As I journey further into making a career out of food, of considerable concern is my (self-proclaimed) inability to discern and verbalise flavours. I'm sure it's not nearly as bad as I think and is a limitation that will, of course, resolve with time and practice, but I sometimes wonder how much of a flow-on there is to being able to match ingredients, construct menus and concoct dishes worthy of someone with a food-oriented profession.
I for one believe that taste is incredibly personal, so the question is not so much about whether something will appeal, but that the overall composition succeeds in capturing the best features of each ingredient. New combinations will invariably be a risk, but even the classic ones are open to failure. For, while it's easy to pair ingredients that go together seasonally, the wrong ratio or lack of something that brings them together can leave a good idea languishing in the realms of a dish that is "nice, but just a little bit meh".
So every now and then I try to throw a few ideas together and see if the flavours I had in mind really do work up into something special. In the workshop this time was an indulgent dessert, and with some new season citrus as a starter what resulted was a rich, bitter chocolate filling cupped by a buttery hazelnut pastry and studded with the occasional sweet burst of caramelised mandarin: a tart every bit as audacious as you'd expect.
DARK CHOCOLATE & MANDARIN TART WITH HAZELNUT PASTRY (Adapted from Ravinder Bhogal's chocolate tart recipe in the Guardian's ten best chocolate recipes, April 2015)
For the hazelnut pastry*:
- 100 g hazelnuts, roasted
- ½ vanilla pod, seeds scraped
- 200 g plain flour
- A pinch of salt
- 225 g butter, cold & diced
- 60 ml ice-cold water
For the filling:
- 300 ml thickened cream
- 150 g dark chocolate (70%)
- 35 g butter
- 25 g muscovado sugar
- 3 egg yolks
For the caramelised mandarin segments:
- 4 mandarins
- 220 g sugar
- ½ vanilla pod, seeds scraped
To make the caramelised mandarin segments, combine the sugar and 100 ml water in a heavy-based saucepan and cook until a dark caramel, about 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and segment three of the mandarins, removing as much pith as possible. Once the caramel is ready add the juice of the remaining mandarin, being careful as the caramel will tend to spit. Stir to combine then add the mandarin segments and vanilla, stirring until evenly coated. Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight, to allow the flavours to develop.
For the pastry, blend the nuts in a food processor until the consistency of meal then add the flour and salt, pulsing briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse until crumbly. Finally, sprinkle over the water and pulse until a dough forms. Press into a disc, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour. When ready, bring the pastry to room temperature and roll into a 3-mm-thick sheet. Cut out 11-cm-diameter circles and use these to line eight small (~8-cm-diameter) tart tins. Refrigerate for 30 minutes then line and fill with rice/pastry weights and blind bake at 180°C for 20 minutes. Remove the weights and lining, brush lightly with egg wash and bake for a further 10 minutes, until golden. Leave to cool.
To make the filling, combine the chocolate, butter, sugar and cream in a bowl over simmering water and stir until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and then add a quarter of the chocolate mix, whisking gently to combine. Add the rest of the chocolate mixture, stir well and then transfer into a pouring jug.
To assemble the tarts, scatter the caramelised mandarin segments over the base of the tart shells, reserving a few for finishing. Pour over the chocolate mixture and bake at 150°C for 20-25 minutes, until just set. Cool to room temperature, dust with cocoa and top with reserved mandarin segments. Serve with double cream or crème fraîche, if desired.
Makes 8 small tarts.
** This recipe will make approximately double the quantity of pastry needed.