If you like crumbly chocolate cookies…

Sable1a 

Friends, you have to bear with me a bit longer as every post my keyboard types out seem to be of the French pastry demi-god. By this time I don’t think I even need to mention his name. Maybe I should start another blog, Veronique and Pierre or Pierre Hermé at Home (just kidding).

 

I’ve been living and breathing his recipes the past two weekends and I am excited to finally match the creaminess and taste of his rose-litchi ganache which he uses for his Ispahan macarons. It was not about the recipe after all, it was about technique and patience. You cannot hurry along a ganache into pipeable consistency by putting it in the refrigerator (I rarely do this but I have been guilty on occasion), there is a tendency for it to become a grainy mess or to separate. Now some ganache may be more forgiving but for one as delicate an emulsion as the rose-litchi ganache you have to wait it out and don’t be tempted to whisk it constantly to see if it had thickened enough either…just gently check with a spatula after 2 hours or so …yes it takes that long …even longer.

Another tale about technique and not recipe are these cookies I have been obsessing about ever since I’ve tasted them in Chicago. The first time I made them, they had the similar taste but bore no resemblance to the rustic elegance of the Pierre Hermé chocolate sablé. Mine looked like a log simply cut into sections. That time I was working with the PH10 version which, besides being in French, did little to explain the exacting procedure of these delicate sandy cookies.

Luckily, Dorie Greenspan has the recipe in her book Baking from My Home to Yours, and in it she explained in detail how to manipulate the dough so as not to overwork it.

Sables2 

World Peace Cookies

Adapted from Baking from My Home to Yours

 

Ingredients

·         1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

·         1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

·         1/2 teaspoon baking soda

·         1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

·         2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar

·         1/4 cup sugar

·         1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

·         1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

·         5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 1/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Procedure

1.       Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

2.      Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

3.      Turn off' the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients; drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek-if there are still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough-for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don't be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

4.      Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you've frozen the dough, you needn't defrost it before baking—just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

5.      GETTING READY TO BAKE: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

6.      Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you're cutting them—don't be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

7.      Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes—they won't look done, nor will they be firm, but that's just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

STORING: Packed airtight, the cookies will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days; they can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Cooking Notes:

My cookies still do not look exactly like PH’s but at least it looks craggier. I need to work the dough a bit less and resist rolling it into a smooth log. I also scored the log with a fork to give it more texture. And indeed when you cut it and it cracks – just stick it back to the dough as this adds more character to the cookies when baked.

This is definitely your ultimate chocolate cookie! The addition of fleur de sel is an ingenious touch and elevates the "chocolatiness" to new heights. However, if you crave the less crumbly kind, try this.

Bouchon Redux

Bouchoncloseup

There are recipes you make once and then there are those that you couldn’t leave well enough alone. When I first made Thomas Keller’s chocolate bouchons, all I had were big 3-ounce timbale molds from Sur la Table. This chocolate number, despite its size, was pretty heavy and a couple of bites were more than enough to satisfy even the most ingrained chocolate lover. My desire to look for smaller molds intensified when I actually had a divine taste of these little gems at the eponymous Bouchon Bakery at Napa Valley.  They actually used silicone molds, available at J.B. Prince, but they come only in full sheet sizes. I asked customer service if I could cut it in half but the lady I spoke to replied “ You could, but I do not recommend it.” Helpful, huh?

They also had the individual 1.5 ounce molds.  I heed and hawed about buying them – for a couple of reasons – they come out to be more expensive, are more trouble to wash and store. And I do not need more baking dishes!

Bouchonstandlowres_2

Oh well, I eventually gave in. Resistance was futile once the image of cute little bouchons started dancing in my head. So here it is – a replay of the bouchon recipe. I am happy to say that they look and taste pretty darn close to the original!

Ingredientlowres

Cooking Notes:

I actually remembered to cool the bouchons upside down in their molds this time around. This step helped keep its cork-shape perfectly. With the smaller mold size, cooking time is around 18 minutes in a 350F oven.  I used 1/2 tsp of salt compared to the 1 tsp the recipe originally called for. Also, I was more mindful of how I chopped the chocolate and did not have problems with the pastry bag this time. They also make great dinner desserts because you can make the batter a day ahead. The bouchons are also darker for this batch because I used Valrhona unsweetened cocoa instead of Scharffenberger. As usual, the best part is the melted chocolate speckled throughout its interior.

