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Archive for the ‘Confectionary’ Category

To make chocolate healthy pretty much means to  lose what we love most about it: cream, full fat milk, sugar.  What this loosely translates as is chocolate in its most natural form: pods, nibs, cocoa butter, unprocessed cocoa. However, I am always up for a challenge, and having sourced some Cacao Nibs on an unnamed online auction site,  I set to work.

Raw. Like Cacao.

Raw. Like Cacao.

It is no secret that I am a major chocolate fan (you have been reading this blog right?) so I was incredibly excited about trying the nibs. I had read such wonderful things about their health properties but more importantly (to me anyway), their taste!
When they did turn up, I opened the packaging and deeply inhaled the rich, earthy smell, more redolent of purest cocoa powder than chocolate bars. The nibs themselves resemble tiny wood chips and their texture is not far off wood either (not that I am a secret wood nibbler though). Taste wise they are much like a very high cocoa content chocolate: the flavour doesn’t come through straight away, but gets stronger as it melts and the taste lingers on your tongue. There is a slight smokiness to the nibs and they leave a not too unpleasant bitter taste in the mouth.
In this most purest of form, they are apparently a great aphrodisiac, one of the greatest sources of anti-oxidants and are supposedly good for boosting your mood. I can’t vouch too much for any of these claims but what I can wholeheartedly confirm is their intensely delicious taste when cooked or mixed with a natural sweetener.
In preparation for the experiment, I bought a book called Naked Chocolate written by superfood junkies, David Woolfe and Shazzie (no surname), who take every opportunity to extole the virtues of cacao nibs, blue sea algae and all manner of revolting sounding ‘foods’. Whilst I don’t buy into their hippy ethos of pure living through the consumption of raw foods, I am, if nothing else, always up for trying new and unusual ingredients. Generally I would not use the recipes listed in their book; for one, most of the ingredients are not your usual store cupboard staples (Optimum Source Chlorella, anyone?) and therefore they are extremely limiting, but I also enjoy trying to utilise unusual ingredients into ‘normal’ recipes such as cookies, or even chilli. I think it’s important as a cook to familiarise yourself with recherche ingredients, and to use them in everyday recipes is the best way of achieving this familiarity.
The truffles are an adaptation of a recipe taken from the Naked Chocolate book. In fact, an amalgamation of two recipes: their truffle recipe and their chocolate sauce recipe which forms the base of many other recipes.
I made the sauce several nights ago, being not entirely sure what I was going to do with it. I was planning on making a tart or maybe some muffins but eschewed those in favour of truffles. Also, truffles exude an air of luxury, something we could do with during these lean times!
As I mentioned, they are made using a simple combination of nibs, vanilla, dates (which add natural sweetness and moistness) and sesame seeds (which add texture and give longevity to the truffles) and take no longer than five minutes from start to finish, unlike dairy truffles, which are made with fresh cream and have to chill in the fridge before you can form them. Therefore, it is feasible that you can be sitting down, bowl of truffles on your lap, watching reruns of Millennium before the craving has barely kicked in. I like this kind of cooking!
I admit that I felt a pang of dubiousness when I read the ingredients; would these taste like some mealy-mouthed, flavourless vegan substitute for rich, dairy truffles? Far from it. Whilst the texture is unlike that of creamy truffles, these have a grainy bite that is not at all unpleasant. They feel and taste substantial, and the pure caffeine in the nibs gives you a great sense of well-being. They are an instant good mood hit. The sesame seeds add a nutty flavour that is particularly tasty, and, when rolled in some deep, dark cocoa powder, they really taste sensational.
Remember though that I still had some of the chocolate sauce leftover in the fridge (we scooped some of it out with our fingers every time we visited the fridge) and because I had deep concerns about the dry texture of the truffles, I added what was left of the sauce to the final mixture. I am not certain that the final recipe required this so I am just going to give you the basic four ingredient recipe. However, if you find that the truffle mixture is a little too dry, or not sweet enough, I would suggest adding a drizzle of Agave Syrup or honey and a few drops of unflavoured vegetable oil. Remember that the nibs have no additives so may well need some lubricant.
CACAO NIB TRUFFLESmakes 12-14 depending on size
Ingredients:
Half Cup Cacao Nibs
Half Cup Sesame Seeds
Half Cup Dates
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Some Agave Syrup or Honey to taste
Few drops of Vegetable Oil
Cocoa Powder, Sesame seeds, icing sugar for rolling
METHOD:
In a coffee grinder, blend the nibs and sesame seeds until they form a dry, crumbly mixture. It will not be smooth, rather it will be quite pleasantly textured.
In a blender, whizz up the dates until finely processed. Depending on the age of the dates (mine were old and dried out that they resembled boot leather), they may take longer to process.
Add the nib/sesame seed mixture and process until combined.
Taste for sweetness and add some agave or honey. Process and taste again. If the mixture is still very dry (which it shouldn’t be at this point), you can add a little of the vegetable oil.
Pour the mixture out into a dish and press down with the back of a wooden spoon to form a firm block.
You can now form the mixture into small balls, the size of walnuts, and roll them into some cocoa powder or sesame seeds, depending on your preference.
Options: You could add some rum or kirsch to mixture, omitting the Vanilla Extract, or swap the dates for dried figs or perhaps glace cherries. You could also add some chopped preserved ginger or roll the truffles in some chopped pistachios or hazelnuts.
This recipe comes with a warning: these truffles are seriously delicious!

