Monday, 14 December 2009

Chocolate and apricot tart

It's fair to say that where desserts are concerned, you can't go far wrong with anything that involves chocolate. Make that some of the finest chocolate available, and your margin for error is decreased further still. In this case, the chocolate is from one of my current favourite food shops, Leila's, on Arnold Circus, where it sits stacked on the counter in huge ebony slabs. Chunks are hacked off and sold by weight, allowing you to conveniently round up your order meaning there's a little extra to nibble on.

I look on as a piece almost the size of my fist is prized off, using the kind of knife that would make a samurai butcher jealous. I tuck my chocolate swag into my backpack, and head home... This chocolate is destined for fine things.

In an effort to do justice to this fine chocolate, I turn to one of my key culinary influences, Moro, and their recipe for chocolate and apricot tart. In my short time there, I saw it made many times, but never plucked up the courage to ask for a go myself. I'm by no means the best baker on earth, and I'm always slightly weary of taking on the role of pastry chef - I worry that dishes like this require precision and exactitude, which are easily overlooked in the home kitchen. Having said that, the recipe was easy to follow, and even my pastry case - the bit I was most worried about - turned out well; crisp and 'short' with a light, not-too-crumbly texture.
One of the best things about this dessert is the way the chocolate is offset by the apricot. At Moro, they use a lebanese apricot paste called amradeen, but using dried apricot, as I did, is a good substitute. You could use apricot jam, although you might want to add lemon juice, as the tartness of the fruit is important in cutting through the rich chocolate flavour.

It's a recipe in stages, so not one to attempt in a hurry, but will certainly go down well if you are looking for a dessert to impress. I made it for an early Christmas dinner for friends, and judging by everyone's second helpings, I'd have to accept that it went down pretty well.

Chocolate and apricot tart
Serves at least 6, if not 8, depending on how greedy your guests are.

For the sweet pastry
Makes enough to line a 24cm pastry case
140g plain flour
30g icing sugar
75g chilled, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
one egg yolk

For the apricot mixture
180g dried apricots
4 tbsps water
the juice of two lemons

For the chocolate filling
150g of good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
2 egg yolks
50g caster sugar

To serve
yogurt or creme fraiche
edible rose petals (optional, but a very nice touch if you can find them)

First, make the pastry. In a mixing bowl, rub the butter and flour together between your fingers until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Apparently the trick is to be light-fingered, and to keep the butter as cool as you can. If it feel it starting to soften between your fingers, put the bowl in the fridge for five minutes. Add the egg yolk and combine to form a stiff dough. If it is too dry, add the tiniest splash of milk, but don't over do it. Form into a ball, wrap in cling film, and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, make the apricot jam. Chop dried apricots as finely as you can - in a processor if you have one (I don't) - and simmer for five minutes or more in a pan with water and lemon juice. It should reduce to a thick sauce, and have a tart taste. If you are a perfectionist, you could blend the mixture to form a smooth paste, but I don't mind some small chunks. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 220 degrees C. Once the pastry has chilled for an hour, remove from the fridge and grate it into the pastry case, pushing it evenly into the sides and base. The cold dough will be quite hard, so grating is a better method than rolling. Prick the base, and bake for 10-15 minutes, until it's just golden. Remove from the oven and set aside. After cooling for 10 minutes or so, trim off any pastry that has risen over the edge of the case tin, and then coat the base and sides of the pastry with a layer of the apricot mixture. Reduce the oven temperature to 180 degrees C.

Melt the butter and chocolate together over a bain marie of simmering water. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until they're pale, light and fluffy. Fold in the chocolate and butter, one third at a time, then pour into the pastry case.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the chocolate filling has formed a thin crust. There should still be a slight wobble in the centre.

Serve with creamy yogurt, and a sprinkling of rose petals.

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