Last week was Thai New Year – a week of nation-wide water fights and nearly a whole week off work! The prospect of another island mini-break (more on that in later blogs...I picked up some fantastic recipes), coupled with the non-arrival of the threatened tsunami, put me in a really good mood in the run up to New Year. So much so that I decided to bake, yes bake, a chocolaty treat for my colleagues.
Baking. My nemesis, my Achilles heel, the wasteland beyond my comfort zone. The time has come for me to grease up my tins, dust my surfaces and bravely face the unknown. I know that it’s not acceptable as a self-professed foodie to serve stellar savouries but settle for shop-bought cakes or a half-hearted fruit salad. So I did some research to find the least screw-upable desserts and opted for a chocolate tart which requires no baking other than the pastry. The addition of spiced poached pears and cardamom gives the tart some complexity and welcomes it into Asian Fusion territory.
Unfortunately I can’t find ready-made pastry in Bangkok, otherwise I would definitely have cheated. I made my own using the basic recipe below and was quite satisfied with the results – it didn’t fall apart or taste horrible as I’d feared.
The tart overlooking the view of Bangkok from my office
The proof as they say, was in the pudding and my colleagues loved it and ate every scrap. They have even asked me to bake another! Thai people are generally very polite but food is serious business here – so I think they actually meant it. Look:
First make your pastry. Take the butter out of the fridge to soften. Sift the flour, icing sugar and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the middle and add the egg yolk and the water, a little at a time. Mix with your hands until it comes together as a ball. Stop as soon as the dough is nice and firm; avoid over-kneading.
Wrap the dough in parchment paper and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.
While the pastry is chilling, poach your pears. Peel the pears and put them in a pot with the other ingredients for the pears. Simmer on a low heat for about 30 minutes or until they feel soft all the way through when pricked with a fork. Turn the pears once or twice during cooking to make sure they are evenly poached on all sides.
Remove the pears from the water and set aside to cool. Cut the cooled pears into quarters lengthways and remove the core. Slice them evenly lengthways, about half a centimetre in thickness. Lay them out on pieces of kitchen roll to absorb excess moisture.
Take your pastry out of the fridge and dust your work surface with a little plain flour. Roll the dough out thinly and use it to line a 25cm tart ring.
Line the pastry case with baking parchment and fill with baking beans or uncooked rice and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the baking beans and paper and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the base of the tart is golden-brown and cooked through. Remove the tart from the oven and leave to cool.
While the pastry is cooking and cooling, get to work on your chocolate filling. Firstly split open the cardamom pods, remove the small black seeds inside and grind to a fine powder either in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
Next heat the chocolate in a saucepan set over a medium heat, stirring continuously until the chocolate melts. Add the cream and continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and thick. Then add the ground cardamom and stir thoroughly. Remove the mixture from the heat.
When the pastry has cooled spread a very thin layer of chocolate along the bottom of the tart case. Lay the pears out neatly on top and then pour over the remainder of the chocolate evenly.
Chill in the fridge for at least 45 minutes or until the chocolate has fully set.
Cooking ahead? The whole tart will keep in the fridge a day in advance. You can also prepare the pastry case and poach the pears in advance.