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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Chocolate Bowls

It's hard to believe that I am thinking about food at this moment... considering the fact that I ate so much today that I feel like I might explode. But, nonetheless, I have some down time now that everyone is in a food stupor to post something I've been meaning to share for a few months now.

I absolutely adore making these cute little chocolate bowls. They are so easy and fun and they never cease to amaze. Because I always make and consume them within the same day, I don't worry about tempering the chocolate. I just try to be sure that I do not let my chocolate get too hot in my double boiler. The risk there is that too high a temperature can cause the chocolate to end up not hardening at all. Not a good thing, obviously.

Melt enough semi-sweet chocolate in a bowl over some lightly simmering water. Prepare a sheet pan with some parchment, wax paper, or a Silpat. The first step is to make a small puddle of chocolate that will become the base of your bowl. Keep the puddle somewhat small, you don't want it oozing all over the place!

Then inflate some small balloons. I use the size that you typically use to make water balloons. Obviously, you can make your bowls whatever size you want, but if you want to make small bowls, you want to use small balloons. Under-inflated balloons tend not to have a smooth bottom on them, which can deform your bowl. Dip the balloon into the chocolate. I usually dip a couple of times to make sure I have a good, solid coat. Too thin a coat becomes a nightmare when you go to remove the balloons later. You can dip the balloons with one even motion for a straight edged bowl...

Or dip them at an angle four to five times around the balloon to form a scalloped edge that is very pretty.

Place the dipped balloon into the puddle you previously poured. Usually, they stand on their own fairly well, but if you get a troublesome one, just hold it for a minute or two until the chocolate firms up a bit. (It's best to work with chocolate in a somewhat cool room).

When making bowls, always do a few extra because it is not unheard of for one or two to break one while removing the balloon. Place the tray in the refrigerator to harden for 30-60 minutes. To remove the balloon, be ready to work quickly! If the chocolate softens just a little too much, I find it makes removing the balloon more challenging. Take a straight pin and - pinching the top of the balloon - carefully poke a hole in it. Slowly let the air out. As the balloon deflates, you can start to peel it away from the bowl. Deflating the balloon too rapidly will usually result in a broken bowl, so go easy! Once the balloons are removed, chances are you'll want to keep them in the refrigerator. If you'd rather have bowls that are more shelf stable and can be made ahead of time, you can do that, you'll just have to be sure to temper the chocolate then. Serve with ice cream or mouse... or anything that goes well with chocolate and is served in a bowl!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

So Pretty!

I've posted a few times already about making these cute little jelly candies. I originally posted about the lemon ones, but recently posted about making them in orange and lime as well. Well, I finally had an opportunity to make all three in the same time frame so that I could photograph them together. How cute they turned out! Yellow, and orange, and green, oh my!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pumpkin Pie

Everyone has their favorite pumpkin pie recipe, I guess... unless you always get yours from the store. As a scratch cooker, obviously, I can't condone such actions. ;-) I am, however, a serious pumpkin pie snob. Pretty much, unless I've made it, I usually don't eat it.

I have a number of problems with most of the pumpkin pie out there, not the least of which is that canned pumpkin tastes, well, like canned pumpkin. It's the same reason I don't eat canned peas or green beans. Canning vegetables just changes their flavor and texture in a way I can't enjoy. I also often find other's pie too sweet. I don't like it savory, mind you, but I don't want it to be syrupy either. This started out as the recipe from the back of a can of Libby's pumpkin, I think. Then my mom tweaked it, and then I tweaked it even more. I really like the balance. I use the frozen pumpkin puree I put up every fall. The frozen, not canned, puree gives this pie a fresh flavor that can't be beat. To me, it's the perfect pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Pie
Yield: one 9-inch pie

2 eggs
1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (preferably not canned)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp dry ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk (one 12 oz. can) or light cream

Prepare a 9-inch pie shell. If you want to be sure your pie shell does not get gummy (see note 2 below), blind bake it first in a 425° F oven for 10-15 minutes lined with a little foil and weighted down with pie weights or beans. Let pie shell cool completely before filling. Preheat the oven to 425° F. In a bowl, lightly beat eggs. Add the remaining ingredients and stir gently to mix. If you mix too aggressively, you will end up with foam on the top of your pie. It doesn't taste bad, your pie just won't be as pretty. Pour the filling into a prepared pie shell. Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350° F and bake for another 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Serve well chilled.

NOTE 1: I also like to make this as a custard, where I simply make the filling and bake it in a dish without a crust. Use a 9x9 inch glass/porcelain baking dish or similar. Otherwise, make exactly the same as for a pie. It's a great, easy, treat to make year round!

NOTE 2: The picture above shows a pie crust that I did not blind bake first. I was in a hurry, so I skipped that step. See how the crust looks like it has two layers? The inside layer here was chewy and not flaky at all like the outside half. The pie still tastes good, but the crust is not quite as delicious. I strongly recommend blind baking first, if you have the time and patience. If you do go this route, be prepared to lightly cover the edge crust with foil as it may begin to darken too much toward the end of the baking period.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gingerbread Cutouts

I've been in serious cookie making mode lately. Last week I made an army of these cute little guys for a "cookie caper" on base, where volunteers bring in homemade cookies and then they are packaged and distributed to airmen. (I also made a double batch of my sugar cookie holly cutouts.) What I love about gingerbread men is that the cookie is not overly sweet and has a nice spiciness to it. I often make and give them as gifts. They can be packaged in such cute ways and everyone loves to receive them!

