Sunday, September 12, 2010

Recipe: Darjeeling Tea Tart

A few months ago, I had a very surreal experience. At the house of a family friend(the house belongs to a Queen Mother, so let's call her royal highness Princess Ice) I tried a Darjeeling Tea Tart, leftover from a dinner cooked by a scion-turned-private-chef. Let's call him Chef Princeling. This tart was dreamy in its soft suppleness yet perfectly balanced with a great wallop of flavour. The tart dough was crispy, yet crusty and savoury. In short, it was a remarkable tart.

So I immediately began to back-engineer it. From the edges of the tart, which showed minute signs of defrosting and curdling, I felt that the filling had to be some sort of cooled custard, probably an emulsified cream, like in Pierre Herme's Lemon Cream, found in Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home To Yours.

When I asked after Chef Princeling, the haughty Princess sniffed that the tarts cost more than $50 to make each because he used very expensive tea dust, branded at more than $40 for just a few grams. Stung by the ridicule of this insinuation (I can be a food purist, no doubt but I paticularly detest price-related food snobbery) and with just a name and an incomplete analysis to build a dream on, I turned to the All-Mighty Facebook, where princes apparently reside because I found Chef Princeling. Who, being the princely sort that he is, offered the recipe, a tart-making demonstration and an invitation to a ball. A ball where they would roast a whole Babi Guling and ten thousand fowls beside.

The funny thing is, when I picked up the recipe, I laughed outloud to see that it was straight out of Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets. And, alright, in the name of full disclosure, I was a little disappointed that the recipe wasn't a unique one born of his own sweat and tears (what can I say, Karen aka MadBaker's culinary tenacity has spoilt me) but still, a prince who researches from Dorie Greenspan and holds royal feasts, is admittedly charming. Somehow, in the midst of all Dorie's fancier recipes, this cookbook gem had been passed over. I could barely find any reference to it online and only belated discovered that there is actually such a tart on sale at Fauchon (and I didn't get to taste it while in Paris).

I wound up passing on Chef Princeling's baking demonstration, as his kaleidescopic timing proved too much for my macaron schedule, so that left just dinner at the castle. While that wasn't Ibu Oka, there were almost ten thousand crowded bodies beside, as I found out there was more to the private chef gig than met the eye.

Having spent too much time swanning about in the la-la land of privledged excess, I decided that, much like Drew Barrymore's new-age Cinderella, I was going to roll up my own sleeves and clock in some kitchen experimenting of my own to discover the secrets of this recipe. Armed with my loyal troupe of guinea-pig mice friends who ate their way through 8 tarts of varying thickness and texture, I now present a very tried-and-tested recipe for a Darjeeling Tart that is truly, the stuff that fairytales are made from.

Sweet Tart Dough
290grams unsalted butter, prefably French
1 1/2 cups or 150g powdered sugar
1/2 cup ground roasted almonds or roasted hazlenuts
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp vanilla essence
3 1/2 cups or 400g all-purpose flour

(1) Beat the butter in an eggbeater until creamy and softened, add the sugar and mix till combined
(2) Add the eggs, vanilla essence and ground nuts
(3) With the beater on a slow tempo, add the flour and stop the mixer as soon as the dough begins to clump together. Do not overwork the dough.
(4) Divide the dough into 4 lumps, wrap with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight. Let it thaw for 20 minutes before using. If more than 3 days old, store in freezer.

This recipe is fairly complex but not difficult to execute. The tart base is so good because it has a high proportion of butter, which, as she says in her book, makes the dough soft and hard to work with. When I make this dough, I tend to add 1/2 - 1 more cup of plain flour than is called for in the recipe, which makes it easier to handle but not as melt-in-your-mouthfeel. If you do not add the extra flour, you will notice that the dough is almost literally butter.

The addition of ground nuts to the dough subtlely alters the taste and gives a bit more bite to the tart base. Dorie suggests using ground hazlenuts, as they do in Fauchon, rather than ground almonds. I recycle the ground nuts that were too large to pass through macaron sieves, so I use a mix of 1/2 almonds and hazlenuts but from my experience, a larger proportion of hazlenuts tastes noticeably better.

Not working the dough overly keeps it suppleness and keeping the dough refrigerated overnight is very important for drying out the dough to develop a good crust and it can also be frozen for future use. This recipe makes enough dough for 3 9-inch tart pans and frozen tart dough (that you've forgotten about) when you need a quick dessert? A Godsend.

If you aren't the sort that likes to fiddle with beans and pie weights, refrigerate the dough pressed into the tart pan and transfer it, still cold, into the oven. That way, the tart will keep its shape better and stay relatively flat. If it does start to rise, throw a sheet of parchment over the and a tea towel into the tart center to weigh it down.

