Archive for March, 2007

Chocolate Mint, Six Ways

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007
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Blood Orange-Chocolate Mint Sorbet

Ever eager to play around with mints other than the oft-sold spearmint, I was thrilled to get a bunch of Chocolate Mint at the Saturday Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. It has the most euphoric mint-chocolate aroma… After I gave the bunch to Chad for a sample smell, I had a hard time prying it away from his nose and out of his hands. Like a natural Andes mint, is my best approximation. As for taste, I find it somewhere btw spearmint and peppermint in intensity, and having a very slight tinge of chocolate flavor (though I’m not entirely convinced that the aroma/psychology of it doesn’t influence this).

Although it was only a dollar, its rarity makes it far more valuable to me. So, for fun and out of curiosity, I was determined to use every last leaf, and fast — I find that keeping herbs in the fridge for too long knocks some of their vitality out; even if they don’t wilt, their aroma and flavor dissipate.

I looked around online and in my recipe books for inspiration — and sifted through all the mint recipes call for extract, oils, and/or liqueur as the mint flavoring agent.

When it comes down to it, mint leaves are probably most often used for infusions. For my experiments, I did cold and hot infusions in either dairy liquids (cream/milk) or sugar syrup. It’s not hard getting the flavor into these agents; the trickiness comes in getting the flavor just right — balanced with the other ingredients and pleasing in itself. It’s barebones in technique — all you do is drop some chopped mint leaves into liquid (I also smush them btw my fingers as I drop them to release more flavor or use my cocktail muddler on them) and leave it to infuse for as long as it takes, judging its taste along the way.

Overall, I liked the hot infusions into sugar syrups the best. They seemed to retain the cleanest mint flavor this time — not too weak (common for cold infusions) and not too vegetal (common for cream infusions). I didn’t really care for the cream infusions much at all this time. Maybe, if I do cold cream infusions again, I’ll let it infuse for even longer — up to 24 hrs, I guess.

I did see one recipe online that I’m still curious about — laying mint leaves on the bottom of a cake pan, pouring cake batter over it, and baking. I wonder how such a “cake infusion” works out.

As you can see, 4 out of 6 recipes below feature citrus. These were all purchased at the Farmer’s Market, too… and it really wasn’t until I got home that I realized that I’d picked up an array of some of mint’s best friends. I like how the mint gives a refreshing finish to the initial tang of citrus. It also reminds me how I trained myself in middle school to drink OJ with bfst before brushing my teeth… rather than experience the horrible clash of orange after mint toothpaste.

Blood Orange-Chocolate Mint Sorbet – Made a 1:1 simple syrup, and added mint once I took it off heat and let it infuse until cool. Then mixed it into freshly squeezed blood orange juice until it was at 28Brix on my refractometer. I also let it chill overnight, partly in a bid to let the flavors mellow into each other.

This was my favorite. Wonderful swirl of flavors. And the color’s downright dreamy.

Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit with Chocolate Mint Syrup – Made same syrup as for sorbet above. Segmented the grapefruit, saved any errant juice, and mixed it with some syrup. Poured syrup over fruit, chilled for 15 mins before eating, and that was it.

It tasted great, but a little too sweet and with an underlying viscosity. The sugar in the syrup could probably have been halved. As always, I really liked the texture of the grapefruit segments.

Mandarin Orange-Chocolate Mint “Jello” – Making “jello” without a mix is wonderfully easy — it’s just juice with gelatin added to it; gelatin generally just needs to be bloomed, melted, and mixed in. The argument could be made that you could just drink the juice and get just about the same flavor (or even better, if you’re not a gelatin fan), but there’s something especially fun and refreshing about jello once in a while, so why not. It also lasts longer when you eat it instead of drink it. And you can add citrus segments into the gelatin, at whatever amount you’d like.

Anyway, I juiced some mandarins with my hand citrus reamer, and threw in some chopped mint leaves to infuse overnight, chilled. I tasted it in the morning, found it to my liking, strained out the mint, and found that I had one cup of juice. In A New Way to Cook, Sally Schneider suggests using 1-1/4 tsp unflavored gelatin per cup of juice or liquid (in other words, 2 cups liquid per packet of gelatin), so I bloomed the gelatin over a 1/4 cup while I brought the rest to a boil. I combined the two, mixed them together, let them set until they reached room temp, and then chilled them.