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Finland - Surprising Contestent for World's Best Milk Chocolate

Finland - Surprising Contender for World's Best Tasting Milk Chocolate

For most of us, chocolate is a comforting food. We turn to it when we’re feeling low, we eat it during periods of celebration. A simple candy bar (as can any food. My husband is transported to Fridays in 1970s LaCrosse when he eats McDonalds Filet o’Fish) can transport us back to our childhood, a more simple time when we were so much more easily pleased and our expectations were much lower (and people expected less of us too!).

It is true though that as we grow older, our palate changes and we demand more of the foods we eat. We prefer steak to hamburger, savoury foods to sweet and salad to crisps. Likewise, the chocolate aficionado will choose a more exclusive brand of chocolate to the cheaper candy bars, often settling for a specific cocoa content and blend that is pleasurable on the tongue. Paradoxically, the chocolate lover will try bar after bar, always looking for the chocolate nirvana. Inevitably and perhaps most excitingly of all, we will never find that perfect bar but we will have a tonne of fun searching for it!

My own favourite type of chocolate to eat is a milk chocolate of around 40-50% cocoa content. It is probably frowned upon by professional chocolate eaters to enjoy milk chocolate but I enjoy its warming flavours, sometimes spicy, sometimes creamy, always delectable.

And because I’m always looking for the next great bar, I spend a lot of time surfing the net looking for unusual bars from around the world. Just this week alone I have eaten chocolate from South Africa, Switzerland, Germany, France, UK and Finland.

Sorry? Finland?

That’s right, our Nordic friends the Finnish seem to be keeping one of the best kept choco-secrets in the world: their chocolate is ace.

Karl Fazer has been producing Finland’s biggest selling range of chocolate since the 1920s, still using the same recipe for their famous blue label bar. Such is the popularity and power of Fazer chocolate that in 2001 they became Finland’s first registered colour trademark, meaning that no one else can sell chocolate products in blue packaging.

Fazer's Red Label Chocolate

Fazer's Red Label Chocolate

This might all sound a little pompous but the Fazer take this honour with pride and with good reason. 7.5 million kilograms of Fazer chocolate is produced yearly and they hold 65% of the chocolate market. More than that though, their chocolate is just delicious.

It is produced using excellent cocoa beans and a finely tuned production process and, as they state on their website, they are the only Finnish chocolate manufacturers using fresh milk instead of milk powder. The finished product is a full bodied, rich chocolate that tastes deeply of cocoa. It is a true eating chocolate in every sense, a milk chocolate for the grown-ups.

To please the more discerning palate, Fazer are now branching out into the 70% cocoa range, and whilst they are not quite dabbling in Single-Origin bars, the flavour of these bars is enough to warrant a second (or third) tasting.

