Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chilli and lime dark chocolate tarts

In the second round of the baking competition at work, I baked another invention of mine: sweet pastry tarts, filled with a dark chocolate ganache flavoured with chilli and lime, and decorated with candied chillies.

They didn't do very well with the judges — they thought there was too much chocolate filling and/or it was too rich, and they found the candied chillies too spicy. On the other hand, the whole batch got eaten, so it's not all bad news.

This time-consuming and labour-intensive recipe makes 8 tarts.


For the candied chillies:

  1. 1/2 cup water
  2. 1/2 cup sugar
  3. 1 lime
  4. 2 mild chillies

For the pastry cases:

  1. 250 g plain flour
  2. 35 g icing sugar
  3. 140 g cold unsalted butter
  4. 2 egg yolks
  5. 1.5 tbsp cold water

For the chilli and lime dark chocolate ganache filling:

  1. 100 ml double cream
  2. 25 g caster sugar
  3. 100 g dark chocolate
  4. 12 g butter
  5. 2 limes
  6. 2 bird's eye chillies

Candied chillies

Make the candied chillies first — they keep for ages, so you can make them a good while in advance.

Cut the chillies into thin, circular slices, and remove the seeds (tweezers are useful). Take the peel of about a quarter of a lime, and slice it into strips as thinly as possible.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the water and sugar to make a syrup. When it gets to the boil, carefully add the lime peel and chilli slices and simmer for 20 mins.

Strain the sugar syrup to remove the chilli and lime — save the syrup for later — and lay the pieces out on a silicone baking sheet. Bake in the oven for an hour at about 90 °C, until they are dry to the touch.

Sweet pastry cases

Put the the flour, icing sugar and butter in a food processor and pulse a few times until the mixture becomes about the consistency of breadcrumbs. Add the yolks and cold water and pulse until the mixture comes together. You may need to add a tiny bit more water. Knead the pastry a couple of times — literally only enough that it comes together into a ball — then wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge to chill for about an hour.

Clear a shelf in the fridge and prepare 8 individual-size pastry tins (about 7.5–8 cm diameter).

Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Roll each piece out to about 15 cm diameter and carefully place them in the pastry tins, pushing it out to fill the corners. If any holes appear, push them back together again. There should be 2&ndash cm of excess pastry protruding from the edges of the tin; trim back any much more than this.

Prick the bottom of each case with a fork and place them in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. By making sure that the cases are well rested you will avoid the need to use baking beans.

Preheat the oven to 180 °C (fan) and place a baking train the oven to heat. When the pastry cases are rested, place them directly onto the hot baking tray and into the oven, and bake for approx. 12 min until golden. Be very careful that the pastry doesn't catch!

When pastry cases come out of the oven, immediately trim the excess pastry from the cases before they become brittle, using a sharp knife. Leave them to cool in the tins on a cooling rack.

Chilli and lime chocolate ganache filling

Finely chop the chillies and zest the limes.

Place the cream, sugar, chillies and half the lime zest in a saucepan. Warm over a low heat. (The longer you infuse the cream, the stronger the filling will be).

Meanwhile, break the chocolate into pieces. Put the chocolate, butter and remaining lime zest in a mixing bowl.

When the cream is almost at boiling point, strain it onto the chocolate and butter. Whisk the mixture slowly until the chocolate and butter has melted and the ganache is smooth and glossy. If the chocolate doesn't quite melt, heat the mixing bowl over a pan of hot water (but make sure the bowl doesn't touch the water!)

If the filling isn't strong enough, you can add a couple of teaspoons of the chilli sugar syrup left over from making the candied chillies earlier.

While the ganache is still warm, carefully spoon it into the pastry cases. Decorate with the candied chillies.

N.b. the ganache will take at least a couple of hours to set; you can put it in the fridge to help it along, but it may make the top lose its glossy finish.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Stripy chocolate, vanilla and coffee cake

At Sharp Labs we're having a baking competition going on to raise money for Helen & Douglas House. I foolishly decided to enter it.

There are three rounds. The first round, which took place on the 25th November, was sponge cakes. I invented a variation on a coffee cake. It's made up of six alternating layers of chocolate and vanilla sponge, bound together and coated with a coffee buttercream icing. This recipe is for a large cake which will happily make 16 slices.


For the vanilla sponge:

  • 165 g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 165 g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 165 g self raising flour, sifted
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla essence
  • Hot water (if required)

For the chocolate sponge:

  • 165 g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 165 g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 155 g self raising flour, sifted
  • 1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
  • Hot water (if required)

For the coffee buttercream:

  • 600 g icing sugar
  • 375 g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 150 ml strong espresso coffee (about 3 shots)


Preheat the oven to 155 ℃ (fan). Position a shelf near the middle of the oven for the cakes. Line the bottoms of two deep 20 cm springform or sandwich tins with baking parchment.

Each of the sponge batters is prepared in the same way (it's best to do prepare them in parallel in two bowls so that you can bake the cakes simultaneously):

  1. Cream butter and sugar together using an electric hand mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. In a measuring jug, beat the eggs. Then add them little by little to the butter & sugar mixture, making sure to fully combine each addition before the next. For the vanilla sponge, add the vanilla essence at this stage.
  3. Sift about a quarter of the flour (or flour and cocoa mixture) into the mixture, from a height of about 50 cm so as to air the flour well. Carefully and gently fold the flour in (you want to trap as much air as possible at this stage). Repeat until all the flour has been combined.

Transfer the sponge batters into the tins, and place the tins at mid-level of the oven near the front. Bake for 25-30 mins. When they are cooked, they'll (1) make a popping sound like rice crispies, (2) feel springy when lightly touched near the centre with a fingertip and (3) a sharp knife inserted all the way through will come out clean.

About 1-2 mins after removing the cakes from the oven, turn them out, carefully peel off the baking parchment, and leave them to cool for about half an hour.

Carefully slice each of the cakes into three horizontal slices, approximately 1 cm in thickness. I found that a very very sharp knife and a lot of patience was more successful than using a cake wire.

Make the buttercream by putting the butter and icing sugar into a bowl and beating them with an electric hand mixer while slowly adding the espresso.

Assemble the cake by putting a vanilla slice of sponge on a turntable, adding a thin layer of butter cream and levelling it off, then adding a chocolate slice on top, and continuing until all six slices are built up. Make sure on each layer to spread the buttercream all the way to the edge.

Use the remaining buttercream icing to smoothly coat the exterior of the cake. Use a side scraper and a turntable to get vertical sides and horizontal top! You should have some icing leftover.

Finally, you can optionally use cocoa powder and/or walnuts to decorate the finished cake.