Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween: Vegan(!) Pumpkin Truffles, Two Ways

If it isn’t completely obvious from the rest of this blog, I’m definitely not a vegan. I love milk chocolate. I use butter AND cream in my cupcake recipes. My chocolate mousse recipe involves cream and eggs. But some folks are vegan, and they deserve tasty chocolate treats as well, don’t they? Pumpkin truffles are a tasty treat, especially for Halloween, and as I contemplated different approaches, I realized that this was a perfect candidate for a vegan recipe. Thanks to some research and experimentation, I am pleased to present this Halloween treat: Vegan Pumpkin Truffles (two ways).

The first step is to make the ganache, which uses pumpkin puree as a base instead of cream to keep this creation vegan.

Ganache Ingredients

15 ounces canned pumpkin puree

½ cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoons nutmeg

½ teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon ginger

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pinch salt

12 ounces chopped vegan semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate

First, round up all the ingredients except the chocolate.

Next, combine these ingredients over low heat.

What you’re doing here is making pumpkin butter. While it isn’t difficult, it is time consuming, as you need to slowly reduce it to half its original volume by cooking off liquid without burning or hardening it. I suggest having a snack nearby so that you don’t eat all the pumpkin during the process.

After about 35-40 minutes of patiently stirring every few minutes, the pumpkin butter will be ready for ganache assembly.

Looks a little gross, no? Adding chocolate will help. In the interest of experimentation, I mixed half of the warm pumpkin butter with a bittersweet chocolate (Scharffen Berger 70% Cocoa Bittersweet).

After doing that, I mixed the other half of the warm pumpkin butter with a semisweet chocolate (El Rey Mijao 61% Cocoa).

I let each mixture cool for about an hour, and then rolled them into small balls for truffle-making.

The bittersweet ganache is on the left; the semisweet ganache is on the right. While they look pretty similar, the semisweet is much sweeter and softer than the bittersweet. Given the slightly lower cocoa percentage and the higher sugar percentage, this was completely logical, but presented me with a problem: I had this idea about moving away from a chocolate coverture and towards a powdered one. One using ingredients like these, plus some brown sugar:

The semi-sweet ganche simply wasn’t solid enough for this, so I started out by powder-covering the bittersweet ganache balls in a mix of 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of unsweetened natural cocoa powder, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and ½ teaspoon of nutmeg.

Beautiful! The powdered outside increased the intensity of the pumpkin flavor of the ganache inside.

To finish off the semisweet ganache balls, I melted some El Rey Gran Saman 70% cocoa chocolate and dipped away to arrive at this result.

More traditional truffles, with more chocolate flavor and just a little less spice.

I hereby declare both vegan pumpkin truffle creations a completely delicious success. And a completely delicious way for vegans to enjoy pumpkin AND chocolate.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Olive and Sinclair: 75% Cocoa Bar via Blogger Chocolate Exchange

Something very awesome showed up in my mailbox yesterday afternoon.

Alright, well, that was awesome, but few people get as excited about The Economist as I do, and it usually has very little to do with chocolate. This, however, has everything to do with chocolate.

After I sent Heather some Teuscher super-dark chocolate to sample, she kindly sent me some chocolate from her neck of the woods (Nashville), along with a cute homemade card. I love checking out boutique and bean-to-bar chocolatiers, and these bars by Olive and Sinclair certainly fit the bill. I started off with the 75% cocoa pure chocolate bar.

Inside that sassy wrapper is a dark chocolate bar sourced entirely from the Dominican Republic. The aroma wasn’t that noticeable, so I had to take a bite to find out what this bar was all about.

The bar is quite soft for a dark chocolate, and melts very nicely. Clearly, high-quality cocoa butter is in play here. The chocolate is not very sweet, which allows the chocolate flavor to shine, but there is just enough sugar mixed in to cut the bitterness to make it enjoyable on its own. I sensed a woody taste with a bit of a cherry after flavor. I definitely like this bar, and will be on the lookout for shops that carry it. Thanks, Heather! Nice find over in Tennessee.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Blogger Chocolate Sharing and Teuscher Deal for DC Folks

I write a lot on here about Teuscher, despite the fact that there is no store in DC. Every time I get myself to a city with a Teuscher shop, I lament this unfair state of the world to whoever happens to be the chocolate consultant working that day. Evidently, I have done this so many times that at least one staff member in Boston remembers me based on this rant. Their chocolate is so good, though, that it's worth traveling long distances to obtain.

