Since March of this dreadful year, everyone has been forced to spend more time at home. There are pros and cons to this, of course, but one thing is for sure. The pace of life has slowed down a bit.
So what have people been doing to fill the time? Frankly, that’s not what this is about. It’s about what I’ve been up to. Which is to say, I write a food blog now.
Not exclusively, by the way (and maybe not ever again, if you’re familiar with some of the other failed content bits I’ve tried in the past). But with a little extra time around the house, I started to spend some of it trying out new things in the kitchen.
I love food. I love to cook. I love to eat. But what I’m really passionate about (unfortunately) is dessert. This isn’t ideal, given that I’m an endomorph, meaning I gain weight just walking past a donut shop. I could take a deep breath inside a bakery and two pounds would somehow find a way to stick to my belly. I’m the one guy who could go on the reality show Survivor and gain 15 pounds. Everyone else would look emaciated and on death’s door, and I’d look fat and happy. It’d be miserable. Everyone would blame me for stealing the rice, or whatever, and I’d get voted out in the final three. Just brutal, being an endomorph.
During the stay-at-home order, however, I found myself spending a lot more time jogging than I normally would. I tend to like boot camp style workouts with my buds, and asthma tends to make running a chore, but with all that cardio training occurring, I was able to justify (to myself) the need for more calories. And before you get all self-righteous on me…I know this isn’t the right way to go about exercise and diet. Just…leave me alone.
Anyway, I wanted to try a few things that are a little more technical. Baking brownies and cookies and cakes is fine, but I’ve been wanting to sharpen my technical skills a bit. The dessert I tried this time around turned out well, but there were a few things I got wrong that, had I not screwed up, would have taken it from “incredible” to “life-changing”. Let’s dive in.
What I Made:
For the base
- 220 g oreo cookies or similar
- 50 g unsalted butter melted
- 1/2 tsp salt
For the dark chocolate ganache filling
- 600 g dark chocolate 70% cacao
- 500 g whipping cream
- 200 g sugar omit if using 50% or less cacao chocolate or milk chocolate
To finish the tart
- 50 g unshelled pistachios shelled and chopped
- 100 g fresh raspberries
- coarse sea salt
Okay, so right off the bat you might see something wrong with this list of ingredients. If you’re an American or you’ve spent any time in an American’s kitchen, you’ll be a bit perplexed by the measurements listed. Six hundred GRAMS of dark chocolate? Five hundred GRAMS of whipping cream? Why would you measure a liquid in grams? Even in the metric system it would be listed in milliliters, or whatever. This was bound for disaster.
I spent at least ten minutes on google trying to determine how many tablespoons is the equivalent of 50 grams of butter. What might be even more moronic than that is the fact I didn’t bother to write down any of my conversions for the next time I make this. I liked this recipe, but I’ll be finding a dumbed-down (imperial) version the next time I try it.
Another thing that stood out to me was the apparent simplicity to this dessert. The crust is three ingredients. The ganache is three ingredients. Even the garnish is three ingredients. How hard could this be?
The first task was putting the crust together. This was a labor of love, because it required me to work through an entire family-sized package of Oreo cookies, separating the actual cookie from the cream, and somehow denying myself the bliss of eating half a tray of Oreos in the process. It was cruel. In some parts of the country you can buy pre-made Oreo cookie pie crusts, but I’ve never seen them in stores in the South.
After 20 minutes of tedious work and tedious-er self control, I had what seemed like several hundred cookie halves in the food processor. I needed 220 grams of Oreo crumbles. How the hell was I supposed to know that an entire package of Oreo cookies yields about four cups of Oreo crumbs. Turns out, 220 grams is about the same as one cup of crumbs. Guess who now has three cups of Oreo cookie crumbs in his freezer.
Next, I had to figure out how much butter to use. Fifty grams, turns out, is 3 and 9/16ths tablespoons of butter. I rounded up to four tablespoons, because I’m a true American. You know what’s really idiotic, though? The recipe calls for 220 grams of Oreo crumbs, 50 grams of butter, and, wait for it…one-half TEASPOON of salt. Whoever came up with this recipe is a monster.
For those of you wondering, a half teaspoon of salt is about three grams. So, there ya go.
Okay, so I threw the crumbs, melted butter, and salt into the food processor, pulsed it a few times, then dumped it into my newly purchased tart tin, pressing it into a nice, even layer. Into the freezer it went while I moved onto the filling.
The first step was to melt 600 grams of dark chocolate in a double boiler. You could also melt it in the microwave in 30-second intervals if you’re a big, dumb cheater, but there’s no fun in that. Having melted chocolate a handful of times in a double boiler before, I figured I’d smash up the chocolate bars to speed up the melting process. How did I go about doing that? Well…let me back up a little.
I find it odd how fancy chocolate bars are packaged. The chocolate I used (which was Ghirardelli, I think) was packaged in a layer of thin cardboard, then wrapped in gold foil. I got each bar out of the cardboard, but decided to leave the foil on so when I smashed them into smaller pieces, the chocolate wouldn’t fly all over the place. Smart.
