Banana Cake with Toffee Sauce

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Where has the consistency been? This week has been a flurry of priority questioning and it’s taken until now, April, to finally feel as if things are getting back on track. I’ve forgotten how effective blogging is at re-wording my sense of self and re-aligning priorities. More and more I’m realising it’s an outlet, to help me more than just others, and it feels good. If others indeed benefit from my own vulnerability in words as well as my recipes, then the ultimate goal is reached. Further, although Instagram, that occasionally fun and bright little platform, nicely links to this blog, I have to say that words flow a little more naturally here in prose. I can write all the long captions I want on every Instagram post, but that would ruin the point of this blog, and rarely does one go on Instagram to read paragraphs anyway.  There’s no limit here, just freedom of thought as my hands hurry across the keyboard. And doing it even just once a week is such a great relief, a comfort, away from other pressing worries.

Life is supposedly about work and play, but I realised there must be a couple of concrete things in place, done on the daily or weekly, that help reinforce my work ethic and everything else that comes in this sphere of daily living. Namely, blogging like this, fitness and health, and words. There are some practical ways in which these can be enforced, ways which in previous years I may have been too nervous to talk or even blog about. In the points below I’m more specific in methods that help my human relations (this is the one thing I think I’ll always be private about), body, life and general goals.

read and write a little everyday: words are assuagement, trailing between my teeth and lips and hands, giving meaning to the smallest overlooked things on the daily, resetting focus and slowing down my (usually too fast to the point of no return) brain. So a little everyday goes a long way. I’ve been journalling almost every day since I was 7, so I’m happy that that’s a natural habit in place, but my reading of books could seriously be upped, and my German is still incredibly poor so I must drastically improve my practice, with this blogpost keeping me accountable.

On this note on words, here’s an interesting quote to fluff up your day: ‘Science is one way of connecting with the mystery of existence. Atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method because atheism is a declaration of nonbelief, but there are not really any declarations in science.’–Marcelo Gleiser, winner of the Templeton Prize 2019. Funny to read this as I constantly question where I am on the spirituality spectrum. That was something complex compressed neatly into a few keen sentences, something to think about more often.

cardio and strength training: movement is another meditation. I’ve been trying to alternate between these two 4 times a week, and I’ve found my general focus and memory to have improved significantly. Yoga, spinning, bodypump classes, and walking daily. I have pretty crap stamina so aiming to get stronger with time, as I zone out and tune in, and to improve insulin sensitivity. Anyone else have a strict fitness routine?

food: I’ll repeat myself every day if I have to– this blog is my fairytale place. It makes me happy to write about sweet things, made slowly and pleasingly with jazz music in the background, but it’s by no means what I eat on a daily basis. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m pretty health-conscious, given what I study (human nutrition, gut health and how it links to brain health), but good at pretending I’m not. I will happily visit the newest bakeries and indulge my sweet tooth, but that probably goes as far as once or twice a week, and I’m apt to look out for the other sugary things I enjoy slotting into my meals: sweet chilli sauce, oat mochas (I’m having one right now, guilty), maple syrup, etc. I never can, or will, be too militant because this in itself is a set-up for failure and a very UNfun life. So here’s to more protein in my protein-lacking diet, slow-releasing carbohydrates, more whole fruit and veg, and less sugar overall to keep me feeling sluggish.

And with that said…

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Cake. A cake for the weekend, or a midweek pick-me-up. This banana cake has olive oil in it, which I find readily complements the ripe banana flavour, but if you so happen to not have that on hand, then any other oil (sunflower, rapeseed or even coconut) would work. Maybe not sesame. There’s not much oil in the cake anyway, so you should be safe in any case.

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Banana, chocolate, olive oil. A serious, yet light-hearted, harmony. I experimented with the vegan version of this using ground flaxseed to make the flax eggs, but really this was The best part of eating this cake, in my humble opinion, is the drizzling of hot toffee sauce and cold cream (plain or coconut) on the cake, making it a squidgy, moreish mess, dry and wet in all the right places, before digging in. The hot and cold and bit of banana on top of the cake come together in a cute waltz that intensifies into a crazy textural orgasm. So hot.

