I had my first chocolate caramel pie at Soda Cafe in North Beach – it was so perfect that I kept going back, just for coffee and a slice of that pie. The pastry was thin and crispy, the caramel was smooth and sweet, and the dark chocolate mousse had a lovely firm consistency so it stood up in the slice, but was soft and light when you bit into it. It also seemed to have a top layer which was maybe a very thin layer of ganache. Last year they stopped serving it, and my visits to Soda dwindled, so I have been desperately trying to recreate this treat, and I have come pretty close.
What follows is a recipe of my best effort so far. For the caramel, you can slave over a hot stove trying to make caramel the traditional way with sugar, butter and cream, or you can make dulce de leche, which is far easier. If doing this, I recommend making the dulce de leche a day or two beforehand – you can store it in the fridge all ready to go.
As for pastry – I have always had problems with pastry – I remember my Home Economics teacher, Miss Milner saying “Oh dear Susan, your pastry looks grey like clay”, but in recent years I have found a few combinations that work for me provided that I don’t handle the pastry too much with my warm pastry-unfriendly hands. I use the cup measures (Australian cups), but I have put the gram equivalents for anybody who does not have a set of Australian cup measures. To be honest you can use a teacup if you like so long as you are consistent with the proportions. If you make a lot of pastry it is worth buying a bag of ceramic baking beans or beads (also called pie weights) – they stop the pastry case from rising in the middle.
1 1/4 cups or 190g of plain flour
1/4 cup or 40g self raising flour
1/4 cup or 50g caster sugar (I use brown sugar and pass it through a sieve)
90g unsalted butter
1. Sieve the flours and sugar into a food mixer.
2. Cut the butter into small cubes and add it to the flour/sugar. Start the food mixer and mix until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs (you can rub the butter in using your fingers if you like, but I have warm hands, so I use a food mixer).
3. Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the egg and a pinch of salt. (My photo shows a double quantity which is why there are two eggs). Mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until it comes together, then using your hands, lightly knead and shape it into a round (keep handling to a minimum, and if you have warm hands like me, rinse them in cool water first so that you start off with cool hands).
4. Roll the pastry out into a round and use it to line a flan tin or dish. Put the pastry lined flan dish in the fridge for approx 30 mins if you have time – this will stop it from shrinking away from the edge in the oven.
5. Cut a circle of baking parchment slightly bigger than the middle of the flan dish, and put some ceramic baking beans in the middle. Bake for 10 minutes at 190 deg C, then remove the baking beans and bake for a further 10 minutes. (The baking beans just stop the middle of the tart case from rising too much, you can get away without using them, but you will need to prick the base with a fork, and you may find it will rise a little).
6. Remove the dish from the oven and leave the pastry to cool to room temperature.
The caramel (dulce de leche method):
1 tin of condensed milk (must be condensed – not evaporated) Check that the tin is in good condition, do not use if dented – the lid must be unopened and not damaged.
1. Using an old saucepan, place the unopened tin of condensed milk in the saucepan, cover with water.
2. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 3 hours. You can cover it with a lid to stop the water from evaporating too much. Check it every hour to make sure that the water is not boiling dry – top the water up as necessary.
3. Carefully remove the tin from the water and leave it to cool thoroughly – it can be stored in the fridge until needed. Do not attempt to open it while it is still warm – I have heard stories of some tins exploding when opened, but I have never had a problem – be sensible just in case – cover it with a cloth when opening.
300g golden caster sugar
200ml double cream
1. Place the sugar in a pan with2 tablespoons water. Heat until it dissolves but do not stir.
2. Boil until amber.
3. Stir in the cream – add a pinch of salt if you like salted caramel.
4. Stir in the butter and simmer for a further 3 minutes.
200g good quality dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (60ml) water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 egg yolks (a handy hint for separating eggs is to break them on to a saucer, use an egg cup to cover the yolk, and tip the white into a separate container)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup (250ml) of whipping cream, whipped
1. Place the chocolate and butter in a bowl and melt by placing the bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water (the base of the bowl must not dip into the water) – or use a microwave if you are confident that you can melt it perfectly. Personally I use the saucepan double boiler method – I am not a fan of microwaves.
2. Cool the mixture for 10 minutes.
3. In a small saucepan whisk the egg yolks, sugar and 1/4 cup water. Cook and stir over a low heat for approximately 1-2 minutes (if you have a thermometer, it should reach 160 deg F/70 deg C).
4. Remove from the heat and whisk into the chocolate/butter mixture (get somebody to pour while you whisk). Cool down quickly by placing the bowl in some cold water or ice and continue to stir for about 5 minutes.
5. Fold in the whipped cream. It will look quite a lot paler now, but it will go dark again as it sets.
When the pastry case is cooled, you can add the caramel to the base of the pastry case. If you like salted caramel you can add a few scant flakes of sea salt on top of the caramel (if you have not already salted it).
Put the caramel coated pastry case in the fridge so that it is completely cool before adding the mousse. This will help to keep the layers nice and separate.
Top the cool caramel with the mousse mixture and leave to set in the fridge. 3-4 hours should do it.
If you want to add a further ganache layer (I haven’t tried this yet), I would recommend a mixture of dark chocolate and cream in the ratio of 100g chocolate to 70mls cream – if it seems too stiff you can always add more cream. When I make chocolate and cream mixtures, I break the chocolate into really small pieces, then heat the cream to almost simmering, and quickly pour it over the chocolate, stirring all the time. The warm cream melts the chocolate and you get a lovely shiny mixture.