Bouchonmelt

When the wind blows…

Chocolatepud

The wind has been blustery today in Richmond, Va. Gusts up to 55 mph have me cowering at home, almost believing that something was going to fly into the window any minute.

Not to mention that it had been raining all morning, pretty heavily at times. But I think I prefer the wet weather to this rafter-shaking kind.

As I listen to the wind chime’s melody, my thoughts took me back to the days when I was a student. We do not have hurricanes in the Philippines- we had typhoons. Our city was equipped with a huge siren that can be heard all over. Whenever there was an impeding storm, I would lie awake at 6am waiting for the storm signals. Two wails by the sirens meant that classes were suspended. These were the days when I become so excited – the days when I could sleep late snuggled cozily under my blanket. Because we lived in a solidly built concrete building, I loved hearing the wind howl away then. We would watch store signs flap crazily in the wind until it would hurtle down the street or be carried away by strong water current. Of course, one time it was our own restaurant sign that got torn apart by the vicious storm and that was not fun to watch. In some strange way, I even looked forward to the loss of electricity (maybe because I knew it was inevitable).

This meant playing cards by candlelight, or swapping ghost stories, but the most enjoyable part is that bowl of Filipino chocolate rice pudding we call champorado that tasted the best during  days like this! It tastes great as breakfast but I loved it more as an afternoon snack.

The recipe I have here is not champorado but is quite similar. It is a simple recipe but takes a while to cook.  Be sure to use bittersweet chocolate!

Chocolate Risotto Pudding

·         3 cups milk

·         ½ cup sugar

·         2 tbs. butter, divided

·         1 tbs. vanilla bean paste (or extract)

·         1 cup Arborio rice

·         2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

·         1 tbs. chopped hazelnut

·         small piece white chocolate, shaved for garnish

Bring milk, sugar and vanilla to a bare simmer and keep it hot.

Heat a tablespoon of butter in large saucepan over moderate heat. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring until the rice is hot about 1 minute. Begin adding the hot milk 1 cup at a time, stirring often. Continue adding the milk until the previous addition has been absorbed. Adjust heat to maintain a nice simmer. It will take about 20 minutes for the rice to be tender and al dente. It is possible that you may not need all the milk. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and chopped chocolate. Sprinkle the chopped hazelnut and shaved white chocolate for garnish.

Cooking Notes:

It took about 30-35 minutes for my Arborio rice to become al dente. It looks like risotto does not soften as quickly with milk as it does with broth. I skipped the white chocolate preferring a splash of heavy cream instead to garnish.

Puddingclose

Brownie Points

Browniepoints

It has been more than a year since I literally drowned in brownies here. Then, my quest was for the best tasting concoction that would not taste like it was made from a box. During my trip to San Francisco last August to take a chocolate techniques class from Alice Medrich, she had to rock my comfort zone by making available MORE recipes for brownies. Apparently she was constantly tweaking what were already the best brownies ever.

Luckily for my sanity, most of them followed the same number of ingredients and technique. My interest now was more peaked than ever about using different percentages of chocolate to come up with relatively the same textures and qualities for all batches. Alice used a lot of Scharffen Berger chocolate in her tests. Since this chocolate had vanilla in its flavor profile she suggested skipping the use of any vanilla extract. I wanted to use my favorite Valrhona Equatorial in the 55% chocolate category because I felt this was a well-balanced semi-sweet chocolate. In her new version of her brownies, Alice labeled them 8.07 – one of them was now known as Robert Steinberg’s recipe which is labeled 8.07 RS ( I think this recipe is also in The Essence of Chocolate). What I noticed with her new versions is that she uses less flour so really you’ve got a very fudgy chocolate brownie with a nice crackle in the outer layer. The 55% recipe is from her Bittersweet book that I have not tried in my original brownie experiment.

 

 

 

Valrhona Equatoriale

(55%) original

Scharffen Berger

(62 %) 8.07

Scharffen Berger

(70%)  8.07 RS

chocolate

10 oz

11 oz.

