You got Salt in my Chocolate!

We’re all about being frugal, trying to save a nickel here and a dime there, and when it comes to holiday confections we don’t see what difference a day or two makes when buying a box of chocolate. The box of chocolate will be as good on February 15th as it was the day before and it’s always 50% off the retail price. We also know that giving chocolates on Valentine’s Day is a tradition that many of us can’t resist from year to year. So what to do? We say make your own.

There are few flavors that go together so perfectly that people get into heated debates over someone expressing ambivalence, or worse, dislike for the paring. And we don’t understand how anyone could feel like something so perfect has been made one too many times. With our friend Susan’s Caramel-Dark Chocolate Truffles with Fleur de Sel, the ubiquitous combination of sea salt and caramel proves it is a match made in heaven, or um … France. What is it that makes caramel, chocolate and sea salt taste so good together that even the most jaded food critic can’t resist the flavor combo? Here in the U.S. we’re used to the chocolate and caramel or chocolate and peanut butter pairings. Can you imagine Hershey going a bit French by adding a sprinkle of fleur de sel to their chocolate bars? We can already see the revolt by the crazy-ass wing nuts in the red states. “Sea salt in my chocolate? What the hell?” Remember “Freedom” fries?

What difference does a day make? Buy your heart shaped box of chocolates on February 15th or make your own.

Susan has perfected this recipe and you can taste the love and time she’s put into it. We were lucky enough to taste these delicious truffles at their 2010 holiday party. We’re grateful that she shared the recipe with us and the rest of her friends on Facebook. Steve’s office enjoyed the batch Jason made and we’re sure your sweetie(s) will love them just as much. So we suggest whipping up a batch this weekend and if you still have a hankering for more chocolate, pick up that heart shaped box on Tuesday. It’s a win-win situation. You’ll get great, homemade chocolate truffles for Valentine’s Day and the heart shaped box a few days later. Now go hit the gym and start working out so you can enjoy all the sugar calories you’ll be consuming for the next few weeks.

A little bite of France.

Susan’s Caramel-Dark Chocolate Truffles with Sea Salt

24 ounces fine-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, divided
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon sea salt (fleur de sel if you have it on hand)
unsweetened cocoa powder
additional sea salt

Gently melt 10 ounces chocolate in a double boiler or microwave, set aside.

Combine sugar and water in a heavy medium saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves.  Increase heat and boil, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush, until syrup is dark amber.  Add cream; caramel will bubble and steam.  Reduce heat to low and stir until caramel is entirely smooth, with no remaining lumps.  Mix caramel and 1 t. sea salt into chocolate, cool slightly, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours.

Place cocoa powder in a small bowl.  Using melon baller or tablespoon, roll truffle filling into balls.  Smooth with your hands (gloves highly recommended) and roll in cocoa.  Arrange on a baking sheet, cover, and chill overnight.

Line baking sheet with foil, parchment or Silpat.  Temper remaining chocolate in a small bowl.  Working quickly, submerge one cold truffle center in the tempered chocolate, lift with a fork and tap off excess, and set on lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with a small amount of sea salt.  Repeat with remaining truffle centers.  Let stand until coating sets, at least one hour.  (Can be made up to one week in advance.  Cover and keep cool.  Bring to room temperature to serve.)

* I do the centers in batches: ~10 rough balls at a time using the melon baller, and then pop them into the fridge while I make the next set.  When I’m all done, I pull out each set of ~10 and smooth them into nice spheres with my hands and dust with cocoa.  I also pull the centers out of the fridge in small batches to do the couverture (dipping the caramels in the chocolate), so that the later ones stay cool.  The centers are super gooey at room temperature, so it’s important that they’re right out of the fridge to ensure the outer coating of chocolate covers them well.

More S’mores

Because we didn’t go camping this year we weren’t able to have one of our favorite summer treats, s’mores.  As everyone knows, s’mores are as essential to the camping experience as camp fires and tents. It’s just not the same without them. I’ve been thinking about ways to bring the tasty treats inside and out of the woods. Why shouldn’t you be able to eat a s’more when ever you want, right out of the cookie jar? And why can’t the s’more become a cookie that’s meant to be enjoyed year round instead of just during the summer?