I mentioned the Teuscher 99% bar to another blogger who loves super-dark chocolate, and sent her some to try.
Not only did she love it, but she had the brilliant idea of combining it with coconut. You must read about it.

But how, how to get your hands on some Teuscher chocolate if you are in DC? Well, you could try to be friends with me. Or, you could get in touch with the Teuscher shop in Philadelphia, which is offering special shipping rates to DC-area residents in light of the lamentable lack of a Teuscher storefront here. Simply call or email Rachel Goldberg (215-546-7600 and rachel at teuscherphiladelphia dot com) and let her know that you heard about the special shipping rates from the District Chocoholic blog. I hear they have pumpkin truffles in stock for Halloween, but they may be in short supply, so call soon.

Now if that isn't just the best way to start a weekend, I don't know what is.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vosges Bars: Red Fire

I've been neglecting reviews of the chocolates I picked up in Chicago almost three months ago. Just so much exciting stuff going on in DC - a Malgieri demo, my own baking, and just great chocolate happenings. Luckily, that didn't make the Vosges treats I picked up any less delicious. The last few treats will be reviewed in the next week or so, be sure to check in.

One of the truffles from the Vosges Aztec collection that I enjoyed the most was the red fire, with the combination of chilie, cinnamon, and chocolate. Luckily for me, though I’d quickly consumed the truffles, my library of Vosges bars included a red fire bar.

I was hopeful that the effect would be similar to that from the truffle. The bar wasn’t sprinkled with spices like the truffle was, but it did tell me that I was a goddess.

Don’t you love it when your chocolate talks to you? I sure do. I also love it when dark chocolate manages to come across as creamy and flavorful, which is impressive for a chocolate with 55% cocoa solids. The intense chocolate flavor is the first taste, and is followed by a fiery cinnamon and then the ancho and chipotle chilies. The chocolate and the extras are well balanced, and isn’t overwhelmingly spicy like the Oaxaca bar was. Nice work, Vosges.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chocolate in Boston: JP Licks Ice Cream

Although the frozen yogurt may be what personally draws me to JP Licks, others are more impressed by their more decadent treats, like these ice cream cakes prominently displayed at the entrance.

Others are content with the ice cream itself. The friend who humored me at Teuscher and Hotel Chocolat was also with me for the JP Licks visit, and was uninterested in the frozen yogurt. She instead selected two ice cream flavors to sample: El Diablo and Mint Chocolate Lace.

The El Diablo, which she was kind enough to share with me, was chocolate based with cinnamon and cayenne pepper added in. She noted that the cayenne was more noticeable than the cinnamon, and stuck around far longer as part of the aftertaste. She shared some with me, and while I did detect a spicy cinnamon note, I agreed that the cayenne flavor stuck around longer. Both spices were complimentary to a creamy, well-balanced dark chocolate flavor. Clearly a winner all-around.

The Mint Chocolate Lace was a mint-based ice cream with ribbons of chocolate incorporated. In this ice cream, which my friend also generously let me sample, the mint base is far more prominent than the chocolate, and there is a strong mint aftertaste. The chocolate flavor is subtly delivered via small flecks of chocolate that crunch just a tad and then melt in your mouth. It was a nice, cool compliment to the fiery El Diablo flavor. Though the ice cream was richer than the frozen yogurt I got for myself, nostalgia will always lead me to select the frozen yogurt.

And then steal tastes of the ice cream from my friends. It works, OK?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chocolate in Boston: JP Licks Frozen Yogurt

One institution known to college students throughout Boston is JP Licks, which serves up delicious ice cream and frozen yogurt.