8 oz.

butter

5 tbs.

3 ½ tbs

6 tbs.

sugar

2/3 cup

2/3 cup

1 cup

vanilla extract

1 tsp.

*

*

salt

¼ tsp.

¼ tsp.

¼ tsp.

cold eggs

2

2

2

all-purpose flour

½ cup

1/3 cup + 1 tbs.

1/3 cup + 1tbs.

 

 

Directions: (for all recipes)

Position a rack in the lower theird of the oven and preheat to 350 °F.

 

Place chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the chocolate is melted and the mixture smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger quickly after dipping it to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet. Mix in the sugar, vanilla (if using) and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until the first one is incorporated before adding the second. Add the flour and stir vigorously until the mixture is thick, smooth and glossy, and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about one minute. Spread evenly in the lined pan. Bake until the batter just begins to pull away from the edges of the pan and small cracks appear on the surface, about 30-35 minutes. A toothpick plunged into the center will emerge with moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool on a rack. Lift the edges of the parchment or foil liner and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares. Brownies can be stored, airtight, for 2-3 days.

 

 

Cooking Notes:

Among the three recipes, I preferred the one made with Valrhona Equatoriale, 55%. And so I wouldn’t be biased I asked the “Hungry” hubby to taste it as well and he agreed that the 55% one produced a brownie that was intensely chocolatey with a smooth finish (brownie tasting can almost be like wine tasting you know). With a higher percentage of cocoa butter the batter is a lot stiffer. My least favorite was the one made with Scharffen Berger 62%. I was most disappointed with this because I had high hopes for it being the middle percentage. I suspect that the chocolate needed to be reduced because at 11 ounces it does seem extremely high. This brownie had a bitter catch on the palate which I found disconcerting. The 70%, as always, was a pretty good bet if you want a deeper chocolate punch.

There are two important aspects that need to be pointed out in the directions of the recipe. Noticed that you melt the chocolate and butter until when you dip your finger in it, you want to immediately take them out. Now this may be a tolerance-dependent factor but for me that temperature is between 140 °F to 145 °F on an infrared thermometer. It is also important for the mixture to be this hot when you add the sugar because that is what makes the crust crackle and become shiny.  The second point is beating the flour in just right. It is interesting to watch the batter transform from a cake-looking batter to a homogenous shiny blob that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and just drops into your prepared pan with no problem. For the Valrhona Equatoriale, I must say my arm almost fell off from the stiffness of the batter.

 

This was a fun experiment – one that I have longed to try for quite sometime now. I made four batches all in all because I made the 62% twice just in case I made a mistake in my measurement the first time. I still came out with the same result. I would try to reduce the 62% chocolate to 9 oz next time, just to see if that was an anomaly in the recipe. In the meantime – brownies anyone?

 

Also, the nice folks at Foodie View asked me to write their recipe roundup this week. Since this month is the month of love, I thought it most appropriate to talk about For the Love of Chocolate .

Death by Chocolate at Culinate

Culinate Death by Chocolate Contest is sending one reader, and one food blogger, on a trip for two to Napa Valley to attend the Copia Center’s annual Death by Chocolate Festival on Feburary 23, 2008, featuring a day of chocolate and wine tasting, demonstrations by pastry chefs, and other sessions with chocolate aficionados and experts.

As a registered reader you get to enter in the raffle. As a food blogger you can enter your chocolatiest dish to be voted on by readers and by an esteemed panel of judges.

For my part , I entered the sinfully decadent chocolate bouchons I made last year.

Choc2_2

So now, I shamelessly implore you to vote for me by just clicking on the Death by Chocolate link below.

Voting begins between February 4 and 8.

Torta Cioccolata

Almondtorte

This was one of the recipes Alice Medrich demonstrated in her class at Citronelle. In her book Pure Dessert, she described it as the soul of simplicity and was inspired by Claudia Roden in her book Book of Jewish Dessert. It was so easy to make , I was able to get it done in between making my apple pie and No-knead bread 2.0 (stay tuned for both in upcoming posts) . Just remember to have your egg whites at room temperature or you can warm it up quickly over a pan of simmering water. Note that the unsweetened chocolate is roughly chopped and further grounded up with the almonds, this gives it a very interesting texture. I made mine on a ¼ baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. That way you can lift it out and cut it up like brownies.

