Archive for November, 2006

Chocolate Rice Pudding with Caramelized Rice Krispies

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006
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Chocolate Rice Pudding with Caramelized Rice Krispies.

I’m reading lots of cookbooks these days. When I’m not studying techniques and uses of ingredients just for the fun of it, I’m either looking for a way to adapt a recipe to fit an idea that I already have or for ways to integrate/adjust recipes into multiple components that will go into one plated dessert. But when I read about this dessert in Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, that was it — I just wanted to make it. There was nothing to add. There was nothing to subtract. There was nothing to change. I challenged myself to think of anything that I would want to do to make it my own. Nothing.

It’s a creamy chocolate pudding studded with Arborio rice and plump golden raisins, and it’s topped with caramelized Rice Krispies. It manages to be full of chocolate, fruit, savoriness, caramel, cold, room temperature, crunchiness, creaminess, turgidity, and chewiness. And although the recipe doesn’t mention salt, the picture of it in the cookbook reveals salt crystals around the rim of the martini glass in it is served. Once again, Hermé thought of everything.

If anything, there may be too many things floating in and about the pudding, but you can’t complain… It’s delightful. I lost count of how many servings I had the first time that I tried it. Each ingredient bursts forth with a unique charm and goes on to play well with the others; it reminded me of a creamy rocky road-style dessert, with rice instead of marshmallows.

The raisins are an especially wonderful touch — the pudding spotlights how their singular sweetness can be downright sprightly. They also bridge the rice and the chocolate. I usually think of raisins as optional in recipes (and I usually do without them), but here they’re mandatory.

And the Caramelized Rice Krispies are crunchy shards of caramelized goodness. There’s a sly contrast btw the crunch of the caramelized sugar and the crunch of the rice.

And sure, there are things that could be done to it… Candied orange peel. Cinnamon. Anise. Plump the raisins in some sort of alcohol. Infuse the caramel with vanilla. But why mess with something so wonderful? If anything, I’m just going to sprinkle my leftover caramelized Rice Krispies on everything that I manage.

Chocolate Rice Pudding: Seemed fine until an instruction to add a little bit of the boiled down rice/milk into the melted chocolate and then to scrape the chocolate mixture into the rice/milk. It seemed like the chocolate had seized and it took for a while for it to smooth out into the milk — but it did eventually and all was well again.

I might want to decrease the amount of rice in it, but then there won’t be as much starch in the milk to hold it together as a pudding. Next time, I’d either strain some out before the chocolate is added or just see how it turns out with less rice.

Caramelized Rice Krispies: These are made with what I think of as the “dragee method” because it’s how we made almond dragees in our confections class. Basically, a small amount of sugar and water are briefly boiled, rice krispies (or nuts, or what have you) are added, they’re mixed off heat until the sugar turns sandy, and then cooked until the sugar becomes a caramelized coating. The rice krispies stopped there, but the dragees were finished with butter and vanilla… and small amounts of tempered chocolate were mixed in until they looked dusty (chilling btw additions) and then they were coated in cocoa powder. Hmm… maybe I do want to adapt Hermé’s recipe… into either Dragee Rice Krispie Clusters or Caramelized Cocoa Pebbles.

I did experiment with his version, b/c it was fussier than the version that I’m used to. I think it’s because cooking rice krispies is different from cooking nuts. Nuts need to be toasted and can withstand heat, while rice krispies… well, they’re already toasted and are usually just doused with milk or marshmallow. So, instead of boiling the sugar and water in the beginning for a minute or so until long thread stage, he specifies to bring it up to 248F… which is great, except that it’s hard to take the temperature of the roughly 1/4″ of sugar that I was dealing with. 248F is firm ball stage, but taking the time to test it with water, would only let it cook far past, again b/c it’s such a shallow amount. He also says to turn the krispies onto a plate after they’re covered in the sandy sugar, wash the pot, cook half of them to an amber color, wash the pot again, and then cook the second half. I had issues trying to get all of the rice krispies to caramelize evenly, so I can understand doing a small amount at a time… but to wash the pot twice in the process? And the first time, you’d be washing away residue of the sandy sugar (which will go down the drain instead of on the krispies).

In the school’s recipe, you just cook the nuts all the way through, only removing them from heat to coat them until the sugar gets sandy or if the nuts get too hot and start to scorch. So, I cooked half of the krispies in a clean pan and the rmg half of them in the original (dirty with sugar) pot. As far as I could tell, they turned out the same.