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Ingredients (makes one 9-inch cake)

For the cake:

188g (1+1/2 cups) plain, all-purpose flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

handful of chopped chocolate (milk/dark)

230g (around 1+1/4 cup, unpacked) light/dark brown sugar

4+1/2 bananas, 2 whole and 2+1/2 mashed

3 eggs or 4 flax eggs (made by mixing 4 tbsp ground flaxseed with 7 tbsp water and leaving aside for a while to gel)

120ml (1/2 cup) olive oil, or sub with melted butter/vegan butter/another oil that’s more neutrally flavoured

Handful of chopped chocolate

For the toffee sauce:

113g (1/2 cup) butter/vegan butter

3 tsp fine salt

135g (2/3 cup, unpacked) light or dark brown sugar

120ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream or coconut cream

Directions

For the cake:

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). Grease a standard 9-inch round cake pan. It would be easy if you use a springform pan, in which case you can easily take the cake out, and I don’t bother lining the tin. If you do use a normal pan then make sure to line your tin with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder. In another medium bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas (2+1/2), brown sugar, eggs, oil and salt. Add the wet mix to the dry mix and fold everything together until you get a nice homogenous batter. Some banana lumps are fine. Pour the cake batter into the pan. Next, cut each of the remaining 2 bananas in half, and then cut each half again in half, lengthwise this time. You end up with 8 short banana halves. Place each banana piece cut side up in a wheel formation (or however you like) on the cake, then sprinkle on the chopped chocolate on top, then place the cake into the preheated oven to bake for 35 minutes exactly.

Meanwhile, make the toffee sauce. Add the brown sugar and butter to a saucepan, bring the heat up to the highest and wait for the mixture to come to a boil, helping the brown sugar and butter to dissolve faster by nudging the mixture with a wooden spoon. Once it starts to sizzle, let bubble for 2 minutes, then add the cream and whisk. It will sputter a little, but that’s normal and good. Cook for a couple more minutes, then bring the heat down, cook one more minute until everything is smooth and caramel-coloured, and take it off the heat.

Once the cake is baked, take out of the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes. Serve with the toffee sauce and some extra cold cream or coconut cream. Store the toffee sauce in the fridge, and the cake at room temperature for up to 4 days in an airtight container.

Banana Bread Oatmeal and Little Lessons

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Having just finished Buddha Brain by Rick Hanson, it’s come to my attention how disengaged and out of focus we tend to be in our stimulated environments, especially in fast-paced cities such as London. Somehow we are always trying to do more in less and less time, and this has potentially devastating lifelong consequences. It’s blind attention. Some days we go through the motions and feel rewarded or successful upon ticking off multiple checkboxes. But life isn’t a checklist, and isn’t supposed to be. How crazy are we to think we can be both productive and happy going about life in this robotic, stress-fuelled way?

This audiobook sort of links to the one I’m reading now– Whole, by one of my idols T. Colin Campbell. All this stress increases risk of certain diseases and accelerates ageing. Food of all things is so underrated in its effects on our mental and physical health, as well as the way we behave towards and learn from others. How could we use food to help us live better lives?

There are a few strategies about both food and lifestyle that I have included in the past few years, each starting at different points in my life, but all practiced towards the same degree. For example, I have done yoga and meditation for 2 years now, but only started mindful eating a few months ago. Naturally I am a rather indecisive person (4-5 delicious Gail’s vegan muffins or a manicure kit? Help??), but these techniques put the minute decisions into the broader context of life better, helping me achieve a better, more logical state of mind.

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The most incredible vegan sorbets and ice cream (coconut, deep and rich dark chocolate, raspberry and lemon basil) at Ballabeni in Munich!

