Friday, November 26, 2010

Holiday Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles

For many years I had a tradition of making chocolate truffles for my family and friends each Christmas. I’d painstakingly form each ganache round by hand, then roll the truffles in a variety of coatings such as roasted nuts, toasted coconut, ground praline or 

cocoa powder. Somewhere along the way I stopped this ritual, probably because the holidays became too hectic and something had to give. I still continued making Christmas cookies, but dropped the truffles off the program. This year, inspired by the 

recent NY Chocolate Show, I revived my holiday truffle-making tradition and kicked off the season with a batch of creamy fresh truffles. They are surprisingly simple to make—the ganache comes together in 15 minutes, and just requires a few hours of chilling to 

firm up. Just make sure to use a top quality dark chocolate, not a low-grade supermarket brand. Making the truffle coatings presents an opportunity to get creative (green tea truffles, anyone?). You can also vary the liqueur in the ganache—Grand Marnier, Kahlua, 

Frangelico, Canton, and Amaretto all work beautifully as flavoring. As for packing, I recommend using cello-bags tied with a ribbon. Packing them like this will keep the truffles fresh, and the bags can then be tucked into Chinese take-out containers or small gift boxes. No matter how you choose to present them, nothing says “I love you” like a gift of homemade chocolate truffles. (Except perhaps a winning lottery ticket.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sea-Salted Chocolate and Pecan Tart

Last week I met an extremely talented London chocolatier named Paul Young at the New York Chocolate Show. Paul has two chocolate shops in London and recently released a book, Adventures in Chocolate, in Britain. After tasting three varieties of his chocolates, I was so impressed, I just had to know more about this young Brit. With a thick Yorkshire accent, ebullient 

personality, and somewhat unusual taste in clothing, he was a breath of fresh air at the Franco-centric Chocolate Show. The most memorable of Young’s chocolates that I tried was a Port & Stilton truffle. Generally I hate these gimmicky flavor combinations, but this one was different, because it was perfectly balanced and extremely subtle. Not too bleu-cheesy at all. He originally created it 

because it was a flavor that epitomized Christmas for him—Stilton and Port were mandatory luxuries at the Young household around the holidays. The first batch he made was a Stilton truffle enrobed in chocolate, but unfortunately the truffles literally exploded sometime during the night. The spores in the cheese expanded, you see. So he added some Taylor Tawny Port and, aside from calming 

the spores down, it gave the truffles a slightly fruity flavor which worked beautifully with the Stilton. The other truffle that blew me away was his Sea Salted Caramel Truffle. Yes, we’ve all had this a million times, but this one was amaaaaaaaazing! Made with Muscovado sugar, French butter, double cream and a generous pinch of flaky Maldon sea salt, the silky smooth filling just flowed 

over my mouth, a tight-rope balance between salty and sweet that hit the mark just perfectly. I wanted to buy Paul’s cookbook right then and there, but it wasn’t available at the show. I did, however, find the most popular recipe from his book on the Internet, and it seemed ideal for Thanksgiving. It’s a Sea-Salted Chocolate and Pecan Tart, and it’s quite delicious. By the way, Paul will be opening up a chocolate shop in New York next year, so you won’t have to hop across the pond to enjoy his incredible chocolates.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Spiced Pumpkin Seed Macarons with Chestnut Buttercream

In my mind, the process of making French macarons perfectly represents the frustrations inherent in the world of pastry. Yes, there are rules in the world of savory cooking, but the penalties for disobeying them are not as severe as with pastry. For example, if you overcook the meat or fish a bit, though it might not be perfect, it’s probably still presentable. Pastry, on the other hand, presents a 

minefield of possible disasters that can be downright demoralizing. Over-cook the crème Anglaise, and you’ve got a curdled mess of egg pieces and milk on your hands. Undercook the sugar syrup for your buttercream, and it’s a soupy mess fit only for the poubelle. Get your chocolate too hot as you’re melting it, and it seizes up, transformed into a dull, grainy clump of expensive brown gunk

with not much of a future as the star of a dessert. Making perfect macarons requires precision and practice. They should be smooth and shiny on top, with a textured ‘pied’ or ‘foot’ at the base. Start with a recipe from a reliable source, and follow it to a tee. If they don’t come out perfectly, try to determine the cause and make the necessary adjustments next time you make them. If they never 

come out right, it’s time to move on to a new recipe.
     Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I decided to make macarons with the flavors of fall: Spiced Pumpkin Seed Macarons with a Chestnut Buttercream filling. The macarons are flavored with cinnamon and ginger and topped with three raw pumpkin seeds. The filling is a standard French buttercream (my 

favorite filling for macarons) flavored with chestnut puree. You can make your own or buy it canned from a gourmet shop. If you’re brave, you can serve these with the coffee after Thanksgiving dinner, but my guess is they won’t be appreciated then. Better to give each guest two or three macarons (wrapped in a cello-bag tied with a ribbon) to take home to enjoy the next day, when eating is once again possible.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pumpkin Mousse and Some Gingerbread, Too

Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving tradition, but traditions can sometimes be stifling. If you’re feeling that way about Thanksgiving dinner this year, my suggestion is to change one traditional dish, such as the Pumpkin Pie, and to use that pumpkin 

flavor in another form of dessert. You could try my creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake or this, a simple Pumpkin Mousse served with fragrant slices of Gingerbread. I used canned pumpkin puree to make my mousse, but if you have the time and are so inclined, 

make your own fresh puree by roasting deseeded pumpkin halves, cut side down, in a pan with a cup of water at 350°F for about 90 minutes, until fork-tender. Then just scrape out the puree with a spoon. For a showier dessert, make Pumpkin Mousse Gingerbread 

Parfaits—cut the gingerbread into ½-inch cubes and layer it with the mousse and some sweetened cream in parfait glasses. The Gingerbread Cake is also excellent on its own, served with a cup of strong black tea.