Unfortunately for us Brits, unless you visit Finland (certainly worth a thought) or have Finnish friends, the only place we can find Fazer chocolate is on online auction sites where it is quite expensive. However, for the true chocoholic, it is well worth sourcing if only for a special treat.

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It seems that the days of the corner shop are fading into obscurity. Supermarkets can supply the time-pushed shopper with everything, all under one roof.

However, is this a smart way to shop? The days of my childhood were mostly spent reading but I did look forward to a visit to the local sweet shop where I would buy a quarter of Butterscotch sweets and red shoelaces. As I got older, I, like so many other children, got sucked into collecting bubblegum cards. My favourite were Garbage Pail Kids and regular readers of this blog and our last one will probably find this of no great surprise.

But as the supermarkets grew bigger, these smaller shops became pushed out, made redundant. They couldn’t compete with the low prices being offered in larger stores.  This is a reflection of our faster, one-stop lifestyles, aptly implemented with fast food chains and internet shopping too.
The days of looking forward to visiting the local sweet shop seemed like they were over, but the tide is turning.

Only recently, whilst (I admit it) surfing a well-known internet auction site, I came across a shop selling all the penny sweets I had once loved as a child, but, of more interest to me now, a variety of chocolate bars that are difficult to source. The most startling discovery of all? This shop is not just a cyber-shop with a favicon as its shop front but is an actual living, breathing, functioning sweet shop by the sea-side in Great Yarmouth.

Sweet Dreams Traditional Sweet Shop is just that: old fashioned and sweet. Just how all sweet shops should be. So the external décor isn’t quite reminiscent of the sweet shops of Dickensian times but these days customers (notably children) are lured in by colourful signs and the promise of more colour and excitement inside. And besides, the myriad colours of the jars, filled to the brim of sweets, candys, sherberts and liquorice are enough to make the most anti-sugar person melt.

Sweet Dreams Traditional Sweet Shop was opened by Patricia, Nigel and Andrew on the 9th March 2005 and have recently opened up their cybershop too, providing almost every sweet you can remember from your childhood (and some you can’t), they also cater for the diabetic or person watching their sugar which is thoughtful. And, if you wanted to bring back a gift from your trip to Great Yarmouth, they have a vast selection of Swiss Lindt and British Beeches chocolates, along with Britain’s other well kept chocolate secret, Caleys. In effect, what Patricia, Nigel and Andrew are doing is keeping other British industries going, as well as bolstering the smaller, specialists businesses.

So, next time you visit Great Yarmouth, make sure to pop into Sweet Dreams Traditional Sweet Shop, buy a bag of penny sweets for yourself and a box of chocolates to take home and find yourself revelling in a childhood dream brought to life. And if you can’t get to Great Yarmouth, maybe you can find a traditional sweet shop closer to home (and let me know where they are!!).

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Sugar High Friday. Perhaps the most famous food blogging event, certainly the one with the greatest longevity. Is it because we all have a sweet tooth at heart? Or perhaps food blogging events encourage the experimentalist in us all, ushering us on to cook that recipe that you’ve always looked longingly at but skipped the best, fearing our own abilities or taste buds?

Whatever the reason, blogging events are a great way to connect with other bloggers. Where else can you find people just as mad about food and eating?

Sugar High Fridays, founded by The Domestic Goddess (no, not that Domestic Goddess) in 2004, has seen 47 months of artistic, imaginative, fanciful, brilliant, cavity-inducing and just plain crazy desserts, sweets and confections. For those of you unfamiliar, each month an inventive host (fellow food blogger) spends ages wracking his/her brain deciding on an even more interesting theme to previous months. Some months it can be something really tricky like cacao nibs, last month it was the humble cupcake. But this month, Pastrygirl from Dessert First has given us a really inspired theme: Sugar and Spice. The only criteria is that it must contain one or more spices and – of course – be sweet.