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  • Make eating a meditation. Eat slowly, and savour every mealtime. Put your fork down between each bite, don’t have blazing screens on for at least 2 out of 3 of your meals, talk to a friend or loved one. Think about where each ingredient on your plate came from. This process clears your head, refreshes the mind. You know you are putting good things into your body. The pictures above are from my recent trip to Munich to see my boyfriend and his family. Every morning welcomed me with fresh bread and jam. Each bite was more alluring than the last, a chunk of fresh hope and energy for the day’s next few steps. Even if it’s a slice of cake, remember where that cake came from, each sweet mouthful airing your body with life and energy. It may not be the slow sustained energy you get from your daily bowl of oatmeal, but it’s food to savour and enjoy all the same, and by practicing mindfulness, you’ll get used to treating your body better, and crave cake a few times a week, not twice a day. And on that note…
  • Include some source of protein and fat at at least 2 of your meals. This way, you are satiated and don’t mindlessly snack on sugary foods throughout the day (I have had enough experience with this, ugh). I bake once a week and indulge in whatever experiment that day holds, but my diet is primarily a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) one, and I testify to moderation as salvation  Having had a turbulent relationship with food in the past, particularly my early and mid-teens, WFPB has healed me from the inside-out. Nothing else is more satisfying, refreshing and nurturing. Best part? You can be incredibly creative with any WFPB food! Flax in your baking, carrots in your cake, rich cocoa in your hot chocolate… go mad.
  • Immerse yourself in nature once in a while, and move your body. This is especially important if you live in an urban area like London. In Munich, the forest and her sharp air was particularly surreal despite the stroll’s brevity.  Sometimes, there is nothing more beautiful or necessary. Exercise is equally as important to keep the mind fresh and strong.

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So here is a little breakfast bowl that I made last week. It’s not your traditional bowl of oatmeal, but it’s just as wholesome and only a tad more fancy. It’s the perfect way to start a mindful day. This was further jazzed up with a matcha bar bite I bought at a café, but that;s optional. The focus here is the natural sweetness of the banana and the thick, almost rich flavour it lends to the oatmeal. Watery business begone. Back to basics, the best way.

Banana bread oatmeal (serves 1)

Ingredients

45-50g (about a half cup) oats (I use a mix of porridge and whole rolled oats for texture)

1 banana, half of it mashed, the other half chopped into coins

120ml (half a cup) each of plant milk of choice (I use almond and oat), and water

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

some crumbled banana bread

2 tsp each of almond butter and maple syrup

Directions

In a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl, mix the oats, salt, mashed banana, milk, water and cinnamon together. If you’re using a saucepan, bring the mix to a boil, then lower the heat a little and stir until you get a thick and only slightly gloopy consistency. If you’re using a microwave, microwave on high for 2-3 minutes. Take it out in between (after 1.5 minutes) just to stir it and make sure nothing bubbles over, because that may happen if your microwave is especially strong.

In a pan heated on medium heat, lightly oil the base and place your banana coins in the pan. after 30 seconds on medium heat, flip over to check if they’re nice and brown. Heat them a little longer if they’re not. Flip and caramelise the other sides. Place the banana coins on your hot bowl of oatmeal, top with the crumbled banana bread, almond butter, maple syrup, and if you want, a splash more plant milk. The cold milk seeping into the thick and gooey, hot oatmeal is divine.

Black Sesame Waffles and Lemon Curd

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Do you feel the same emotional high as I after creating a meaningful breakfast? Such that it ceases to be a shallow acquaintance in the morning, disappearing as fast as it appeared– head to table, then head to door. It’s so much more than that. It’s a tuning into the senses, savouring a myriad of plant-based foods that nourish and lighten the soul, the abundance of classic and sometimes unexpected flavours colouring the rest of your day with creativity and comfort.

Just as how some people have shaped and supplied your existence over x number of years, food too mirrors this truth. In clashing flavours, harmony is found.

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There’s no ‘right’ time to treat yourself. Lately I’ve been re-focussing once more on the importance of routine, which really does free up a lot of creative head space during the day. Suffice to say that, upon the first moments of rising, after a cleansing elixir of which recipe I modified from various parts of the Internet  (1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, juice of half a lemon, top up the rest of my 750ml glass with filtered water, mix mix mix), meditation, a short workout and mini journalling session, a generous, flavourful, exotic breakfast is always welcome.