The result is a little thicker than regular jello and not too sweet (there was no added sugar, after all, and the gelatin dulls the juice’s flavor a little). Maybe next time I’d add a little water to break up the juice’s body, and some sugar or agave nectar.

Chocolate Mint-Chocolate Chip Ice Cream – This method was mostly from Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet, which has otherwise produced great results for me. I did an overnight cold infusion of mint into cream, and then made an ice cream base (which is similar to creme anglaise) out of that cream. Let that age overnight. When I tasted it in the morning, it wasn’t as minty as I would have liked, so I finely chopped some mint leaves to add to it after it was frozen in the ice cream machine.

I also added special fudgy chips prescribed by Medrich. Instead of using regular chocolate chunks, which are uncomfortably hard when frozen (and especially annoying in creamy ice cream), she makes chips made out of a kind of water ganache, with a very high ratio of chocolate so that it’s rather firm at room temp. You can cut it into chunks, and mix it into the ice cream after it churns.

I like the chips a lot, but the mint flavor is weaker than I’d like.

When I find peppermint or another non-spear-mint, I’m going to try the method in Pierre Herme and Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate Desserts — hot infusion of cream, reserve mint leaves, make custardy ice cream base, let cool, blend with reserved mint leaves, freeze, and then mix in finely chopped mint leaves. That should give me the cold blast of bold mint ice cream that I’ve been craving.

Mandarin Orange-Chocolate Mint Rice Pudding – I based it on this recipe, the same recipe as I used for my Lapsang Souchong Rice Pudding. I infused the milk with mandarin orange peel and mint leaves. At one point, the mint was getting too strong, so I fished it out and left the orange peel in until the flavors were balanced. Then I made the rice pudding. For some reason, though, it took FOREVER for it to cook this time. The rice was so reluctant to soften, and I had to resort to adding water so that the dairy wouldn’t congeal too much around hard rice.

I did see a recipe for rice pudding in The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman in which she cooks the rice and custard separately, and that seems pretty wonderful foolproof idea.

Anyway, it tastes nice. Creamy and comforting in its own way, but nothing spectacular.

Chocolate Mint Truffles – Same cold infusion of leaves into cream as for the ice cream above. Also too mellow and yet vaguely unpleasant. Part of me was wary of putting chocolate mint into a chocolate-laden recipe in the first place, for fear of overpowering the chocolate mint’s delicacy, and that’s pretty much what happened. I didn’t bother to enrobe these. Maybe I’ll make cupcakes, and transform this into an icing so that it’s not wasted.

You Should Still Make This Quiche

Sunday, March 25th, 2007
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I can’t believe that it’s been almost a year since I made Thomas Keller’s 2-inch quiche (recipe and article here). When I think back to making it that day in culinary school last April and how the concept of making a quiche was so utterly new and weird to me… I’m really amazed by how far I’ve come since then. I get it now… and can play around with it.

Last time, I agonized over getting the process and ingredients just right — Point Reyes Blue Cheese (instead of Roquefort) and leeks — but this time, the whole idea to make the quiche came about while I was driving home from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market so the whole process was much more improv-style.

I decided to use the red chard and dandelion greens that I’d purchased to make a sort of faux quiche florentine. To be honest, my biggest problem with quiches is that there can be so much rich, monotonous custard, but I also didn’t want it to be too dense w/ greens. So when I got home, I raided my fridge to see what else I could use to fill in my quiche and discovered a leftover 3/4 of an onion, some feta, some thyme, and some slices of bacon in my freezer.

I then looked in the Bouchon cookbook and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison for ideas for how to go about preparing the ingredients.

Except for the custard base and crust, I didn’t really measure anything. I just estimated and adjusted based on the amount of ingredients I had and how they were acting.

Dandelion Greens: 1 bunch, stems removed.  Boiled in water for 8 minutes, drained, boiled in change of water for 8 mins. Squeezed very dry. Next time I’ll probably just wilt them in butter; they shrunk so much when boiled and I don’t mind a bit of bitterness.