Also, I wasn’t sure what heat to cook them on. Nuts are best cooked for dragees at a low temperature because they burn easily and the caramel burns easily on them, as well. I’m guessing that the nuts, with their high amt of fat, also retain heat that would contribute to burning the sugar, as well. Rice Krispies, on the other hand, are already toasted and don’t conduct heat especially well, and it seemed like neither prolonged low heat nor brief high heat would be right. I wanted to cook fast, but not too fast –so I did medium-low-ish, and when it started to smell weird or was too unevenly caramelized for comfort, I lowered the heat. I think they turned out nicely.

It’s Not Me, It’s You

Friday, November 17th, 2006

So, I had ambitious plans to make not one, but two new kinds of candy bars today. One involves a marshmallow layer, which I’ve already made. It currently stands alone on my counter… it might never encounter chocolate.

Why? I can’t get good chocolate.

Here’s what happened. There’s a nearby gourmet-ish grocery store that sells chopped blocks of high-quality name chocolate — such as El Rey and Callebaut. Yesterday, I stocked up on a lot of El Rey Bittersweet Chocolate with plans to use it for ganache fillings and coatings. I also read a lot about chocolate in Bittersweet and Chocolate Obsession. They both talk about how the chocolate sold nowadays is different from the chocolate sold in the past, due to current tastes in the US for high-quality chocolate, especially dark chocolate. The chocolate now tends to be higher in chocolate liquor, higher in cocoa butter, and lower in sugar. They explain that the method for making ganache should be adjusted to compensate for these changes, and they both have different methods for this, and for fixing broken ones.

So, excited to try all this out late last night, I try to make a tea-infused ganache, based on the Recchiuti method. It breaks. I try to fix it. It doesn’t emulsify. I try to fix it again. Nothing doing. I let it it sit overnight. It’s still broken in the morning. Medrich talks about the “fish scale” texture of a broken ganache. So true.

I’ve never had a ganache break on me before. Breaking, btw, means that it gets an oily, curdled look instead of a pudding-like look because the fats have separated from the chocolate; the emulsification breaks. At first, I thought that it would be a good opportunity to learn how to fix it, but when it didn’t get better, there was no choice but to try again and hope I’d figure out what happened.

So, I tried again. Twice. They both broke. They both couldn’t be fixed. I consulted a third book, adding Sherry Yard’s advice. I also look back at my school notes.

In making the ganaches, I contemplated and practiced the effects of whisking, stirring, using an immersion blender, using a food processor, the amount of time spent emulsifying, the temperature of the cream, whether the chocolate should be melted or finely chopped, the type of fat in the ganache (I didn’t want to use butter for taste reasons), the exclusion or inclusion of invert sugar, the type of invert sugar (in my case, corn syrup or glucose), and the effects of the tea infusion (I used a cheesecloth to strain, in addition to a fine strainer the last two times).

In trying to fix them, I tried emulsifying the ganache w/ half of it heated to 130 and half cooled to 60, gently reheating all of it, adding more cream, adding butter, and simmering 3 Tbs of cream and slowly emulsifying the ganache into it. Nothing worked.

I sighed deeply. I looked at my depleted supply of chocolate… and start to think that the cause of it all was a mistake on my part, but an even bigger mistake on the chocolate’s part. The chocolate had seemed “snappy” enough, but I hadn’t tasted it. I chop a piece off and put in on my tongue. It’s dry. It doesn’t melt easily. When it does, it feels almost curdled. I bite into it, and encounter graininess, with some crunchy particles.

Bad chocolate. Experience now tells me that bad chocolate cannot ganache.

In fact, I don’t know what could be done with it, except return it. I briefly thought about trying to re-temper it, but at that point, I just wanted it far away from me; and it’s not like I had a tempered seed to use. I returned the chocolate that I hadn’t used and the labels of those that I had, and got a refund. The store manager didn’t really believe that the chocolate was bad, though; “we’ve sold a lot and no one’s complained,” she said. I asked her to try tasting it herself, but she repeated her statement. Well, I bought a lot of it, I complained, I had proof, and she refused to taste it. Plus, I wasted money and resources with the cream, tea, butter, corn syrup, and glucose. And time. And don’t even remind me of how many chocolate-y dishes I’ve had to wash. Today is just full of mistakes.

