I had been absent for little over a month when I stepped down from the aeroplane and onto English soil. The new year had transformed the darkness of winter into the lighter wakening of spring time, and it caught me by surprise. Longer days, lanes covered in snowdrops, song birds heralding the skies with joy and wonderment. 2017 had already revealed itself as a year of promise and empowerment, like the snake that shed its skin, I had already felt the changes taking place in my life, with the releasing of the old and beginnings of a future, brighter, filled with laughter and love.
You see, for over a month ago, on the request of my parents (who I will forever be grateful to), I travelled back to my homelands to seek aid for an ailment that had been plaguing me since the end of October. For four months, I had been haunted by its crippling symptoms which left me unable to take rest, to eat, and to walk. I cannot count the many doctors I met in the A&E departments of the hospitals I visited, nor the number of diagnoses I was given, each different from the last. The pain, so severe, forced me to resort to pain killers (I do not take pills normally for anything) prescribed by doctors, but they brought no relief. Even the likes of morphine, which was administered at the hospitals, did not touch the pain.
However, within a week of undergoing tests back home, particularly through an examination of my abdomen and a CT scan, the problem was identified: a burst appendix (which I now know to be that one moment I had experienced, what I can only describe as a splitting sensation in my lower right abdomen back in October). My body had, miraculously, isolated the area in a ball of tissue the size of a cantaloup melon, which had stuck itself to my right hip (hence my inability to walk) and my right ovary (which inflamed the area on a monthly basis), and had, thankfully, only damaged parts of my intestine, as opposed to spreading further to any other organs. Somehow, I had survived four months with a burst appendix, had not died of septicaemia and had the problem identified before anything else could be damaged. Needless to say, parts of my intestine had to be removed, the tissue, that had saved my life, was removed, my hip cleaned thoroughly of its presence, and my doctor was able to gently lift my right ovary out of the sticky tissue that had grown around it.
The worst part of the whole experience, was being prohibited to eat or drink anything for five days after the operation, which, I am unashamed to say, I shed tears over (I will mention that the first food that I was allowed to eat, was custard, and it was the most delicious custard I had ever had the pleasure of tasting). Also, as bizarre as this may sound, I was able to secure a photo of the tissues removed, to keep as a reminder of my body’s capabilities (ok, yes, I have attempted to show everyone I know the photograph, because I am so proud #notevensorry).
Being back in England, seeing the springtime changes, limping my way across the tarmac, I could not have been happier. Sadly enough, my positivity had yet to undergo another blow: my grandmother passed away on the evening of 7th March. I was fortunate enough to see her only two days before that, when she had been her usually cheerful self: giggling, smiling, and, naturally, making the nurses laugh with her wonderfully humorous self. I will always remember how she would dance up supermarket isles with me as we sung “We’re off to see the Wizard”, or when she would call me to let me know that Calamity Jane was on the television. I remember how she would call me up to remind me to change the clocks back and forth in the autumn and spring and how she taught my little white budgerigar, Josephine, to wolf whistle. As much as I love and miss her, something I lack the ability to wholeheartedly express, in the words of Rumi, “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with their heart and soul, there is no such thing as separation”.
The winds have changed for me, I feel more appreciative of life, I feel more grateful, I feel stronger. I know life keeps moving on. Like my late Grandmother Ida would always say, everyday is a blessing. I know that as long as I keep positive, regardless of the conditions I may face, I can accomplish anything. I will not let conditions change my outlook on life, and I will never allow it to hold me back from the things I love and things I wish to experience.
Coming back to this recipe: nothing speaks more to me of my adolescence than the aromas captured in this tart. Envision a grove of oranges, the air thick with the saltness of the Arabian Gulf and the lingering earthiness of tobacco smoke of men passing by. Chocolate is extremely popular in the Middle East, perhaps excessively so, with shops, boutiques, and restaurants dedicated whole-heartedly to capturing its ethereal nature and enjoying its sacred pleasures.
