Archive for April, 2007

The Orange Bar – In Progress

Sunday, April 29th, 2007
*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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Orange Bar: Solera Sherry-Milk Chocolate Ganache, Candied Orange Peel, and Pecan Meringue Cookie enrobed in Dark Chocolate.

I wanted to do something a little different for this bar. I really like the combination of chocolate and orange, but it often tastes one-note, at best — or synthetic, at worst. So, I wanted to create an environment that would round out the flavor of orange within the chocolate. After some mulling over the matter, solera sherry and pecans just seemed like good ideas. They’re a little sweet, but have a complexity that comes out in their finishes; something sprightly, and just maybe hinting at caramel and an affinity for fruit. Similarly, the meringue is sweet, but the top is baked to just a light brown to give a slightly caramelized flavor and it’s sweetness is grounded by the pecans in it.

A meringue layer is fun in a candy bar. It starts off crunchy, but then dissolves in a lovely way. So, it seems like a counterpoint to the creamy ganache at first, but then it almost becomes part of the ganache for a clean finish of texture and taste; this is similar in theory to a dacquoise cake (but the meringue softens once it’s constructed in that). Although I like shortbread in the Malt Bar or Banana Bar, it wouldn’t work for this bar — the butter and flour give a flavor and texture that are very different.

The orange flavor is contributed by candied orange peel. After a lot of experimentation, I’ve found that using cream of tartar in my sugar syrup and a minimal processing time gives me the peel that I like best — a clean orange flavor with a slight bitterness and no sliminess, and in this case, the sweetness is rounded out by the other elements of the bar.

Although almost every recipe says that it very easy to candy citrus peel, I think that it’s a finicky procedure to do well and to get the results that you want… and there are many slightly different ways of doing it… Some recipes blanch up to 5 times, some recipes have you boil it hard, some have you simmer it, some recipes have you alternate heating it and letting it cool, some recipes use more corn syrup than sugar, some recipes recommend boiling it in successively denser sugar solutions, some recipes have you scrape out all of the pith. Most recipes use corn syrup, which is good to use for a sweet, soft candy peel b/c the molecules aren’t as big as glucose so they can get into the fruit better and displace water with sugar. I experimented with different liquid sugar substitutions for corn syrup, but my results were occasionally besmirched by tough peels, eventual crystallization, and either a too dry or too wet syrup. I haven’t had these problems with cream of tartar. Incidentally, I looked back at my notes from the Marmalade class that I took with wonderful June Taylor last year, and she recommended using cream of tartar because it’s not as slimy as corn syrup. I felt vindicated.

The picture above is a mini-version. Ideally, I think that the shape will be a circle with a diameter of about 3″, and relatively thin. I like that it seems kind of delicate, but is really quite sturdy, and full of flavor.

The Coconut Bar – In Progress

Monday, April 23rd, 2007
*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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The Coconut: Passion Fruit Marshmallow, 70% Dark Chocolate Ganache with Shredded Coconut and Rum-Soaked Macadamia Nuts enrobed in Bittersweet Chocolate.

Earlier this month, I didn’t post for about 2 weeks, and it’s mostly because of this bar (oh, um, and two others that I’ll discuss in the future). Although it has almost the same flavors as its previous version, the challenge has been to get those flavors to take just the exact forms that I want and to maintain integrity of flavors. It’s driving me a little crazy.

Traditional coconut candy bars are made by suspending the coconut within a cooked sugar syrup, often lightened with frappe (which is like marshmallow fluff). I didn’t want to offer yet another sweet, chewy coconut bar to the world… to simply trot after Bounty, Almond Joy, and Mounds laden with an air of desperate conformity.

Instead, I take my cue from the creamy coconut cakes, cocktails, ice creams, and mousses that I’ve always enjoyed. I want a creamy bar that balances the flavor of coconut with passion fruit, macadamia nuts, and rum. I want some crunch, but not too much — that is, not much more than what is naturally in coconuts and macadamia nuts. Coconut desserts often have a deceptively light texture that belies just how nutritionally “heavy” they are, and I wanted to use that as a model.

So, the passion fruit marshmallow is a different sort marshmallow than the one in my S’More Bar. The s’more one suggests ooziness like a melted marshmallow, while this one suggests an airy lightness, more like a mousse. To adjust the consistency of marshmallows, I’ve found that you can change the amount of gelatin used, the temperature that you cook your sugar syrup to and the types/ratios of sugars that you use (liquid vs granular). The more liquid sugar you use, the longer your marshmallows will resist drying out and crystallization… but they might eventually weep syrup.

The ganache uses 70% chocolate and is mixed with coconut flakes and macadamia nuts soaked in rum. It’s lusciously soft and creamy, and that’s one of the benefits of using a mold; the ganache doesn’t have to be firm enough to roll or cut. The firmness of a ganache is most saliently affected by the ratio of chocolate (firm) to cream (soft), but sugars and butter added to it also affect the consistency and taste.

