Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Truffle Shuffle

I recently gifted myself Chocolates and Confections at Home with the Culinary Institute of America written by Peter Greweling, an instructor at the CIA. I’ve been in the kitchen nearly every free moment since receiving it. Each chapter begins with a discussion of the theory and techniques (with photographs!) for the recipes found therein. Even if you’re not interested in making your own candy, it’s a really fascinating book for learning about what goes into some of the treats we love. Like most food, candies have cultural, social and regional ties that can bring a sense of nostalgia just from seeing them.  For instance, you C.S. Lewis and/or Charles Dickens fans may be interested to know that there is a recipe in Greweling’s book for irresistible Turkish Delight (I made mine orange and almond):

The main reason I went after this book was for the chocolate. There’s a whole chapter devoted to the treatment of chocolate and avoiding pitfalls like blooming or streaking in finished candies. Tempered chocolate and I have in the past, had a tenuous relationship. I chocolate-dip torrone or marshmallows, but they never look particularly pretty. How do I make molded chocolates with caramel or peanut butter inside? And candy bars? And cordial cherries? And..and…and…well the list goes on.

After reading the chocolate-chapter, I practiced tempering chocolate for some pecan and walnut turtles. While disastrously messy, it helped me learn how to arrange everything on my limited counter space and gave me a sense of the pace at which I needed to work. It reminded me so much of making marshmallows for the first time: Accept that you will make a mess, learn from it, and know that in the future you will know how to avoid it.

I was right. So before you all head off to dive head-first into your Thanksgiving cooking, here is a simple truffle recipe that makes an elegant addition to a holiday candy dish.

Marzipan-Walnut Truffles

-3 oz. almond paste (I found it in the baking aisle at my local grocery store.)
-¾ cup powdered sugar
-2 oz. walnuts, chopped
-1-2 tbsp. brandy or other liquor (can use corn syrup for alcohol-free)

-8 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
-2oz. walnuts, finely chopped

-Cut the almond paste into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl.
-Sift the powdered sugar over the almond paste and knead into a cohesive ball, adding liquor or corn syrup as needed.
-Knead the chopped walnuts into the marzipan.
-Scoop teaspoon-size portions of the walnut marzipan and roll into balls to create the truffle centers.
-Prepare the coating by melting 6 oz. of the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl that fits snugly over a pot of barely simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the simmering water), stirring frequently until it reaches 120 degrees F. Remove from the heat, add the remaining 2 oz. chocolate and stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and reaches 85 degrees F.
-To maintain the temperature, place the bowl of melted chocolate on a heating pad set to medium. Alternatively, leave the small pot of water at a bare simmer on the stove and stir your chocolate over it if the temperature starts to drop.
-Use a fork to gently press each center in the melted chocolate and then turn once to coat evenly, -Scoop the truffle back onto the fork and tap the bottom of the fork on top of the melted chocolate a few times.
-Tap the fork on the edge of the bowl to remove the rest of the excess chocolate before gently setting the truffle on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Tapping the fork on top of the melted chocolate and then on the side of the bowl helps to keep a little chocolate puddle or “foot” from forming on the bottom of the truffle.
-Sprinkle the remaining chopped nuts over the truffles before the chocolate sets and then leave at room temperature until dry.

Makes about 20 truffles. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep at room temperature for several weeks.

Have a wonderful week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Ciao for now,


Monday, November 15, 2010

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Italian Meringue

Another birthday weekend! We celebrated Lynn’s (Joe’s mom) birthday this weekend with dinner on Friday night and brunch on Sunday. Who doesn’t love an multi-day birthday celebration?

Of course this meant more cake baking (Yay!). But this time, I had to take into consideration that Lynn is avoiding eating a lot of excess sugar these days. She was certainly not adverse to a little something extra-special and loves chocolate, so I thought that the occasion called for something dark, rich and only slightly sinful: The Flourless Chocolate Cake.

