Sunday, February 18, 2007


Torta di Cioccolato Amaro

Lately my life has been a little hectic, what with preparing for a heart-breaking separation from my angelheart Eric because of my move back to New Zealand (no, we're not splitting up; circumstances have just led us to this next step in our lives as I complete my master's degree this year).

How does one assuage the palpitations, the churning of the stomach, and the breaking of the heart? I proffer the baking of a cake.

The dolce that I decided to make had to be dense and aromatic in order to distract the senses, rendering the brain, if even for a nanosecond, unable to dwell on the impending departure. What drew me to this particular cake by Mario Batali is the inclusion of anise seeds and anisette (I opted for white sambucca). Ever since childhood I have loved licorice, and this has matured into an appreciation for fennel bulbs, fennel seeds (for savoury dishes), anise seeds (for sweet dishes), ouzo, opal nera...Most recipes, whether sweet or savoury, that stop me in my tracks are those that contain a licorice-like element.

In addition to the inclusion of anise seeds and anise liqueur, I noted that vin santo was suggested in the pastry. This further piqued my curiosity. How would this all come together? Needless to say, for the duration of making the cake and waiting for it to bake and settle, I was distracted...

Torta di Cioccolato Amaro
(from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano)

For the pastry:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1/2 cup sweet dessert wine, such as vin santo

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
10 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon anise seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon anise liqueur, such as anisette

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar (I only used 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons milk, or as needed
2 teaspoons anise liqueur

1) For the pastry, combine flour, salt, confectioners' sugar, and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse 2 or 3 times to mix. Add butter and pulse further until mixture comes together like coarse crumbs. As the food processor is running, add the dessert wine until dough comes together. Place dough on sheet of cling film, press into shape of a disk, wrap tightly. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2) Butter a 10-inch tart pan.
3) Roll pastry dough out between sheets of cling film (this works really well and saves getting flour all over creation) to a 12-inch circle approximately 1/4 inch thick.
4) Preheat oven to 400 deg. f./200 deg. c.
5) Line tart with dough pastry and trim the overhang.
6) Prick the tart shell and bake it for 12 minutes or until just set. Set aside to cool.
7) Reduce oven temperature to 375 deg. f./190 deg. c.
8) For the filling, bring cream to a simmer in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat, add chocolate, and stir to melt. Transfer to a medium bowl and let cool for 20 minutes.
9) In a small bowl, lightly beat eggs and egg yolk.
10) Whisk cocoa and eggs into the chocolate mixture, then whisk in crushed anise seeds and anise liqueur.
11) Pour filling into the tart shell and bake for 15 minutes, or just until the the filling appears glossy and is slightly firm but still loose at the center.
12) Cool tart for 15 mintues on a rack before removing sides of the pan.
13) To make the glaze, in a medium bowl beat confectioners' sugar with the milk and anise liqueur until it has reached a thin consistency able to be poured. Add more milk if necessary. Drizzle over the cooled tart and allow to harden before serving.

My "drizzling" was less than spectacular, but it may have turned out better had I looked at the photo in Mario Batali's cookery book before I poured it out. I just wanted the glaze out of the vessel and onto the tart so I could cut myself a gorgeous slice of decadent heaven. I have to say, though, that this is really A LOT of bittersweet chocolate, so I would consider replacing 3.5 ounces of it with semisweet chocolate. This would add a bit more depth to the chocolate, which, surprisingly, tasted quite flat. For all the anise flavors added, they were drowned out by the bitterness of the chocolate. For those who do not have an affinity for anise, this is not a big deal, but for me it signalled a slight disappointment. I wanted more than a lilt at the very edges of my tongue. The aromas and flavors of the pastry were brilliant; this is a serious consideration for future tarts in which there needs to be a balance between the sweet and the bitter. I will keep this recipe earmarked for revision in the near future.

Baking did do the trick. Though I would not ascribe to a life of aversion (I'm confrontational by nature), getting lost in the world of baking and all things food momentarily was good for me. It will be a while from now, though, before I can get into the kitchen as I will be leaving the U.S. in a couple of days and will have to reorient myself in New Zealand...I hope it will not be too long before I blog again, especially since the writing up of the escape into the kitchen will distract me, again, from feeling every moment the separation from my angelheart Eric.

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SHaun, I hope to email you before you leave, but if not, we'll speak when you get to NZ. Hope you have a safe and pleasant journey! The tart looks delicious and I bet both of you really enjoyed it.
Love, Freya
Oh Shaun--I do feel for you (re: separation from Eric). It's a lovely tart.

A lovely dessert for a sad time. Shaun I hope the kitchen will continue to comfort you in the upcoming months.
Freya - Thank you for the kind e-mail; it was incredibly thoughtful of you. The tart would have been more delicious with less of the overall bitterness, imparted by so much bittersweet chocolate. Less of that and more of the anise notes would make it more complex, I am sure.

Jasmine - Thank you...It is indeed really hard to be apart from Eric, and I hate every second of it. I am already counting down the weeks until I see him again. Yes, the tart looks pretty good, but some changes in the quantity of ingredients will yield something more my liking.

Sara - Yes, it is coincidental that it is a BITTERsweet tart for a very sad moment...I'm sure that the kitchen will be a constant companion throughout the separation, as will your kind support.
Hi Shaun,

The tart looks fab!Hope the time flies as fast as possible. Keep on baking if it helps. Good luck.

I do know how you feel about the separation.It is really hard. That tart looks delicious and I'm sure a little chocolate will help. Have a safe trip!
Kathryn - Some days the time whips by, but most days drag on forever, and my life is left in limbo between conversations with Eric. It really is quite hard to be separated. I did pop into the kitchen yesterday and made a Lemon Tasmanian Pie; it did feel nice if even for a moment to be wholly immersed in creating something and just getting on with things.

Veron - The trip was turbulent, but I arrived in New Zealand in one piece, albeit with a broken heart. But food will help me get through.
Your tarte looks absolutely delicious. Chocolate does not solve all the world's woes, but it does help. And if you need a wee bit of chocolate, this looks like a lovely one to have. Cheers.
Almost Vegetarian - Thanks for the kind thoughts. You're right, the chocolate didn't solve anything, but it relieved some of the sadness, if only for a bit.
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