Darjeeling Tea Tart filling
1 1/2 cup of neutral water, like Volvic
2 1/2 Tbsp or 15g of premium-quality Darjeeling loose-leaf tea
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 tsp powdered gelatin
225g unsalted butter (prefably French), cut into 8 pieces
Prepare a tart base, bake and cool thouroughly

1) Boil the water and steep the tea for 5 minutes (I steep it for at least 20 minutes)
2) In a metal bowl, mix the eggs, sugar and 3/4 cup of tea together. Set this bowl over a saucepan of boiling water on the stove. With the heat on, stir the custard ingredients together until it starts to thicken. Stop when your whisks leaves tracks in the custard and the texture becomes like a smooth porridge, should take about 10-15 minutes depending on the heat. Whisk frequently, scraping down the sides and bottem of the bowl, so that the custard cooks evenly without scrambling.
3) When thickened, remove the bowl from heat and refrigerate until the mixture is completely cooled.
4) Sprinkle the gelatin powder on 1/4 cup of the remaining tea. Microwave for 15 seconds to dissolve the gelatin. Pour into the custard while the custard is still warm and whisk to mix.
5) After the custard has cooled completely, pour it into a blender and with the blender going, add the pieces of butter, which will thicken the mixture. Keep the blender on till the filling is completely mixed and thickened.
6) Pour into the cooled tart base and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours before serving.

The Darjeeling tea filling is really a creative genius spin that brings out the best chemical properties of eggs and butter, it sounds nifty but if you follow the steps closely, you should get a result that really bedazzles the senses. Like most french dessert recipes though, a small misstep and you'll wind up with an abject failure. Trust me, I've tried more times than I care to remember.

The first part is that the tea steeped has to be as strong as possible. You need about 3/4cup of strong tea for this recipe and I've discovered that you lose about 1/2 cup of water in the brewing process, so when I usually start with 1 1/2 cups and wind up with 1 cup of strong tea. This tea is made into a custurd and then a cream, so the tea taste can become quite milky and diluted. Bearing that in mind, I use about 4 Tbsp of loose-leaf tea, instead of the prescribed amount in the recipe and I actually think that if you increase the amount of tea even further, it would improve the taste of the eventual tart.

I was told by Chef Prince that using tea dust, instead of tea leaves, would help the taste to infuse better. I suspect that if you grind your tea leaves before infusing, or boil the tea leaves with the water, this might help to get a stronger tea. I also tried blending the tea and tea leaves after steeping (marginally more effective).

I don't actually like Darjeeling Tea, I find it astringently tannic and musky but when I first came to this recipe, I dug around in the recesses of my pantry and by happy coincidence, found a can of Mariage Freres Darjeeling Princeton loose-leaf tea that I had been gifted with. This was a rather pricey tea to begin experimenting with but it did make a kick-arse tea flavour. Later on, sceptical of Princess Ice's "$40 for a few grams of tea dust" judgementalism (and rightly so, since tea dust is the reject of the gourmet tea manufacturing process- the smaller the particle, the lower the quality and price), I experimented with regular tea bags. These were not exactly economical, as I had to use 12 tea bags at a go and even then, the tea was watery, weak and milkier in taste.

While in Paris, I picked up a big can of Twinings loose leaf Grand Himalayan Darjeeling tea. At $7 euro for 200g (as opposed to Mariage Freres at $12 euro for 100g), I made two exact tarts, one of which was the Mariage Freres and the other which was 1/4th the price. The difference was visible from steeping, the more expensive tea was a lighter brown shade, with a rich crema on the surface. However, in a blind taste test of the two eventual tarts, most of the 8 testers said there wasn't an appreciable difference, although all 8 were able to identify the more expensive tea and the most cited reason was that the Mariage Freres tart had the kick and aftertaste of a "second, floral aroma".

When making the custard over a bain-marie, make sure to use a metal bowl, the first time I used a glass bowl and we were whisking forever. I've found that a Kitchen Aid metal mixer bowl has a narrow base that could be easily submerged and it's thick handle doesn't transmit the heat, enabling me to hold the bowl while whisking. It also went conveniently from bain-marie to freezer, where the metal surface enabled the custard to cool quickly.

I make my gelatin mix with the leftover tea, rather than using water as in the original recipe (gelatin does not melt as easily in tea but it doesn't really make a difference, as long as the powder dissipates completely). You must add in the gelatin mix while the custard is still hot, to give the gelatin a chance to mix evenly but must cool the custard throughly before proceeding to the next step of blending in the butter.

If you try to emulsify the custard when it is still warm, the butter will simply melt and the mixture, rather than thickening, will grow even more liquid. The texture of the tart should be firm but airy-light and velveteen, not gelatinously hard but definitely not soupy.

If you emulsify the butter correctly and at a cold temperature, you should need no more than the 1 tsp of gelatin set out here. If the mixture is not cold when you blend in the butter, then you will likely find that you wind up with a filling that doesn't set, or need 2 tsp at least of gelatin to help it set. Of course, if you are trying to cut down the butter content, then you are best advised to increase the gelatin amount but it's really the butter that gives the gorgeous lightness to the tart filling.

The emulsified tea cream tastes superbly of tea and upon hardening in the fridge, can be used as a filling for macarons. I suspect, given who pioneered this method, that this might be the way that Pierre Herme makes the filling for his jasmin tea macarons. I've also tried this same method for a Earl Grey tea tart, it can be done but did not taste as good, the taste was not as characteristically tea-like and was somehow heavier, more flat and bitter.

In her recipe, Dorie Greenspan gives an additional recipe for buttery hazlenut strudel which she strews on top of the tart. This seemed gratitously fattening and it would muck up the beautiful smooth glossy surface of the tart, so I omit it but it's also because I'm not a crust person. If you are, you might like to make the streudel and you can find the recipe in her book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Weylin, your approach sounded tenacious enough, bravo!
Darjeeling is lovely, it's our favourite black tea.