True story: For the first three years I lived there, I only ate the frozen yogurt and didn’t realize they also had hard-packed ice cream. My excuses are that first, the ice cream is hidden behind a tiled counter while the soft serve frozen yogurt dispensers were prominently on display, and that second, everybody I went with always got frozen yogurt. They always have eight flavors anyway, no need to stray. On this visit, I got some nutrasweet-sweetened fat free chocolate frozen yogurt.

Although I remember a smooth, fluffy frozen yogurt, this particular batch was just a tad icy. Fortunately, there was a strong chocolate flavor, with a note of creaminess to compliment it, that wasn’t overwhelmed by sweetness. At 15 calories an ounce, it’s still a wonderful treat that you can burn off on the walk to and from the store.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chocolate in Boston: Flour Bakery and Cafe

One new addition to Cambridge since I last visited is a branch of Flour Bakery and Café, which boasts a full lunch menu in addition to baked goods.

This branch is a mere block away from the lab I worked in as an undergrad, and I remain ambiguous about whether or not it would have been good for it to have been there. Pros: Great lunch available nearby, and tasty baked goods of all varieties available all day.

Cons: My wallet and waistline would probably have suffered. In order to determine if the tastiness would have been worth this impact on my finances and figure, I picked up a couple of cookies.

The box is simple and functional. No fluff. Inside, though, was a cookie that was just a bit fluffy: the Valrhona Double Chocolate Chip Cookie.

This cookie was not a dense cookie; rather, it was soft and airy with a little crunch at the edges. The walnuts within the cookie were ground to the perfect size such that there was a bit of crunch scattered throughout the cookie without any large chunks overwhelming the chocolate. Each bite had a bit of walnut in it, and also had some dark chocolate chunks, which were soft and will melt in your mouth (or on your fingers) immediately. Between the chocolate dough and the chocolate chunks, the chocolate flavor came through strongly, and the use of high-quality Valrhona dark chocolate was evident. Since the owner, Joanne Chang, has a cookbook out now, I may have to check it out to see if this recipe is included. I need to recreate these, or at least try to do so.

I also picked up a Valrhona Chocolate Chip Cookie for my friend Matt, who gave me a place to stay for the weekend.

He said it was delicious and appreciated the quality of the chocolate. Since he enjoyed it so quickly, I didn’t get a chance to sample a bite myself, but I trust that it was quite good. If just for these two cookies alone, regular visits to Flour would have been in order back in my days in Cambridge. It might become a regular destination on my Boston trips.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Boston: Chocolate Destination

I spent the weekend here:

Boston! More accurately, I spent most of my time in Cambridge, where I went to school.

There are some groups that I wish were around while I was in school.

In addition to numerous events on campus, including the alumni event I was in town for, there were a lot of people on the river in boats this weekend.

The Head of the Charles is a big event. An event almost as monumental as a chocolate crawl throughout Boston. The first stop was the Taza Chocolate factory store in Somerville.

Taza is a bean to bar chocolate maker that specializes in stone-ground chocolate, which is a typical chocolate preparation in Central and South America. They had several dark chocolate bars and chocolate discs, which came in varieties ranging from coffee to salt and pepper, which the staff kindly allowed me to sample. I picked up several of the discs and the bars.

After meeting up with a friend, I went to a shop I am more familiar with, one that I have written about before: Teuscher.

Since my friend cannot eat anything with gluten, I called that morning to inquire about gluten-free options, and the staff member who answered the phone gave me extensive details about what chocolates to purchase. A very nice touch. We also got outstanding service from the gentleman who was there that evening, who knew details about the sources for all the ingredients. His descriptions made the chocolates sound even more appealing, and my friend and I left with several bars and a box of mixed truffles.

My friend and I then moved along to a true chocolate destination: Hotel Chocolat, a London-based chocolatier that only has two stores in the United States.

We were immediately greeted by a staff member with a tray of samples. I thought this would be the highlight of this shop; it turns out that the highlight was the extensive variety of options available. Pralines, truffles, mousse creams, single origin bars…it was hard to decide what to get without overloading my luggage for the trip home. I settled on a bar, some truffles, some pralines, and some gingerbread “puddles” (their words).

