Shirley Corriher’s Chocolate Pecan Torte with a Hint of Bourbon

dsc04143from Bakewise, pp. 237-38; 97; 141-42.

Even more enjoyable than cooking for friends is cooking with friends for friends. I supplied the dessert at a friend’s dinner party. Sherry made short ribs and polenta that had everyone at the table swooning. My chocolate pecan torte served as a robust coda to a rich, wintery meal.

To put together this deceptively light flourless cake, Shirley Corriher had me jumping from back to front and back again in her book. But I followed her directions closely — except at the points where she calls for the use of a microwave. I gave mine up over a year ago and haven’t missed it. Dorrie Greenspan’s chocolate recipes gave me the experience necessary to work around the microwave. The ganache turned out well, although I wondered whether Shirley would have considered the surface of the cake (as seen in the image above) not sufficiently smooth.

It takes three recipes in the book to make the torte: one for the cake, one for the ganache, and one that explains how to ice the cake with the ganache. A few of the ingredients were new to me. I had my doubts about the nonstick cooking spray, but felt reassured about it when I found an aerosol can of it at Williams-Sonoma. One of the saleswomen at W-S kindly suggested I look in a craft store for cardboard circles. That turned out to be a great suggestion. I bought a package of 8 circles for less than $4.  Luckily, Sherry had some potato starch (why, I have no idea), so that saved me having to search for it at my local co-op.  As usual, I bought Valrhona chocolate at Trader Joe’s. My last bit of advice is don’t make this cake at the last minute, because the instructions to let the ingredients completely cool at various stages bears following assiduously.

So, we start with the cake…

What This Recipe Shows:

  • Both finely ground nuts and cocoa particles in chocolate can act as flour in flourless cakes.
  • Melting the chocolate with butter avoids the danger of having the chocolate sieze.
  • A small amount of cream of tartar ensures that the batter will be acidic.

1 cup (3.5 oz/99 g) pecans

Nonstick cooking spray

6 oz (170 g) semisweet chocolate

3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter

4 large egg yolks (2.6 oz/ 74 g)

1 1/4 cups (8.8 oz/ 248 g) sugar, divided

2 Tblsp (0.8 oz/22 g) potato starch

1 Tblsp (15 ml) bourbon

4 large egg whites (4 oz/ 113 g)

1/4 tsp (0.5 g) cream of tartar

1 recipe Shiny Ganache Glaze (to follow)

1. Arrange a shelf in the lower third of the oven with a baking stone on it and preheat the oven to 350 F/177 C.

2. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet. Place the sheet on the hot baking stone. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

3. When nuts are completely cool, place them in a food processor with a steel blade and process with quick on/offs until finely chopped. Stop before the nuts get oily and the mixture starts to clump.

4. Increase oven temperature to 375 F/191 C.

5. Spray a 9 x 2-inch (23 x 5-cm) round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and line with a parchment circle. (I very lightly spray the top of the parchment, too)

6. Place the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt chocolate and butter for 2 minutes in the microwave on 50% power. Allow to cool.

7. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and 3/4 cup (5.3 oz/150 g) of the sugar until pale. Stir in the chocolate, roasted pecans, potato starch, and bourbon.

8. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl. Beat slowly at first, increasing speed until almost on high. Beat until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted. Beat in the remaining 1/2 cup (3.5 oz/99 g) sugar. fold one-quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture. Now fold the lightened chocolate mixture into the remaining whites.

9. Pour the batter into the pan; smooth the top if necessary. Bake until a toothpick in the center comes out with moist crumbs, about 40 to 45 minutes.

10. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a rack. The center will sink a little. Gently press down the outside edge to level. Jar the edge of the pan on the counter to loosen or run a thin knife around the edge, and invert onto an 8-inch (20-cm) cardboard cake circle. Cool completely before icing with Shiny Ganache Glaze.

When I made the cake…

Instead of melting the chocolate and butter in the microwave, I put chopped the chocolate with my chef’s knife, put it with butter in a  pyrex bowl, and place it over simmering water on the stove. It melted quickly. I let it cool for a few minutes before proceeding.

I used my Kitchen-Aid mixer to blend the cake batter and my hand mixer for the egg whites.

I dumped the quarter teaspooon of cream of tartar at once into the egg whites. I noticed it clumped initially. Next time, I’ll sprinkle it over the egg whites.

Conscious that my oven tends to be a little cool, I was surprised that the cake was clearly ready to come out of the oven after 35 to 40 minutes. In the oven, the top puffed up and cracked like a soufflé, but sank once it was cooling on the rack. When I inverted the cake on to the cardboard circle, the bottom showed signs that another couple of minutes and it would have burned. So, remember that the cake can burn easily.

Now, the ganache…

What This Recipe Shows:

  • Corn syrup gives this glaze its deep glossy sheen.
  • Add the grated chocolate to the cream helps prevent “seizing.”
  • This is not as thin as a medium ganache or as thick as a firm ganache. The texture makes the glaze not as runny and a little easier to work with than a medium ganache.