Breaking down the concept of a s’more cookie is fairly simple when you’re talking about three easy ingredients: marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. But how many people do you know who make their own marshmallows and graham crackers? For a couple of years, I’ve been making incredibly soft marshmallows that are easy to whip up. With a little patience and chemistry these soft airy confections come out tasting like sugary clouds, putting to shame any commercially made bag of marshmallows from the grocery store. Even though they take time to make, once you’ve tasted these babies you’ll never want to pick up a store-bought bag again. I found this recipe in a Martha Stewart Christmas Magazine but it’s also on her site.

As for the grahams, I’ve been eyeing Kim Boyce’s graham recipe from her book Good to the Grain, a collection of recipes using whole-grain flour and a new favorite in our reference library. I picked up the book last spring. We’ve tried a few of Kim’s recipes with great success and the only thing holding me back from making her graham crackers was a shortage of retail sellers of Teff flour. I couldn’t even find it at the local super crunchy co-ops. A trip to Whole Foods was all it took.  Teff flour has a malty taste to it that compliments the earthy graham flour. The finished crackers taste exactly like the graham crackers I grew up on, only a little better.

While I might be a few months behind the rest of the country where people enjoy s’mores throughout the summer, including national S’more’s day on August 10, in my defense we San Franciscans are just getting our predictably few warm “summer” days. And even with the unusually warm weather this week we were a little too busy in the city with Halloween, the Giants winning the World Series and a parade that brought a million people to the streets celebrating San Francisco’s first series win. Congratulations Giants! So now we have to play catch-up with the rest of you. Let’s hope the warm weather keeps for another weekend or two. We think once you try these s’mores you’ll want to enjoy them at home year round.

Summer camp in a jar.

Marshmallows

Adapted from: Candy-Cane Marshmallows – Martha Stewart Holidays

Makes forty-eight 1 ½ inch squared marshmallows

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 packages (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin
2 large egg whites

Directions

  1. Coat a half sheet cake pan with cooking spray; line bottom with parchment paper. Coat the parchment with cooking spray, and set pan aside. Put sugar, corn syrup, and 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring; let mixture come to a boil. Raise heat to medium-high; cook until mixture registers 260 degrees on a candy thermometer.
  2. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over 3/4 cup water in a heatproof bowl; let stand 5 minutes to soften. Set the bowl with the gelatin mixture over a pan of simmering water; whisk constantly until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla; set aside.
  3. Beat egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Whisk gelatin mixture into sugar mixture; with mixer running, gradually add to egg whites. Mix on high speed until very thick, 12 to 15 minutes.
  4. Pour mixture into lined pan. Using an off set spatula sprayed with cooking spray, spread out the marshmallow fluff into every corner. Moving the spatula in one direction at a time and not swirling it helps keep it uniformed. Spray another piece of parchment paper with cooking spray and place over the top. Allow at least three hour, or preferably overnight, to set up.
  5. Remove from pan; score marshmallow by 1 ½ inch squared and cut.

Grahams

From Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain

Dry Mix:

1 cup graham flour
½ cup teff flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Wet Mix:

3 ounces (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¼ cup honey
1 tablespoon unsulphured (not blackstrap) molasses
1/3 cup whole milk

  1. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Whatever remains in the bottom of the sifter add to the bowl. (Kim discards what’s in the bottom, but I add it to the bowl.)
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredient to the dry ingredients and mix until formed, using your hands is a good trick. Form the dough into a square and wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cookies sheets with parchment or silpat. Lightly dusting your work surface with flour, roll the graham dough into a square shape, rotating the dough as you roll to assure the dough does not stick. Roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a ruler or a yardstick, cut into 1 ½ x 1 ½ inch squares.  Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets.
  4. Bake the cookies for 15 to 17 minutes, rotating the pans after the first 8 minutes. The edges will be a little browner than the rest of the cookies but be careful not to burn the cookies or under bake them. The dark brown of the cookie dough can be a little tricky to judge at first. Allow to cool on baking racks until the marshmallows are cut and the chocolate is melted.

Finishing the S’mores

Place a rack on each of a two baking sheets and put 24 cookies on each rack. Place a marshmallow on top of each cookie. Drizzle the melted chocolate over each marshmallow cookie allowing some parts of the marshmallow to remain bare. Allow the chocolate to set up for five minutes and then place the rest of the grahams on top of each marshmallow.  The grahams may not  all be perfect, and neither will the marshmallows, so selecting the right cookie with the right marshmallow will make the cookies look their best. Allow the chocolate to set up before placing in a cookie jar.