6am. Sunday morning. Trying to psych myself up for a toe-curling run around the freezing fields of north north London and it occurs to me how my attitude towards running has changed since childhood. In recent years I’ve found that getting outside in shorts and trainers to be not only extremely physically rewarding, but also a fantastic way to establish the lay of the land when away from home. And it’s so good for the mind too – as long as you can reach escape velocity from the warmth of your kitchen and Country File repeats on BBC2.
Stark contrast then, from when we were fifteen and an early morning run was universally seen as the most harrowing punishment the school could inflict upon an unruly child. I expect though, that it was the menacing pack of power-crazed sixth formers screaming in our ears and forcing us to smash through the icy puddles and do press ups into them that turned an otherwise enjoyable cross country jog into something far less appealing. Interesting that people now pay good money for the same treatment every Sunday morning on Hampstead Heath.
Anyway, the lead up to the run generally starts with a strong cup of coffee and today, the bonus of a slice of last night’s chocolate tart. This one is really simple and while it might not sound very exciting, it’s a classic, and it’s really really good.
Start by making a rich shortcrust pastry. I use James Martin’s recipe – 200g plain flour, 2 tbsp icing sugar and a small pinch of salt rubbed into 100g of cold cubed butter. Then add a beaten egg with a splash of lemon juice and water. Gently pull it all together into a ball and pop it in the fridge for 30 mins to cool and rest.
When it’s rested, roll it out thinly (thinner than a normal tart – you want the crust to be fine and crunchy) and place it in a well buttered loose bottomed tart tin. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and blind bake in the oven at 200c, covered with parchment and filled with baking beans. After about 15 minutes, remove the parchment and continue baking, up to almost 10 minutes. You’re not baking it any more after this, so you want to ensure it’s golden brown. Keep a close eye as you have to get this just right. Underdone and your tart case will be soft. Overdone and it will taste bitter. You do want a crunch though – it’s what works so well contrasted against the creamy filling.
For the filling, take 250g of good dark chocolate, 70g of butter, 4 large tablespoons of honey, a big glug of cognac and melt them all together in a bowl placed over a pan of boiling water. Once melted, gently mix in 300ml of Creme Fraiche and pour the lot into the tart case. Leave it to set and serve it with a jug of double cream.
It’s really good with a glass of Sauternes (obviously).