It took me a long time after university to stop associating coffee with the torture of exams. Despite being an over-achiever at school, it took me quite a few years to get my groove at uni. And so frantic, caffeine fuelled all-nighters were the rule rather than the exception during vet school, much to the surprise of those who knew me in high-school. Couple that with the academically, physically and emotionally demanding nature of a vet degree, and it was a sure formula for one hot mess of a vet student come exam time. That year that we had 10 exams to complete in a two week period is particularly memorable, and I think it was after that year that I resolved to get my act together so that I wouldn’t have to sit important papers on two hours of sleep and a whole lot of liquid stimulation.
A forced wake-up from an unfairly short sleep wasn’t even the worst of it. The kicker was the mind-fog through which I would command the answers to surface as I tried to focus on the words on the page. Finally, there was the fumble of a bus ride home, when my brain was too numb with lack of sleep to even process whether I had performed adequately in the exam. Even to this day, looking at an energy drink brings back the faint nausea of those delirious, desperate and disillusioned all-nighters that I and my friends (yes, I had company in this silly behaviour) subjected ourselves to for 2 weeks every semester.
In the last few years I have felt that I am adult enough and forgetful enough to be able to savour the taste of coffee without the bone-chilling memories that my disorganised uni student self had attached to it. Good coffee, made well, truly is a wonderful thing. Those first few sips whose aromas fill the nostrils and which leave a trail of warmth down the oesophagus are a comfort and a wake-up call in one.
I take mine without sugar, always have, and find it is actually an offense to the coffee if sugar masks any of its flavour. On days when I’m feeling a bit decadent, I will also dip a piece of dark chocolate into it, holding it in there for a few seconds so that I can inelegantly suck off the top layer of melted chocolate before dipping it back in. Occasionally I will also drop a cube of chocolate in while the coffee is still very hot, so that I have something lovely to scoop out with a spoon after my last swig.
I don’t think there’s any uncertainty that I am all for the marriage of coffee and chocolate. These mocha tarts combine those two great lovers, and the nutty, gluten-free base does much to ground the whole thing and cut through the bittersweetness.
Mocha Tartlets (Gluten-free, refined sugar free)
For the Crust:
3 cups almond meal
115g butter at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
1 tbsp rice syrup or honey
1 pinch salt
For the filling:
2 cups raw cashews
1/3 cup strongly brewed, good quality coffee
1/3 cup Rice Syrup or honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
150 g 70% dark chocolate
1/3 cup double cream
Mini tart cases or a muffin tin, greased well
A high speed food processor
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Spread the cashews out on an oven tray and bake for 4-5 mins until just starting to gain colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
To make the crust, cut the butter into cubes and place in a large mixing bowl with the other crust ingredients. Using clean hands, rub the butter into the other ingredients to form a dough that you can knead. Knead for 2-3 minutes.
Pinch off portions of the dough the size of ping-pong balls (23-25g each). Flatten each ball between the palms and press into the tart cases or cups of the muffin tin. Press the dough evenly at the base and sides of the tins to a 3-4mm thickness. Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 10-15 mins until the cases are an even golden brown colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before removing the cases from the tins. Use the tip of a sharp knife to gently loosen the tart cases and facilitate removal from the tins.
While the tart cases are baking, make the filling. Place the cooled cashews in the bowl of the food processor and blitz on high speed, stopping intermittently, until a smooth butter is formed. Initially a meal will form, then a thick dough, then a smooth butter. Add the coffee, cinnamon and honey or rice syrup and blitz until an even mixture forms, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all the nut butter is incorporated.
When all the tart cases are baked, cooled and removed from the tins, fill each one 1/2 to 2/3 with the filling. Place them in the freezer for an hour or so until they are firmly set.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20 to 30 second bursts. Take off the heat and add the cream, stirring quickly to form a smooth ganache. When the coffee filling has set, spoon small amounts (about a tsp) of the ganache onto the top of each tart and spread out a little with the back of the spoon.
Refrigerate until the ganache is firm. Serve as is or with a dollop of cream.
Leftover chocolate and coffee filling? Mix them together, firm up in the fridge and roll into balls to make mocha truffles!
You could probably make 1 large tart in a standard sized tart tin if you prefer, although I have not tried that with this recipe.