Archive | September, 2013

Chocolate Puffs – ‘rough side upwards’

16 Sep

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Hannah Glasse’s Chocolate Puffs recipe

 

It was more chocolate experimentation this week at Fort York.  This time we were working with Hannah Glasse’s 1800 Chocolate Puffs recipe from her book The Complete Confectioner. A puff brings to mind something light, airy, even ethereal.  Among Dr Johnson’s many definitions for the word puff he includes ‘any thing light and porous’.  It was difficult to see how the recipe’s call for a pound of sugar (even if it was double refined) and a half a pound of grated chocolate mixed together with the white of two eggs might ever achieve this status.

 

18th century recipe books contain  a number of different recipes for puffs.  You can find apricot puff, almond, puffs, lemon puffs, curd puffs and German puffs.  These latter were created from a mixture of milk, flour, egg yolks and sugar, flavoured with rose water, nutmeg and lemon and then fried in boiling lard, to be covered in Sack for a sauce.  I have never seen any before but the recipe’s planted in my mind a vision of a bite sized boozy doughnut.

 

Other volunteers at Fort York have made the most delicate and light lemon puffs, morsels of sugary heaven.  Our first attempts at chocolate puffs confirmed that we were dealing with a very different type of recipe.  First, The grated chocolate and sugar were mixed together and then the two egg whites were added.  But far from creating a paste which the recipe suggested would emerge we were left with a grainy mixture which resembled wet sand in texture.  How were we to create any sort of shape from this?  And it was clear from the recipe that the mixture was meant to be malleable; it says ‘you may form the paste into any shape’.  We were going to be lucky if we were able to get the mixture from the bowl to the baking tray, let alone have the luxury of choosing what form it would take.  For our first trial we simply heaped the ‘wet sand’ into little mounds (about 2cm across) and baked them at 300ºF for 15 minutes.  After leaving them to cool (not easy to do when you’re curious to try) we sampled the results.  The outside had a pleasingly crunchy and granular texture, a little bit like a chocolate sugar cube.  However, we weren’t convinced that this is what they were meant to be like.

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the wet sand mixture of a pound of double refined sugar, half a pound of grated chocolate and two egg whites

The next experiment involved thinking about how we might possibly create a paste from the quantities mentioned in the recipe (no tampering with the proportions or adding extra ingredients!) Since the mixture was clearly very dry we decided to try melting the chocolate.  The sugar was then added to the melted chocolate and with the beaten egg white folded in at the end.  This created a very thick paste, but it was at least a paste and it was possible to use it to create shapes.  We opted for small, simple rounds.  Another part of the recipe which had been bothering us was the instruction to place the shapes ‘rough side upwards’ on the tins strewn with sugar.  This had led me to thinking about trying to create the shapes by using a mould (see the continuation of this thought below) but I suddenly had the idea that this instruction might mean that you were meant to place your puffs on the sugared baking tray and then turn them over ‘rough side upwards’ so both sides were covered with sugar.  This is what we tried and cooked these at 300ºF, leaving some in for 15 minutes and some in for 20 minutes. The results this time were no more light and airy.  They had a hard edge and a slightly chewy centre, with a hint of the granular still in the structure of the biscuit, as well as the sugar on the outside.

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Making a paste by melting the chocolate

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The rounds from the melted chocolate recipe

The final method we tried involved my thought about creating the puffs in moulds.  I think at this point the trial became a little less than historically accurate but I wanted to see what would happen if the ‘wet sand’ mixture was shaped using a mould.  Since there were no small mould shapes at the Fort I improvised with a measuring teaspoon which was a half sphere and about 3.5cm in diameter.  Since the mixture was like sand this felt a little bit like making very miniature rounded sand castles and my first attempts were far from perfect.  If I didn’t pack the mixture in tightly enough it simply fell apart.  But if I packed it in too tightly I then needed to knock it out too viciously and ran the risk of squashing it as I tried to prise it from the spoon.  Finally I had a whole tray of these dark little mounds to bake and again they went in at 300ºF for 20 minutes.  When they came out of the oven they reminded me of stylised hedgehogs; there were just enough of the granular on the surface to give them a roughened texture and the uniform shape gave them a particularly pleasing appearance.  This final experiment seemed to be the preferred one in terms of edibility too.  Melting the chocolate may have allowed us to create a paste but the resulting puff was not as successful as those made from the more unwieldy mixture.

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Miniature sandcastles turn into ….

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…..hedgehogs

This got me to thinking about whether the word puff refers not to the texture of these sweetmeats, as in Johnson’s light and porous, but to the shape, or something that was simply a mouthful?  All three of our experiments had a very solid and dense structure, nothing light and airy at all.  The proportions of ingredients in other 18th century chocolate puff recipes suggest something lighter than Hannah Glasse’s version.  For example the version that appears in Elizabeth Raffald’s, 1769 Experienced English Housekeeper, and others:

 

To make Chocolate Puffs
Beat and sift half a pound of double-refined sugar, scrape into it one ounce of chocolate very fine; mix them together. Beat the white of an egg to a very high froth, then strew in your sugar and chocolate, keep beating it till it is as stiff as a paste. Sugar your papers, and drop them on about the size of a sixpence, and bake them in a very slow oven.