16 oz (454 g) semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces

1 1/2 cups (355 ml) heavy cream

1/2 cup (3.5 oz/99 g) sugar

2 Tblsp (30 ml) corn syrup

1. Place the chocolate in a food processor with the steel blade and finely chop.

2. In a large heavy saucepan, carefully bring the cream and sugar to a boil. Watch constantly. Let simmer for 1 minute. Pour the hot cream into a medium mixing bowl that has a wide surface. Stir in the corn syrup. Let cool about 30 seconds. All at once, pour the chopped chocolate over the entire surface. Jar or barely shake the bowl to get the chocolate to settle. Allow to stand about 30 seconds. Start stirring in the middle, blending the melted chocolate and cream together. Try not to incorporate air. Stir slowly until all the chocolate is melted and blended. Use immediately, or refrigerate and reheat to thin.

My turn…

Don’t over stir, but gently stir the chocolate and cream together until it is dark. It won’t start out dark, remember. Keep slowly stirring and folding with a rubber spatula. You’ll see it come together. Mysterious process, but it works.

Finally, the Double-Icing Technique…

1. Place the cooled cake on a cardboard circle that is slightly smaller than the cake. This allows you to hold the cake with the sturdy cardboard bottom and tilt it as necessary. Next, place the cake on a cooling rack that is sitting on a large piece of parchment paper or a nonstick baking sheet. You want something that catches icing drips and allows you to scrape them up if you need to.

2. Pour slightly less than half of the ganache into a 2-cup (473-ml) glass measuring cup with a spout. You want the glaze almost cool enough to set, about 90 F/32 C. Pour a puddle of icing in the center of the cake and continue pouring until the icing starts to overflow and run down the edges. Lift the cake and tilt to encourage the glaze to run where there isn’t any. With a metal spatula, smooth the icing around the edge. Do what you can to cover the top and all around the edges. Allow the cake to cool for about 30 minutes.

3. No spatula from here on! Heat the remaining half of the ganache or glaze just until it flows easily. So that it will be perfectly smooth, strain it into a warm 2 cup (473 ml) glass measuring cup with a spout. If you are right-handed, hold the cake up with your left hand, keep it over the parchment. With your right hand, pour the glaze into the center of the cake. Allow the glaze to run down the edges and tilt to get it to run where it is needed. Pour more glaze on as needed, but do NOT touch it with the spatula. You want this coating untouched, as smooth as a lake at dawn — a perfect, shiny, dark surface. Place the cake on a the cooling rack and allow to cool.

Making a mess…

I realize now why the surface of the cake looked rippled. I overlooked the step Shirley calls for involving straining the ganache before pouring the second coat.

Having trained myself in the Dorrie School of Chocolate, I prefer to chop/shave bars of chocolate with my big chef’s knife.

Be prepared to acquiring a bracelet of chocolate on the hand that hold the cake. Even if you’re careful, it’s a messy. But worth it.

The ganache is actually quite thick and doesn’t run as easily as I expected. You have to be patient.

Last Thoughts:

The surprise element in this torte is the slight crunch of the meringue on the bottom (which began as the puffed, hard top of the cake as it baked). It is a luscious cake. I served it as Shirley recommended, in a  puddle of cream whipped to the consistency of sauce. Divine.

London: Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates

The Islington shopThere are now two locations.

Ever since Ann and Jonathan moved to the other side of north London, I’ve gotten to know Islington better and better. One store that I insist on returning to each time I pass through is this little treasure box of chocolates, located on a cobblestone pedestrian side street off of Upper Street. The hours the store stays open are frustratingly few, but well worth the accommodation of my schedule.

Chocolates spiced with all sorts of strange flavors — chilies, cinnamon, lime, salt, lavender, ginger, to name a few — sit in neat little piles on pedestals placed around the cream-colored shop. They don’t offer as many samples as I would like, but I’m willing to take a chance on some of the options, like saffron and honey.

According to the website, a shop has recently opened up in the east end. Since most visitors to London tend not to make the effort to find Islington, the shop in the City is worth the effort to find.

Dorrie Greenspan’s Chocolate-Crunched Caramel Tart

img_9840.jpgfrom Baking: From My Home to Yours, pp. 355-57.

A severe rain-and-wind storm diminished my dinner party this weekend almost by half. I had spent all day cooking happily in preparation for two couples and four youngesters. The pork butt slathered with achiote paste, garlic, ground toasted cumin seeds, and a minced dried chipotle chili was nearly finished braising in the slow-cooker (explanation for using that in another posting). I had made the raw kale and ricotta salata salad, beans, guacamole, and TWO of these tarts. In the end, the car of three of my guests made no headway against the wind gusts over the causeway separating me from Davis.

This was the third time I’ve made this recipe. I believe I have got the hang of the caramel. Actually, making a double batch of it taught me more than another time of making a single batch. I’m glad it worked out this way.

By the way, you might think this would be more elegant with nuts other than the ones Dorrie recommends — Trader Joe’s Honey-Roasted Peanuts — and you’d be right. But the result would be so much less delicious. It must be the slightly sweet and sour effect of the combination.

