Thursday, November 19, 2015

Salted Caramel Chocolates

I think I mentioned this in a post a while ago...but I can't remember when actually. Nevertheless, a few years ago I took a chocolate-making class via some Groupon.  It was eye-opening to say the least.  I mean, my eyes didn't just open but they bulged at the sight of the machine in the back kitchen that spewed out a thick stream of melted chocolate.  If I could have just positioned my open mouth below that fountain of chocolate...

Aside from that godsend of a machine, our rather intense teacher exposed me to the process of tempering chocolate--which was honestly eye-opening.  He spoke about the crystalline structures in chocolate and specifically those very important beta crystals that one must get into alignment at just the right temperature--via tempering the chocolate--in order for the finished chocolate product to have that gorgeous sheen on the outside and a crisp hard crack when broken.  Unfortunately, attaining those two key characteristics has always been a challenge for me.

Now, there are a few different ways to temper chocolate.  In the class, we did--what I would term--the "messy" way.  We poured the un-tempered melted chocolate onto a marble slab, took a bench scraper and kept scooping and scraping up the chocolate back and forth onto the slab until our teacher gave it a quick look and told us to test it--and knowing what I know now, I have no idea how he would know without using a thermometer. I guess with experience you just come to know? Anyway, by testing it we took a small amount of the chocolate we had been working with and put it in the freezer to harden.  If it was shiny and had a snap when broken, it was tempered. If not, we had to keep agitating it and testing it.  The other--less messy--way is seeding.  With seeding, you basically do all of the tempering in a bowl. And since temperature plays such a vital indicator of whether or not chocolate has been tempered--and I like being as exact as possible--I use a thermometer to help me determine how close I am to forming those famed beta crystals.  Alas, even with my handy thermometer I can never seem to get a perfectly tempered chocolate.  There's always streaks.  Blah.

So, when I read an article on Serious Eats proclaiming that there is another way to achieve a perfect tempered chocolate that wasn't messy or labor intensive (i.e. stirring and agitating the chocolate until your arm feels like falling off), I was intrigued.  Especially since it involved the use of a sous vide.   The beauty with using a sous vide to temper chocolate is that--again since temperature plays such an important role--you can adjust the temperature fairly easily and hold that temperature.  And once you've achieved the tempered state, you should be able to hold it in that state--provided you keep agitating the chocolate every once in a while.

I actually didn't have a sous vide at the time I read this article and the only thing I knew about them was that they were used to cook meat.  Hence, the idea of one being used to temper chocolate was alluring.  So alluring that I ended up buying a sous vide.  And I've had it for about a year now and have used it fairly often--but to cook pork tenderloins, pork chops and chicken.  But not to temper chocolate.  I know, I know.  The reason that sold me on buying it was the idea that I could temper chocolate perfectly.  However, I think part of me was a little hesitant to try it out because I was afraid it wouldn't work and then I'd have to go back to the seeding method--which I can't seem to get right--and then tempering chocolate would just be another one of those things that is eating away at my soul because I can never make it work.  Woe is me. Well, not really.  Because the sous vide method actually worked pretty darn well.  Is it perfect?  No. But I did get a good shine and fairly good snap. There were some small disfigurements and the snap wasn't as crisp as I think it should have been. But maybe next time if I try pulling the chocolate out of the sous vide and agitating it more often I'll get those beta crystals in line a bit better.  In any case, I was pleased with the results.  At the same time, it's still another method  that needs practice.  And I don't think--as much as I dislike it--I will completely give up on the seeding method.  It needs some practice too.  But if you have a sous vide and you have trouble tempering chocolate via traditional methods then give this a shot because it really does work quite nicely.

Recipe for 12 - 2 inch diameter hemispheres (For a great tutorial on how to temper chocolate in a sous vide, visit Serious Eats)

16oz of dark chocolate (I used Callebaut semi-sweet) chopped
1/2c salted caramel sauce (recipe follows for about 1 cup of sauce)

Salted caramel sauce

1/2c heavy cream
2 1/2 T unsalted butter
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
3/4c granulated sugar
2 T light corn syrup
2 T water

First, using a small sauce pan, combine the cream, butter and salt.  Heat the the mixture over low heat while stirring until the butter has melted and the salt has dissolved.  Once that's been accomplished, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla and set nearby.  In a medium heavy bottom sauce pan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water.  Heat that mixture over medium-high heat.  Let it boil up--bubbles will ebb and flow--just let it go until it starts changing color.  Once it starts changing color, slowly swirl the pan around to distribute the heat evenly.  After it gets to a good even amber color and the bubbles are much smaller, reduce the heat to low and carefully pour in the cream mixture while whisking constantly.  Remove the caramel sauce from the heat and let it cool completely before use.

