Tag Archives: chocolate

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?

Un grande bacio

17 Feb

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The monster Baci cake! 

 

As I mentioned in an earlier post I’m particularly fond of Perugina’s Baci chocolates.  I was delighted when on honeymoon in Sicily around Easter time to find that Baci Easter Eggs are readily found and it was in Italy that I first became acquainted with the Baci cake, a light sponge with pockets of Gianduia filling and covered in chocolate, to imitate the flavour of a Baci chocolate.  However, even though buying one of these would be the easiest way to sample Baci in cake form ever since seeing the Baci cake recipe (scroll to the bottom of the page) on the Baci Canada website I’ve been wanting to test it.  Whereas the shop bought cake is made to look like a giant, unwrapped Baci the recipe suggestion on the website was for a heart shaped cake, topped with Baci in their sparkling silver wrappers. It seemed like the perfect recipe to experiment with on Valentine’s Day – what chocolates are more suited to Valentine’s than Baci with their little love notes and logo inspired by the romantic 19th century painting, The Kiss.    On closer inspection however it was clear that I’d need to give the recipe a bit of a tweak.  There were a few elements which were not clearly explained on the website and the generous quantities of ingredients listed for the sponge would have made a cake to feed an entire Italian wedding.  So I halved the quantities of ingredients for the sponge and added some praline chocolate to the mixture.  Even with this alteration the batter still made three generous heart shaped layers in a tin, c.18cm in width.  Instead of making one batch of ganache and covering the cake in melted chocolate I made a double layer of ganache to cover the whole cake.

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Baci cake as you buy it in the shops.  You can see from the profile slice that it’s meant to look like a giant Baci. 

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melting the butter and chocolate

It was only once I’d begun the process of putting the cake together that I noticed quite how large it was going to be. I’d already cut down the layers of the cake so that they would stack better; in retrospect I should probably have shaved off a little more.   With its three layers it was beginning to rival the Empire State Building for height. Adding the Baci chocolates on the top was like giving the cake an extra layer.  Even my largest cake tin wasn’t big enough to take the cake.  I had to hold the top in place with sellotape and then work out a way of transporting it.  I’d created a monster Baci cake!  I didn’t make a very job of decorating the cake and a s consequence there are no photos of this stage in the cake’s creation; I was too busy considering whether it would be or wouldn’t be acceptable to show anyone, let alone ask them to taste such an oversized, Frankenstein of a cake.  It didn’t help that  my ganache mixture was a little on the runny side and so didn’t stick to the cake quite as effectively as I had hoped.  If I’d trimmed the sponge layers too, I’d have had a much neater looking cake.

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The first two layers of the cake, if only I’d stopped at two!

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Too big for the tin; thankfully I could rest the lid on the decorative Bacis and it reached Mr Kim’s office in one piece. 

Once again Mr Kim’s work colleagues graciously agreed to sample my baking experiment.  It turned out that it was the last day for one of Mr Kim’s colleagues so the cake doubled as both a late Valentine’s treat and leaving cake.   Then I was able to find out if its flavour really matched that of a Baci chocolate.  The contrasting layers of light sponge and ganache looked very effective but I’d overcooked the sponge layers and that they were a little on the dry side. The overall taste of the cake though worked really well and despite all the hazelnut flour in the sponge and the praline chocolate the taste of hazelnut wasn’t overpowering. Despite being sampled by the office such was the size of the Baci cake it felt like we’d barely made a dent.  If you need to feed a small army or express to your nearest and dearest the monumentality of your love in cake form, then this is the cake for you.  As it says on one of the Baci love notes ‘Every great love begins with a kiss’ (Anon).  And this cake is definitely one big kiss!

 

In case anyone is interested in trying this cake below is my altered recipe.

 

For the cake

Flour 275g (I’d use self raising in the UK)

Potato starch 100g

Hazelnut flour 200g

Melted butter 150g

Egg yolks 50g

Whole eggs 450g

Caster sugar 325g

Praline chocolate 100g

 

For icing

Whipping cream 200g

Praline chocolate 400g

Dark chocolate 30g

Chopped hazelnuts 70g

 

To decorate

10 Baci perugina

 

Method

1. heat the oven to 200˚C (390˚F)

2. mix together the hazelnut flour, the flour and potato starch

3. beat the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar until well blended

4. melt the butter and chocolate slowly

5.add the melted butter mixture to the eggs and sugar

6. add the flour a ½ cup at a time

7. pour 1/3  of the mixture into a 18cm heart shaped tin and cook for c. 30 mins

8. cook three layers of the cake and leave to cool

To make the ganache

  1. bring the cream to a boil.  Remove it from the heat and add the chocolate in small pieces.
  2. Keep stirring the mixture until all the chocolate has melted
  3. Add the chopped nuts

To finish the cake

  1. sandwich the layers with the ganache
  2. cover the top of the      cake and sides with the remaining ganache
  3. add Baci to the top

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Florentine factory

19 Dec

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The apartment kitchen turned into a Florentine factory

One of my favourite MacCulloch recipies is our Florentine recipe, with it’s medley of flaked almonds, dried fruits and dark chocolate.  There are so many different recipes for making this wonderful sweet treat but I’ve never found one that I enjoy quite as much.  One of it’s great strengths is that you can add pretty much anything to the mix to customise them. Adding crystalised ginger for example gives them a sophisticated feel which works beautifully with the dark chocolate. I’m quite happy to make them time of the year (the heat of summer is probably not a good idea though!) but they work particularly well at Christmas when the addition of some red and green glace cherries give them an especially festive air.

