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Wild mushroom caramel (and other stories)
Two mushroom tarts, one sweet, one savoury
Sometimes I like nothing more than cooking something simple I’ve made a hundred times before. I know how long it will take, I know I won’t start questioning my place in the universe because an improvised sauce has split, and I know it will, hopefully, taste the way I want it to.
And sometimes that just seems like the most miserable thing to do in the world.
On days such as this, I want to try something I haven’t done before. Sometimes I just want to waste an hour or so on an over-complicated technique that will offer at best the most infinitesimal of improvements over doing it the easy way.
I dunno, something like grilling a piece of salmon nailed to a wooden plank perhaps instead of just putting it in the oven.
This week I’m sharing two recipes that satisfy both these states of mind. And, with it being that perfect moment in Finland at which both wild chanterelles and ceps are in season together, this week I’m celebrating forest mushrooms as well.
In fact, the mushrooms I used to make the recipes this week I foraged in the forest near where I live in Finland. So, for those interested in such things, check out this short video of how I identify ceps and chanterelles before we get to the recipes…
And please remember, don’t trust just my tips or any online resource alone. Always get the help of an expert local to you before picking mushrooms for the first time.
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A recipe for chanterelle quiche
I’m not entirely convinced there is a finer demonstration of human achievement than the quiche. It is, to me, a perfect thing. And it is at its most perfect when kept simple, with just one or two ingredients employed to flavour the delicate yet achingly rich savoury custard filling.
The chanterelle is one ingredient that does the job very well.
Even a small amount of chanterelles will deeply flavour a cream filling such as the one used in this recipe. The added benefit of this is that there isn’t too much mushroom in the quiche itself to undermine the delicate texture of the cooked custard. I’m really not one for quiches with lots of pieces of this and that in them. This is why I infuse my chanterelles in the cream filling before baking, so as much flavour is extracted throughout the quiche as possible.
Otherwise my only firm suggestion is to bake the quiche slowly on a low heat. This is a delicate French dish we are talking about here. This is the place for pale yellow tops, not golden browns.
Enough shortcrust pastry for a 15cm flan ring (double quantities below for 24cm flan ring)
175ml double cream
80g chanterelles chopped into small pieces
1 small onion
a knob of salted butter
First, roll out your pastry to about 3 or 4mm thick and line your flan ring. Rest this in the fridge until firm. Then, blind bake at 200°c for about 15 mins with baking beans/uncooked rice. After which, remove the beans and continue cooking for about 5 or 10 minutes until the case is dry and cooked through with no greyish patches. Drop the oven to 150°c and let the case cool while we take care of the important part…
Start the filling by cooking the mushrooms in a dry pan on a low heat. The goal here is to slowly cook the moisture out of them. Once the mushrooms have released their moisture and it has cooked away, add some butter and the onions and continue slowly cooking them until soft without colour. Once softened, raise the heat to start caramelising everything a little bit before adding the cream. Bring this to just below boiling, then remove from the stove, cover, and leave to infuse until room temp.
If you’re feeling all “The Bear”-ish and want to sieve your eggs at this point, then you do you. I never bother. Then mix the
sieved egg in with the room temp mushroom cream. Season to taste, and if you can’t eat raw egg at all, then take a good guess. You learn by doing! And be bold. Food can take a lot of salt.
Pour everything carefully into your shortcrust case and place in the lower part of the oven and bake for around 30 minutes. In my experience, no oven is alike. What takes an hour in my ancient oven at “150” takes about 40 minutes in my mother in law’s. The important thing is not to cook this too hot or too long. The top should be pale and the centre soft and just set. If it starts to look like it is “soufflé-ing” then it is overcooking.
This is best eaten while it still has only the slightest gesture of the oven’s warmth still lingering within it.
Cep infused chocolate tart topped with whipped cep caramel
I’m going to be blunt and say this tart is the best thing I’ve cooked in a long time.
It was inspired by a wild mushroom flavoured chocolate that was served to guests at an exceptionally fancy, fine-dining restaurant I once worked at. But I wanted to see how it “scaled” to a larger dessert such as a tart.