For Assembly

Temper your chocolate in whatever manner you have at your disposal.  Once tempered, pour about half of the chocolate into the mold to line the insides of the hemispheres with it.  Turn the molds upside down and tap out any excess chocolate--make sure that the surfce of each hemisphere is completely covered in chocolate.  Place the chocolate mold aside to set.  After it's set, fill the chocolate lined hemispheres with your completely cooled caramel sauce--I put about a tablespoon in for these particular molds.  Then, pour the other half of your tempered chocolate over the caramel to fill the rest of the molds.  Use a bench scraper to scrape evenly along the surface of the mold to remove any excess chocolate and to ensure that each chocolate has a nice flat even bottom. Set the chocolates aside to set/harden.  Once they have set, turn the mold over carefully and tap out the chocolates. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Red Wine Poached Pear Tarts

This is such a simple dessert.  Puff pastry and fruit.  That's it.

Of course you can dress it up a bit in any number of ways.  But if you didn't, the buttery flaky puff pastry and sweet ripe fruit would hardly be a disappointment in itself.  On the other hand, there's certainly no harm in sprucing it up.

Like maybe you can poach some pears in a sweet red wine syrup and let them marinade in the red wine syrup for a few days in the refrigerator.

Then cut some squares of puff pastry out, slice up the poached pears and place them on top of the pastry and bake them.  It's still pretty uncomplicated--assuming you have some readily available puff pastry.

I like that it's not too sweet either.  Buttery? You betcha.  But not that sweet because the sweetness really just comes from the fruit and the syrup that the pears are poached in.

I might even go as far as designating this is a healthy dessert.  But I won't.  Because it's really not healthy--I mean there's a lot of butter in that puff pastry.  So it's not healthy--but it's damn good.


2-2 1/2 pounds puff pastry dough
4 medium red wine poached pears (recipe follows)
1/4c of granulated sugar
1 egg and 1 tsp of water for the egg wash

For the red wine poached pears:

2 1//2c dry red wine--I used a cabernet
1/4c granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of cloves
4 firm medium pears peeled--ripe but still fairly firm

Using a 3 quart saucepan, combine the wine, sugar, cinnamon stick and cloves.  Place the saucepan on the stove and bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat.  Once it has come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and gently add the pears.  Cook the pears for 15-20 minutes in the simmering liquid--turning the pears every so often so that each pear is evenly cooked and colored by the red wine poaching liquid.  Make sure not to overcook the pears so that they are still firm once they are evenly colored.  If at any point they seem to be getting mushy, remove the pears and poaching liquid from the heat.  In any case, once they are fully cooked, remove the saucepan from the heat, place the pears so that they are sitting upright in the pan and let them cook completely.  After the pears have cooled, place them and all of the poaching liquid in an airtight container, cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3-4 days.

When the pears have sat in the poaching liquid for at least 24 hours, get ready to bake the tarts.  First, line two large baking sheets with either silicone baking mats or parchment paper and set them aside. Then, on a well floured surface roll out the puff pastry into at least an 8 inch wide by 16 inch long by 1/8 inch thick rectangle.  Cut eight 4 inch by 4 inch rectangles out of the larger rectangle and place four of them on one baking sheet and the other four on the other baking sheet.  Cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator while you get the pears ready.  Next, slice each pear into 1/8 inch thick slices--discarding any of the core pieces.  Once that's done place oven racks in the lower and upper third sections of your oven and preheat it to 450 F.  Remove the baking sheets from the refrigerator, distribute the pear slices evenly between the eight pastry squares and arrange them in any way you prefer.  After the pears slices have been arranged, sprinkle the sugar over each tart.  Then, in a small bowl whisk together the egg and water.  Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the exposed pastry that borders the fruit--not the sides of it.  Finally, place one baking sheet in the upper and one in the lower rack.  Bake them for 20 minutes at 450 F switching the two baking sheets between the two racks after the first 10 minutes.  After the first 20 minutes of baking, decrease the oven temperature to 400 F, switch the baking sheets again between the two racks and bake them for another 20 minutes switching the baking sheets between the two racks one more time halfway through the second 20 minute period.  Confused?  Well, just switch up the baking sheets every once in a while to ensure that they bake evenly since they are on separate oven racks.  Anyway, after a total cooking time of 40 minutes remove the baking sheets from the oven and let them cool completely.  Enjoy.