Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Two loving cups for Valentine's Day
This may not be the year you celebrate Valentine's Day in an elegant restaurant. Or maybe you're skipping your intimate lobster dinner at home to trim your budget.
Thank goodness chocolate, the ambrosial route to romance, is still affordable.
Unlike some ingredients that are expensive, chocolate has a luxurious allure while being within reach, according to Beth Kimmerle, a candy and chocolate historian in New York City
"You can get exotic flavors in a [chocolate] bar, and you don't have to spend a lot of money, says Miss Kimmerle.
In fact, if you can't promise your sweetheart the world for Valentine's Day, you can do the next best thing and provide a taste of chocolates from different cocoa-growing regions.
"You can have a fun night tasting bars from all over the world," says Miss Kimmerle, author of "Chocolate: The Sweet History" (Collectors Press). You can also take your chocolate explorations further.
Miss Kimmerle suggests preparing an unusual dessert of chocolate pudding with a fried bacon strip as an accompaniment. Dip the bacon in the chocolate for a taste that's simultaneously salty and sweet.
For another easy and fun dessert, melt semisweet chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water and drizzle it over sliced bananas alternating with salted pecan halves and crumbled macaroons in a tall glass.
Don't overlook hot chocolate as a source for seduction. "The aroma of a chocolate drink wafting through the air is very sexy and romantic," Miss Kimmerle says.
TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES
Tim Richardson and I were intereviewed for this National Geographic article last Fall and if you haven't read his book, please do so!
Candy Facts: Halloween Treats From Ancient Recipes
National Geographic News
October 30, 2008
Trick-or-treaters reaching for individually wrapped candy bars this Halloween probably won't stop to wonder about the origins of their sugary treats.
But for anyone with a taste for adventure, the holiday could be an ideal time for a sweet history lesson, as a remarkable number of bygone confections can still be bought or made.
For instance, "most medieval sweets are still around in some form or another," said Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: A History of Candy.
Prehistoric treats such as tree sap, honeycomb, and raw sugarcane might not be popular anymore as stand-alone foods.
There are, however, several old-school items that may delight, surprise, or perhaps repulse your Halloween guests.
Dates and Figs
Whether date and fig concoctions count as true candy is up for debate. But the ancient Romans ate them as sweets—and left behind detailed recipes.
One first-century A.D. treat, recounted in Sweets, calls for mashed figs with cumin, fennel, anise, and sesame seeds rolled into balls. (A version made by National Geographic News found no takers, perhaps due to the overpowering smell of cumin.)
The lumps can be wrapped in fig leaves for added authenticity or for easy distribution.
If spiced fig wads sound unappetizing, consider that Romans also ate dormice for dessert, feeding figs to the small rodents to sweeten their meat before baking them in pies.
Another first-century A.D. Roman recipe, also noted in Sweets, was more tolerable to modern palates: pine nut-stuffed dates, rolled in salt and fried in honey. (National Geographic testers said the confections tasted like salty, crunchy caramels.)
Europeans first encountered sugar sometime during the Crusades, which began around A.D. 1000 and brought Crusaders into contact with Arabic cultures already producing the now-common substance.
For the Europeans, sugar was "this brand-new spice that was riveting and life-changing for a lot of people," said Beth Kimmerle, author of Candy: The Sweet History and Chocolate: The Sweet History.
"It could preserve fruit, [so] people were then able to transport things."
Venice was the first city to import candied edibles from the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. The first confectioners opened up shop in the Italian city by 1150.
Medieval cooks were soon candying herbs, whole citrus fruits, and flowers, many of which can be found today made just as they were hundreds of years ago.
Candied violets, for example, remain popular in Europe and can be bought from online retailers.
"Lots and lots of candied violets are made everywhere—Spain in particular loves them," Sweets author Richardson said.
The fragrant petals "seem to occupy your nostrils rather than your mouth," he said. (National Geographic testers found the sugared flowers to taste like Fruity Pebbles cereal.)
Rock sugar is better known today as a grade school science experiment: Boil sugar in water, put it in a jar, drop in a stick or a thread, and wait for sugar crystals to form. It was also one of the first candies, Sweet History's Kimmerle said.
Flavored boiled sweets—the modern Jolly Rancher is an example—developed alongside candied fruits.
"They were a cheap version of the expensive stuff—an imitation of real candied fruit," Richardson said.
Hundreds of varieties of hard candy are still made in Britain, he noted.
Almonds were much favored in the medieval Middle East, where the almond-based marzipan, nougat, and torrone originated.
Spain and Italy "both still make really, really first-class torrone," Richardson said. The stuff is easily found at Italian grocery stores in individually wrapped bricks.
Candied nuts came into vogue along with candied fruit. Italians in particular "went crazy for" what's now called the Jordan almond (not named for the country, but from the French/Spanish word "jardin," or garden), Kimmerle said.
"Often in Europe you can find confectioners doing processes that are very similar to what it would have been like back in the day. The Jordan almond is a perfect example," she said.
And India still serves sweet paan, a variety of candied spices and nuts similar to those described in ancient texts, Richardson said.
Gummy worms' roots are in medieval Islamic pharmacies, Richardson said.
From the seventh and eighth centuries onward, gums—made from sugar, fruit, and gum arabic (the sap of the acacia tree)—were used to soothe sore throats and other ills.
The French became masters of gummy-making in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Now the favored supplier is Germany, home of gummy bear pioneer Haribo, although today's gummies are far chewier than those of antiquity.
Until the late 1800s, chocolate was primarily a drink, not a snack.
Europeans were probably the first to make it into a bar. Later, when milk was added, it became a sweet for the masses, Kimmerle said. But before that, chocolate was dark.
