My brief for this particular birthday celebration was ever so slightly more challenging than usual. My sisters’ boyfriends share a birthday and so we celebrated them on the same occasion. As they have fairly divergent tastes in sweets – one preferring lighter, fruit-based confections and the other seeing anything that isn’t chocolate-drenched or caramel-soaked as an insult to dessert- I had to find a way to satisfy two very different sweet teeth at the same time, bearing in mind that we’d have at least eight mouths to feed, and did I mention we were having a mid-week dinner celebration? A Tuesday, to be precise: smack bang in the middle of my three day work week. The solution? Tarts. One very rich, chocolate-caramel-coronary-inducing; the other lemon-tang-toothsome.
Despite fears that I was setting myself up for failure by promising to produce two desserts on a school night, it all turned out okay! I made the tart dough on Sunday night and stuck it in the fridge to rest. On Monday morning I rolled it out, pressed it into tart pans and popped it into the freezer. I then did the rest of the preparations on the Monday night (apart from the ganache topping on the chocolate tart, which I made on the Tuesday morning). The finished tarts then sweetly sat in the fridge on Tuesday before being taken over to my Mum’s place to serve for dessert on Tuesday night. The process, from start to finish, was not nearly as time-consuming as I had feared. The tart shell pastry takes hardly 5 minutes to put together, and another meager 5 to roll out & press into pans. On Monday night I did most of the remaining preparation after the baby was in bed. The ganache was cobbled together before work on Tuesday morning in the flashest of flashes and the tarts sat merrily in the fridge until Tuesday night. What I am saying is, with a little bit of forward planning, there is NO reason for you not to eat tart for dessert in the middle of the week.
The tart shell recipe I use most often is smitten kitchen’s great unshrinkable sweet tart shell, because it is relatively simple to put together, and true to Deb’s word, I have never experienced any significant shrinkage (“I WAS IN THE POOL!”) with this recipe. I have more or less reproduced her recipe below for your convenience (I have, however, used weights instead of measures, as that’s my personal preference when baking), but I strongly urge you to visit the smitten kitchen if you haven’t already, not because I want you to realise how crappy my website is by comparison, but because if you care at all about baking, you will spend the next four hours of your life clicking through all of her beautifully photographed, cleverly written recipes, and then you will bookmark it and visit it in the hopes of a new recipe every day for the rest of your life, and you will thank me.
Smitten Kitchen’s Great Unshrinkable Sweet Tart Shell
This recipe makes enough pastry for two 20com tart shells, or one 24cm tart shell.
190g plain flour
65g icing sugar
120g butter, chopped, cold (I chop the butter then stick it in the freezer for 10 minutes. I also – sacrilege! – always use salted butter in my baking as I do not trust myself to correctly measure 1/8 or even 1/4 teaspoons of salt – and I’ve never had any issues with salty cakes or pastries!)
1 egg, stirred to break up the yolk
1. Pulse flour and sugar together in food processor to combine.
2. Add the butter and pulse in short bursts until it is combined with the dry ingredients. It will look a little like rolled oats.
3. Add the egg a little at a time, pulsing briefly after each addition, then change to longer pulses, watching carefully and stopping the processor as soon as the dough starts to form itself into a big clump. This will happen very suddenly, so watch carefully.
4. Dump out the dough onto some gladwrap, smoosh into a ball, flatten out into a disc, wrap up and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or longer depending on your schedule.
5. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to the required size, press evenly into one 24cm tart tin (or two 20cm tart tins), prick all over with a fork, cover in gladwrap and pop into the freezer for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer.
6. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees celsius. Press a piece of foil, shiny side down, into the frozen tart shell, folding it over to cover the sides. Bake for 20-25 minutes (my small tarts only needed 20).
7. Remove the foil and bake for a further 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. I found this only took about 6 more minutes for my 20cm tarts.
8. Cool the tart shell(s) in their pans, on a rack. When cool, fill with something delicious!
Please note that the delicious filling recipes below are for small 20cm tarts. If you want to make a regular 24cm tart with either of these fillings, double the quantities.