Oh, and if you haven’t signed up for the Cookbook giveaway for Pure Dessert yet you can do so here. The contest closes on Thursday, Dec 13th at 6pm.

Italian Chocolate-Almond Torte

From Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

1 cup (5 oz) unblanched or blanched whole almonds

7 ounces good quality unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped

1 cup sugar

1/8 tsp salt

7 large egg whites (1 cup)

¼ tsp. cream of tartar

Optional:

Powdered sugar or unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Sweetened whipped cream for serving

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease the sides of a springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Combine the almonds, chocolate, ½ cup of the sugar , and the salt in a food processor and pulse until the almonds and chocolate are very finely chopped but not completely pulverized. Set aside.

In a clean dry bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand-held mixer and a large bowl, beat the egg whites with cream of tartar until soft, moist peaks are formed when the beaters are lifted. Gradually add the remaining ½ cup sugar and continue to beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry. Add one-third of the nut mixture to the egg whites and fold in with a large rubber spatula until nearly incorporated. Fold in half of the remaining nuts , then fold in the rest of the nuts. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake until the torte is risen and golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, or with a little melted chocolate, 25 to 30 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and invert the cake onto the rack. Remove the bottom of the pan and then the parchment liner. Turn the cake right side up and cool completely. Cover or wrap tightly, and store for up to 3 days at room temperature.

To serve, transfer the cake to a serving plate . Dust with powdered sugar or cocoa, and serve slices with a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

I am not stalking Alice…honest!

It was simply a twist of fate. I wanted to do something special for the “Hungry” Hubby right before Christmas. We always wanted to take a class from Michel Richard ,author of Happy in the Kitchen, at Citronelle.  We had such a wonderful dinner there in the spring, so I thought when better to do this than during the holidays.

So I called the restaurant and inquired if they had any seats left for their December classes. My heart deflated when the lady-in-charge said that those classes were sold out. But then she added:

    “We do have a special class with Michel Richard and Alice Medrich and there are some seats left in that.”

Alicemichel1

I wasn’t sure whether I heard her correctly: my chocolate guru, Alice Medrich and Michel Richard in a class together? I couldn’t believe my luck. I did ponder the odd combination: Michel Richard who spins complex multi-layered desserts and Alice Medrich who recently found renewed inspiration in the simplicity of her ingredients and methods … hmm…interesting.

      The lady said that the event was handled by the D.C. chapter of Les Dames de Escoffier so she emailed me the information should I want to register.

      It took me all but two minutes to decide that, yes, I do want to go so I quickly informed the hubby that he was going to DC with me this Thursday (he really did not have much choice). So what was going to be something special for him turned out to be something special for me.

      When I received the flyer via email I noticed that most of the recipes being “demoed” were pretty easy. There was a wine and dessert pairing right after the class so I had an inkling that it was not going to be as informative as her class at Tante Marie.

       The class was held in the kitchen and seats were arranged in front of the hot plate. As I suspected, the class attendees looked like they were Park avenue ladies who lunch. Expensive jewelry, perfectly coiffed hair, cashmere shawls – I was glad I told the hubby not to wear jeans (I heard one lady talking about her cashmere coat)

      Anyway, my attention was drawn to the stage where Alice and Michel were bantering so humorously together. Apparently Michel and Alice met in France in the 70’s when Alice was staging at Lenotre and Michel was the chef at the restaurant Lenotre. Michel said that he was that young man who had a crush on her and she just ignored him.

Alicemichel2

     “No French boyfriends?” Michel asked.

     “No. I was married at that time” Alice responded with a laugh.

     Out of the blue Michel asked the audience if they have heard of the book Heat. I think I was the only one who said yes.

      He looked to the opposite side of the room and said “let me introduce Monsieur Buford”. My head spun the opposite direction and sure enough standing not 6 feet from me was Bill Buford in the flesh!

      Okay, Alice, Michel and Bill in one room. I need a drink. As if on cue Michel said, “Anyone wants champagne, let’s have some champagne!” He signaled one of his wait staff to bring in the bubblies.