The other element of our version which I love is the fact that it’s so simple, if a little messy.  The element which makes it so straightforward is rice paper, which is used in sheet form for baking the Florentines.  After the baked Florentines have cooled the surplus rice paper can be broken away and the backs covered with chocolate.  However, in the last few years I’ve noticed that rice paper has become more and more difficult to find (I think that there’s a similarity here with the disappearance of angelica) and where it used to be a commonplace on supermarket baking shelves now its place seems to have been usurped by gelatine for all those trendy jelly makers out there (though how much of this is actually sold I’ve no idea).  I live in fear of rice paper disappearing altogether and being unable to make my Florentines but luckily good old Lakeland sells fantastic packs of A4 sheets which I keep buying in industrial quantities.

As I started writing this post I was reminded that I often wonder why Florentines are called Florentines.  Others seem to have the same thought.  Emiko Davies in Honest Cooking has a great article which delves into the history and concludes that they probably have their origins in 17th century French kitchens in honour of Catherine d’Medici.  If anyone has any other thoughts on the history of Florentine I’d love to hear more.

  IMG_3709 The chocolate coating begins!

When Mr Kim asked me to think about a gift for his office which had a few Kim characteristics making the Florentines seemed like an obvious choice, in their miniature, petit four format as a filler for the main gift.  With 24 people in the office I needed quite a few Florentines and so turned our apartment kitchen in something of a Florentine factory.  When they were packaged up four to a cellophane bag and tied with some narrow green ribbon they were just perfect for fitting in the Japanese fish dishes which formed the Mr Kim part of the present.

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The finished Florentines (apologies for the dark photograph – the light kept reflecting on the cellophane)

In case anyone is interested in this Florentine version here’s the recipe:

MacCulloch Florentines

3oz butter

4oz icing sugar

6oz dried fruit (I use various mixtures but usually with a base of raisins, currants and mixed peel.  Glace cherries, pistachios and dried cranberries can add colour, crystalised ginger an elegant taste)

4oz flaked almonds

squeeze of lemon juice

sheets of rice paper

4oz dark chocolate (I like using Lindt 70% cocoa)

  1. Melt the butter over a low heat and add the icing sugar.  Stir until well mixed.
  2. Add the dried fruit, almonds and lemon juice. Stir well.
  3. Place in the refrigerator for half an hour to cool
  4. Line two baking sheets with rice paper and spoon piles of the mixture onto the sheets in the desired size.
  5. Bake in a 180/250 degree oven for c.10 minutes (the time will depend on the size so watch carefully!)
  6. Place on a baking rack to cool and when cold break off the surplus rice paper; Rest on sheets of kitchen towel.
  7. Melt the dark chocolate in a bain marie and spoon onto the backs of the Florentines.  Rest on kitchen towel chocolate side up and allow to cool
  8. Eat and enjoy!

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messy but very moreish!

A tale of confection

22 Sep

The Laura Secord chocolate

As I was reading up on my Toronto history the other day I discovered that Canada has a confectionery heroine.  It’s the bicentenary this year of the War of 1812 when America declared war on Britain assuming that victory in Canada would be certain …..

The heorine in questions is Laura Secord who in 1813 epically trekked 20 miles early one midsummer’s morning to warn the British forces of American plans for attack and thereby saving hundreds of lives.  Her tale has all the right elements for a heroine’s story; she was tended her wounded soldier husband when she heard of the attack plans, she was helped by native peoples to reach the British forces and pretty soon after her momentous journey became recognised for her bravery and determination.  However, it took some fifty or so years before she received more concrete tokens of gratitude for her efforts – in 1860 the then Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, on a visit to Canada rewarded the aged Secord with a £100 pension.

What I particularly like about the Secord story is the way it’s attracted additional elements added to build a truly romantic picture of the war heroine.  As Stephen Marche points out in the Walrus magazine ‘she did not do so while leading a cow. Nor was she barefoot. Although we can all agree that it would have made for a better story if she had been barefoot and leading a cow.’ Whatever the simplicity at the core of Secord’s story there’s nothing like a few pastoral embellishments to enhance a tale of selfless courage.   But whether shoed or barefoot, and with or without a cow Secord’s actions have become some of the most well known from the War of 1812.

And long lasting fame has such a sweet taste to it, in the form of Laura Secord’s chocolates; imagine that, a whole chocolate company named after you!  Such an accolade has to be worth a 20 mile hike. The first Laura Secord shop was opened in 1913 (there’s an centenary just round the corner, I wonder if that’s a free chocolate kind of event?) and by the end of the 1960s there were Secord shops from coast to coast.

Laura Secord stores in the 60s and today

I thought that it would be wrong not to try them so below is the selection I picked up from a local Secord store:

The swirling milk chocolate ball at the back had whole almonds inside, rather like an almond version of Roses hazel whirl, the pumpkins (obligatory I felt at this time of year) were milk chocolate beneath the orange, as were the Laura Secord cameo chocolates and the final chocolate at the bottom left was a French crisp which was recommended when I asked for something praliney but was perhaps a little more brittle than I’d have liked. 

The anatomy of a pumpkin; the chocolate reminded me of Cadbury’s Roses. 

The Secord chocolates are not above their own bit of mythologising, giving the profile of Laura on their signature chocolate and logo a distinctly mid-nineteenth century feel than the more severe regency appearance she might have had; a bit more American Civil War (via Gone with the Wind) than the War of 1812 in the style of Jane Austen.   Still I’m more than happy with any excuse to mix chocolate and history and I’m looking forward to seeing what cocoa filled legacy is created for 2013.