Whilst it may come as a surprise to many, not only will this be my first chocolate post on my blog, but my relationship with chocolate has always been one of bitter-sweetness (pun intended). Don’t get me wrong, I have always been captivated by how diversely talented this ingredient can be, from the simplest but soul-warming hot chocolate, to ‘seasoning’ savoury dishes, creating truffles, and moulding flowers: it is an ingredient like no other. What enthralled me most was its different character notes that can be identified and used to produce a harmonious symphony of flavours. I can spend all day reading about the different acidities, characters,and the different levels of the taste experience. I can even spend days making truffles, brownies, and other delectables for those around me to enjoy. But the smell, the taste, all of which have somehow repulsed me from childhood, have, on many previous occasions, swayed me from experimenting with it too much, particularly if I did not have someone who could aid me in figuring out its character (enter my official Taste-Testers, their excellencies, Djamo and Ellie, the latter being my lucky neighbour).
Please note: when there is someone around who just so happens to be willing in mind and body, to sacrifice their tastebuds and waistline in the name of delicious perfection, I earnestly attempt to take full advantage in order to appreciate and explore the unearthly world of cocoa.
Going back to the tart. There is a depth of flavours here; rich, fresh, earthy with hints of smokey mellowness from the cigars. There is a balance of sweetness and saltiness here too, that really provide a setting for the other levels to come through. We grew bitter oranges back homes, somewhat akin to Seville oranges, however, I felt a sweeter orange would aid in breaking the sharpness of dark chocolate used here and since there were still quite a number of blood oranges being sold in my local market, I didn’t mind experimenting with them. Although the ingredients used in this recipe are not specific to the Middle East, with the exception of the orange blossom water and black cardamom, somehow it feels I have been successful in my endeavours to capture the aromas of an everyday experience on my side of the world.
Dark Chocolate and Blood Orange Truffle Tart + Tobacco & Sea Salt
Cooking time: 2 hours, plus overnight
Makes: 1x9inch tart
In regards to the tobacco used in this tart, since dark chocolate has such a strong flavour, it is important to use a type of tobacco that can compete and shine through. A word of caution, tobacco and cigars do contain nicotine, so I personally would not eat an entire tart in one sitting. By all means, you can leave the cigars used in this recipe entirely out, as there will still be hints of smoke from the sea salt and the black cardamom. However, the cigars do add a wonderfully grounded sensation during the aftertaste of this tart.
4tbsp cocoa powder
2cups plain flour
2tbsp dark muscovado sugar
1tbsp heavy cream
2-3tbsp cold water
1 egg yolk
1tsp smoked sea salt
zest of 1 blood orange
1/2tbsp chopped sage, dried
1/2cup 70% Ecuador dark chocolate
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 small cuban cigars
4 black cardamom pods, crushed
1/4cup dark muscovado sugar
1 1/2cups heavy cream
juice and zest of 1/2 blood orange
1/4tsp orange blossom
1tsp smoked sea salt
2tsp vanilla paste
1/4tsp cinnamon, ground
Dark Chocolate Cream Layer:
1/2cup 70% Ecuador dark chocolate
1cup heavy cream
In a saucepan, place the cream, sugar, black cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Stirring continuously, heat the saucepan over a medium heat until the cream begins to simmer. Turn off the heat and add the cigars. Stir and place a lid on the saucepan, staring occasionally. Allow to infuse for one hour or until desired smokiness is achieved. Discard any solids.
Meanwhile add all the dry ingredients and then the chopped sage and orange zest into a bowl and stir until well combined. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the texture of wet sand is achieved. Add the egg yolk, heavy cream and the cold water and bring into a soft dough.
Slightly butter the tart tin, if require, and roll out the pastry dough and place into the tin. Place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 170ºC (150ºC fan-assisted) or 325ºF. Place the tart and allow to bake for 10 minutes or until the pastry becomes slightly puffed then allow to cool completely. Leave the oven on.
Beat the eggs lightly before pouring into the cream mixture along with the orange zest and juice, and the orange blossom water. Melt the chocolate with the butter and, a tablespoon at a time, add the melted chocolate into the cream, staring continuously (this is to ensure the eggs don’t cook). Pour the chocolate cream into the tart tin and place in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the edges are puffed (the centre should tremble slightly when gently shaken). Cool completely.
To make the dark chocolate cream, melt the chocolate and the cream together, stirring continuously until all the chocolate has melted and the cream becomes a dark colour. Pour over the tart before placing the refrigerator for 4-6 hours, or overnight. Remove from tin and decorate with blood orange slices before serving. (Note: the longer the tart rests in the refrigerator, the more flavourful it becomes).
Thank you for reading.