(the British Museum have a modern version of this recipe on their Young Explorers pages – what a great way to get children into cooking)

 

These would still be much more dense than the floating melt-in-the-mouth lemon puffs in Raffald’s book which use the juice of two lemons, 1 egg white and 3 eggs to a pound of sugar.

 

So, some success with the chocolate puffs but room for further investigation.  Of course how close our 21st century ingredients are to those used in the 18th century.  And we haven’t even got round to trying to ‘colour it with different colours’ as suggested at the end of the recipe.

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Bruising Chocolate

4 Sep

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J Bell’s Chocolate Biscuit recipe from The French Family Cook

Today was a rather quiet and calm kitchen at Fort York.  Mya was keen to try a 1793 recipe for chocolate biscuits from J Bell’s The French Family Cook: Being a Complete System of French Cookery.  This recipe involved no butter so it suggested a biscuit in the French manner, like a Naples or Savoy biscuit.  It also called for the ounce and a half of chocolate to be ‘bruised very fine’.  I was intrigued by this instruction not least because I was sceptical that solid chocolate could be easily ‘bruised very fine’.  What exactly did the instruction mean?  Mya and I decided that it probably meant that the chocolate should be beaten using a pestle and mortar.  I began by cutting up the blocks of Baker’s unsweetened baking chocolate    which we were using with a knife.  This chocolate conveniently comes in wrapped ounce blocks which are divided in two so I put one half block in the small brass mortar at a time and began to grind and beat it down.  I was impressed that it did begin to produce something like a powder, fine beads of the dark chocolate.

Having pounded for a good number of minutes I sieved the first round of chocolate to get it as fine as possible.  Back went the larger lumps for another beating.  With each of my three blocks this process was repeated at least three times and I think to create this mere ounce and a half of bruised chocolate took me something like an hour!  Not a technique or recipe I shall contemplate using on a regular basis.

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All in an hour’s work – my efforts at bruising chocolate very fine

As I say I found the use of the term ‘to bruise’ fascinating.  It conjures up images things being bodily damaged and battered both in the sense of bruising the human skin and the bruising of fruit.  In general the idea of bruising has a less than positive association.  As I was pounding the chocolate I was reminded of a classic example of the negative connotations of bruising, the King James translation of Genesis 3:15, when God tells the serpent after he has tempted Eve

‘And I will put enmitie betweene thee and the woman, and betweene thy seed and her seed: it shal bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heele.’

I decided to see if Dr Johnson could offer a helpful 18th century perspective on a definition of ‘to bruise’ and sure enough his 1755 dictionary gives the following description for the verb:

‘To crush or mangle with the heavy blow of something not edged or pointed; to crush by any weight; to beat into gross powder; to beat together coarsely.’

What interested me was that this definition wasn’t simply ‘to bruise’ as in the sense of smashing and damaging but also in the sense of creating a powder which suggested perhaps a more productive outcome. The OED didn’t provide any further elaboration on this idea of creating a powder by bruising ingredients and merely noted one definition of ‘to bruise’ as ‘To beat small, pound, crush, bray, grind down‘.  However it did add in brackets after its definition of ‘to bruise’ as breaking something down or into pieces (a use it points out is now obsolete) that in this sense it was apparently French.  Perhaps Bell’s description of the way to prepare the chocolate was more French than English.

In my cursory exploration through some 18th and 19th century cookbooks there were few uses of the term ‘to bruise’ for preparing ingredients and when it did occur it either referred to bruising fruit for jam making (Nutt, 1789) or bruising caraway seeds for a cake (MacDonald 1809).  Neither quite as exotic (or time consuming) as bruising chocolate for biscuits.

After I had finally bruised my way through the ounce and a half of chocolate it was time to combine it with the other ingredients. The fine beads of chocolate gave the resulting mixture an appearance almost like a very delicate Stracciatella ice cream mixture.  It was also a very runny and Mya and I were unsure how it might behave once spooned onto the paper.  We went for fairly small penny sized biscuits and baked them in a 325˚F oven for 15 minutes.  The results of this first batch were not bad but we had forgotten to sprinkle the sugar on top and decided that they would benefit from being more crisp.  To help us achieve this we made the next batch slightly smaller in size and left them in for longer  – 20 minutes this time.  The results were definitely improved.  For the third and final batch we gave them 25 minutes and these were even better.  The chocolate taste was subtle but definite and the crispness of the final batch suggested that they would be the perfect accompaniment for an after dinner coffee.

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The finished biscuits; small, crisp and very tasty!

We didn’t try spooning any of the mixture into a buttered paper case as suggested by the recipe.  Ivan Day has written a great blog post about cakes and paper cases but we didn’t have the right materials to trial this approach for the chocolate biscuits. It’s an experiment that will have to wait for another day.  Mya and I have agreed however, that however noble our attempts historic chocolate bruising, next time we might try the recipe with grated chocolate.  I wonder if anyone would notice the difference?