      I am not a big Champagne connoisseur, but I must say the selection was very smooth and well-balanced.

       As expected, the demo was really short. Alice whizzed through the making of the sherry and olive oil pound cake, the Italian chocolate almond torte and the spice dusted brownies. Michel was there for comic relief and to be her kitchen slave (he cleaned up after her so sweetly- clearly he still had a crush on her).

Billandme

       It was over in about 40 minutes and we were filing out of the room when Bill Buford caught up with me because I requested a photo with him earlier. He appeared to be such a soft-spoken and intellectual type guy I really couldn’t picture him in the crazy Babbo kitchen or as Italian Butcher’s apprentice who had caught his apron on fire while stirring ragu (Bill told me he kept that apron) . I went into detective mode and asked him why he was snooping around Michel’s kitchen. He did not know I had a blog so I’m not going to reveal everything he said but all I can say is read the last part of his book where he said “I want to follow Catherine de Medicis. If I’m to understand Italian cooking, I need to cross the Alps and learn what happened next. I have to go to France."

Michelme

     In the dessert and wine tasting area, our tables were set with 4 wine glasses each which were promptly filled with different dessert wines and champagne. Mark Slater, the knowledgeable Citronelle sommelier and 2007 James Beard award winner for best Wine service I might add, walked us through each selection. He said the hardest dessert to pair with wine is chocolate because of its dominant flavor. Although our menu had specific pairings for each dessert he encouraged us to mix and match. We were then presented with a plate of all the  samples from the class and then some.

Aliceandme1

         Our favorite was the Italian almond chocolate torte, it was not very sweet but had a wonderful texture. In fact, Michel asked us for a consensus as to what to add to his dessert menu and this had the popular vote. For best pairing ,the Olive oil and sherry pound cake was spot on with its dessert wine of Coteaux de Layon “Les 4 villages”, Domaine Jo Pithon 2005.

          Michel then thanked us for coming and gave Alice a big hug and quipped “ Need a job?” and the man who reminded me of Santa Claus left the room (I guess he needed to prepare for dinner service).

         Despite the great experience, the hubby and I were itching to get out of there. The “ladies who lunch” were starting to get on my nerves after one of them found fault with the pound cake stating that it had a burnt crust. I wonder where she was when Alice explained that the pound cakes were cooked in a cast iron terrine because there was no loaf pan to be found which was why it had a darker crust. Anyway I repeated that information to her and I was met with an icy stare as if I was an idiot for even speaking up.

        Where was Gordon Ramsay when you needed him? I remembered when he told off a woman who found fault with every dish that was served to her. What was that he said “ You’re speaking out of your rear!” He..heh…

            After searching for my coat check-ticket for 10 minutes (quite embarrassing to dig into your purse and pull everything out in an upscale restaurant , I finally went into the ladies room to unload the contents of my heavy pocketbook) , we were on our way hitting DC traffic (how do people that live up there deal with this everyday) and headed back to good ole’ Richmond.

Cookbook Giveaway:

Pure_dessert

            I am giving away two signed copies of Pure Dessert. To express interest in joining the raffle, please:

1. Leave a comment stating what your favorite Alice Medrich dessert is and

2. That you wish to be entered in the contest.

Do not forget to leave a valid email address because that is the only way I can contact you. The comment section will be open until Wednesday -Dec 12, 2007 6pm. The winners will be announced on Sunday – Dec 16, 2007.

Other contest rules:

            One entry per person. All winners must be 18 years or older. The drawing will be an archaic method – no electronic drawing here. I am going to print all the comments and cut them up and toss them in a box and randomly pick two winners. I am going to send an email to the winner and he/she must respond within 7 days or a new winner will be picked.

            Veronica’s Test Kitchen will be responsible for shipping and handling but will not be held liable for any damaged shipment, dissastisfaction with the product or be required to replace said product. Also any required Customs fees in case of international shipment will be the responsibility of the winner.

            Veronica’s Test Kitchen also reserves the right to alter the rules of the contest anytime if some kind of unforeseen conflict arises.

Disclaimer

            I am simply giving away two extra copies of “Pure Dessert”. Alice Medrich or her publisher Artisan is in no way connected to this drawing.