Dorrie’s version reads like this:

For the caramel :

scant 1/2 c heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar, sifted

1 T light corn syrup

2 T salted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

Pinch of salt if you are not using salted butter

For the ganache:

8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 cup plus 2 T heavy cream

1/2 stick (4 T) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature

3/4 c honey-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1 9-inch tart shell, fully baked and cooled (the Good-for-Almost-Everything Pie Dough works well)

Getting ready: Because you have to work quickly once the sugar caramelizes, you should have all the ingredients for the caramel measured oout and at hand before you start. Also have a medium heatproof bowl at hand to hold the hot caramel.

To make the caramel: Bring the heavy cream to a boil.

Meanwhile, put a medium skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat and sprinkle in about 3 T of the sugar. When it melts, stir it with a wooden spatula or a fork and sprinkle over another 3 T. When that sugar is melted, add the remaining 2 T sugar — the sugar in the pan may already have started to color, and that’s fine. Stir in the corn syrup and boil the syrup until it reaches a deep caramel color — it will probably begin to smoke, and that’s normal.

Stand back from the skillet and stir in the butter and salt, if you’re using it. The caramel will bubble furiously and may spatter, so make sure you’re away from the action. When the butter is in, add the warm cream — the caramel will bubble furiously again. Lower the temperature just a tad and let the caramel boil for just 2 mins. (If you want to check on a thermometer, the caramel should be at 226 degrees F.).

Pour the seethin caramel into the heatproof bowl and set it aside while you make the ganache.

To make the ganache: Put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and have a whisk or a rubber spatula at hand.

Bring the cream to a boil, then pour half of it over the chocolate and let it sit for 30 secons. Working with the whisk or spatula, very gently stir the chocolate and cream together in small circles, starting at the center of the bowl and working your way out in increasingly larger concentric circles. Pour in the remainder of the cream and blend it into the chocolate, using the same circular motion. When the ganache is smooth and shiny, stir in the butter piece by piece. Don’t stir the ganache any more than you must to blen the ingredients — the less you work it, the darker, smoother and shinier it will be.

Cover the ganache with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the surface of the chocolate to create an airtight seal. Set aside at room temperature for the moment. (If it’s more convenient, the ganache can be refrigerated or even frozen for future use.)

To assemble the tart: Using a small rubber spatula, stir the peanuts into the caramel. If the caramel has cooled and is too thick to spread easily, gently warm it in a microwave oven using 3-second heat spurts. (Or you can just hold the heatproof bowl about 10 inches above the burner on your range — keep it over the heat for a couple of seconds, then check the caramel’s consistency and repeat if necessary.)

Spread the caramel over the bottom of the tart shell; you’ll have a thin layer. refrigerate the tart for 15 minutes to set the caramel.

Check the ganache. If it has thickened and is no longer pourable, warm it in 3-second spurts in a microwave oven or over direct heat (see the hints for warming caramel, above). Rap the bowl to break any surface bubbles, pour the ganache over the caramel and jiggle the tart pan to even it.

Refrigerate the tart for 30 minutes — no longer — then keep it at room temperature until serving time.

How I’ve adapted it:

Since I got rid of my microwave, I’ve had to adjust to reheating food the old-fashioned way. When I made this tart yesterday, I started it after I had baked a loaf of bread. The warm oven was perfect for keeping the caramel and the ganache pourable. From now on, I plan to keep a heated oven to 200 degrees F .

Valrhona chocolate is the only kind I use now. I’ve tried all the other designer ones (Dagoba, etc) and I just keep coming back to this one.

Regarding the pan to make the caramel in, every time I have used my cheap IKEA $6 nonstick wok. The trick is to control the heat under the pan. I err on the side of keeping the flame lower than it need be.

Also, Dorrie recommends a sweet pie dough. I followed her advice once and decided to use the Good-for-Practically-Everything Pie Dough, which I’ve already posted here.

Caramel, I’ve decided, requires patience. Don’t try to melt the sugar too quickly. Prod the sugar on to the melting point gently. Once I learned how to control the heat and the speed of melting, making caramel seemed easy. But boy is it hot. I’ve never bothered to check the temperature of the caramel, because by the end of the process the sauce seethed so furiously it was hard to imagine that it wasn’t at the proper temperature.

Each time, I’ve chopped the chocolate before I start the whole process. It always takes longer than I expect. Having it already chopped by the time I start the caramel reduces the time that the caramel has to stay warm. I can’t say understand Dorrie’s point about not over-stirring the cream into the chocolate. I stir until it’s incorporated and no more. When the chocolate and the cream have blended, I put the bowl in the warmed oven until I’m ready to pour it into the pie shell.

From here on out, it’s just a matter of pouring.

Last thoughts: This tart demands being served at room temperature — but it ain’t bad cold either. In fact, I took the accompanying photo of the tart when it was cold. At room temperature, the chocolate is darker and looks denser. But when it’s cold, it’s easy to cut up into small pieces, which is exactly what I’m going to do tomorrow to the second uneaten tart before taking it into the department to share.