A particularly early reference to bar chocolate was made in the 1700s by none other than controversial French aristocrat the Marquis de Sade, who was imprisoned in the 1800s on suspicion of insanity.
"He's in prison and he writes to his wife asking her to supply him with chocolate dainties. The chocolate she sent previously wasn't very good," said Louis Grivetti, a professor of nutrition science at the University of California, Davis, and co-author of Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage.
The marquis's spouse had probably sent a dark bar with "a modest amount of sugar to dull the very bitter taste," Grivetti said.
Today, high-cacao—aka very dark—chocolate is once again the fashion.
Candy connoisseurship is up generally, Richardson said, with "a lot more emphasis on expensive sweets."
Thursday, February 19, 2009
The cacao pod or fruit from the cacao tree has a rough, thick rind. I often describe the size and shape of the fruit as "like a Nerf football" except they are yellow, orange, purple or a combination of these colors. The fruit is filled with a fleshy, sweet pulp called 'baba de cacao' in South America. There are typically about 40 large seeds (beans) that are fairly soft with a harder center and a white, pinkish color. The beans are fermented, dried and roasted and are used to make chocolate! Here is an image of a cacao or cocoa pod from my collection.
We had someone write in and ask about Penuche. New Englanders call this yummy confection Penuche Fudge, while candy lovers from the South call it Brown Sugar Fudge. There's even a few spelling variations but mostly they're referring to the same velvety, caramel flavored fudge.
It's a candy in the fudge group, typically made with brown sugar, milk or cream, butter, and often nuts. However, it does not contain chocolate, and it is made with brown sugar instead of white granulated sugar that is used most for fudge recipes. When made properly penuche has a creamy, caramel flavor. I would also add that if you use condensed milk, it can have a dulce de leche type of mouth-feel. If you like butterscotch, caramel, and brown sugar flavored candies, this will become an all-time favorite.
The nuts used are generally pecans, but walnuts and other nutmeats can be used too. I have made it myself with dry (not oiled) Spanish marcona almonds and it's heavenly. Pecans lend a sweet, full flavor and walnuts balance the sweet with that earthy, bitter note.
Like all good fudges, Penuche should have a smooth, creamy texture that isn't grainy. To properly cook Penuche fudge you will need a candy thermometer. Make sure to invest in a thermometer that clips onto the side of the pan. The fudge will need to cook to 237 degrees, or what candy makers refer to as the soft ball stage.
Nancy wrote in with this question: I made penouche fudge and followed the receipe. The fudge turned out delicious but isn't smooth and creamy like it is supposed to be. It is a little on the dry side and pieces break off easily. What is the cause for the lack of smoothness?
We took a poll and thought she overcooked (or undercooked) the recipe. We asked if her thermometer was working and well cleaned before inserted into her pot. We also inquired if she used heavy cream. Well, she made the fudge again and it turned out perfectly. We asked for her recipe and promised to share with our candy lovers. Here is Nancy's "Penouche" (her spelling) recipe:
2 c. heavy whipping cream
1 T. corn syrup
2 c. sugar
1 c. firmly packed brown sugar
3 T butter
1/2 c. white chocolate (2 to 3 ounces)
1 1/2 c. pecans
Line an 8-inch square baking pan with plastic wrap*, set aside.
In a heavy 6 quart pan (I use an old pressure cooker), combine cream, corn syrup and sugars. Place over medium
low heat (cooked on electric stove, dial set at 5) and stir with a wooden spoon until mixture comes to a boil.
Cook, stirring occasionally, to 236 or soft ball stage. Remove from heat. Without stirring, add butter. Let stand
until thermometer cools to 210.
Without stirring, add chocolate. Let stand 1 minute. Remove thermometer. Add nuts and stir with a wooden spoon
until chocolate is melted and butter is incorporated. Candy should be thick and creamy. Scrape into prepared pan.
Refrigerate 3 hours or until firm. Cut into 1 inch squares. Makes 64 pieces. Store in cool place.
*note can also use parchment paper instead of plastic wrap.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I just found this vintage Hawley and Hoops card in my collection. Happy Valentine's Day!
I am off to "A Chocolate Experience with chocolatiers Jacques and Hasty Torres". This invitation-only “Talk and Tasting” will highlight the versatility of chocolate and cocoa, including potential health benefits and unique, new recipes. I will bring back a recipe for you!
MUDSLIDES from “A Year in Chocolate: 80 Recipes for Holidays and Special Occasions” by Jacques Torres were featured a the the Chocolate Experience and slide they did....into many mouths. Here's his recipe for these delicious super-chocolatey cookies.
1 pound 60% bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 pound 60% bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ¾ teaspoons baking powder
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups chopped walnuts
• Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
• Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats, or use nonstick pans.
• Combine the 1 pound chopped bittersweet and the unsweetened chocolate in the top half of a double boiler.
• Place over (not touching) gently simmering water in the bottom pan and heat, stirring frequently, until
• Remove from the heat and set aside.
• In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Crack the eggs into another bowl
and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter on medium speed until
very light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until well blended. Add the eggs and beat just until incorporated.
Then add the melted chocolate and beat to combine.
• On low speed, add the flour mixture a little at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated before
• Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the finely chopped chocolate and the walnuts with a rubber
spatula. To shape the cookies, scoop out a heaping tablespoonful of the dough, form them into balls, and
place them on the prepared baking sheets, spacing the balls about 1 inch apart. Bake the cookies for about
15 minutes, or until set around the edges.
• Remove from the oven and transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm. Leftover cookies
can be stored, airtight, at room temperature for 3 days or tightly wrapped for 1 month.