While at these shops, I picked up a few treats for others. First, some super-dark chocolate for a blogger who is expecting an addition to the family soon.

Next, some milk chocolate for a DC-based friend who, like me, rarely has access to chocolate from these shops.

Finally, a get-well gift for a friend who has been quite ill and will appreciate the chocolate.

In addition to the chocolate shops, I checked out a bakery that wasn’t around when I lived in Cambridge: Flour Bakery and Café.

Flour, run by a Harvard graduate with a degree in Economics and Mathematics, has some baked goods that specify the brand of chocolate used. I had to make a stop.

Finally, and old standby needed attention. J.P. Licks, an ice cream shop that I’ve been visiting for over twelve years now.

That was a lot of chocolate for one weekend. One very good weekend. Reviews of specific locations are forthcoming.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nick Malgieri Demo: Chocolate and Coffee Walnut Cake

Having looked over my copy of Nick Malgieri’s Chocolate several times since receiving it as a gift eight years ago, I knew that he has several recipes for seriously impressive desserts in his arsenal. He made one of these, a chocolate and coffee walnut cake, during the demonstration I went to.

Let’s be serious: That picture is of him pouring ganache on top of a cake that is already covered and filled with coffee buttercream. This is a cake that means business, and Nick gave us a few tips to help us along should we dare to attempt it ourselves.

For the cake layers:

-When whipping egg whites for a meringue base, get the eggs foamy before starting to add the sugor, or else the sugar melts and the mixture gets sticky.

-If using a stand mixer to make a meringue base for cake batter, medium speed is best.

-Avoid mixing the flour and nuts before folding into the meringue mixture. Doing so will cause the flour to cling to the nuts and prevent the cake from rising properly

-To prevent doming of the cake, bake in a pan taller than needed so that the cake rises along the edges during the entire baking process.

For the meringue buttercream.

-Use the whisk attachment to make the meringue, but switch to the paddle attachment when incorporating the butter

-Separation is normal when adding the butter. Don’t panic, just keep mixing. And mixing.

-Be careful when adding any liquid, such as extracts. Go very slowly, or the buttercream may permanently separate.

For assembling the cake:

-When cutting the cake layer, cut a ½-1” line around the circumference of the cake, and then slice all the way through.

-Turn the top layer upside-down and use it as the bottom layer. Then do the same with the bottom layer so that you have a nice, flat top for spreading the buttercream.

-Keep one end of the spatula completely in the buttercream only. This prevents crumb tracking.

-To smooth the top, track the spatula in from the outside edges.

Final product: The nuts give the cake a satisfying but not overwhelming crunch that contrasts well with the fluffy buttercream. The coffee flavor is distinct but not overpowering, and the buttercream has a pleasing level of sweetness. There’s just a bit of chocolate here in the ganache, and it really pulls the whole thing together into a wonderful masterpiece.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Nick Malgieri Demo: Chocolate Chunk Pound Cake

One fairly foolproof recipe that Nick Malgieri showed us how to put together at his demonstration was a chocolate chunk pound cake.

Even though pound cakes are usually pretty simple to throw together, Nick had some words of wisdom about the process:

-If a recipe, such as this pound cake recipe, calls for softened butter, you have to have softened butter. Not cold. Not melted. Softened.

-You can cheat by cutting the butter into very small chunks and microwaving for mere seconds at a time, and no longer.

-After chopping up the chocolate chunks, sift to remove the chocolate dust to achieve distinct chocolate chunks in the pound cake.

-Reserve about a tablespoon of flour, and toss it with the chocolate chunks before incorporating them. This will ensure that they are evenly distributed in the final cake and won’t all fall to the bottom during baking.
Final product: A bit spongy, this cake would be great with some (chocolate) gelato or whipped cream. The lemon zest adds a nice punch, but the chocolate chunks were a little sparse for my personal taste.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nick Malgieri Demo: Chocolate Meringue "S" Cookies

Out of everything that Nick Malgieri whipped up at his demo, the one with the shortest ingredient list was the chocolate meringue “S” cookies. Egg whites, sugar, chocolate, and a pinch of salt, carefully folded together by a master baker.