The bar isn’t quite done, mostly b/c I still want to perfect the flavor. In this version, the passion fruit flavor outmuscles the coconut a bit. My options seem to be to decrease the amount of passion fruit puree in the marshmallow and/or to mix coconut flakes into the marshmallow. I don’t think that the latter would interfere with the balance of textures — I think it should be fine to have coconut in both layers.

In the ganache layer, I’ll increase the amount of coconut flakes used. The function of the ganache is really just to bind the coconut flakes together. I’m also mulling over what kind of chocolate I want to use to let the coconut flavor come out more. If I ease off the chocolate flavor to let the coconut come through, I’d have to use a chocolate with more sugar… and I’m trying to not let this bar get too sweet. In all honesty, I’d love to mix the coconut into something other than chocolate ganache, but I don’t want to just mix it into a sugary solution, as I said before and because there is, after all, already a sweet marshmallow right above it. I also can’t use a cookie in this bar because fitting it into the mold presents too many problems with exact height and tapered circumference issues — having any air space inside the bar is bad for shelf life, among other things; I also don’t want the flavor of butter in this bar.

I also wonder if there’s anything that I could do to the coconut to make it a little softer. I’m using unsweetened dried coconut, because sweetened coconut is so sweet. I have soaked the coconut in warm water, squeezed it dry, and slightly toasted it, but the texture only marginally improves. I could add some form of sugar to the water before I toast it, and maybe that would help without being as sweet as regular sweetened coconut. On the other hand, maybe it’ll soften in the ganache, so I’ll monitor this batch.

As far as the rum goes, I’m happy with it. It gives just enough of a whisper of intrigue, but the bar by no means screams of rum.

And remember, a couple posts back, how I said that chocolate is pretty forgiving to work with? Originally, I had mixed the coconut and nuts into plain, tempered chocolate and pressed that into the mold with the marshmallow; so there had been a “crunch” layer instead of the ganache. Well, I didn’t like the texture of that — too twiggy to me — so I was able to crack away at it and scoop it out. I then decided on this ganache and put that in its place. So, that explains the rugged border between the two.

The only truly unforgiving thing about chocolate that I discovered in writing this post is that photographing molded chocolate hemispheres at home is practically impossible — its reflective powers are staggering!

Another Peanut Butter Bar

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007
*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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Another Peanut Butter Bar: Peanut-Milk Chocolate Filling, Caramel Syrup, Strawberry Jam, and Honey molded in Dark Chocolate.

This version is the ultimate in re-creating my peanut butter sandwich memories… and resolving my eternal struggle about which kind to have by offering them all. This molded bar has 5 compartments, and even though each is mostly filled with the same peanut-milk chocolate filling, the accompaniments rotate. The two ends have caramel syrup, the next two compartments in on either side have strawberry preserves, and the middle has honey. Every bite is moist and bursts with flavor. There is also a complete barrier of chocolate btw each compartment, so those who don’t want to eat the whole bar at once can save the remainder for later without having the filling exposed to air. It is, however, dangerously easy to eat the whole bar in five quick, gluttonous bites. 🙂

I think that the candy bar form lends itself to this kind of layout — if you’re going to have such a big confection, you may as well have more than one flavor profile. I’ve been wanting to do this from way back when I started considering what to do with candy bars, and I was surprised and impressed when I found out that the classic Skybar already does something like this… although I was disappointed by its taste (all of the compartments tasted the same and overly sweet to me).

Anyway, I think I like this one better than the big cup with only the caramel syrup, but this bar is arguably more work and requires more ingredients and higher costs so I’m not completely sold on it unless it would be in demand. So… which would you prefer?

The Peanut Butter Bar: Beginnings

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007
*You can now purchase my candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
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The Peanut Butter Bar: Peanut Butter-Milk Chocolate Filling, Caramel Syrup, and Caramelized Rice Krispies enrobed in Dark Chocolate.

Although this bar has some Reese’s heritage, I like to think of it more as an homage to the peanut butter, brown sugar, and honey sandwiches that I liked to eat as a child, not to mention peanut butter and jellies. Sure, the flavor of the peanut butter was the star, but what I liked so much about them was the almost liquidy refreshment of the jelly or honey and the moist softness of the bread. Nothing killed a peanut butter sandwich for me more than dryness… I knew it would be tough week at lunch when I opened a new bag of Wonder bread to find myself trapped in a world of sliced dryness. Did I mention that I also loved plain peanut butter sandwiches (which, oddly, were all the rage of my 2nd grade class) and peanut butter-butter sandwiches? I did. And do. But not on Wonder bread anymore.

So, that’s my way of prefacing this startling confession: I never truly liked Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. They’re too dry, and they never tasted nearly as good as any peanut butter sandwich.

I always wanted to like them, and this bar is my way of tailoring them to my sandwich-y needs preferences. I wanted pure, clean flavors. So, the peanut butter filling is simply natural peanut butter mixed with milk chocolate and salt. The peanut butter flavor is intact. Interestingly, peanut butter has more fat per weight than milk chocolate, so the milk chocolate kind of thins it out (er, but also firms it up, thanks to cocoa butter, which is solid at room temp).

You can’t see it in the picture, but the filling has a little well in the center of the bar, which is filled with caramel syrup. Caramel syrup is made by simply caramelizing sugar, adding water, and boiling it to desired consistency. Mine is like honey at room temp. Again, this syrup was chosen as a bid for purity. I could have added cream and/or butter to the caramelized sugar for a creamier caramel (which is done for caramel candies and caramel sauce), but I wanted caramel as purely flavored as the honey in my sandwiches (but I didn’t want to actually use honey). Also, peanut butter is so rich and fat that I think that anything in the bar should cut through it a bit, rather than add to it… Maybe this is a good time to also say that this is why I’ve never been into ultra-crazy-rich Peanut Butter-Chocolate desserts, either.

And the caramelized rice krispies add a grain element that echoes the bread in sandwiches (they’re also good on choc rice pudding, and on their own). I also caramelized some wheat flakes and multigrain flakes for the same reason, and they’re tasty. I’m not sure yet which I’ll use for the final bar. I had to use organic rice krispies b/c the original kind has high-fructose corn syrup, which is banned for life from my candy bars.

It’s a delicious bar, but there’s more that needs to be done for it to work completely…

  • I’m not sure if I’m going to keep them in these square paper molds. They’re too deep, which makes for bar that’s too big and I don’t want it to have a collar if I fill them less. I also have to paint the bottoms, sides, and top, and they’re too unstable to set up evenly and with clean lines without too much bother. In the picture above, the sides and bottom are pretty thin, and the top is laughably, not to mention uncomfortably, thick. There’s a big professional machine that deposits chocolate into paper molds and then blows air into them to disperse the chocolate pretty evenly, but even I can’t quite bring myself to wish for such a contraption. I may just put them in a bar mold, unless I can find paper molds that are shorter and reinforced better.
  • I have to monitor how the caramel syrup fares in the bar. When multiple components are enrobed in a single candy bar, a little ecosystem is created. Moisture and fat migrate unless barriers are put up. The caramel syrup (or ground up hard caramel) may have to be integrated in a different way because it may just disperse into the filling anyway.
  • The caramelized rice krispies are quite crunchy, and may be too hard a contrast to the rest of the bar. I may put on fewer grains or maybe cut the caramel with butter, which I deem acceptable in this circumstance b/c it wouldn’t be much.

And going back to that laughably/uncomfortably thick top…

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Here’s a little bit of information about working with chocolate… A lot of people think that it’s difficult, and are a little scared to work with it… but the truth is, chocolate is very forgiving — if you let it be. I think of it in comparison to bread. As far as I know, if you over-mix, over-proof, or over-bake bread, that’s it — it’s ruined. It can’t be fixed, and it’s wasted. The same goes for over-mixed and over-baked cookies and cakes. But you have to work pretty hard to ruin chocolate — it can withstand relatively high temperatures, and you can re-melt and re-temper it at will. Broken ganaches can be fixed; even truffles that have already been coated can be melted down so that you can add more cream or chocolate if you want to adjust the consistency. You can even add water to it — as long as you add enough (only a little water makes chocolate seize).

For me, the hardest part of working with chocolate confections isn’t exactly tempering chocolate — it’s keeping a good temper. Tempering chocolate promotes the formation of good fat crystals in the chocolate’s cocoa butter so that they arrange themselves in a certain way that allows for the chocolate to be shiny and snappy. Basically, all you need to do is heat up the chocolate to 115 (dark choc), add bits of solid chocolate to promote the proper crystallization, and let it cool to about 87-91F, removing leftover seed, if necessary. You take a test to see if it’s in temper, and then, if it is, work with it and keep it within the proper temp range (at first, this range seems small, but with time, every degree takes on its own meaning). The problem is that the crystallization doesn’t stop once it’s in temper — it keeps going. So, even if you start off with an absolutely wonderful bowl of tempered chocolate, you’ll probably have a bowl of horribly thick, over-tempered chocolate that’s full of air bubbles an hour or two later. This can be fixed by raising the temperature to melt out some of the crystals and/or adding melted chocolate to disperse the concentration of good crystals… but the risk is very high of raising the temperature too high or adding too much chocolate… and then you have to temper it all over again… which isn’t the end of the world, it just takes more time.

