Spiced Chocolate Tart


My first ever chocolate tart, and my favourite. I used to chew on aniseed balls every day on the way home from school — a tissue-thin, white paper bag full of the little purple sweets. At some point I discovered bubble gum — sweet, colourful, fun — and stopped buying the faintly medicinal, unfashionable aniseed balls, but the flavour is still one I love. The fennel seeds here impart that same warm, aromatic flavour. There’s often the temptation, with dark chocolate, to brighten and to lift. Forget that. This tart uses fennel to play to the liquorice notes in the chocolate, colouring its darkness with spiced warmth. The honey, too, is crucial: somehow just one tablespoon brings the whole thing into focus.

Makes 1 tart, serving 8 small but rich slices

For the pastry:
90g unsalted butter, firm but not fridge-cold, cubed
175g plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk

For the filling:
90ml milk
150ml double cream
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
3 star anise
300g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
1 large egg
50g caster or granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey

20cm round spring-form or loose-bottomed cake tin

1 In a large bowl, toss the butter cubes through the flour and — using only your fingertips — rub the two together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, and no visible chunks of butter are left. Try to work quickly and lightly, keeping the mixture cool so that the butter doesn’t melt (this would leave the pastry greasy and tough). Add the salt and sugar and combine. Lightly whisk the egg yolk and milk together, then add this to the dry ingredients. Use a small knife to cut through the mixture until all of the flour has been moistened. If a lot of dry flour remains, add a few more drops of milk. Once combined, use your hands to quickly but firmly press the pastry together into a ball. Flatten it into a disc, wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight.

2 Once the pastry has chilled, roll it out on a piece of lightly floured baking parchment. Don’t go too heavy on the flour — just enough to stop the pastry sticking to the surface. Roll to a rough circle about 22–23cm in diameter and 3–5mm thick. Line the tin with the pastry, taking care not to stretch the pastry but gently pressing it into the corners, for sharp edges. Chill for 30 minutes, or freeze for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.

3 Scrunch up a large piece of baking parchment into a ball and smooth it back out again (this makes it much easier to work with). Now line the pastry case with the baking parchment and fill with baking beans, dried pulses or similar. Push the beans up towards the sides a little to help to prevent the steep pastry walls from slipping. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes then remove the parcel of beans and bake the pastry case for a further 5 minutes, uncovered.

4 While the pastry is blind baking, start preparing the filling. Combine the milk, cream, fennel seeds and star anise and slowly heat, either in a bowl in the microwave or in a small pan over a gentle heat. Remove from the heat just before it starts to boil — it should smell heavily aromatic and aniseedy.

5 Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl and strain the still-scalding cream mixture over it to remove the fennel seeds and star anise. Let it sit for just a minute, then gently stir together. The chocolate should melt smoothly into the hot cream. If chunks of unmelted chocolate remain you can heat the mixture very gently (either in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water) until it is smooth. In a separate bowl whisk the egg together with the sugar, chilli, cinnamon and honey then fold this through the chocolate mixture.

6 Once the pastry case is baked, reduce the oven temperature to 160°C/fan 140°C/ gas mark 3. Spoon the filling into the pastry, filling to a few millimetres below the rim. Bake for 20 minutes, or until just set with only a slight wobble at its centre. Leave to cool completely before serving, during which time it will firm up. Keep the tart chilled if not eating it the same day, but give it time to come back to room temperature again before eating, otherwise the filling will set too hard and become stodgy.

 ©Nato Welton, 2014

©Nato Welton, 2014

Crumb: The Baking Book
By Ruby Tandoh