Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lavender and Vanilla Chocolate Truffles

Apparently I’ve gone crazy from the heat. I attempted to temper milk chocolate on a 104°F day in a too warm kitchen. Do I need to tell you how that went?

(Not well.)

So instead of milk chocolate coated lavender and vanilla truffles, as I had originally planned, here are dark chocolate cocoa powder coated lavender and vanilla truffles.

Not exactly what I had in mind but delicious, nevertheless.

(Sometimes kitchen screwups have a happy ending.)

Lavender and Vanilla Chocolate Truffles
adapted from Michael Recchiuti’s Chocolate Obsession

Most of Recchiuti’s ganache recipes call for using invert sugar for a smoother consistency. I've never seen it on a grocery store shelf but I was able to find invert sugar at a local baking supply store. I haven’t tried but I’m sure you can make this ganache with regular granulated or superfine sugar.

¾ c (6 ounces) heavy whipping cream
½ c plus 2 t (3 ¾ ounces if weighing) invert sugar (stir before measuring)
½ Tahitian vanilla bean, split horizontally
1 T + 1 t dried lavender flowers
10 ¾ ounces 61% to 70% chocolate, finely chopped
6 T (3 ounces) unsalted butter with 82% butterfat, very soft (75º F)
unsweetened natural cocoa powder for rolling truffles
candied lavender flowers for topping, if desired (recipe here)

makes approximately 50 round truffles

1. To make the ganache, stir cream and invert sugar together in a small saucepan and then add scraped vanilla seeds and the bean pod into the pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then remove from heat and stir in the lavender flowers. Cover the top of the pan with plastic wrap and set aside to steep for 20 minutes.
2. While steeping the cream, set up a double boiler by placing a medium sized stainless steel bowl over a pot of simmering water. Be sure that the water doesn’t actually touch the bottom of the bowl or the chocolate will scorch. Also, be careful that the stainless steel bowl fits snugly on top of the pot so that no water can splash into the stainless steel bowl or condensation from the simmering water can reach the bowl. The slightest bit of water will cause the chocolate to seize and it will be unusable.
3. Add the chocolate to the stainless steel bowl and stir occasionally, until the chocolate melts and registers 115º Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. Carefully lift the bowl from the pot.
4. When the cream has fully steeped, strain it through a mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a 2-cup liquid measure. Extract any remaining cream by gathering the cheesecloth and squeezing any last drops through the sieve. If necessary, add additional cream or discard some of the liquid to bring the volume to 8 ½ ounces. Check the temperature of the cream and bring it up to 115º Fahrenheit, if necessary. (I popped the measuring cup of cream into the microwave for 20-30 seconds to bring it back up to temp.)
5. Pour the melted chocolate and steeped cream into 1-quart measuring cup and blend with an immersion blender until the ganache thickens to a pudding-like consistency. Add the butter and incorporate it with the immersion blender.
6. Pour the ganache into another medium sized stainless steel bowl to cool and set up at room temperature for approximately 2 to 4 hours. When set, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to roll truffles.
7. To roll truffles, use a small ice cream or melon scooper to dip balls of ganache. Place the dipped balls into a bowl of cocoa powder and use a fork to roll the ball through the powder to ensure an even coating. To finish shaping the truffles, dust the palms of your hands with cocoa powder and roll the truffles until smooth and evenly round. Store the truffles in the refrigerator and remove 30 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Little Recipe Tester

This past weekend I had the pleasure of testing a recipe for Luisa over at The Wednesday Chef for her upcoming book, a food memoir, tentatively titled My Berlin Kitchen. Testers are sworn to secrecy so I can't tell you what I made but suffice it to say, it was delicious and I can't wait for the book to be released.

What I can share with you is a little video of my personal recipe tester, Jack. Molly's video of her Jack inspired me. Her Jack is pretty darn cute but not quite as cute as my Jack. See for yourself.


You may already know Jack, our Boston Pug (he's a muttastic mix of Chinese Pug and Boston Terrier), as he shows up on the blog from time to time. Jack never leaves my side when I'm baking and he watches the oven even more closely than I do. He even positions himself right next to the oven door and patiently waits. Unless I'm baking with chocolate, he's always rewarded with a piece of cookie or a nibble of cake.  In fact, he always gets the first taste, hence my deeming him my recipe tester.

Who doesn't love puppy snores? (Lord knows the interweb needs more doggie videos.)

You're welcome ;-)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Brioche with Homemade Blackberry Jam

Summertime is cranking up to full tilt here in central Texas. That means days of temperatures that surpass the 100 degree mark on the (Fahrenheit) thermometer. I’m slowly acclimating myself to these long, hot summers. At least I keep telling myself I’m acclimating but I still complain as much as ever so I guess I’m not really fooling myself or anyone else.

Back when we announced our intention to move to Austin, people would often remark that we were going to have to get used to a new kind of heat. It seems dumb in hindsight but I always pooh poohed those comments. By my way of thinking, having grown up in Florida, I was used to the heat and sun. My standard reply was, “It’s a dry heat. It won’t be so bad.”