Red Chard: 1 bunch, stems removed.  Wilted in melted butter, salt, and pepper. Squeezed very dry. Their red color was sorted of wasted in this; I didn’t really want a pink quiche, though, so I’m happy they didn’t bleed into the custard. Btw, these took forever to clean. No matter how many times I changed the water in the sink that I was cleaning them in, little bugs kept turning up. It probably took at least 5 changes of water until I was satisfied that they were clean.

Onion: 3/4 of an onion. Based on the Onion Confit recipe in the Bouchon cookbook. You basically cook slices of onion in a pan very slowly – with water, butter, and a bouquet garni (I just used some sprigs of thyme). They’re soft, but don’t fall apart, and have a natural onion-y sweetness. It’s supposed to take about 2 hours, so I started this first, and let it go while I did other things. I stopped it when it seemed soft and cooked and sweet… I don’t really know how long it took.

Bacon: Baked lardons until fat rendered. Sauteed briefly with onions before assembling quiche. I just used 1.75 slices for the whole thing. I love bacon, but I don’t like when it dominates.

Also, I saw that the quiches in the cookbook are assembled by laying half of the vegetables on the bottom of the crust, pouring over half of the custard base, laying the other half of the vegetables on top and then pouring over the rmg custard base. So, instead of mixing all of the filling ingredients together, I made a lorraine-like layer topped by a florentine-like layer…

So, not only is it a 2-inch quiche — it’s a 2-in-1 quiche!

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And technically, this is probably a little more than 2 inches. Since I don’t have the specified 9×2″ ring mold, I used the outside of a 9″ spring form pan, that was about 2.5 inches tall. Even though the crust originally was originally folded over the top, it slipped down during parbaking. That was fine.

And as I wrote before, this quiche is something of a long, slow project. It’s not hard and it’s certainly flexible and even forgiving, but it just needs time, esp b/c it’s so big. The crust — from mixing ingredients to resting to rolling out to shaping in pan to chilling again to baking to cooling — takes a while; several hours, at least. The prep for the inside fillings can be as quick or slow as you want, at least, and the custard is a snap to make (although it does need a 15 min rest at one point). But then it takes about 1.75 hrs to bake (mine took 2 hr 10 mins; probably b/c of all the stuff in it), and a long time to cool. In the book, it’s recommend that you chill it and serve it the next day, reheating it slice by slice. You’re best bet is probably to make it over the course of a weekend day, and then eat it over the course of the week.

Oh, and how did it taste? Awesome. It was just as breathtakingly silky as last time, and the fillings were good alone and together.

I wanted to serve it with a mustard greens/fennel/celery/scallion/feta/thyme salad last night, but the quiche didn’t make it in time, so instead, I went with glazed multi-colored carrots from the farmer’s market for today.

Food Temperatures, Contextually

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

I’ve given a lot of thought to temperature recently. I’m often boiling sugar… and watching my candy thermometer… and reading through books and recipes specifying temperatures… and noticing how temperature can affect everything edible.

Objectively, the temperatures that affect food are in a relatively narrow range, and I thought, why not put them together onto one list?

So, that’s what I constructed on my Temperature Scale page in the sidebar on the right-hand side of the screen; you can also click here to see it.

I’ve always liked historical timelines that incorporate disparate events to put things into perspective, so I just think it’s cool to see so many disparate foods together — sweet and savory — on a temperature basis. You can see how foods act individually… and get some idea of how they act in the presence of other foods… and how different foods act differently or the same at the same temperature… and how there’s somewhat of a progression, from animal fats to meats to sugars to vegetable oils to salt. I like looking at it with the concept of simultaneity in mind.

It’s not a complete list… but it’s quite a start… and I’ll add it through the course of more research. Also, the temperatures cannot all be taken as absolute gospel; it’s probably most useful to insert the words “around” before many numbers. This uncertainty can be due to the effects of time, the presence of other ingredients, the different substances that can be contained in one type of food, and the fact that sources differ on some numbers.

