The Mediterranean sea is deep, azure blue just as I’ve heard it would be, the sun warm, and my thoughts are on dark chocolate…rich, glossy, mahogany-colored chocolate… A languid breeze brushes my skin as I finish my cigarette on the crew deck of the cruise ship I’m working on.
It’s late April and I’ve been less than two weeks on board as Pastry Chef and am seriously struggling with the schedule: 7 days a week, 14 – 18 hours a day.
I didn’t smoke before I boarded, but I smoke now.
Sleep deprivation and high stress do not a pretty combination make. Oh glorious weekend, where art thou?
Photo © John Gertz
Combing the back streets of Lisbon.
Today we are sailing somewhere between Malaga, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal. A day at sea means the dining rooms will be at their fullest. I have several desserts to prepare for this evening, one of which is a chocolate macadamia tart. As often happens when you step in to take the helm from another departed chef, you must learn to fly by the seat of your pants to a certain degree. For this dessert there is little description to go by and no recipe to speak of…some interpretation would be in order.
Given that the first word in the dessert title is chocolate, I deduce – as any chocolate lover would – that really good chocolate should feature prominently with macadamia nuts magnanimously offering up a supporting role with their toasty, buttery notes. I decide to use a dark ganache filling (luckily we are able to source Valrhona on the ship) slowly cooked in a ring mold, dotted with toasted macadamia nuts with salted caramel ice cream, chocolate sauce and chocolate garnish to complete the dessert.
The result was a dark silky disc studded with crunchy bits of toasted nut and buttery undertones. Smooth and delicate to eat, every bite rewarding with full flavor and richness. I was pleased to serve it, as was the Executive Chef, and it ran very well – always the bottom line. Compliments came back with the servers; it was a hit.
Show plate on the pass (since this plate must survive the long, hot hours during service, the ice cream quenelle is marzipan and not real ice cream).
Some weeks later, when a veteran pastry chef came on board, I was at last shown the intended execution for this dessert which turned out to be oceans away from what I had done. It did not prominently feature chocolate as an ingredient, the chef adding instead a mere sprinkling of chopped chocolate (the cheapest I am sad to report – yes, even five-star kitchens must succumb to the budget overlord – each chef dealing with it in their own way) to a very sweet, chewy, bar-like mixture cut into rounds. Now this wouldn’t have been my personal choice for the level of clientele we were serving, but out of mutual respect I think it’s always a good idea to keep an open mind as to individual interpretation.
Though our work is done within the confines of the kitchen, as a chef I feel it is vital to always put myself in the diner’s seat with the dessert I’m preparing. Besides the obvious taste and visual components, I must ask “will it be elegant and graceful to eat with no embarrassment potential?” (think poppy seeds or too much gelatin). Blame it on us pastry people being a little obsessive, but just I couldn’t shake the vision of some poor guest dressed in swank evening attire going in to wrest a bite from this tart and the entire dense, sticky disc launching off the plate into a perfect slow-motion arc to ping another guest 2 tables away squarely in the head…or landing in their glass of 89 Lynch Bages – or some other mortifying scenario.
So, call me a rebel if you will, but I’m going to give you the unctuous, silky and oh-so-chocolaty version that I would prefer to eat (and did…several I must tell you). And judging from the guest response, I’m going to venture out on a limb and say you will enjoy this rendition equally well. Break out the best possible chocolate you can get your hands on for this tart. I’m serious. It is the star here. You will thank me later. My choice? Valrhona Caraibe 66%. It’s dark and rich with warm, nutty notes that speak well to the toasted macadamias. But don’t just take my word for it, experiment and try different kinds! Don’t you just love doing R&D?
CHOCOLATE MACADAMIA NUT TART
Macadamia Påte Sucrée (yield = 3 – 8″ tart shells, approx. 1000 g) You’ll get best results if all ingredients are at room temperature:
- 125 g powdered sugar
- 250 g butter, unsalted
- 3 eggs, large
- 500 g cake flour
- 100 g finely ground toasted macadamia nuts
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- In the mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the powdered sugar
and butter until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure the mixture is homogeneous after each addition.
- Add the cake flour, baking powder and ground macadamias all at once.
- Mix slowly just to combine.
- Wrap the dough and refrigerate it until firm.
- While that’s chilling, preheat your oven to 180C/350F, make yourself a perfect cup of espresso and start your mis en place for the filling:
- 225 g chocolate, 60% or darker, chopped
- 215 g heavy cream
- 65 g eggs, about 3 large
- 95 g whole milk
- 200 g macadamia nuts, toasted and very roughly chopped – 150 g go into the tart, and reserve 50 g for sprinkling on top after baking.
Roll out and line either:
- 1 – 8″ or 9″ tart pan or
- 6 – 4” tart pans or
- 12 – 60mm ring molds (If you are using ring molds, line a 1/2 sheet pan, dock, par bake, then press the rings into the crust while still warm).
Line tart pan(s) with parchment and fill with pie weights or beans. Par bake the sucrée until it just barely starts to take on colour. Remove the crust(s) from the oven, remembering of course to lower the temperature to 85C/185F. Let shell(s) cool while you make the tart mixture.
- Make a ganache of chocolate and cream; bring the cream just to a scald and pour over the waiting chocolate pieces. Let sit several minutes then mix from the center gradually incorporating the ingredients until dark, glossy and fully mixed.
- Combine eggs and milk, add gradually to the ganache, mixing constantly with a spatula, making sure not to shock the eggs and not to produce bubbles in the mixture.
- Mix in 150g of the roughly chopped macadamias. Fill tart shells to a bit below the crust edge or ring molds to about a good finger’s thickness.
- Bake in 85C/185F oven – low and slow baby– until just set. No bubbles should appear on the tops of the tarts while baking – this means the temp is too hot. (Should you notice some bubbles forming during baking, lower the oven temperature a little).
Depending on the size of your tart(s) and your oven this could take as little as 30 minutes and up to an hour or more. They are done when the centers are just set and not loosely jiggly anymore. The tops should be still glossy (if not, also too hot).
Remove from the oven and let them cool to room temperature. If you are serving that day, leave the tarts at room temperature. If not, refrigerate but bring out at least one hour before serving.
Sprinkle tops with the remaining 50 g chopped macs and garnish as you wish!
My Wine Pairing Suggestions: Ruby or vintage port, or late growth Cabernet would pair well with the dark chocolate here.
Tip: You can also store the unbaked mixture, well wrapped in the fridge, for up to 3 days.
Additional photo credits: