Category Archives: Sweet treats

Secret Ingredient to chocolate truffles

This holiday season I tried making chocolates for the first time ever. I know, it’s even hard for me to admit that it took me THIS LONG to give it a shot!

I dug up a recipe online, going for french rather than english.

*As a side note, I often use francophone websites for dessert recipes rather than anglosaxon ones. Why? Because in this humble gourmande’s opinion, the Americans especially have a tendency to use waaaay tooooo muuuuuuch SUGAR! Especially when baking with chocolate, sugar has a tendency to dilute all kinds of lovely intense flavors in the cacao.*

But I digress, yet again. I tripped over this website which had a nice, simple looking recipe for chocolate truffles. Filled with enthusiasm blinding me to the task ahead, and thinking only of how great it would be to give these as gifts on a visit to my partner’s friends abroad, I dove into making these chocolate nuggets head on. I grabbed whatever ingredients I could find at the Migros, in a rush (Cailler brand chocolate at 70% if memory serves). I even got creative and decided to embellish the chocolate truffles with a homemade caramelized pistachio center, for a little salty sweet crunch. The recipes came together nicely, and although I didn’t try one, I just knew they would be good. I excitedly and proudly passed them out to our friends and hosts and it seemed they went down pretty well: their freshness especially enhanced the rich and unctuous dark chocolate ganache. It felt so good to get it right the first time ’round!

Second verse, different from the first

Trufflicious

I had to make more. As soon as possible. And it’s the holidays so there is no shortage of opportunities to give out homemade chocolate truffles. I made one batch the last couple of days, although it turned out I was not really in the mood to do it. This time, I tried a different chocolate combo, using 64% dark chocolate instead of 70%, trying to get rid of some excessive bitterness I sensed in the first batch. I rolled the chocolate ganache around the caramelized nuts, this time adding a bit more in the center to get the crunch-to-unctuous ratio right. When a nice little one was done, I popped it into my mouth to try it. Not bad – but somehow, not the same WOW I felt after the first time.

Tonight, I tried it again, still in a heavy mood and not feeling like making chocolates, but thinking ahead to a dinner party we’ll soon be hosting – these would make perfect take away treats! I heated up the cream and… perhaps I left it on too long? Perhaps too much? Or too little? I had been careless in measuring. I had been careless in assessing the heat. It simmered and a layer of skin formed on top of the cream. I quickly pulled it off the heat and poured it over the chocolate. Today I was using Lindt brand chocolate, 70% again, with just a little Cailler milk chocolate. I started stirring, my favorite part of the ganache making process. Something was amiss again, and it seemed like the chocolate wasn’t shaping up as smoothly as it has in the past. I tossed in the butter and sure enough, the mix seemed to separate lightly, and the butter wasn’t really melting. But WHY? Why, when I had done everything exactly like the previous times?

Stubbornly I pushed on, pouring the ganache into the tray in which it would sit over night in the fridge. I checked on it not too long ago, and indeed, the fat has separated and congealed. Well, it’s official, we can safely call that a bust.

This is what separation looks like

This is what separation looks like

Was it worth prepping the pistachios? Or should I just put an end to the curse and call it quits for the night? Of course I decided to push through, yet again. I pulled out the pistachios, which I had bought at the Coop this time, and in my haste, I had grabbed a pack of unsalted ones. The previous ones being salted, I hesitated again about giving the recipe a new shot. Sure, I am exhausted and just want to go to bed or watch a dumb TV show, but why not just salt them myself I thought? So I tossed them in a pan with a touch of sunflower oil and toasted and salted them up. They smelled good, great even! There was hope! But they were greasy…No matter, I would just need to pat them well enough dry and maybe put them in the oven before adding them to the caramel.

A little too toasted at this point

A little too toasted at this point

Speaking of caramel, there was the water/sugar/salt mixture seating on the flame, going clear first, and slowly turning yellow. Now I got excited again, but it was slow, so slow! I turned the heat up a notch… and before I knew it, the caramel was speedingly turning an amber colour. I scrambled to pull the pistachios out of the oven and toss them in the caramel mix before it browned too much… the pistachios were darker than I expected. Not burnt I hope? No matter, I tossed them into the caramel, stirred a bit, and just before the caramel burnt (I hope!) managed to get the mix off the heat and onto the foil to cool. When it did, I tried one of the caramelized nuts. It was good! After all this stress it was good! Or was it… bitter? Yes, it had a bitter after taste. Well that’s what you get for improvising, isn’t it?

dark pistachios + dark caramel = not such a sweet deal

dark pistachios + dark caramel = not such a sweet deal

So. The verdict? I probably won’t bother rolling any truffles with either the chocolate ganache or the caramelized nuts tonight. And it’s apparent to me that the better mood you’re in when you’re cooking, the more likely your product is likely to be delicious. Beginners luck don’t mean a thing if you can’t make the magic happen consistently. And to make delicious chocolate truffles each time, you’ve gotta have the secret ingredient: a whole lotta love.

Second verse, different from the first

Second verse, different from the first

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Of Hearth and Home

We all lead completely manic lives. In Geneva in particular, as soon as the weekend hits, we flee to a constellation of great European towns around us: Madrid, Rome, Paris, London, Berlin, Oslo… We shop, have drinks, dine out, see friends, galleries, performances, monuments… then hop back on the plane on Sunday and crash back home exhausted. Another dinner at Da Paolo’s it is!

So it’s the privilege of our well-to-do generation. But Sundays weren’t always this way. As a kid, I’d get carted out to see the grandparents on Sundays for an afternoon playing petanque in the garden and an evening spent watching my grandmother creating three-course heavens in the kitchen.

Still today (especially today! Happy birthday pops :)), those Sunday memories come flooding back, but only when I’m at home! And this little one’s been running away from home every weekend since January it feels like. Whither the days of those home cooked Hungarian Sunday dinners!

Some time in March I started feeling the effects of my constant vagrancy. My plants dried up and died off. One sadly committed suicide, as if violently denouncing my rootless ways. Little families of dust bunnies took out long-term subleases on dark corners. My laundry machine went rusty. But saddest of all, my refrigerator got hot headed on me and relations with my stove have become frigid.

I think it was the suicidal house plant that finally did it. It was clearly time to sentence myself to two full days of house, home and self care.

As a side note, it’s been SO enriching! But I’ll spare you the dirty details of deep cleaning my drawers. Having polished most of the work off on Saturday, by noon today I had a sparkling kitchen. And like Mr. Clean swooping out of the sink, smile beaming and kitchen sparkling, I got my cooking inspiration back. On the menu? An ode to my culinary paternal grandparents: Hungarian veal porkolt, cucumber salad, pickles, spatzle, sour cream, a decent bottle of wine or two, and one of my grandfather’s many legendary desserts: mousse au chocolat.

MOUSSE AU CHOCOLAT (serves 4)

Ingredients: 150g dark chocolate (70% is best); 3 eggs, separated; 100g sugar; 125ml heavy (whipping) cream

Directions: 

1. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie

Melting chocolate: tip, make sure that water NEVER gets hotter than a simmer…

2. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until stiff. It can help to add up to a tablespoon of sugar to get it really stiff.

I hope for you that you have an electric mixer, in which case this takes about 5 minutes. If you don’t, then skip the gym and enjoy beating these the old fashioned way…

3. Also whip the cream

4. When the chocolate is melted, remove from heat, but leave the chocolate in the bain marie. You want the temperature to stay warm, but not too hot. You don’t want the remaining ingredients to cook!

5. Stir in the egg yolks and the sugar. It will get thick and pasty.

Three little egg yolks, off for a swim in a chocolate jacuzzi.

6. Fold in half the egg whites into the bain marie. Must be done DELICATELY so that the egg whites keep their structure. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to gently fold the egg whites in from bottom to top.

7. Poor the mixture into the remaining egg whites in their bowl, and continue to fold in delicately.

8. Gently fold in the whipped cream until you get an even mixture.

All set for the big freeze!

9. Place in the fridge to cool for at least an hour or two.

10. SERVE! Could be nice with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, over a light biscuit, a digestive or fruit. I hear strawberries are in season….

A family classic from the pater familias cook book

Love discovering new places, but let’s face it… it can be so good to be home!

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Sweet Dreams of Chocolate and Cheese(cake): Part II – Devil’s Food Cake

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So, when I was a kid, I had a deep obsession with devil’s food cake. Maybe because I identified as an American living abroad, I felt it was my civic duty, as an American, to eat as much American candy and sweets as I possibly could. Whatever the reason, the crown of all things decadently american was devil’s food cake. But hang on, not that granma’s recipe kind of devil’s food cake, nooooooo. I LOVED Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker, cardboard box devil’s food cake. Mmmm mmmm mmm…. :/

So on my 12th birthday, I wanted the perfect devil’s food birthday cake. I wanted it round, with two layers, and covered in that completely overprocessed icing from a jar. I was going to have sprinkles and candles on it, bring it to school for all my friends to see, and it was going to be the best birthday ever!

See what a pain of a kid I must have been for my poor mother? If it’s not obvious yet, I’ll go ahead with the rest of the story. My dear mother, who was not naturally inclined to bake in the first place, slaved away putting this imaginary cake of mine together. She baked one big cake, sliced it down the middle, iced it, layered it, and iced it again. And despite all the TLC she put into it, I took one look at it and sobbed – because it was slanted.

Devil’s food indeed..! I know. I’m a horrible person. Or at least I was a horrible kid. My angelic mom took it in stride, piled icing up on the slanty bit, and voilà! We had some semblance of my dream cake.

Alright, let’s fastforward out of our childhood traumas and turn them into present treats! This year I decided I wanted to purge those demons, grow up, and make my own devil’s food cake. But like I said in the first installment of this three part series, I wanted to make it myself, from scratch, and way better than that Betty Crocker boxed stuff. I found the following recipe in a special “Holiday Baking” issue of Fine Cooking magazine Holiday something something magazine (ok, I’ll check the reference and place it here as sooooooon as I have the magazine back in hand…) and adapted it from there:

my very own, very first, and extremely moist and chocolaty Devil's Food Cake!

DEVIL’S FOOD CAKE

For the Ganache
Ingredients:
300g dark chocolate (I used Cailler 64%)
1 and 1/3 cups (about 320ml) heavy cream
19g of butter (softened)

Instructions:
1.    Chop the chocolate and place in a medium sized bowl.
2.    Bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate.
3.    Do not stir – let it sit for 5 minutes. Then, using a whisk, stir in the center of the mixture in a small, tight motion until the chocolate is fully combined into the cream.
4.    Stir in the butter until smooth.
5.    Cover with plastic wrap (right over the surface of the ganache) and let it sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours (easiest to do this overnight).

For the Cake
Ingredients
170g butter (softened)
225g (about 1 ¾ cups) all-purpose flour
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs (at room temperature)
65g (3/4 cup) unsweetened dutch processed cocoa powder
1 ¼ tsp baking soda (in French: bicarbonate de soude)
1 tsp baking powder (in French: poudre a lever)
1 tsp salt
1 ½ cups buttermilk at room temperature
¼ cup mayonnaise

Equipment
Stand mixer or large bowl+electric hand mixer, or get ready to work those arms with a hand mixer.
2x 20x5cm round cake pans.

Instructions
1.    Preheat the oven to 180C
2.    Line both cake pans with a round of parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper (or the bottom of the pans if you choose to skip the parchment paper) very, very generously. Dust with flour and tap out the excess.
3.    Place butter, brown sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat together either with a rubber spatula, or ideally with an electric mixer on medium-high speed. Beat until lighter in color and slightly increased in volume (3-5 minutes).
4.    Lower the speed to medium and mix in the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next. Do NOT overmix.
5.    Over a piece of parchment paper, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and then add salt.
6.    Using the parchment as a slide, add about a quarter of the dry mixture to the batter. Mix (on low speed) until smooth.
7.    Add 1/3 of the buttermilk and mix until smooth.
8.    Alternate between the dry mixture and the remaining buttermilk until it is all incorporated and smooth.
9.    Last but not least, whisk the mayonnaise into the batter.
10.    Pour the batter evenly into both pans and bake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean (the sides of the cake should begin to pull away from the sides of the pan slightly).
11.    Remove the pans from the oven and let them cool for 1 5 minutes at room temperature.
12.    Invert the cakes on a wire rack and remove the pans and the parchment.
13.    Let the cakes cool completely (can be made a day early, wrapped well and stored at room temperature).

Assembly
Place the first cake on a flat plate. With a wide knife, spread the ganache over the top of the cake (using about 1/3 of it). Place the second cake on top and spread the ganache over the top and the sides, covering the whole thing evenly. Place it in the fridge for 15 minutes to let the crumbs set. Spread the rest of the ganache over the top and sides. The cake and be refrigerated, covered for up to 2 days. Return it to room temperature before serving.

Ladie and Gentlemen, I give you… Devil’s Food Cake fit for a 12 year old (with veeeeery picky tastebuds)!

If this doesn't capture my childhood, I don't know what does...

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Sweet Dreams of Chocolate and Cheese(cake) – Part 1: Chocolate “Fondant” Brownies

Last night I fell asleep reading about whisks. And how to whisk the old fashioned way (look ma, no electricity!) And how to whisk egg whites. And how to whisk cream. And how to whisk…..zzzzz.

Never would I have thought I would be whisked to sleep by this new hobby. I woke up in a haze, thinking I had just dreamt it all. Doesn’t help that I spent the last 2 weeks indulging in all of my favorite chocolate desserts! I think my blood stream is still saturated with sugar….

Why stuff myself into a diabetic coma? Well, let’s just say there was reason to celebrate! And given this rapidly developing food interest of mine, I decided it was time to bake.

The authorities should consider making it illegal for sugar addicts/ chocoholics like myself to bake. To start with, I couldn’t make up my mind on which of my favorite cakes to make. So I tried to stick to my childhood favorites: Brownies. And devil’s food cake. As an American kid growing up abroad, I idolized these typical american treats! But at that time, we bought Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker straight outta the box (thanks mom!) Now my goal was to make them again, make them myself, make them from scratch, and most of all, make them EVEN BETTER!

But that wasn’t enough of course. As an adult, I’ve become a huge fan of cheesecake, so when I bumped into this delicious sounding pumpkin cheesecake recipe, I could not resist. So why choose?? I set out to do all three in one night. (Ok fine, a night and a bit).

Here is Part I of III of the results:
BROWNIES “FONDANT” (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Ingredients:
> 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
> ½ tsp salt
> ¾ tsp baking powder (in French: poudre a lever)
> 170 grams dark chocolate
> 170 grams butter (softened)
> 2 ¼ cups of sugar
> 1 tbsp vanilla extract
> 1 cup of chocolate chips or chunks

Directions:
> Preheat the oven to 170C
> 23cm x 33cm glass pan (more or less) – butter the bottom of the pan, or, even better, cut two pieces of aluminum foil  (one to cover the length, and the other to cover the width of the pan) and place them in the pan so that the ends hang over the edges. Delicately butter the bottom of the aluminum foil.
> In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder.
> Break up or cut the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bain marie with the butter. Don’t let the water boil, the chocolate should not overheat. Stir over the heat until melted and smooth.
> Remove the chocolate from heat – gradually mix in the sugar with a spoon or spatula.
> Whisk eggs into the chocolate/sugar mix one at a time. DO NOT OVERMIX – just whisk one in until smooth, then the next, and the next…
> Whisk in vanilla
> Using the spatula, fold in the flour mixture in three goes, to make sure the batter is mixed evenly – smooth.
> Fold in the chocolate chunks
> Pour the batter into the pan, using the spatula to spread into the corners.
> Bake four 35-40 minutes. Check on it with a toothpick inserted into the middle of the pan. It is done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. Do NOT OVERCOOK! Better to undercook it in fact, cause then you get the fondant part of it in the middle….

The result? I would add pictures, but we pretty much grabbed spoons and ate the whole thing right out of the oven!! I think we had concensus on these: you’ll basically bite into a gooey dark chocolate dream…..

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