It has its sweetness, but the chocolate is the star. I played around with a few recipes, not wanting to tromp all over the chocolate flavor with a lot of butter and eggs. This version came out fudgy, dark, and rich. For the icing, I chose a light and fluffy Italian meringue. You don’t need very much (I used a little more than half of the recipe) for a one layer cake.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Italian Meringue and Strawberries

Cake ingredients
-4 oz. dark chocolate
-1/2 cup butter
-3/4 cup sugar or sucanat (I used half and half—the latter has a lower glycemic impact)
-1/2 cup cocoa powder
-3 eggs, separated
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-Pinch of salt

-Grease and dust an 8 in. spring form pan with cocoa.
-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
-In a saucepan over low heat, melt together the butter and chocolate and whisk until smooth.
-Remove the chocolate/butter mixture from the heat and whisk in the sugar, vanilla, salt and then the egg yolks (one at a time) until smooth.
-Sift the cocoa powder on top of the mixture and mix just until combined.
-Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and then gently fold into the cake batter.
-Pour the batter into the spring form pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until just set. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Italian meringue ingredients
-2/3 cup and 2 tbsp. sugar, divided.
-¼ cup water
-Pinch of salt
-3 egg whites
-1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

-Combine the 2/3 cup of sugar, water, and pinch of salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Swirl the pan gently until the sugar dissolves and then cook without stirring until the mixture reaches 230 degrees F.
-While the sugar syrup is heating up, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy and then slowly add the 2 tbsp. sugar. Beat until medium peaks form.
-Once the sugar syrup has reached 230 degrees, remove it from the heat and allow the bubbles to dissipate. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the sugar syrup to the egg whites and then increase the speed, add the vanilla, and beat until stiff peaks form.

Normally meringue does not store well, but the addition of the cream of tartar meant that I was able to keep this in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a day without it beginning to weep or shrink. Place a layer of wax paper directly on top of the meringue to avoid condensation from getting into it.

Spread an even layer of the meringue over the top and sides of the cake and then arrange sliced strawberries in overlapping circles. I wouldn’t recommend glazing them with anything as it will likely cause the icing to melt and spread.

Enjoy—and happy birthday again, Lynn!

Ciao for now,


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Free Time for Croissants

I found out on Friday that I passed my graduate portfolio. I turned in the last several documents for it earlier in the week, and expected to receive revision recommendations from my advisor soon. I thought I'd likely spend this weekend tidying everything up. Instead, I opened my e-mail inbox to see the message subject line:  LIBR 289 CONGRATULATIONS CHRISTINA CERTO. I'd completed the requirements for the course.

I spent the next day in shock and then decided that a long set-aside culinary project was in order. I'd put off doing it due to time restraints--but this weekend presented the perfect conditions.

Anyway, time for Croissants!

3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup barely warm water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups cold unsalted butter (3 1/2 sticks)

-Mix 1 cup of the flour, the water, and the yeast together and then set aside to rest for one hour.
The mixture will become very foamy.

-Add the remaining flour, cream, and salt, then knead the mixture for one minute. Let the dough rest in a bowl covered in plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

-At this point you can either knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes or in a mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment for 15 minutes on a low speed. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a half hour.

-Place the sticks of butter in between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound / roll them out into an 8 inch square.

-On a lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough to a 9 x 17 inch rectangle and place the square of butter on half of it:

-Fold the top of the rectangle over the square of dough and pinch the edges with your fingers to seal.

-Roll the dough into  9 x 18 inch rectangle...

and then letter-fold into thirds. Turn the dough so that the single-folded side is on the left:

-Roll the dough out to a 9 x 18 inch rectangle again and complete another letter-fold. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. (I docked the top with two dots to note that I had completed two "roll-fold" cycles.

-Remove from the fridge, roll the dough out to a 9 x 18 inch square and letter-fold two more times. (A total of four). Cut the final letter-folded dough in half and wrap each in plastic wrap. Now the dough is ready for use, although aging it for a few hours or overnight will develop more flavor.

-Roll the dough out into two 6.5 inch by 20 inch rectangles. Place on two parchment-lined baking sheets and return to the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

-Dock the edges on each side of the rectangle to mark off triangles. Cut them out with a pizza cutter or small, sharp knife.

-Make a slit at the base of each triangle and roll slightly outward as you tightly roll up the croissants. Roll the triangle up so that the final tip is underneath and then bend the two ends toward one another to form the classic croissant shape.

-Arrange the rolled croissants on parchment-lined baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap and proof overnight in the refrigerator.
-When it is time to bake, remove the croissants from the refrigerator and leave them at room temperature for an hour.

Beat one egg and a splash of cream together and brush the mixture on top of the proofed croissants.

-Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees F and then bake croissants for 35 minutes or until puffed and deeply golden-brown. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy the buttery flaky goodness.

Ciao for now,