Caramel, Chocolate & More Chocolate Tart
1 20cm tart shell (per recipe above)
115g white sugar
35g butter, chopped
For Chocolate Mousse
100g dark chocolate, chopped
2 eggs, separated
1tbsp caster sugar
For Chocolate Ganache
85g dark chocolate, chopped
up to 80ml cream
1. Make the caramel: Combine sugar with 125ml of water in a heavy saucepan. Place over low heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Once dissolved, increase heat to high and cook (not stirring, but swirling the pan as you go) until the caramel is a deep gold colour, about 10-15 minutes. Once it begins to colour, it will cook very quickly, so be careful not to burn it. The caramel will continue to cook in its own heat once you take it off the stove, so work quickly.
2. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cream and butter and stir. The mixture will spit & bubble up. It may look horrible, it may clump and look as though it will never ever come together – but persevere and keep stirring! It will end up looking smooth and beautiful. It will also be approximately five billion degrees, so please don’t stick your finger in to swipe a taste, as you will end up very badly burnt.
3. Pour the warm caramel into the tart shell and refrigerate for at least an hour.
4. While the caramel sets, make the mousse. Melt the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Or you can be very slatternly and melt it in 20 second bursts in the microwave, stirring in between bursts until smooth (doing it in the microwave means less washing up – and this recipe already uses so many bloody bowls that you should be looking to save dishes wherever you can).
5. Set the chocolate aside to cool to room temperature.
6. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until soft peaks form, then set aside.
7. In another clean, dry bowl, whisk the eggwhites until soft peaks form, add sugar and continue whisking until combined.
8. Stir the egg yolks into the chocolate. The chocolate mixture at this stage will be very thick and sticky.
9. Fold a third of the eggwhite mixture into the chocolate mixture, then a third of the cream, keeping as much air in the mixture as you can. Repeat with remaining eggwhite and cream, folding gently until it’s all combined. Congratulations! You made chocolate mousse! By this stage the caramel should be set enough for you to smooth the mousse over the top (gently). Once you’ve done this, pop it all back in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours. You might find you have more mousse than will fit in the tart. What a shame. You’ll just have to find some way to use it all up, and if it should find its way into your belly, I certainly won’t say anything.
10. Make the ganache: melt chocolate and half the cream together over very low heat in a small saucepan, stirring as you go. Remove from the heat, add the butter and stir to combine. Don’t freak out if the ganache appears to split (as mine did). Add some more cream, a little at a time, and keep stirring until it is smooth and glossy. Cool slightly (this really depends on how much time you have – I let mine cool for about 45 seconds as I was in a rush, but ideally you’d let it get to room temperature) then smooth gently over the mousse layer. Refrigerate the tart again until set (at least half an hour).
Lemon Squeezy Tart
1 20cm tart shell (per recipe above)
Zest of 1 lemon, removed with vegetable peeler (e.g. big strips, not little microplaned shreds)
170g white sugar
60g butter at room temperature
2 eggs at room temperature
Juice of 1 lemon (about 70-80ml)
1. In a food processor, whizz the lemon zest with the sugar for at least 2 minutes until the zest is completely minced.
2. Cream the butter and the lemony sugar until fluffy.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
4. Add the lemon juice and beat until combined. Your mixture may look curdled and horrible, but that’s ok. It will all come together in the end!
6. Pour the whole thing into a small saucepan and cook on low heat, stirring CONSTANTLY with a wooden spoon, until thickened. Depending on the temperature of your butter when you started, the curd may become looser before it thickens up. It may take longer than you think it should to thicken up (or at least it always does for me!), but it will do so just before it reaches a simmer – when you see little bubbles appearing, it is most likely done. Make sure you cook until it really truly has thickened, or it will never set properly and you will have lemon soup in a tart shell, which still tastes good but is quite unimpressive at a dinner party.
7. Once the curd has thickened (and not before!), remove it from the heat and strain it through a fine mesh sieve to remove the lemon zest. Resist the urge to lick the sieve, at least until the curd has cooled slightly, or you will burn your tongue.
8. While the curd is still warm, pour it into the tart shell. Allow it to set at room temperature, then store it in the fridge if you aren’t serving it immediately.