Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cooking for a Crowd

I was so excited when asked to prepare some desserts for a cocktail party I was attending. It was the opening of a friend of mine's fitness studio, Vital Lifestyle Experience in Rozelle and he hadn't arranged dessert, so three days before the party I got a phone call asking what would be an easy dessert. I told Dom, the director, that mini tarts would be the way to go especially if there were around 60 people, and that I was more than happy to make them for him.

But what type of tart? A simple custard tart? Rich chocolate tart? Lemon tart? Since I didn't have a lot of time after work to try out new things, I went with something I have made before and am confident with. The last thing I would have wanted to happen was that they burned or tasted terrible. The pressure was on. SO Mini Chocolate Ganache Caramel Tarts it was.

Of course I needed to test them out a couple of days before as I did use pre-made mini tart shells which are based on a shortcrust pastry. I got home from work on the Wednesday, at 8pm mind you, I started to bake. As I was only making one dozen I wasn't too fussed about the order of the operation, although this was a huge factor when the final baking day came along.

I started with the caramel by melting down the sugar mixture......NOTE TO SELF: Do not be talking on the phone whilst trying to make WILL burn and you will have to start all over again.......which of course happened. But it was a good thing as I had actually forgotten to add the water to the sugar in the first place. No wonder it took such a short amount of time to make the toffee.

Second time round I added the water and waited for it to dissolve, then thicken into a syrup, then crystallize into a dry sugar rock, then melt again to obtain this clear golden toffee. QUICK....add the butter, cream and salt before that 5 second window passes (Another thing I have learn from previous attempts) otherwise it will taste badly burnt, then smellll the sweet aromas of the rich caramel in the pot while it cooks for just a few minutes more.

Taste? Perfect. Thick, buttery and smooth, just how it should be.

Ok. Phew the hardest part is over. Now the fun part....ganache. Something I can do whilst multitasking and doing other things. The only problem this particular effort was that when I went to buy the chocolate from the supermarket, their range of dark chocolate was very poor and dismal. I had to settle for Old Gold which I do not like at all. When I took it home and made the ganache I remembered tastes bitter and burnt, not smooth like a dark chocolate should be. It is chocolates like this which give dark chocolate a bad name and make people think it is well......gross. The other problem with this chocolate is that it did not give a nice smooth consistency that ganache should have and actually split so the oils were separated through the mixture. In an attempt to fix the taste and recombine the mixture I added a little bit of trusty nutella, which admittedly did make it taste slightly better, but not like how it should be. What can I do, bad ingredients scream disaster.

Ok so once the pastry shells were done from the oven it was time to assemble the tarts then fridge them.

The next day I took some to work, the cafe down the road from me which I love, Cafe Giulia, and to Reuben from Mecca Roastery, for their verdict on the tarts.......Three thumbs up :)

Ok great news. The next night I was buzzing and ready to make the tarts....however the one thing I was worried about was fridge space. See the number of tarts had actually jumped from 60 to 120......

The night started off well with my favourite chocolate to cook with being on special, Whittakers Dark Ghana which is 72% Cocao, smooth and not too sweet. Fantastic for cooking. I got home and first thing to do was start baking the tart shells. Each rack only took 15 and the took around 15 minutes to bake so it was going to take a good couple of hours for them.

Next thing to start was the caramel. I did not know how much to make so I just guessed and hope it would be enough, which it most definitely was. The only thing was that when you make a mass amount of caramel it takes a lot longer as the surface area to volume is less so to get it through each state, especially melting it down from the dried out rock, took a very long time and I needed to continually break the rock up so it would not cook unevenly.

This time my 100% attention was on the tarts, no phone calls, only music to keep me going through the night.

Now the Ganache.....The cream was warmed and I slowly added the chocolate one block at a time and mixed it so it combined. Two blocks. Three Blocks. Four Blocks. Now it was looking good, smooth and like silk. The texture was fantastic, and the taste.......incredibly rich and decadent. PERFECT.

Time to assemble....the hardest part was not dripping the caramel over the edges of the tart as I do not want to ruin the presentation at all. The need to look pristine. Once I had done all 120 I went back the the first ones I filled, which the caramel has slightly set and spooned over the ganache.

3 hours later, 120 tarts done and 3 fridges filled....but the job was done.

The day of the party I was worried about transporting them to the venue, that I would end up with a boot full of caramel and chocolate, but thankfully the alfoil over the top was enough to secure them in place.

Champage, wine and canapes were served.....then it was time for desserts.....and everyone loved them. What a relief!!!! Some even went back for seconds. Moorish I know but they tend to do that. And as for me....I couldn't devour even half.....I had had PLENTY of little teaspoons over the whole 3 hours I made them, and enjoyed every mouthful.

Mini Chocolate Ganache, Caramel Tarts
(to make 120 mini tarts)


12 packets of Pampas pre-made tart tins (available in the frozen section of your supermarket)

4 cups sugar
1 cup water
350mL pure cream
420g butter cut into small blocks
3tsps sea salt (can add more if you want salted caramel)

3 blocks Whittakers Dark Ghana
700mL pure cream

* I have slightly decreased these quantities as I ended up with a lot left over


1. Preheat the oven and once warm start to bake the tart tins at 180 degrees until slightly brown around the edges.
2. Add the sugar and water to a pot over medium high heat until sugar dissolves.
3. Cook over high heat until the mixture thickens into a syrup, then once it starts to dry out, put it down to a medium heat. You will need to use a knife to break up the clump so it melts evenly.
4. Once it is melted and a golden brown take it off the heat and add the butter, cream and salt and mix well then put back onto a medium heat, still stirring until all combined then cook for another three minutes.
5. While the caramel cools, prepare the ganache. Heat the cream in a pot over medium heat, but don't take it to boiling point. Take off heat and mix in chocolate, in small pieces, one block at a time then mix until combine....Add next block and so on until you achieve a smooth, silky consistency which is thick and strong in taste.
6. Once the tart tins had cooled add two tbsps of caramel to each tin.
7. Go back to the first caramel filled tarts and add a heaped tsp of ganache and smooth evenly over the top of the caramel*
8. Refrigerate the tarts.
9. Take out an hour before serving so they warm up to room temperature.

*If you had more time, refrigerate the tarts before topping with ganache, for at least 3 hours so the set completely and so the ganache does not sink into the centre of the tarts.

1 comment:

Betty said...

yummy i'll defo try this i just made some kiwi cream cheese tarts myself!