Thursday, 29 November 2012
Though I know it's meant as a compliment and is very sweet, it makes me nervous when people's expectations of my cooking are set very high. For instance, when people who don't know me have been told to expect something incredibly delicious when I bring something to a party or event. Though I love cooking for people, I do find it stressful.
I spent a faintly ridiculous amount of time trying to work out what to bring to an event I went to this week. It had to be something that I could take in the basket of my bike. I didn't want to assemble, bake or reheat it when I got there. I'd never cooked for any of the guests before and so I had no clue about their likes or dislikes. Yet I wanted each person to feel it was worthy of the announcement: Emma will bring a superb dessert.
I decided that I'd make a Ginger Bourbon Pecan Pie, one of my favourite recipes. Then I realised that I needed to be able to write a post about it, as I've been testing for another project (announced here). That meant trying something new, as I don't have anything appropriate in the wings at the moment. An untested recipe adds another layer of danger to the situation - though I guess it does have a built in excuse for something being less than spectacular.
I thought chocolate would be a safe bet so I turned to Alice Medrich's wonderful Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts and found this 'Queen of Sheba Torte'. This version has been tweaked by Alice so that it's a one bowl recipe with no need to separately whip the egg whites. It's very clever.
A big packet of smoked sea salt has been lingering unopened in one of my cupboards for ages as I didn't quite know what to do with it. When Steph posted her Dark Chocolate Espresso Cookies with Smoked Sea Salt (also, coincidentally, adapted from an Alice Medrich recipe) I realised that I needed to pair it with dark chocolate. I also thought that hazelnuts would work wonderfully with a hint of smoke, so I swapped the almonds for hazelnuts.
On the night, the cake - still in the tin, cloaked in foil with an elastic band belt - joined a pot of double cream, my whisk and the remainder of the Raspberry Caramels in my bag. I tucked it all into my basket and cycled off into the murky drizzle to await their verdict.
While it seemed to go down fairly well, I wasn't totally happy with it. I didn't have any 70% chocolate, so I'd used 85% and added a little more sugar - I don't think it needed it. I also thought that I'd slightly overcooked it and it could do with a teeny bit more smoked salt. So I made a half recipe yesterday in my 6" tin, baked for 18 minutes (this version is in the top and bottom photos, I've put a full recipe below). Just as I finished, I realised I could have used cocoa powder in place of the flour to give it a bit of extra punch - another time. I'm happier with my second attempt (though I think I might have very slightly overdone the salt this time) and I'm looking forward to trying it again tomorrow - apparently it's best after about three days.
Finally, if you pull out a torte that looks like the one below, do not panic. I got rather worried that it looked like a normal cake and keep going back and forth to the kitchen, willing it to sink (definitely a first for me). Thankfully, it shrank, puckered and cracked as it cooled.
P.S. Do try the mixture before you bake it - it's sort of like mousse. Amazing mousse.
Chocolate Hazelnut Torte with Smoked Salt
(adapted from Alice Medrich's Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts)
70g whole hazelnuts
30g plain flour
170g dark chocolate (I used 85%)
140g unsalted butter, slightly softened
150g light brown sugar
big pinch of fine sea salt
4 large cold eggs (from the fridge)
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of smoked sea salt flakes
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Lightly butter an 8" springform or loose-based tin. Place the hazelnuts on a small tray in the oven and toast for a few minutes until they start to smell and darken slightly. If they have skins, rub as much as you can off with a tea towel. Put into a food processor with the flour and blast until they are finely ground.
Place a mixer bowl (or another bowl if using a hand mixer) over a pan of barely simmering water. Chop the chocolate up and tip into the bowl. Stir occasionally as it melts. Meanwhile weigh out the brown sugar and salt and cut the butter into cubes - it should be starting to soften, not squishy. When the chocolate has nearly melted, take it off the heat and stir until it's smooth. Place on the mixer (with the whisk attached) and add the sugar, salt and butter. Whisk on medium until the ingredients have fully combined and the mixture has lightened a little. Scrape the sides down then add the first egg. Whip until combined, then add the next egg. Repeat until they're all combined then add the vanilla and whip for 1-2 minutes on high until stiff and pale.
Add the ground hazelnuts and fold in. Scoop into the pan and level out. Sprinkle the smoked sea salt over the top. Bake for 28-35 minutes - a tester should still bring up a few sticky crumbs. Place on a wire rack and leave to cool fully in the tin. Wrap in kitchen foil and leave for at least one day and up to three before serving. Lovely with a big spoonful of whipped cream or crème fraîche.
A few related posts:
Sea-Salted Chocolate and Pecan Praline Tarts
Chez Panisse Almond Tart
Pear and Chocolate Crumble