Black sesame, matcha, red bean. These are the flavours which still call to be delivered on an almost-daily basis. The magical trip to Japan was bookmarked with earthy flavour, soil and icy freedom etched in the wintery grey skies. These waffles are a throwback to some charcoal waffles I used to travel far for back in Singapore, though are richer in traditional goma flavour instead of being just, well, black. The use of activated charcoal here helps the colour, though that is optional. What makes it special is a black sesame paste made of finely ground black sesame, maple syrup and sesame oil. The ratio of the paste is much more coarse than that for the actual waffles, but as long as you get a relatively coarse, all-black paste then you’re set and ready to go.

And this lemon curd! Ah lemon curd, something I have unconsciously craved for so long and have failed to substitute with various tangy yoghurts and the morning lemon wash, has finally made a sturdy comeback. All vegan, all delicious, creamy and silky. I used agar powder since I did not have vegan gelatin on hand, but use the latter if you do have it. The agar promotes a more jelly-like flavour so use much less of it. Another great thing is that you can make both waffles and curd at the same time, and not waste time making one thing after the other. If lemon curd isn’t really your thing, these waffles would pair well with most anything else– this morning I coupled a toasted one with tahini, frozen fruit and maple syrup, the white pasty sesame-y tahini (yeah, to think I speak and type English) amping the roasted, toasted flavour of the black sesame paste in the waffles. The lemony curd cuts through this pastiness, a sunny break.

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Crispy, chewy black sesame waffles with lemon curd (makes 6 medium, or 5×6-inch waffles)

Ingredients

90g all-purpose flour

90g oat flour (store-bought or process 90g oats in a food processor; alternatively substitute with another flour of choice, be it plain, spelt, or perhaps a gluten-free option)

35g cornstarch

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp sugar of choice– I used coconut, you can use plain/brown/maple/golden caster

Optional: 1 tbsp activated charcoal powder (you can get this in powder form, or cut open the capsules to release the powder inside)

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the black sesame paste: 65g roasted black sesame seeds+ 2 tbsp each of maple syrup and sesame or vegetable oil

2 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice

1 tbsp melted vegan butter

350ml plant milk of choice (I used almond; you could use soy/cashew/oat)

For the lemon curd:

The juice of 1 lemon

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp agar powder, or 2 tbsp gelatin powder

a light pinch of turmeric, for colour (literally just the tiniest smidgen)

a pinch of salt

3 tbsp maple syrup (or agave nectar)

3-4 tbsp plant-based yoghurt (I used soy)

240ml plant milk of choice (I used almond)

 

Directions

First, make the black sesame paste. In a food processor, process the black sesame seeds until fine. This will take quite a while, perhaps at least a couple of minutes (well it took a while for me, at least). Once they look quite fine, add the maple syrup and oil and pulse again until everything is well combined. The paste should be dark and sticky.

In a separate bowl, weigh out all your dry ingredients and mix together well. Add the charcoal powder, then all the wet ingredients. Mix everything together until just combined. The mixture should be moderately thick, dark, and have speckles of the black sesame paste. Heat up your waffle iron according to its instructions and ladle in your glossy, dark batter. Do not put too much or the batter could seep over the sides once you close the lid. Wait for at least 3-4 minutes before opening the lid and checking. Mine does not need flipping over so I only had to close the lid for a couple more minutes again.

While the waffles are cooking, you can combine the ingredients for the lemon curd except for the yoghurt in a small saucepan. Mix everything together well then bring the contents to a boil. Once boiling, take the pan off the heat. This part is important! It may look as though the mixture is still very liquidy, but that’s how it should be. Leave it to cool while you deal with the waffles. After half an hour, take a spoon and mix the curd. It should be a little jelly-like, or at least thick. Add the yoghurt and mix to lighten the colour and smooth the flavour (otherwise its a little too intense).

