the golden rules of melting chocolate


‘the model child’ chocolate & pear tart

One of the things that I really love about cooking is that you always have to be on your toes. No matter how many times you’ve made a particular dish or carried out a particular technique, if you’re not paying attention things can go awry all too frequently. And while here at stonesoup, I tend to stick to the success stories when it comes to documenting the activity in my kitchen, I am far from immune when it comes to kitchen disasters.

As I alluded last week, my most recent kitchen tale of woe was centered around that seductive but most fickle of mistresses; chocolate. After a particularly delicious meal at Vini, one of my most favourite eating establishments in Sydney, I had been inspired to use up the remaining poached quince that had been knocking around my refrigerator for quite some time with a chocolate & quince tart.

The plan seemed simple enough. Bake a sweet tart crust, take the leftover quinces out of the fridge, heat up some cream and melt chocolate together. Assemble and allow to cool. Enjoy. Unfortunately the path to chocolate and pear nirvana was not so straight and narrow.

When my molten chocolate turned into a dog’s vomitish mess, I longed for my copy of Stephanie Alexander’s the cook’s companion to safely avert disaster. But alas it was over 200km away. So I turned to the web. But as is often the way of a desperate search, the only advice I could find was to add boiling water a spoonful at a time which proved to be ineffective. While I did manage to fluke a solution for my problem, I have since done some more relaxed research. It is still very much a work in progress but I’d like to share it with you and hopefully gain some insught into your chocolate experiences in turn.

The golden rules of trouble free with chocolate melting with thanks to Stephanie:
i) chop chocolate into SMALL pieces before melting, a food processor is good for this
ii) keep chocolate away from high heat. If melting alone use a double boiler or microwave on low stopping to stir frequently. Only use direct heat if you’re melting the chocolate with another ingredient like cream or coffee.
iii) avoid allowing water or steam to come into contact with the chocolate as this increases your risks of the chocolate splitting.
iv) If your chocolate splits or goes grainy, stir through a spoonful of vegetable oil (note: I haven’t yet tried this trick as melted butter fixed my problem but sounds like I was lucky as Stephanie advises to avoid using anything containing water including butter).

Following these rules a week later, I decided to return to scary chocolate tart land and give my ganache idea a second go, this time as a pear version. I’m happy to report that the results were a massive success. Not a spec of graininess to my chocolate and a resounding hit with my dinner guests. So my friends, I give you the recipes for a duo of tarts one to try at your own risk, the other hopefully a more reliable option….all good things.
‘the problem child’ chocolate & quince tart
Serves 6-8

disclaimer: This more of a record of what happened rather than a recommendation what to do. By all means give it a go but be warned, your kitchen will probably look like a bomb hit it but if you’re lucky the tart will still taste OK.

24cm sweet pie crust, baked blind until well browned and cooked through
6 quarters poached quince, for a recipe click HERE
300g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids, broken into 2cm squares
125mL (1/2C) double cream (45% milk fat)
boiling water
cold milk
50g butter
3T castor sugar
2 egg yolks
1 egg

Place cream in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the broken chocolate and stir. When the chocolate starts to go grainy and curdled, freak out slightly and stir harder. Remember Jamie Oliver’s tip to stir through a splash of milk to fix such circumstances and when that fails to fix things, take a break and do some web research for a cure. Tranfer a little of your curdled chocolate into a small bowl and a tablespoon of boiling water. Stir then add another spoon of water. When things don’t improve aim for plan B and change track.

Melt butter in small saucepan. Place the small chocolate bowl in the microwave for a few seconds to remelt. Gradually add to the butter and pray. Get excited when the mixture miraculously smooths out. Heat remaining chocolate briefly and gradually stir through the butter mix. Whisk sugar and eggs until pale and fluffy then gradually add to the chocolate mix. Keeping your fingers crossed that it still doesn’t re-coagulate. Pour chocolate custard into the prepared tart shell then top with quince quarters.

Wait while your oven heats up then bake 150C for 10mins or until chocolate custard is just set but still wobbly. Allow to cool and serve.

‘the model child’ chocolate & pear tart
Serves 6-8

I’m hoping that naming this tart the model child doesn’t jinx it for repeated success. If you do have problems with it, please do let me know. The world of chocolate still has a mysterious edge for me so am only too happy to share in the experiences of others.

If you’re after a sweet pastry recipe, give THIS one a go and remember it’s really critical that you cook the crust through so it has a lovely crunchiness to contrast with the rich silky filling. Also note that the recipe in the link is enough for a 28cm tart but this rich chocolate version needs only a 24cm shell so you’ll have some pastry left over which you could freeze for another use.

24cm sweet pie crust, baked blind until well browned and cooked through
22-24 quarters pot roasted pears, see below
300g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
125mL (1/2C) double cream (45% milk fat)
pinch salt
semi whipped cream to serve

Whizz chocolate in a food processor until broken into fine pieces. Place chocolate in a medium saucepan with cream and salt. Heat very gently over a low flame stirring constantly. If find it’s best to do a dance and move the saucepan between being on the heat and off to make sure it doesn’t get too hot and curdle the chocolate. When just melted spoon the chocolate into the base of your tart case. Arrange pears in a pattern on top pushing into the chocolate as you go. Allow to cool to room temp and serve with a dollup of cream that has been whipped until it is only just thickened.

pot roasted pears
serves 8-10

These pears are a real winner. Simple to make they work really well in the tart but would also make a delicious and more waistline friendly dessert teamed simply with vanilla icecream or double cream. 
8 firm pears, (I use beur boscs)
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and pod finely sliced
50g unsalted butter chopped
120g sugar
250mL (1C) dessert wine (botrytis Semillon or beaumes de venise)*

Preheat oven to 200C. Quarter and core pears. Peel if you wish but I prefer to keep mine skins on. Place pears in a baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. Sprinkle with sugar, vanilla seeds and pod, dot with butter and pour over wine.

Cover tightly with foil and bake 20mins. Stir pears and bake another 20mins covered. Stir again and bake uncovered for an additional 30-40 mins or until pears are browned and the wine is reduced and syrupy. Serve hot or at room temp with your choice of cream or vanilla icecream.

*note: If you can’t get your hands on dessert wine, substitute in dry white wine and add an extra 50g sugar.


gratuitous molten chocolate shot in missy helgs’ stunning le creuset pot

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  • Chocolate and pear are made for each other. But I am really intrigued be the quince and chocolate combo. Wonderful recipes!

  • Well done for trying again Jules and not letting that pesky chocolate ganache get the better of you. Looks like a beautiful tart.

    My mum used to make a chocolate and pear crumble that was gorgeous.

  • Mmmmm… quince tart… :)

    Sometimes if your chocolate mix splits, you can bring it back together with a stick blender. My attempts at fixing it any other way usually don’t work, or does work but changes the resulting mixture too much.

  • I was recommended to have a look at your website by a member of a food forum in the UK. What an amazing site you have.

  • I am just lovin the saucepan. Rolling out the problem child for the folks … it is snowing here and am about ready for a challenge!

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