Except, I used a meat tenderizer to smash the chocolate. And the tenderizer has a side with a hundred tiny points. I thought it was flat. I started swinging away at the chocolate not realizing that I was pulverizing tiny specs of gold foil deep into this delicious chocolate bar. Thankfully I realized what was happening and stopped after the first bar. I unwrapped it and spent twenty minutes meticulously picking out near-microscopic specs of foil. Have I ever told you the joke about why Polacks have flat foreheads?
With that idiocy completed, the chocolate went into the double boiler. Five minutes later, everything was looking great. Next, the whipping cream and sugar went into another pot and cooked just long enough for the sugar to dissolve and for the mixture to thicken. The directions explicitly instructed not to let the cream come to a boil, and I was able to get it to steam without boiling. Everything was going great.
The next part was tricky, if only because the directions didn’t seem to make logical sense. Here, I’ll paste the next step below so you can feel my skepticism with me:
Pour the cream onto the melted chocolate and mix with a spatula at the center of the bowl in small circles. You don’t have to make large mixing motions; you’ll see how the ganache comes together on its own.
Now look, my wife gives me all sorts of sass because I pride myself in mixing things to absolute perfection. For instance, when I open a greek yogurt and it’s got the two ounces of water on the top of it (which is gross, by the way), I will stir it as long as I have to for all the clumps to work out into a perfectly smooth consistency. My wife, whom I love dearly but who also is a savage, will stir her yogurt once or twice and dive right in. It makes me nauseous just thinking about it. Chunky, watery yogurt. It’s wrong.
For the directions to tell me not to make large mixing motions sort of offended me. But, that warning came with a promise – “you’ll see how the ganache comes together on its own”. I was intrigued. I figured I’d follow the directions and hope for the best.
I poured the cream/sugar mixture into the melted chocolate and used a spatula to make small circles. Much to my delight, the chocolate and cream started coming together beautifully, almost like they were drawn to each other. I can’t explain it, you’ll have to try it yourself. It was pretty cool, in a very nerdy sort of way.
As I stirred, I must have had the goofiest look on my face, just full of delight and wonder. What the directions didn’t mention was that over-stirring was not a great idea. The mixture came together and was completely smooth for about four stirs, but right before I stopped, it started to clump up. My delight and wonder turned into terror and, eventually, blinding rage. Two too many stirs and what had started as a ganache masterpiece turned into what looked like a chocolate gnocchi soup.
Okay, maybe blinding rage is a stretch, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.
But while we’re here…chocolate gnocchi soup, eh? Tell me you wouldn’t want to try that.
Finishing The Tart
I poured my semi-chunky ganache into the chilled Oreo crumb base and smoothed it all out. I left it in the refrigerator overnight to allow the ganache to completely set. Like the famous poet, Tom Petty, used to lament, the waiting is the hardest part. I put a decent amount of time and effort into this tart, and the possibility that two-too-many stirs ruined it drove me nuts. All I could do was hope for the best, and mentally prepare for the worst.
And just right now, I’m realizing that I haven’t yet mentioned a key part of this entire exercise. I was making this tart for my wife’s birthday dessert. There was a lot of (self-imposed) pressure to get it right. She wouldn’t have cared, as long as it had chocolate in it and it wasn’t burned, she’d be fine with whatever. But I wanted it to be perfect.
I realized I had a problem when I pulled the tart out of the fridge the next day. Evidently some of the cream mixture had separated and formed a cloudy little layer on the edges of the tart. It somewhat ruined the aesthetic, but the rest of looked great. I had sort of hoped it was no big deal when the ganache turned chunky, but it appeared my over-mixing sort of “broke” the ganache, and it separated ever so slightly. A real bummer. Thankfully, my wife is more concerned with taste than presentation. I still had a good shot at it tasting great.
The next day, once it was ready to enjoy, I garnished it with course sea salt, chopped pistachios, and fresh raspberries. Viola! All in all, it looked pretty awesome.
The moment of truth. Despite the ganache separating, would it still taste okay? Did I use enough salt? Or maybe I used too much? Did the Oreo crust set or did I fail to use enough butter? Are there any foil flecks still in it?
Please don’t let there be any foil flecks in it!
The tart tin I purchased has a pop-up bottom, so you can easily remove it from the ridged form without tearing up the tart. The crust was perfect. The ganache seemed set. All that was left was to taste it. I cut two way-too-big slices and served them up, singing Happy Birthday to my wife on my way to the dining room table.
Nine out of ten, I’d rate it. It was really, really good. Aside from the diabetes sauce on the top (the separated sugar cream), the tart was fantastic. The ganache itself was rich and smooth. The crust was perfection. And, surprisingly enough, the raspberries and pistachios worked very well together, in both aesthetics and taste.
And most importantly, my wife loved it. That’s all that really matters. I could spend another four hundred words detailing all the little issues with it, but the pros far outweighed the cons in making this dessert, and that’s what I’ll choose to focus on. Next time, I’ll learn from my mistakes and hit that 10/10 mark.
Although, next time, I’ll use a recipe with standard measurements.♦