Seems like only yesterday it was Chinese New Year and I think the day before that was Christmas, right? How time flies. Now Valentine's is on our doorstep, wondering what culinary concoction will mark its arrival. Lucky for me, the answer is simple since little says "I love you" like chocolate. Devil's in the details though, so while chocolate is part of the answer, there's more to consider. And that's where you come in.
port and star anise infused heart-shaped truffles
Ever since my previous chocolate making spree , I've been thinking about what to make for this Valentine's. I've been considering flavors that run the gamut from romantic to comforting, straight up sexy to subtle and seductive, wild day dreams to familiar favorites, trying to come up with a good mix for friends and family, but I think you can help me make this assortment even better.
So here's the deal: To participate, leave a comment with your suggestion for an ideal Valentine's Day chocolate flavor combination by 8pm est, Thursday, February 12, 2009. At that time, my Top Chef watching crew and I will review all the entries and pick a winner. Obviously, our judging will be subjective, but we will all try to agree on the chocolate flavor we think sounds the most emotionally evocative, delicious and creative. In short, we're looking for a chocolate that instantly inspire love. Cynics are also welcome to make their suggestions! We know Valentine's is hooey, but we can't seem to pass up the communal joy the comes of celebrating holidays, so give us what you've got, maybe you can take the wind out of our sails...and we'll like it.
The winning suggestion will be turned into an actual factual chocolate and I will send the winner a box of assorted vegan chocolates that includes their flavor. Unfortunately, to receive the chocolate you must have a United States address. Those in other parts of the world should still feel free to play along though; your idea could be immortalized in chocolate form! The winner must also be committed to eating the chocolates promptly since I do not use artificial ingredients or stabilizers and they must be consumed fresh. My apologies to those in the rest of this big world (shipping costs are killer) and those who practice that thing... what's it called? Oh, yeah, self-restraint.
To get the creative juices flowing or to receive some immediate chocolate in your life, I'm happy to share some new demonstration videos that I did with the very fine folks at How2Heroes . The chocolate above are the hand-dipped chocolate-coated truffles I filmed with them, using a standard square baking pan, a piece of parchment, and a chef's knife. Don't balk at chocolate making just because the books tell you that you'll need frames and guitar cutters and a huge marble slab and all that other fancy stuff, this easy method uses what you already have and still makes beautiful chocolates.
For a really forgiving chocolate without all the fuss over tempered chocolate, we also shot a video that walks you through a super simple recipe for rolled truffles . In the past I have made truffles by pouring hot liquid over chopped chocolate, but this video illustrates a different way of making them that I think yeilds a particularly silky and gloriously smooth, completely knee-melting chocolate. It's a soft ganache, which makes it a little messy to work with, but wonderful to eat. Made with olive oil and sastuma zest, they are a rich and sophisticated twist on the winter classic of dark chocolate and orange.
The ganache for these truffles can also be piped into molds for a different presentation. I made this batch with tangelo to get a little hint of grapefruit flavor that also complements the olive oil.
These are a modification of the truffle recipe in the video. By omitting the olive oil and bringing in port wine as well as 2-3 tablespoons of ground star anise, a whole different and super sexy chocolate is born.
Another modification, this time omitting the oil and increasing the unsweetened soymilk. Then, thanks to an amazing blend of cocoa rose tea from Sofra Bakery , the milk is turned into an ambrosial liquid with bitter cocoa nib notes, deep black tea flavors and floral flourishes as it steeps with about 1/4 cup of the tea. Rolling the ganache in chopped cocoa nibs really seals the deal...
...though casing of dark chocolate can bring it home too.
Here's another deal-maker: espresso-salted nutmeg caramel truffles. The espresso salt is an indulgence, no doubt, but oh-is-it-worth-it and since a little goes a long way it lasts for a long time. Of course, you could also make the caramels just as they are or cover them in tempered chocolate like I did for Christmas . There's no end to the ways to play with this caramel and no better time to start playing because they would be a great Valentine's gift, if you were so moved to share.
Speaking of sharing, get those flavor ideas in! I can't wait to see what you all come up with. Until then, I leave you with the long promised Chocolate-Covered Espresso Salted Nutmeg Caramel recipe. Give a little, get a little?
Chocolate-Covered Espresso Salted Nutmeg Caramels
adapted from Alice Medrich's Golden Caramels, Pure Dessert
1 cup golden syrup (or 3/4 cup golden syrup and 1/4 cup agave syrup, more agave and they will not form properly) 2 cups sugar in the raw 1 teaspoon espresso sea salt (or 3/4 teaspoon sea salt + 1 teaspoon espresso extract added with the vanilla) 2 cups soy creamer 3/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg 3 tablespoons room temperature Earth Balance buttery stick or other margarine 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 pound bittersweet dark chocolate, tempered
Line a 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper. Combine the syrup or syrups, raw sugar, and espresso salt in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, stirring until mixture simmers at the edges. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. (As mixture cooks, wash spoon so it will be clear of sugar crystals when used later.)
Uncover saucepan and wash down the sides with a pastry brush dipped in water to remove the sugar cyrstals on the sides of the pan. Insert a candy thermometer and allow the mixture to cook, uncovered and without stirring to 305°F.
As the sugar cooks, gently heat the soy creamer with the fresh grated nutmeg until just before boiling. Maintain the heat at a simmer and keep covered to allow the nutmeg to infuse.
When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, remove heat and stir in the Earth Balance. When well incorporated, slowly and carefully pour the nutmeg infused cream into the sugar mixture while stirring. When the mixture ceases to bubble dramatically, stir well to mix the thickened sugar resting at the bottom of the pan back into the mixture.
Return the pan to heat and allow it to cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, (this step may take as long at 10-20 minutes) to 260°f. At 260°f, remove the heat and stir in vanilla and espresso (if using) extracts. Pour the mixture into the lined pan and allow it to set at room temperature for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight.
When set, remove the caramel from the pan and use an oiled knife to cut into squares. Dip the squares in tempered chocolate and decorate with transfer paper or a sprinkling of nutmeg. Or, for rolled truffles, add caramel to chopped chocolate in a 1:3 ratio and place over a double boiler, gently heating until liquid and smooth before whisking with hot liquid and proceeding to make ganache as per usual. Or, wrap the cut caramel squares in parchment paper and eat as is.