Chocolate can go bad from being stored in too high or too low temperatures, in a humid place, or if improperly wrapped. Mine seemed very dry, and I’m not sure the exact cause of that. I bought some bittersweet Callebaut from the same store a couple months ago, and it didn’t melt properly — it was fudgy at 120F. I don’t know what’s up with their chocolate storage… or if I’m doing something completely, utterly, horribly wrong in a variety of areas.

The real tragedy of this is that now I’m not sure where I can buy good chocolate in bulk in the area. I’m probably going to have to buy it over the internet. I’m going away next week, so I can’t have it delivered until the week after. I will be in Berkeley and SF on Saturday, though, so if anyone knows of a reliable chocolate seller, please let me know.

Back to working with fruit for now, I suppose.

A Candy Bar Made at Home

Sunday, November 12th, 2006
*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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Malted Caramel Chocolate Bar: Malted Caramel Ganache, Vanilla Shortbread, Milk Chocolate.

Shape matters. Sometimes I think that molds are the secret weapons of the pastry world. They can make the difference between a mundane dessert and an exciting one… and the difference between a rustic candy bar and a sleek one. A sleek candy bar, btw, has been my goal for many months. I was elated to find a candy bar mold at JB Prince in New York, and I’ve been dying to use it.

Although my mold lends itself to a Caramello-type bar, I was fixated on the idea of making a candy bar with a Twix-like structure — a cookie topped with gooey sweetness and coated in chocolate — but with some twists of my own. So, I fancied it up a bit by incorporating a ganache into the caramel, and adding malt powder. If I could have found the Twix cookie recipe, I would have used it because I find it delicious… but I couldn’t. A common shortbread seemed too buttery, but I couldn’t come up with another cookie that even came close to the right texture; an animal cracker recipe by Nancy Silverton was a tempting runner up, though. I wanted to coat it in milk chocolate, and malt and caramel are great accompaniments. More complex flavors, like fruits, herbs and spices, seem to go better with dark chocolate.

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I like the way it turned out a lot… especially since I was concerned about how it would be constructed. Here’s what I did:

  • Temper chocolate w/ seeding method. Used a small brush to spread some chocolate in the molds (polished w/ cheesecloth) to prevent air bubbles. Quickly — pour choc into mold, tap mold on counter to get out air bubbles, pour choc out of mold, scrape excess off, invert to set.
  • Make ganache by making caramel w/ malted cream, mixing into chocolate. Let cool to 80F. Pipe into mold, estimating how much would be right proportionally, and smoothing out.
  • Make shortbread dough. Chill (it should have been for 3 hrs in fridge; I did much, much less in the freeze, b/c I didn’t want the ganache to firm up even more than it already did). Bake a slab of it, estimating its height so that it would fit into the candy bar mold (btw the ganache and the layer of chocolate that would seal it). Meanwhile, measure width and length of space in bar for cookie. When dough golden on the edges, remove and cut into strips with my multi-cutter dough divider and into proper length with a paring knife. Let cool almost completely. Press on top of ganache in mold. Let cool completely.
  • Temper chocolate again. This time to cover the bottom of the candy bars, pouring chocolate on and scraping off excess and letting set.
  • Unmold by tapping on counter, twisting mold, and letting them fall out as their wonderful pristine selves.

In the future, for efficiency’s sake, I could make and bake the shortbread, melt chocolate for tempering, make the ganache, temper the chocolate while the ganache is cooling, line the molds with chocolate and let set, pipe in the ganache, lay shortbread on top, and cover w/ still-tempered chocolate. Let set over night and unmold.

I probably should have waited to sample them b/c the ganache won’t be fully set up until tomorrow morning… but it was too tempting… and worth it. The ganache is still a little soft and the chocolate seems a little snappy from being molded, but I like that contrast of textures. The malt flavor comes through nicely, and I like the crunch of the shortbread. It’s a fun grown-up candy bar.

Malted Caramel Ganache: I based it on Sherry Yard‘s Caramel Ganache recipe. She uses bittersweet choc, milk choc, sugar, corn syrup, and cream. First off, I was happy that it didn’t have butter b/c I dislike butter-laden ganaches, and there would be plenty of butter in the shortbread anyway. Also, I liked the combination of chocolates b/c it would add some complexity. She uses 4 oz of each, but I used 4 of milk and 3 of bittersweet b/c I wanted it to be a little softer than the “medium” consistency she says it would have; my way, the increased ratio of cream to chocolate would make it softer. It came out darker than I would have liked, though, so next time I would use 5 of milk and 2 of bittersweet. Also, she calls for the cream to be boiled before being added to the caramel… and that seemed like the perfect opportunity to incorporate malt powder into it. The instructions on the malt powder said to use 3 tbs in 1 cup of milk, so I used 3 tbs in the cup of cream that I used.