I have been pouring over Andrew Garrison Shott’s Making Fine Chocolates and his own innovative flavours of truffles and decided, after much deliberation, to make his White Chocolate with Lemongrass and Coconut Truffles. A truly exotic sounding truffle, these are fiddly and sticky to make but the flavours harmonise on the tastebuds perfectly. They also look almost professional and would make a charming petits fours after a rich meal that doesn’t really call for dessert. The main talking point (aside from discussing who does and doesn’t like coconut) is the unexpected dark middle, spiked generously with rum, and the crisp, tropical flavours of the coconut and lemongrass. A bit like a cocktail in a truffle. What more could you ask for?


I admit that I had a few issues with the recipe. I’m not sure if this came from the conversions of US to UK measurements and descriptions of ingredients but I added some extra cream and this loosened up the lemongrass steeped mixture a treat.

The Finished Truffle!

LEMONGRASS & COCONUT TRUFFLES

makes about 20-30 depending on size

Ingredients:

154g Milk Chocolate, chopped

21g Dark Chocolate (64% or higher), chopped

3.5 Tablespoons Double Cream (I added an extra tablespoon to slacken off the mixture, you may not need to)

2 Tablespoons Coconut Milk

1 Thick Stalk Lemongrass, chopped

1 Teaspoon Corn Syrup (or Golden Syrup)

1.5 Teaspoons Salted Butter, cubed and soft

1 Tablespoon Rum

To Finish the Truffles:

2 Cups Shredded Coconut, toasted lightly in a frying pan

2 Bars of 100g White Chocolate, melted in a double boiler and cooled slightly.

METHOD:
Place the chopped milk and dark chocolates in a smallish bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat together over gentle heat, the coconut milk, cream, lemongrass until it almost boils.

Remove from the heat, cover and leave to steep for 10 minutes.

Add the Syrup to the cream mixture and return to the heat. Bring slowly back up to a rolling boil and strain through a sieve onto the chopped chocolate.  Leave to melt for 2 minutes then slowly stir until the chocolate has all melted. You may have to place the bowl in a microwave for a few seconds to help the melting process along.

Add the diced butter and rum and stir well.

Leave this ganache to firm up for 45 minutes to an hour before forming it into round balls and leaving on greaseproof paper overnight to dry out slightly.

To finish the truffles, dip them, one at a time, in the melted white chocolate before rolling in the coconut. Leave the truffles in the coconut to harden completely before removing.

Enjoy!

Taken from Making Fine Chocolates by Andrew Garrison Shotts

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You didn’t really see that one coming, did you?

OK, so whilst Orangettes are not one of the first recipes that spring to mind when you think chocolate, they are charmingly pretty with their orange stained glass peel and their dipped velvet chocolate peplums…I couldn’t resist them.

Orangettes, whilst time consuming to produce, are a simple confection, crystallised (or candied) citrus peel dipped in dark, dark melted chocolate. For the guest whose tooth is not as sweet as some, this is a perfect treat. Tangy and chewy, crisp and melty. Like a grown up penny sweet.

There is something about their graceful, slender, almost transparent figures, Chanel-like, draped fashionably in dark chocolate that is so intrinsically Parisian that you feel as though you could be sitting at the Café de Flore sipping a Pastis and nibbling an Orangette on the side.

Whilst discussing poetry with Rimbaud in a 19th Parisian Café would be a truly delightful way to spend an afternoon, making Orangettes is fun too.

There are many recipes out there, utilising a simple sugar syrup to poach the peel in, but if you add a vanilla pod, some peppercorns and star anise as Pierre Herme does in his fabulous book, Chocolate Desserts, you can infuse your peel with an ethereal flavour.  The scent of the syrup is the essence of Christmas itself and these Orangettes just cry out to be served on a cold Winter’s day with some glog.

ORANGETTES – makes a lot!

Ingredients:

5 Oranges, 6 Lemons or 4 Grapefruit

4 Cups Water

2.5 Cups Sugar (I used white granulated)

1/4 cup freshly squeezed Lemon Juice

10 Peppercorns, bashed (I used Szechuan)

1 Piece Star Anise

Pulp & Bean Whole Vanilla Pod

METHOD:

To prepare the oranges, cut into quarters, remove the pulp and slice the peel into thin strips. Using a very sharp knife, remove the pith as method shown on picture above (thanks Paul!), almost as though you were filleting a fish.

Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to boil and blanch the peel for two minutes. Drain in a colander and run under the cold tap for 2 minutes. Repeat this twice more.

Place all the remaining ingredients in a small pan and bring to the boil. Add the thrice blanched peel and turn heat down to a low simmer. Cover and leave for about an hour and a half.

Remove from the heat, leave covered and allow to steep in your amazingly perfumed syrup overnight.

The next day, remove the strips from the syrup and leave to dry on a cooling rack for at least half a day.

To coat in chocolate, melt 100g of darkest chocolate over a double boiler (or in the microwave) and, using cooking tweezers or small tongs (or whatever impliment you have that works for you), dip each piece of peel, coating fully, partially or mostly and leave to set on a baking sheet.

You can omit the dipping stage and just store the crystallised peel in a jar in the fridge where it would be delicious as is or perfect chopped up and added to cakes or desserts.

Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme

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If the genuine truffle is the sheer essence of the earthy fungus, then a chocolate truffle must be the absolute peak of all that is chocolatey.  Even the simplest of all chocolate truffles, cream, butter and melted chocolate tossed in the darkest, smokiest cocoa powder, is a treat to behold. The velvety touch of the powder as it mingles with your heat of your fingers, the seductive crack of the chocolate coating yielding to the soft inner truffle. Decadence that Oscar Wilde would truly have approved of.

In my ongoing quest to find the perfect chocolate recipe, I have been avidly scouring a book called Making Fine Chocolates by master chocolatier, Andrew Garrison Shotts. His book is modestly written and you warm easily to author. His recipes produce (theoretically at least) stunning chocolates that would proudly grace any high quality confectionary. Whilst my truffles are not as perfectly spherical as illustrated in the book, they tasted truly wicked yet, because of their infinite richness, you don’t want more than one (oh go on then, just one more) so they have a virtuous side to them too.

They are also fun to make and make you feel, if only temporarily, that with time, practise and money, you too could be one of those chocolatiers on the Lindt adverts, stiring huge copper pans filled with molten chocolate.

This recipe is incredibly simple to make but you will wow your friends if you pass out cellophane bags, filled with your truffles and  tied cutely with ribbon, as gifts.  And, to ring the changes, you could dip them in white chocolate, milk chocolate and then toss them in toasted coconut, chopped hazelnuts, flaked chocolate. Let your imagination run riot!

Classic Dark 72 Percent Truffles – makes approx.30

Ingredients

119g 72% (or thereabouts, some some brands are 70 or 75%) chocolate, chopped

112g Heavy Cream

2 teaspoons corn (or golden) syrup

14 Salted Butter, cubed, soft

To coat Truffles:

Cocoa Powder

250g Chocolate, melted gently over double boiler

METHOD:

To make the truffles:

Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl and leave to one side.

Gently heat the cream and syrup in a pan until it reaches a rolling boil.

Pour over the chopped chocolate and leave to stand for 2 minutes. Stir slowly, then add butter.

If the mixture does not appear to be melting completely, flash off in the microwave for 5-10 seconds.

Stir well and leave to cool and thicken into a glossy, rich ganache for 45 minutes.

You can now either pipe the truffles onto greaseproof paper or spoon them out. Leave them to dry in the open air overnight.

To coat the truffles:

To prepare the coating, melt the chocolate in a double boiler into glossy and flowing. Leave to cool until for a minute or two.

In a dish, thickly sprinkle some cocoa powder.

Using a small fork (I used a cocktail fork) or cocktail stick, plunge the truffles into the rich, melted chocolate, one at a time, until completely enrobed. Gently place the dipped truffles into the cocoa powder, sprinkling more powder over the top so that they are completely covered. Leave in the cocoa powder to set the chocolate.

If you prefer, place the dipped chocolates straight onto a sheet of greaseproof paper to set.

Finally, finally you can eat them!

Recipe adapted from Andrew Garrison Shotts Making Fine Chocolates

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