I started with the ceps I’d foraged the day before. On giving them a good sniff, the first thing that came to mind was caramel. I then went to the dried ceps I have in one my cupboards. The scent was so different, so powerful. But, somewhere, buried within the complex aromas, I felt like chocolate was there as well. Maybe roasted chocolate. With this in mind I went online to see if I could find out why I thought I could smell these things.
The answers were fascinating. Mushrooms contain some of the most complex collections of flavour compounds a natural product can offer.
In ceps you have pyrazines that give peanut/chocolate/popcorn/nutty aromas. Phenols give the smoky/roasted aroma. Esters are thought to be responsible for the fruity notes in ceps. And something called (E,E)-2,4-Decadienal is responsible for the buttery, beefy, roasted potatoey flavour that I think might also be described as malty. Learning this, the delicious pairing of sweet chocolate and caramel with forest ceps, started to make a little more sense.
None of this science matters, of course, once you have taken a bite.
When I ate this tart, and particularly the cep caramel, I wasn’t eating caramel and chocolate with a side of cep. I couldn’t identify one thing and then the other, as you must either the two faces or the single vase.
Eating that cep caramel reminded me, if you’ll humour me a moment, of watching a solar eclipse. The moon and the sun are entirely separate things as we watch them slowly encroach on each other. And then, as they finally slot into perfect place and darkness descends, something almost impossible emerges. It is only now we see the full brilliance of the sun revealed. The stellar corona. The bright, beautiful crown that surrounds our sun that remains hidden from us until those two celestial objects become one.
Through some magic I’d love to understand, the caramel that tops this chocolate tart, coming together with the cep, reveals its own coronal form. This caramel is the most caramelly, roasted, buttery caramel, I believe, you will ever taste.
And, yes, it is also a bit mushroomy.
I hope you try it, because I know you’ll love it.
Enough sweetened shortcrust pastry for a 15cm flan ring (double quantities below for 24cm flan ring)
150ml double cream
140g dark chocolate
150ml double cream
40g salted butter
20g dried ceps
First, roll out your pastry thinly to about 3 or 4mm thick and line your flan ring. You should then rest this in the fridge until it is firm. Then, blind bake it at 200°c for about 15 mins with baking beans. After which, remove the beans and continue cooking for about 10 minutes until the case is dry and cooked through with no greyish patches. Drop the oven to 150°c and let the case cool while we take care of the important part…
First, heat both the cream for the tart and the caramel (so, yes, 300ml) to a simmer with the dried ceps, remove from the heat and leave with a lid on to infuse until room temp. This cream should smell and taste very strongly of ceps. Be brave, if you want to try adding more, then go right ahead. Chocolate and caramel are bold flavours and they stand up to the cep flavour so well.
Sieve the ceps out (save them for something else though) and put 150ml of the cream aside for the caramel later.
Back to the tart filling. Add the 25g sugar to the cream and heat once again to a simmer. Meanwhile, break the chocolate up into small pieces and cube the butter. Put this into a bowl and cover it with the hot sweetened cream. Give it a good stir until it is smooth and combined. Beat the eggs and add them to the chocolate mixture. Like the above recipe, you can sieve this if you are feeling fancy.
Add the filling to the pasty case and bake for around 30 minutes until softly set. Don’t overcook it! Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
The caramel is all we have left to do. In a pan, slowly caramelise the sugar over a low heat until it is a rich, dark golden colour. Don’t be tempted to mix it, at most just gently swirl it around until it is all caramelised together. When it is, add the 150ml of cep cream you set aside earlier. It will bubble up but give it a good stir to dissolve everything together. Then beat in your butter and add a pinch of salt.
Leave this to set in the fridge. Once firm, take an electric whisk to it until light and slightly fluffy. You should be able to spread it over your chocolate tart. If it is still too firm after whipping, let it sit at room temp for 5 mins or so.
Your tart can be refrigerated for several days without detriment, but it is very important that it’s allowed to come to room temperature before being served. A fridge cold version of this tart is a tragic thing compared to the room temperature version.
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