The waffles and curd will keep for up to a week in your fridge, or you can freeze both and heat up either whenever you want. Serve with each other, with maple syrup and fresh fruit. Bliss, at its true finest.

Rice Cake Molasses Granola

The kitchen seems to have closed upon the death of last week’s get-up. But the smell lingers. It’s rich, dark, carnal. I sit here now recalling the life-giving things of everyday. After making this last Saturday, I hopped over to a new cafe which I implore all of you to check out for some downright good, authentic Danish bakes, then to Piccadilly’s Waterstones for a good 5 hours just to read my heart out, the perfect excuse for not doing work I was meant to be doing. How sad it is to find joy in the unruly, yet how perfectly OK with it I am once or twice a week. It’s true that meaning and mental enlightenment can arise from nothing when given work to do, yet there’s a wild freedom only found in self-direction, reading and exploring things one would only find outside of a lecture theatre, as exciting a lecture may be.

With granola-making on the agenda last Saturday, I shook off the morning grog and effortlessly persuaded myself to Waitrose. Right opposite, to get some oats and rice puffs for a little bit of fancy. I came across a most moreish-looking granola recipe in Honey&Co’s cookbook just earlier in the week, overcome with fiery instinct. Rice puffs are something I always took for granted. Child’s play, too light to be in anything except standard mass-produced granola or cereal bars. This, however, seemed to take granola to something of a new level, choked with Mediterranean spices and a sultry undertone of rarity. Just as I was about to leave the house, my peripheral vision caught sight of these chocolate rice cakes I brought back from Germany just the previous week, and I knew something had to be done with those babies. A mini brainwave hit– why not crush those and chuck them in the granola instead? So I chucked off my shoes and got to work. It was going to be fun.

Starts off all sticky after everything is incorporated, and even seems a bit ‘leaky’ once taken out of the oven, but success is trust. Cooling will let the clusters form, and that’s where all the fun’s at, right? Each huge, outrageously crisp cluster is a thing of dreams. A heavy hand with the molasses will do the caramelisation process, and you, too much good. And of course, like all granola recipes, this is so easily customised. Raisins, nuts, chocolate, add and subtract as you will. How to granola: douse in milk, languish, enjoy.

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Rice Cake Molasses Granola (makes one large batch)

Note: all bracketed substitutions are vegan

Ingredients

80g unsalted butter (sub: vegan butter)

120g blackstrap molasses (sub: a rich, dark honey)

110g light brown, soft sugar

100g chocolate-covered rice cakes, chopped into thick chunks (sub: 70g plain rice cakes and 30g chopped chocolate)

70g oats or muesli

150g nuts of choice , chopped (I used walnuts)

100g dried fruit of choice (I used torn dates and raisins, though if you abhor either like many a friend of mine, then feel free to substitute with whatever else you would like, and this recipe works well even without any dried fruit!)

1 tsp cinnamon

optional: 1 tsp ground ginger

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 190C (375F) and line a large baking tray with parchment. Combine the butter, molasses and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Take off heat, then pour in the rest of the ingredients.

Transfer to the pan and flatten a little so everything will cook more evenly in the oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, then take out and let cool for another 10. You will notice a bit of molasses leakage, almost like a liquidy mess at the size. Not to worry, for this is expected. Leaving the pan to cool will rest everything and harden it all up nicely. Use a spoon to break everything up a little, but not too much– leave the large clusters! Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Enjoy with liberal drizzles of milk, topped with fresh/frozen fruit for a good adjacent tang.

Dark Chocolate Jam Tart with a Black Sesame Crust

There are two reasons why I’m so excited to talk about this recipe.

1. So I scoured the corners of the internet, modified a few recipes to incorporate black sesame into a beautiful, flaky pastry crust, and failed. The second time, after readjusting the proportions and carrying on headstrong, it worked. Although I had some leftover dough, I figured one can always make a few more tarts if you have molds on hand, or simply freeze for later usage.. or eat on its own. Whatever floats your boat these days. This crust took this tongue by surprise, and I’m loving it.