It’s also interesting in the context of cooking temperatures. Although ovens are usually btw 300-450F, it’s very rare for the temperature of the food to actually get that hot. Only sometimes, the exterior temperature of a food matches the ambient temp. I think about it like this — the temperature of the oven (or pot or whatever cooking vessel) doesn’t really dictate what the food will be cooked to, it affects the rate at which the food is cooked; I guess like acceleration. A 450 oven will try to pull the food up to that temp faster than a 350 oven. That’s why, say, cupcakes that are baked in an oven that is too hot won’t necessarily burn them to a crisp — but they’ll get pointy tops, and may be underbaked on the inside and overbaked on the outside.

Anyway, just try skimming the list slowly — letting your eyes run down the temperatures and foods. Maybe they’ll want to jump back to connect some dots… or just keep going.

And the next time you pre-heat your oven to 450, think about how many foods would be affected on the way to that temp.

The information on the scale comes from (the absolutely extraordinary book) On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee; Cookwise by Shirley Corriher; The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart; The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott; Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere, and my notes from CIA-Greystone.

What’s Your Favorite Candy Bar?

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at

http://www.bonbonbar.com/
That’s just one of the things that I’d like to know… so I put together a Candy Bar Survey. If you’d like to share your thoughts on all things candy bar-related, please take a few minutes to fill it out the survey below…

http://www.zoomerang.com/survey.zgi?p=WEB226DT8442AE

.com/survey.zgi?p=WEB2266M2NPH7V

And please feel free to send the link on to any chocolate-centric people that you may be acquainted with.

Thank you!

And for the record, I favor Twix and Milky Way.

The Coffee Bar

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007
*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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The Coffee Bar: Coffee Chocolate Nougat swirled with Caramel and topped with Hazelnuts.

Yum.

But… this bar is about texture as much as it is about flavor. It has a soft, supple nougat wrapped around an even softer chewy caramel layer — if left to its own devices, the caramel will slowly bulge out of an open bar after a few minutes. The nuts add a satisfying crunch that cuts through the chewiness of the nougat and caramel.

In a way, this is a forbidden bar for me — coffee gives me headaches/shakes/anxiety and I usually despise the taste of hazelnuts. But I knew that I wanted to make a coffee-flavored bar, and after tasting plain and almond-studded trials, I found myself dying to try it with hazelnuts. And with good reason — they work wonderfully with coffee and caramel. The flavors together are practically intoxicating.

After all my experiments with nougat, I can make this one in my sleep now. I went through at least 10 different versions of the recipe (and made some versions several times). I adjusted the temperature it was boiled to, the ratio of sugar to glucose, the amount of chocolate in it, the type of chocolate in it, and more. It was wonderful to see how each factor affected the finished product — and how subsequent versions might have to be adjusted to compensate for certain results — but what’s funny is that my final version is almost identical to my first version. It turned out that decreasing the amount of egg white by just a 1/4 ounce in my first version fixed everything. How elegantly simple… at long last.

And the coffee flavor comes from very finely ground Kauai coffee beans, freshly ground in my spice grinder. I guessed the amount in my first try, and adjusted it in subsequent versions until it was as strong as I wanted it. It has to be very finely ground, or else tiny bits of coffee linger in the mouth.

The caramel is based on this wonderful fleur de sel caramels recipe, which I made last year (at the time, I felt kind of weird about just a short, simple post about it). For this, I used glucose instead of corn syrup, kosher salt instead of fleur de sel, and decreased the final boiling temperature. I’m going to do a post soon on caramels, b/c they’re fascinating things.

The swirl was something of a happy accident. I have a tendency to roll doughs out rather thin, and that’s just what I did with the nougat in one of my early versions. The caramel layer that I poured on to it turned out to be just a tad thinner. There was no way that it could be just cut and enrobed as it was — Milky Way-style — without it looking sadly anemic in comparison. I started rolling it up, and there it was: a relatively easy, novel look for a candy bar. It’s a relative of Ho-Ho’s or roulades, depending on your perspective.

The caramel and nougat are settled, but the nuts remain a little bit of an issue. I may just leave them toasted on top like they are, or I may try soaking them in the excellent Patron XO Cafe liqueur that I bought, mixing them with sugar, and roasting them before placing them atop the bar. And I want their placement on top to be a little snazzier.