This article was originally published on VICE Italy.
I’ve just moved to a new place, so the closest thing to a baking tool in my possession is an unused shaving brush I could conceivably use to brush egg wash on pastry. No whisk, no rolling pin, no scales, no baking tins. Only dreams and sugar cravings live here. Not wanting to deny myself the ability to bake and eat my anxieties away during the lockdown we're currently in, I decided to enlist some help in creating a professional dessert in my utensil-free zone.
After working as a chef in Rome’s ritzy Hassler hotel and Barcelona's fine dining establishment Alkimia, 26-year-old Edvige Simoncelli was named Pastry Chef of the Year by Italian food and wine magazine Gambero Rosso in 2019. Her love for high-end desserts brought her back to Rome, where she now works at the Michelin-starred restaurant Idylio, which is closed due to COVID-19 at the time of writing. The restaurant isn't doing takeaway, and Simoncelli said there's not much the chefs can do but wait until restaurant is allowed to open, hopefully in June.
I told my new pastry mentor that I wanted to make something classic, like tiramisu or a custard pie. But she suggested I try one of her recipes: a dark chocolate ganache tart with fruit and berries. Sold. The idea of recreating such a fancy dessert without proper cooking tools was daunting, but I had the recipe's creator on my side.
HOW TO MAKE A SHORTCRUST PASTRY TART WITHOUT SCALES OR A ROLLING PIN
For the crust, you'll need 220 grams of butter, 180 grams of icing sugar, 5 grams of salt, 100 grams of egg, 480 grams of flour and 50 grams of cocoa. This will make a cake with 12 to 15 portions, but seeing as none of us are throwing parties anytime soon, you can always cut the recipe in half.
- First, mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. To measure the flour, take out a little less than half of a one kilogram packet. If you don’t have a new packet, one tablespoon is about 16 grams of flour. For the salt, five grams is equivalent to a generous sprinkle.
- Next, add the butter cubes to the bowl and rub them into the dry ingredients, for a slightly clumpy dough. Butter should be easy to measure – most brands have measurements on the packet.
- Now add the eggs and sugar. One egg is about 55 grams, so you can use two for this recipe. If you want to be precise, crack the eggs, whisk them and measure out eight tablespoons. Mix the dough together well without kneading it, until you have a big brown ball.
- Squish the ball down into a rough rectangle, before you wrap it in cling wrap and leave it to rest in the fridge for half an hour. “This will make it easier [to roll it out] for later,” said Simoncelli.
- Next, roll out the dough until it’s about one-centimetre thick, using the cling film roll as a substitute rolling pin. It will be slippery, but you’ll get a more equal surface than using a bottle. Another pro-tip from Simoncelli is to sandwich the dough between two sheets of baking paper lightly dusted with flour before rolling it out.
- Since we don’t have a cake tin, the structure of your base will depend on your construction skills. Mine were bad. Start by laying a plate on top of your dough and cutting around it to get your round base. With the offcuts, cut a few long strips – they are your sides. Attach them to your base using cold water.
- To make sure your masterpiece holds its shape, place the base of the tart on a baking tray with baking paper on it.
- Now cut some long and wide strips of tin foil and fold them lengthwise a few times for strength, making sure the final strip is at least as wide as your tart is tall. Then take the strips and place them around the tart to support your floppy sides.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and lower the temperature to 160 degrees just before you put your base in. Prick your base a few times with a fork and bake it for 25 minutes, then let it cool.
- In the meantime, prepare your ganache. You’ll need 110 millilitres of milk, 110 millilitres of cream, 160 grams of dark chocolate and 20 grams of egg. Even if you halved the crust recipe, I’d advise you not to do the same for the ganache – you can dunk some biscuits in it later.
- Chop your chocolate into rough choc chips using a knife. You should be able to measure roughly 160 grams by the weight given on the packet. Add them to a bowl along with a spoonful of beaten egg. I suggest you check on your crust at this point – one of my sides had collapsed by now – and fix any issues with some extra foil strips.
- Add the milk and cream to a pot (just over half a glass of each) and bring to a boil. Once bubbling, pour into the bowl with the chocolate and egg and start stirring. “At the beginning, it will look pretty split but it’ll eventually combine nicely,” Edvige reassured me. It took me a good five minutes of mixing. Then, tap the ganache bowl on your counter to eliminate any air bubbles – this stops the tart surface from cracking.
- Pour the ganache in your cool base and put everything back in the oven for 25 minutes at 150 degrees. Proceed to stare at the tart through the oven window and obsess over the surface remaining as shiny and perfect as the ones you’ve seen on Pinterest.
- This recipe isn’t very sugary, so once your tart is out of the oven and cooled down, top it with some berries of your choice. You can also go wild and add whipped cream. If you don’t have that lying around the house, take some of your heavy cream, add sugar and prepare to flex some muscle. “You can use a cocktail shaker filled with ice,” Edvige suggested. “The ice bumps into the cream keeping it cool, which helps whip it up.”
Congratulations, isolators, you’ve successfully baked a pastry-chef-approved chocolate ganache tart. It might be ugly, but your stomach doesn’t care. Enjoy eating it alone on your couch for the next week.