2. Combinations occasionally take on surprising and welcoming turns. This is one of them. Chocolate and jam. I’ve done it on toast, and there are those bars you find lying in the dusty corners of the gourmet aisles, once glinting, too pretty to touch. We are sometimes a reluctant, frugal people, I know. This tart requires neither heartache nor skill. It’s a proper seeded attempt at something less predictable than your average dark chocolate tart (albeit some sea salt variations here and there, which once again requires no effort, if you really think about_. It’s a cut in the norm. A most welcome tart. In its glorious entirety, think rich, dark and slightly bitter chocolate sitting atop the epitome of a flaky, milky sweet, butter-breathed crust.

The pictures above display my own toppings; a sudden, spontaneous headspin– macadamia butter and more jam. In this case, I used apricot, but strawberry or orange would also work fine in this recipe. Feel free to use whatever flavour you have on hand. Whipped cream and fresh fruit on top would also serve to complement the suppressed tart notes in the tart alongside the (almost) overwhelming richness of a thick chocolate ganache, and that crusty, sweet, buttery base.

Dark Chocolate Jam Tart with a Black Sesame Crust (makes 6-7 tartlets or one long 10/11-inch rectangular tart)

Ingredients for the crust:

215g (around 1 3/4 cups, but weigh for accuracy) all-purpose flour

113 (one stick or a half a cup) cold, unsalted butter

80g (slightly less than 2/3 cup) icing sugar

1 egg yolk

large pinch salt

1 1/2 tbsp heavy cream or buttermilk (I used the latter just because I had it)

20g sesame powder (weighed after sifting), or 3 tbsp ground sesame seeds

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients for the filling:

1 cup good quality dark overture chocolate, bar or chips (at least 60% cocoa)

240ml (1 cup) heavy cream

2 tbsp apricot (or any flavoured) jam

Cut the butter into half-inch cubes and put on a shallow plate or dish. Place the dish into the freezer to ensure the butter is at its coldest when you use it. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, heavy cream/buttermilk, salt and vanilla extract. In another larger bowl or into a food processor, sift together the flour, icing sugar and black sesame. Take the cubed butter from the freezer and plop the lot into the large bowl containing the dry mix. Using your hands (or using the processor settings), rub the butter into the flour mix. This will take a while, but try and work the butter into the flour fast because body heat causes the butter to melt much faster. Rub the butter in until it resembles a course and fine meal. Pour in the wet cream mix and lightly work into the dry mix until a dough just comes together. Shape this into a disc, wrap with cling film and then place into the fridge for an hour, or overnight if making a day ahead.

Grease your tartlet pans or rectangular pan. Take the dough out from the fridge, unwrap and place into the pan. Press the dough, which should still be pretty malleable and of a light greyish colour, into the bottom and sides of the pan. Take your time here, you want to make sure that there is a pretty thick and even layer of dough all around and up the sides. The thick padding ensures enough support during and after baking. Trim the top using a butter knife to get a clean edge. You may have some dough leftover like me, and that’s fine. Place the tart back into the fridge to stiffen a little more for 15-20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F). Cover the tart with aluminium foil and fill with pie weights. Bake for 22-25 minutes (I stopped at the 24-minute mark), rotating the tart halfway.

Whilst the shell is baking, make the filling. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and microwave on high for 30-40 seconds. Remove from the microwave, then take a large spoon and stir everything together. Taste and add more jam or chocolate if necessary. Set the bowl aside for later.

After the blind bake, remove weights and foil, then bake for another 5 minutes (I only needed to bake mine for an extra 4). Just watch that the tart doesn’t look too dark around the edges whilst baking. Keep an eye on it. After baking, remove from the oven and let cool completely. Fill the tart with the ganache, then allow to set in the fridge for at least an hour before cutting and serving. Store in the fridge, otherwise the ganache will leak everywhere. It keeps well there for a week, but I doubt it will last that long…