coconut chips (the smaller bowl below is for sprinkling on the top of the scooped meringues).



Portion out generous tablespoons of meringue mixture onto parchment lined sheets, then sprinkle additional chocolate/nut/coconut mix on top.


Bake at 200ºF for 1.5 hours, then turn oven off and let cool completely.



Crispy, crunchy, nutty with almonds and coconut, chocolate chunks - what more does one need in a bite size treat? These are downright tasty.

I declare this a winning dessert day - yay!

But before I go, here's one final note. 

Just when you thought you'd heard the end of the whole babka thing, I'll finish up with one more experience with that oh-so-intriguing subject.  I baked one more babka the other day as part of a trial for an Easter class I was preparing to teach at the Breton Sur La Table here in Grand Rapids.  The process went well, the dough felt great, the plaits looked pretty good (in spite of a bit of messiness with the chocolate filling), and it went into the pan without much of a hitch.


It baked a bit longer than I expected but came out a deep golden brown and smelling heavenly.


The swirls were okey-dokey when sliced too.


And you know what? Delicious.



I promise that's it for this year's babka session. Enough.

Happy spring everyone and thanks for reading "Baking with The French Tarte". I appreciate it more than you'll ever know.



Babka trial Part 3 - another chocolate pecan


Well, I have another babka trial under my belt, and I have to say I'm excited about moving on to other baking adventures. I've learned a lot but feel there are still more practice sessions in my distant future before getting this down to a tried and true comfortable process.  If at first you don't succeed, try, try again - so true!

Granted, I used several different dough recipes in my various trials, so I can't say this is a purely scientific study with all variables constant. What I did accomplish was gaining a general understanding of how the process should go.

Here are just a few tidbits that I gleaned from my experience.

I found that the dough for babka can be a standard sweet dough (as one might use for cinnamon rolls), a laminated dough or a brioche-like dough. As they say, there's more than one way to skin a cat!

I discovered that the chocolate filling (if that's the version you're making) should be made ahead so there is time for the melted chocolate/butter with added cocoa powder and sugar mixture to cool to a room temperature spreadable paste.


I learned that there are many ways to shape babka - the length-wise sliced log plaited and tucked into a loaf pan or baked free form, a fat snake-like coiled log that sits in the pan perpendicular to the counter rather than lying flat or a log placed circularly around a tube or Bundt pan.

What I'm still working on grasping is how loosely or snugly to twist the plaits, the best way to fit them into the loaf pan, how long to let the loaf rise and how long to bake (it's very difficult to determine when the center is fully baked).

For this my third and last trial I used Yotam Ottolenghi's brioche like dough. I baked two loaves, one the classic plait which I placed into the pan like an "S" to try and give the dough enough room to rise and not be too squished in.




For the second loaf I went with Peter Reinhart's option of twisting the log a bit, then coiling it up like a snail.


Then the snail goes into the pan straight up, not with the coil flat.


Kind of looks like a big old cow's tongue! This version gets egg wash and a streusel topping before going into the oven.

Reinhart's instructions have you press the coil down to compress it into a loaf, but I didn't want to press down too hard, thinking the rise of the dough layers would be impaired.

I gave both of these loaves a three hour warmish rise since I wasn't certain my previous rises were long enough. Perhaps it makes a difference which type of dough one is using too.

Interestingly, of the many recipes I reviewed the recommended rising times (in a "warm" place) varied from 1-1.5 hours up to 3 hours. Some stated the dough wouldn't rise more than 10-20% and some wanted the dough to puff up and fill the pan.

I thought my plaited loaf became appropriately puffy, at least according to the 10-20% rise benchmark.


I had my doubts about the snail coil, but it seemed to have reached that 10-20% goal too, even though it was not filling the pan.  I suspect the rise I saw this time around had to do with the brioche type dough I used.


The snail coil received its wash and streusel.


I baked the plait for 45-50 minutes at 350º convection.  I attempted to check an internal dough temperature which reached over 185º but couldn't be sure if my temperature probe was in dough or chocolate.  When tapping the dough on the surface, it had a nice thump, and my inserted skewer came out clean. Out of the oven it came.


I baked the snail for the same amount of time and took it out after a resounding thump was heard when tapping the top and a 185º internal temperature was reached.


Let's hope for the best.

After a good cooling it was time for slicing.

First the plaited loaf.


Not bad! In spite of some chocolate gaps and a bit of doughy-ness in the bottom layers, this was delicious!!  Funny that even when the bake wasn't all that great, all of my attempts were tasty, tasty, tasty.

The streusel snail loaf had a big hollow pocket under the surface and the bottom thinner layers were under baked.  But again, joy of all joys - DELICIOUS!


While Steve enjoyed the fruits of my labor, he wondered why I spent so much time on this project. I say "why not?!".  It's a challenge and fun to boot.

What's next? I just started reading Alice Medrich's book "Flavor Flours" and am intrigued with learning and experimenting with the different non-wheat flours out there.  So much to do.  

But before that I have to decide what to bake for Easter dessert. Oh boy!