Btw, a ganache is usually an emulsion of cream and chocolate (and often invert sugar and butter), and I love how caramel can be used as an augmentation of cream.

She recommends letting the ganache cool to 70F before piping it, but I knew that I didn’t want air bubbles between the ganache and the cookie so I piped it at 80F. This was probably still too cool, because it was almost fudgy in consistency at that point. To compensate, I pressed the strips of shortbread on top while they were still warm to make sure that the ganache would form fit to the cookie. The ganache couldn’t have been too hot when piped into the mold, or else the choclate would have melted around it.

Vanilla Shortbread: Based on Claudia Fleming’s. I used 1/2 tsp of vanilla instead 1 tsp of vanilla b/c vanilla’s expensive and I’m running low and I didn’t want vanilla to dominate anyway… But the salt seemed to really assert itself more in the finished cookie. Thanks to the magic of candy bar engineering, it didn’t taste salty at all in the candy bar b/c of all the chocolate around it. If anything, it probably kicked up the flavor of the caramel and chocolate a bit.

Milk Chocolate: I used El Rey, sold in chopped blocks at a local supermarket, Vallergas.

I also used my chocolate bonbon mold to use up excess tempered chocolate and ganache…

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Rice Pudding, Smoky-Style

Sunday, November 5th, 2006
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Smoky Rice Pudding: Lapsang Souchong Rice Pudding, Caramelized Apples and Quince, Bourbon.

On the day after I posted about my Coffee & Tea Emotion, I heard a sound that I know realize heralded a new dawn for my tea confections: it was a thump on my doorstep. By the time I opened my door, the speedy — and either klutzy or angry — deliveryman was gone, but there was a box waiting for me. A box full of teas, from my friend, Pouneh, who had been privy to my tea/dessert musings in New York.

I’ve started experimenting with the tea that I hadn’t tasted, but had vaguely heard of: Lapsang Souchong. The first time I brewed it — and in fact, every time since — I inevitably find myself wondering: “Who’s BBQ’ing?” The tea’s essence is to utterly smoky that it still astounds me, no matter how I’ve come to expect it.

This smokiness is an amazing gift for desserts. As far as I can tell, pastry people don’t have much in their flavor arsenal for smoke… grilling fruits counts, I suppose, but burning things doesn’t. It seems like lapsang souchong is able to impart a flavor that the molecular gastronomists would envy, but without the molecular finagling. Part of me thinks “And it’s just tea!” but another part me — the part that remembers the month that I spent with natural healers in Belize in 2002 — thinks, “Plant leaves are powerful things.”

I thought about grinding it up like a powder, but I wanted it to be a more elemental part of the dessert, so I thought about an infusion. I turned to rice pudding; I like rice with smoky food and obviously, the sweet creaminess would link it to dessert. Caramelized apples w/ smoke seemed like a yummy seasonal twist. And the bourbon would kick it all up.

And I liked it. Smoky, creamy, fruity, caramely. I also liked how the soft textures of the rice and apples played off each other while the gooeyness of the caramel and creaminess of the pudding did the same. And the bourbon loosened it all up a bit. It was the type of comfort food that makes you close your eyes and savor.

Plating-wise, I swear it looked nice — I just need to figure out how to photograph my lovely Pierre Herme Emotion glasses so that they look good. I thought about adding something to the bottom of the glass for a tri-color effect, but part of me thought: this is rice pudding — it’s just right with something on top of it, not under it.

Rice Pudding: This recipe (halved). I scalded the milk, added the loose tea leaves, covered the pan, let them infuse for 10 mins, tasted, added more leaves to get a stronger flavor (probably 2-3 tbs total), infused for 5 mins, tasted, was happy w/ the flavor, strained it, and got on with making the rice pudding. I tried not to reduce the milk too much b/c I knew that it’d firm up a lot as it cools, but I still went too far — by the time it cooled, it was pretty stiff. When I folded the whipped cream into it, it wound up a bit like rice bound by whipped cream. So, I stirred in more milk, and that fixed it nicely.

I chose this recipe b/c I didn’t want an eggy taste with the tea (many rice puddings are made like an anglaise/pastry cream), but subsequent research brought up that lapsang souchong is often used for tea-marbled eggs and other egg dishes; and eggs and rice works. So, I’d want to try an egg version in the future.