The dough is very easy to mix. Probably the hardest part is grating the ginger, but a microplane makes short work of the task. Just be sure that the fresh ginger is ground into a paste; you want it to mix evenly into the dough. Mix the wet ingredients together first.

Then mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl before adding the flour mixture to the wet mixture. I've tried a lot of gingerbread cookie recipes, and I love the combination of spices in this one.

Form the dough into a log and wrap in plastic wrap, letting it firm up in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Once it has firmed up, cut the dough into four or five large slices and roll one disk out at a time. Roll it fairly thin, about one eighth of an inch is best. Use a gingerbread cutter to make figures. Bake on a greased cookie sheet or a parchment lined pan. For best flavor, bake until the cookies are nicely browned. I've found if they are under cooked, the flavor is a bit lackluster.

Once they are baked and completely cooled, pipe decorations in royal icing (I use the recipe on the package of Wilton meringue powder). Let the cookies sit out for at least a few hours until the icing is dried hard. Then package them up! They keep fairly well in an air tight container. I like to maximize my time, so I always do the same decoration on them, but you can certainly get creative! You can use a variety of colors and small candy decorations if you want. Make your gingerbread army however you see fit!

Gingerbread Cutouts
Yield: approx. 70 3-inch cutouts

3/4 cup brown sugar, firm packed
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1/4 cup molasses
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
3 1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

Beat the sugar and butter together until smooth. Add eggs, molasses, and fresh ginger. Mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Stir well. Add slowly to the wet ingredients, stirring until well mixed. Shape dough into a log and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least one hour. Slice log into four or five disks. Roll out one disk at a time. Roll fairly thin, about 1/8 of an inch. Place on greased or parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake at 350° F for about ten minutes, or until nicely browned. Cool completely before decorating with royal icing.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A few more thoughts on tempering...

In the first few months after starting this blog, I posted a whole series on making chocolates. In my Tempering Chocolate 101 post, I discussed the technique involved in making sure your chocolate cools in the right crystalline form. Improper crystallization results in the development of an unappealing fat "bloom" in the final product. The amount of bloom shown here is excessive, and is the amount I typically see - for instance - with the chocolate that is leftover after dipping truffles that gets collected and thrown in the back of the pantry for eight months. It also can happen with a chocolate bar that is left in a car on a hot day and then eaten a week later. While it doesn't look appropriate when making chocolate confections, I do think it's pretty in its own, strange way. It may have something to do with my geology background regarding the crystallization of minerals, but I find fat bloom in chocolate fascinating.

Unfortunately, it's not very fascinating when it happens to the results of my hard work. I try very hard to be sure my chocolate is in temper before I dip a batch of truffles. I made a batch the other day for the first time in a while. I tried some new things; I tried to perfect some old things. In the end, I decided I had a few additional thoughts to add regarding tempering:
  • Tempering is a pain in the butt. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. So I often catch myself pushing the envelope of what I deem acceptable when testing whether my chocolate is in temper. Tempering is a pain, but it's even more of a pain when you jump the gun and coat a bunch of truffles with chocolate that dries with horrible looking streaks, or - even worse - won't properly harden at all. In the end, it's always better to be safe than sorry. If you have to go through the procedure again to ensure a good temper, do it!
  • I have found that I don't usually have great luck getting proper temper using the seed method (see my other post for a refresher). It's been three times in a row now of tempering chocolate when I try to do the seed method first, am not satisfied, and then go through the longer but very straight-forward seed-free method. In the future, I may just start with that method. Again, it takes longer, but you can be doing other things for the vast majority of the time.
  • Although I described a series of things to look for to determine the level of temper in your chocolate, the frustrating thing is that you often can't be totally sure you got it right until the next day. Sometimes, it all looks right, but by the next day, those darn streaks have shown up! The moral here is that I never make truffles the same day or day before I expect to give them away. I like to be able to make sure that fat bloom doesn't show up after the fact!
  • In my previous post, I only discussed dark chocolate. If you want to use milk chocolate or white chocolate, you still have to temper them, but they require slightly lower temperatures. As a guideline, use temperatures 2-3 degrees less than what you use for dark chocolate. Speaking of white chocolate... it's pretty darn hard to find real white chocolate these days. Virtually all white chips sold in stores today are not chocolate at all. You have to look closely. If it doesn't actually say "white chocolate" and have cocoa butter in the ingredient list, you are using a totally different beast. White "chips", such as Ghirardelli or Nestle, do not need to be tempered (but they don't really taste that good either). Real white chocolate must be tempered to ensure proper set up, gloss, and shininess. Baker's brand white chocolate blocks are the only real white chocolate I've seen around in a long, long time.
  • Remember that chocolate can build up heat very rapidly. Be sure to heat it slowly. If you get impatient and crank the heat up too much, there will be too much residual heat and even once you remove the chocolate from the heat source, chances are it will continue heating another 5-10 degrees. So go slow and easy. Patience is key.
  • Lastly, you really do get what you pay for. The cost of chocolate is typically proportional to how pure it is. Cheap brands have more sugar and other fillers in them and can be more challenging to work with. Most confectioneries use couverture when dipping truffles because it has more cocoa butter and is easier to work with and has a nicer mouth feel. Unfortunately, it's really expensive. I've had very good luck using Ghirardelli's 60% cacao chips and find it to be a nice middle ground compromise.
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