I’d say yesterday evening was fairly successful, all things considered.
In total, eight of our friends managed to squeeze themselves through our front door to arrange themselves on the most uncomfortable chairs and/or settee in the whole of Switzerland. Most even voiced that they were happy to be there. I think the food and wine helped.
Since this was the first party-esque gathering we had managed so far in our 10½ months of being en Suisse, I had decided to do something easy on the eater. Something that would be happy to take a backseat in the way the evening panned out, that could be eaten in stages and revisited at will while conversation did its own thing. Mezze seemed like the perfect choice.
And as good and as well received as it all was, I don’t want to go into too much detail about the recipes, the ingredient-gathering and the cooking. Suffice to say, my morning was spent visiting bustling grocery shops and a Syrian café, while my afternoon was something of a kitchen-wrecking blur, but one which yielded pretty good results come eventide.
There was the obligatory hoummus, minty cucumber yoghurt (both made so often, they no longer require a cookbook trawl), some baba ganoush, meatballs and tabbouleh made to Claudia Roden recipes and yoghurt-topped beetroot and squash-filled fatayer pastries, both taken from Sam & Sam Clark’s Moro cookbook. I had notions of baking some flatbread too, but in the end, shop-bought pitta (tarted with sumac and nigella, and baked) had to do.
What I was rather pleased with and which I’m more than happy to gush about, was the dessert: a Chocolate, Cardamom and Quince Tart.
The original idea came, again, from my well-loved (read: food-stained and tattered) Moro cookbook, in which there is a recipe for a Chocolate and Apricot Tart. Although this in itself sounded like it would make an idyllic ending to our Middle Eastern feast, I decided to take a good idea and fiddle a little.
A week earlier, I had made a few jars of beautiful, pink quince jam, which were now perched at the top of my kitchen shelves, gleaming quietly. The quince has traditional associations with Middle Eastern cooking, and knowing that my jam wasn’t overly-sweet, I decided to make this a feature of my tart. And I must credit Tartelette with the addition of almond and cardamom to the pastry base, since I stumbled upon her Quince Tartlets some time ago and thought the combination sounded perfect. I must also confess, I did get a teeny bit cardamom-happy and ended up sprinkling more into the chocolate filling, but with very pleasing results.
So here it is. This managed to bring a smile to the faces of eight guests and their two semi-capable hosts. Normally though, I think it would feed a little less (say, 8 or so).
Plain flour – 100g
Ground almonds – 40g
Cardamom – seeds from 3 pods, ground
Icing sugar – 30g
Butter – 75g, cold and cut into small pieces
Egg yolks – 1
Quince jam – 180g
Unsalted butter – 135g
Dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids, if you please) – 110g, broken into pieces
Eggs – 2, large
Caster sugar – 45g
Cardamom – seeds from 3 pods, ground
To make the pastry, sift together the flour and icing sugar in a bowl, then stir in the ground almonds. Add the butter, get your hands in the bowl (why on earth would you want to use a processor for the best part of pastry making?) and rub between your fingers until the mixture feels like coarse sand. Add the egg yolk and mix with a fork until the pastry comes together a little bit, then finish off the process with your hands and pat into a flattened ball. (If the mixture doesn’t initially look like it’s coming together when you are stirring, add a tiny splash of iced water.)
Wrap the pastry in cling-film and place in the fridge for at least an hour. (When I made this, I left it in the fridge overnight to make the pastry-making process a little less troublesome.)
Once the pastry has had its chilling time, remove from the fridge and roll out to a thickness of 3mm to 5mm. Lift this over the top of a 24cm tart tin and gently ease it into place. Prick the base lightly all over with a fork and pop it back into the fridge for another half an hour. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 210 degrees Celsius/gas mark 7.
Scrunch up enough baking paper to line the pastry case and add baking beans or dried pulses, before sitting the tin on a baking sheet and placing in the oven for 10 minutes, or until the edges are light brown. Remove from the oven and carefully hoist the baking paper and beans out of the pastry case, and lower the heat to 180 degrees Celsius/gas mark 4. Cover the edges of the tart case with foil to prevent them from burning and return the case back to the oven for a further 10 minutes or so, until the base is also light brown. Remove and leave to cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on at this temperature.
To make the filling, heat the quince jam in a pan over a low heat until it liquefies a little and then pour this carefully into your cooled pastry case, smoothing out to the edges. Leave this to cool for a while you attend to the rest.
Place the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie and heat until melted and then remove to one side. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and caster sugar until pale, light and a little frothy. Stir the ground cardamom into the melted chocolate mixture and fold this into the whisked eggs and sugar, before pouring into the pastry case.
Place the tart back on the baking sheet and bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the chocolate filling has lightly risen and appears to crack slightly (it will sink upon cooling).
We ate this, unadorned, at room temperature. You may want to offer something creamy to go with it, but make sure whatever it is has a little tang (some sharp yoghurt, or crème fraîche, perhaps) to offset the tart’s wonderful richness.