Caramelized Apple and Quince: I used a recipe from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course for the Caramelized Apples. The picture of the gem-like cubes of apples sold me completely on the idea. And they tasted fantastic. I added quince by cutting them into 1/8″ cubes so that they would cook in the same time as the 1/4″ cubes of apples — I used pippin and braeburn, though she recommended mutsus or granny smith. I like this recipe b/c it uses the dry method of caramelizing sugar, but you add the sugar 1/4 cup at a time so that it remains manageable and doesn’t burn as easily, as a whole pot of sugar often does with that method. Butter and apple juice were also added.

The recipe is a little oddly written. You’re supposed to caramelize the apples, and then do other things for the dish she’s assembling, and then return to “melt the caramel” w/ apple juice and butter. Since I was just making the apples, I decided that it was best to let them infuse a bit in the caramel before continuing, after all; some still had to get rid of their opaqueness.

Bourbon: Jim Beam. I just poured a little bit over the apples in the glass. I thought about adding it to the apples and caramel, but they already had their own charm. I like the wetness it gave the dessert — like a bit of raw juiciness to go with the apples.

White Chocolate Chip Cookies with Almonds and Fresh Mint

Friday, November 3rd, 2006
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It always excites me when I think that someone invented the chocolate chip cookie in 1937. To me, it was like the discovery of a whole new brilliant species — only about 70 yrs ago. And it reminds me that what is classic was once new and what is new can one day become a classic… And of course, what is revolutionary is often an innovation that takes flight. There’s always the possibility that one of your culinary experiments could become a favorite standard throughout generations… or live on as a legend among family and friends. These White Chocolate Chip Cookies with Almonds and Fresh Mint in Nancy Silverton’s Desserts cookbook (published in 1986, mind you, but it’s new to me) tapped into these thoughts. White Chocolate… Almonds… Fresh Mint… in a chocolate chip-like cookie? I had to make it.

I was also intrigued by Silverton’s technique for making them. Among the highlights are chopping “very cold” chocolate into chunks, using dark brown sugar, dissolving the baking soda in boiling water and adding it between flour additions, using pastry flour, using almond extract instead of vanilla extract, using finely chopped fresh mint, chilling the dough at least 2 hours until firm to shape, and chilling them again to bake. The dough has an appealing confetti-like look to it — bits of reddish brown, green, and white.

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As far as I can tell, I followed the instructions to the letter, but as you can see, something went wrong. They were almost like thick tuiles, with large bubbles inside the buttery and slightly crispy caramelized dough. Maybe the organic pastry flour that I used reacted oddly.

Oh, but the flavor? Except for the excessive buttery taste, it was great. The creaminess of the white chocolate brought out the creaminess in the toasted almonds… and the depth of flavor from the toasted almonds brought out a complexity in the white chocolate (of course, good, real white chocolate is key for this. I used El Rey, which has cocoa butter, not the assorted oils found in standard white chocolate chips). And meanwhile, the zing of mint moved in and out, and left a pleasant minty freshness at the end. The almond extract also added an enrobing almondness that was addictive, and not overpowering.

So, I really wanted them to work. I’d only baked off a few of them, so I thought about how I could try to fix the remaining batter. With nothing to lose, I mixed in a 1/4 cup AP flour (for more body, since it’s higher in protein than pastry flour) to the rmg dough, chilled it to try to give it time to hydrate, and baked them off. They were slightly more choc chip cookie-like, but they also had white dots, which I assume meant that the new flour didn’t really take well.

I still really wanted this cookie to work, so I started over… using the recipe off the Nestle Toll House bag. I substituted the almonds, white chocolate, and mint for the chips and nuts, and used half vanilla extract and half almond extract (mainly b/c I ran out of almond extract). That cookie is the first picture above. And it worked! I got the flavors that I wanted in a texture that I liked (I prefer chewy, balanced choc chip cookies). These still had a slightly caramelized texture, though, and they browned quickly and strongly around the edges — maybe because of the moisture in the finely chopped mint reacted with the sugars? My main wish, though, was that I’d had enough almond extract, b/c I missed its potency. But I definitely want to use this flavor combination again in the future, so I’ll make sure to keep it on hand in the future…

And I sampled a piece of cookie with a spoonful of malted milk chocolate ice cream that I’d made. Sure, it was probably at least two too many flavors, but every bite kicked up a new flavor… and I liked it.