Universe, I stand corrected. (Now please have mercy on us and give us a mild summer. Pretty please?)

Our first summer in Austin was blistering. I would call up friends and family back in Florida and wail, “I thought I moved to Austin, NOT PHOENIX!”

That dry heat I was so eager to experience after living with Florida’s muggy humidity so many years? There is nothing superior about it. Not at all. Do you know what a dry, windy, 104 degree day feels like? About like sticking your head in a convection oven. Try it some time. Not pleasant.

But I digress. (As usual.) I’m here to tell you about making brioche.

I first made brioche, kneaded by hand, at Le Cordon Bleu while Paris was gripped by a heat wave. I remember it vividly as we were working in a 5th floor walk up kitchen with no air conditioning. Heat rises, you know. The collective heat from four floors of kitchens with ovens baking and burners aflame drifted up to the fifth floor making our kitchen just about unbearable. By the time I finished kneading, I don’t know who was more pummeled, me or that dough. I certainly know we were both a hot, sticky mess.

I’m hoping this helps to explain my musings above. For better or worse, my brain associates the delightful, dense, rich goodness of brioche with sweat rolling down my back while kneading like hell to incorporate the copious amount of butter that makes this dough so delicious.

(Please don’t let that distasteful imagery dissuade you from reading further. This recipe makes a divine loaf of brioche. I promise it’s worth reading on.)

So recently, on the first really hot day of the year, a harbinger of days to come, it seemed like a fine time to make brioche.

Let me be perfectly honest, though. I had the A/C blasting. And there was no hand kneading this time around. I am all about la machine. Thankfully, my trusty Kitchen Aid was more than up to the task.

Basic Brioche
adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery and Cafe by Joanne Chang

If you have a kitchen scale, use the weights given below to measure out ingredients. I don’t always use a scale but when working with breads, I find you’ll get a better product if you have as accurate as possible ingredient quantities. Note- the below recipe makes 2 loaves. Joanne’s instructions in the Flour cookbook instruct not to halve the recipe because there will not be a sufficient quantity of dough to engage the dough hook on a mixer. Of course, you could make half a recipe if kneading the dough by hand but trust me, it’s worth eating extra brioche to avoid that chore. She further noted that both the dough and the baked loaves freeze well so you can freeze one half of the dough or a loaf, if desired. However, once you taste this bread there will be no need to freeze the other loaf as you’ll hardly be able to restrain yourself from gobbling up both loaves. This rich, yet light brioche is delicious eaten plain by the slice but I couldn’t resist adding a little mascarpone cheese and jam. In fact, I made a small batch of homemade blackberry refrigerator jam just for the occasion.

2 1/4 c (315 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/4 c (340 grams) bread flour
1 1/2 packages (3 1/4 t) active dry yeast
1/2 c plus 1 T (82 grams) sugar
1 T kosher salt
1/2 c (120 grams) cold water
6 eggs
1 c + 6 T (2 3/4 sticks/310 grams) unsalted, room temp butter, cut into 10-12 pieces

1. In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flours, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and 5 of the eggs. Beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all ingredients have come together. Be sure to stop the mixer from time to time to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are incorporated. Once the dough comes together, continue to beat on low for another 3 to 4 minutes until stiff and dry.
2. With the machine still on low speed, add the butter one piece at a time and allow each addition to mix in and disappear into the dough before adding more. When all of the butter has been added, continue mixing on low speed for about 10 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Use your hands to break up the dough to help mix if needed to be sure that all of the butter is thoroughly mixed into the dough.
3. When the butter has been incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the dough is sticky and soft and looks slightly shiny, approximately 15 minutes. At this point, turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat for another minute. The dough will make a slapping sound when it hits the sides of the bowl. To test the dough, pull it- it should stretch slightly. If the dough is wet and loose, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix in. If pulling the dough causes it to break, continue mixing on medium for a few more minutes and test again. The dough will be ready when you can pick it up in one cohesive piece.
4. Place the dough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the dough. Allow the dough to proof in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight. The dough can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
5. Butter the bottom and sides of two 9 x 5” loaf pans well. Divide the dough in half and then further divide each half into three equal pieces. Roll each of the three pieces into a ball shape and place the balls into each pan. Cover the pans with a cloth or lightly layered plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to proof until the loaves have nearly doubled in size, approximately 4 - 5 hours, and have risen to the rim of the pan. The dough is ready for baking it feels pillowy and light when poked with a finger.
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack positioned in the center of the oven. Right before you’re ready to place the loaves in the oven, use scissors that have been dampened with water to cut vertically through each of the three proofed, rolled balls of dough in each pan. Make an egg wash with the remaining egg by whisking it in a small bowl and gently brush the tops of the loaves with the beaten egg.
7. Bake the loaves for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the tops and sides of the loaves are a deep golden brown. Allow the loaves to cool in pans on wire racks for 30 minutes, then turn the loaves out of the pans and continue to cool on racks. The bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.