But how do you mix these ingredients to make something delicious? Nick had some suggestions to help with the process:

-When heating the egg whites and sugar, you know they are hot enough if you have to physically jerk your finger out of it. Otherwise, they are just warm, not hot.

- To get that signature “foot” on the meringue, let these dry for a few hours before baking. This is the mark of perfection.

- Use high-quality chocolate (obviously!).

Final product: light and crunchy cookie that literally melts in your mouth. The sugar-chocolate balance is nearly perfect.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nick Malgieri Demo: Truffle Brownies

When I pored over the recipe packet at Nick Malgeri’s demonstration, I spotted one for truffle brownies, which looked awfully similar to the supernatural brownie recipe that I adore so much. Evidently, he has some business venture in the works that will prevent him from using that title anymore, so instead, we now have truffle brownies, which have more brown sugar in them.

The very simple recipe is available in Bake!, which I’ve been enjoying immensely. A few extra tips that Nick passed along while whipping these up:

-The light brown sugar is key for keeping the moisture level right. Don’t replace it with granulated or dark brown sugars.

-The brownies will turn out fudgy. Nick noted that this is how brownies should be, and that anybody who likes cakey brownies, “well, they have my condolences.”

- He now mixes the flour in with the sugar rather than at the end to avoid clumping of flour. As such, it is important to avoid overmixing after adding the eggs.

- An easy way to accurately line a pan with foil is to turn it over, fit the foil to the outside, and then use that as a rough mold for the inside. There will be very small crinkles in the corners because the inside is smaller, but buttering the foil will make that a non-issue.

- These brownies shouldn’t be frosted because “a brownie that needs frosting shouldn’t be eaten.”

- Don't cut these until they are cooled. To facilitate this during our demo, Nick put these in the freezer before cutting them up for us to enjoy.

Final product: The chocolate flavor isn’t that intense, and there is a strong caramel note from all that brown sugar. Texture-wise, it is dense and moist, just like the supernatural brownie. I’ll have to try it at home with my standby chocolate to see if I can coax more chocolate flavor out of this recipe.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nick Malgieri Demo: Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

The first thing that Nick Malgieri worked on at the demo last weekend was a chocolate hazelnut tart.

The recipe can be found in his new cookbook, and was passed out as part of the demo, but the real treat was getting tidbits of wisdom from Nick while he prepared the tart. I wanted to pass along some of the best tips.

For the dough:

- Cold butter is a must, and will be better incorporated into the dough if very small pieces are used.

- If rolling the dough, shoot for about 1/8” thickness – not thinner. Roll from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock, then 2 o’clock to 8 o’clock, and finally from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock. Be careful to not hit the edges during the rolls.

-Another approach involves dividing the dough into thirds. Take two thirds, and press into the bottom of a floured tart pan. Take the remaining thirds, and divide into three equal pieces. Roll each into strips about the length of about the diameter of the pan, then press in along the edges. This is a neat mathematical trick that uses the fact that pi is 3.14159, so three strips the same length of the diameter of the pan can be stretched and molded to fit the entire pan edge. Of course, this is a tart, not a pie (woka woka woka – nice joke, Nick).

To skin and chop hazelnuts:

- Bake on a cookie sheet at 350° F for 12-13 minutes. You want to see wisps of smoke and cracked shells.

-Rub the hazelnuts with a towel to remove the skins.

- Hazelnuts are round, and therefore can’t be chopped with a knife. A food processor is one approach to chopping them, another is to use the bottom of a saucepan to break them up.

For the filling:

- Be sure to let the chocolate sit in the hot sugar mixture for a few minutes before whisking to ensure that an even chocolate melt is achieved.

Final result: a dressed-up pecan pie with a buttery, crumbly crust. The filling is very sweet, with the chocolate taking a bit of a backseat to the sugar and hazelnuts, and is well-complimented by a crust that has minimal added sugar.