So, that’s the explanation for the thick, bubblicious coating on the top of this bar — that is slightly over-tempered chocolate. It had been fine when I coated the bottom and sides, but by the time I’d filled them and let them set, it had thickened up… and I knew it happened, but I was so close to finishing that I didn’t stop to fix it like I should have. Part of me also knew that it wasn’t the worst it could be b/c it was only thick– seriously over-tempered chocolate will bloom immediately when it sets, and I knew I wasn’t that bad yet. But, when I poured out my leftover chocolate and let that set later, some of it had a dusty-looking bloom (under-crystallized chocolate, btw, tends to have a streaky bloom instead). There is also a chance that my bars may still bloom tomorrow, since cocoa butter can take 1-2 days to completely set (for that reason, the filling was also set up a little more than in the photo; it’s also why cream ganaches should set at room temp overnight).

Anyway, some people could argue that the problem of thick chocolate coating is not a problem at all, but it’s especially unwieldy when you have a softer filling. I do admit, though that the messiness makes it even more kid-like and fun… and it still tastes great.

Grilled Cheese Month Is Here!

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

We may not have the most dramatic changes of seasons in Los Angeles, but for the past two years, the month of April has become a season all of its own for me… One that is dramatic, beautiful, and full of glorious cheese.

It was two years ago that I first found out that Clementine, one of my favorite bakery/cafes in Los Angeles, makes at least one specialty grilled cheese sandwich every day during the month of April (closed Sundays). Their most standard version is an aged Vermont Cheddar on Country White Bread, with a choice of bacon and/or roasted cherry tomatoes, but looking at their brochure, it’s obvious that they are mining from a very deep knowledge and love for variations of melty cheese and toasty bread.

The theme of the names this year is based on the idea of a Cheesedance Festival, like a film festival. I went for the inaugural sandwich yesterday, Deconstructing Dagwood, which had cheddar, swiss, pastrami, salami, chopped olives, tomatoes, roasted peppers, pickles, mustard, “and whatever else we can find in the fridge” on a crusty roll. I forgot to take my camera along, but trust me, it was dramatic, beautiful, and full of glorious flavor. It will also be served again on April 24.

Chad and I actually sat down with the schedule to plan when we want to go… which was somewhat fruitless b/c I would have ended up putting a star next to every date if we’d seen that idea through. My waistline and wallet will probably determine my attendance.

So… if you’re in LA… some dates you may want to keep in mind… even though I doubt you could go on a “bad” day even if you tried…

  • April 4 (and 19) – Mediterraneo – Aged Provolone, Sauteed Spinach, Marinated Artichokes, Basil, Garlic, and Chili Flakes on crusty bread.
  • April 6 – Short Cuts (Small Sandwiches, Presented in Combination) – The Gouda, the Bread and the Buttery:
    • Goudafellas – Smoked Gouda with Meatballs (and Marinara Sauce for dipping)
    • As Gouda as it Gets – Aged Gouda with Young Garlic and Fried Capers
    • Gouda Night and Gouda Luck – Red Wax Gouda with Turkey, Wisconsin Bacon and Russian Dressing
  • April 11 – High Steaks: Panino Royale – Havarti, Gorgonzola, Grilled Steak, Bacon, and Balsamic-Roasted Onions on House-Made Panini
  • April 12 (and 25) – The Philadelphia Cheese Steak Story – White American, Provolone, Rib Eye Steak, Peppers, Onions, and Mayo on French Roll
  • April 16 – Basque in Glory – Etorki, Bayonne Ham, and Fig Preserves on Crusty Bread
  • April 30 – Medianoche in the Garden of Gouda and Edam – Gouda, Edam, Ham, Roast Pork, Pickles, Mayo, and Mustard on Pan Cubano.

I could go on… and on… Oh, one more, my favorite name – “Melt: Collateral Heatings of Sharp Cheddar and Crispy Bread For Make Benefit Glorious Sandwich of Tuna.” I think Borat would be pleased.

It may not be surprising that this grilled cheese has pedigree. Annie Miler, the owner and chef of Clementine has worked with Nancy Silverton, who among many other things, created Grilled Cheese Night at Campanile (which still happens every Thursday night). The Buffala 66 sandwich (on April 17) has mozzarella, pecorino, italian sausage, red onions, and fennel pollen on country white, and “clearly owes its inspiration to Nancy Silverton and the fennel sausage pizza at Mozza.” I’ve been dying to go to Mozza, and this is yet another reason to check it out… and see how the open-faced versions of melty cheese and toasty crust (aka pizzas) there compare.

And if you can’t make it to LA this month, Nancy Silverton has a rather wonderful Sandwich Book, that also includes sandwich cookies, such as versions of oreos and nutter butters to make at home, or in culinary school.