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With a general preference for all things sweet, buttery and if at all possible, deep-fried, I don’t think I could ever be accused of pushing a health food agenda. It is nonetheless gratifying when the two coincide. If recent reports are to be believed, for instance, the key to eternal life is eating vast amounts of chocolate.
First there was that dream newspaper headline: “Chocolate ‘may help keep people slim’”. I wonder how many people read no further before rushing out to gorge on brownies? If they had they would have seen that while chocolate is also thought to be good for blood pressure and cholesterol levels and jam-packed with antioxidants, it is also full of those enemies of eternal life, fat and sugar.
Now—and this is particularly heartening for someone who has started putting her glasses in the fridge and forgetting the names of close relatives—we learn that a diet high in a bedtime cup of cocoa can ward off dementia. Apparently, the flavanols contained in good-quality chocolate are believed to reduce the risk of dementia by protecting brain cells from damage. Sounds promising, but before we all jump for joy, I should point out that the research was funded by Mars.
Today’s recipe, therefore, may or may not help you live forever but it is pretty, delicious and redolent of the chocolate limes of yore. And those never did us any harm, did they?
Incidentally, I have a tart tin crush at the moment—I bought this fluted oblong tin recently and I have to say I don’t think my pies ever looked prettier.
Chocolate and Pear Tart with Lime Syrup
For the chocolate pastry
150g plain flour (maida)
25g icing sugar
25g unsweetened cocoa powder
A pinch of salt
125g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk, mixed with 1 tbsp cold water
For the pears
3 ripe pears
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tbsp caster sugar
For the almond filling
100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
50g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Zest of 1 lime
For the lime syrup
The juice and zest of 2 green limes
150g caster sugar
You will need a fluted tart tin, 35x12cm
First make the pastry. The pastry shell can be made ahead and stored in an airtight tin until needed. Sift together the flour, icing sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and water and stir with a knife until combined. With your hands, gently and quickly (don’t handle the pastry too much) form the dough into a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and leave to chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.
When the pastry has rested, it needs to be baked blind—to avoid what the great British baker Mary Berry calls “a soggy bottom”. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Put the chocolate pastry on top of a piece of baking parchment paper, then put another piece of parchment paper on top of the pastry (using parchment paper makes this quite sticky pastry easier to pick up once it’s rolled out). Roll the pastry out a bit larger than your tin, unpeel the top layer of parchment, quickly lay the pastry on top of the tin, about 2-3mm thick, and unpeel the top layer of parchment paper. Gently press the pastry into the tin, patch up any cracks that appear and neaten the edges. Take a piece of parchment paper a bit larger than the tin and lay it over the pastry. Then pour in either some baking beans or dried pulses (this is to stop the pastry puffing up in the oven). Bake the pastry for 15 minutes, remove the paper and beans, then bake again for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Peel, core and cut in half the pears. Squeeze lime juice over them to stop them going brown. Heat a non-stick frying pan and sprinkle the sugar in. Add the pear halves, cut side down and heat until the sugar turns into a pale caramel. Remove the pears from the pan.
For the filling, beat together the butter and caster sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, almonds, flour, baking powder and lime zest until the mixture is combined. Spoon the mixture into the chocolate pastry case, then gently lay the pear halves on top. Bake at 160 degrees Celsius for about 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.
While the tart is baking, make a syrup by putting the water, lime juice, zest and sugar into a small pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat and cool. Let the tart cool slightly before serving, drizzled with the syrup or a good dollop of cream.