Friday, February 12, 2010

Hubba ♥ Hubba

I've never been the romantic type, but I do enjoy Valentine's Day. Perhaps it's because it's synonymous with chocolate...specifically truffles and fondue [insert drool sound here]. They are the perfect sweets to share with your sweet (or yourself) and are simple to whip up.
Of course, the quality of the chocolate is key to a decadent truffle or fondue, since it's the primary ingredient. Callebaut, Guittard and Valrhona are three brands that always rate high in taste, but may be difficult to locate at your local store. In a pinch I find that Ghiradelli or Lindt work just as well. I prefer to use bittersweet chocolate, since it has a richer taste and pairs especially well with liqueurs in recipes that call for the two.

Baileys Irish Creme Chocolate Truffles
Adapted from the Food Network
  • 1 pound bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup of Baileys Irish Creme (I used the mint variety)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, confectioners' sugar, sweetened ground chocolate, or finely chopped nuts
Put the chocolate in a bowl. In a small saucepan or microwave, heat the cream to a boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and shake the bowl gently to settle the cream. Cover with a plate or lid and set aside until the chocolate melts, about 5 minutes. Whisk the mixture until smooth and shiny. Stir in the rum or other flavoring. Cover the surface of the chocolate with plastic wrap. Set aside in a cool place until the chocolate firms up, about 2 hours. (To speed this up set the bowl of chocolate over another bowl of ice and stir until the desired consistency.)

Line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper. Use 2 spoons to drop small mounds/balls of chocolate, about 1/2 to 1-inch high on the paper (depending on the size you want). Then chill your hands under a faucet of running cold water or by using an ice bath. Roll each chocolate mound between your open palms to make smooth round balls.

Pour the cocoa or coating of choice into a cake pan or on a plate. Roll the truffles in the coating or use a clean spoon to pour the coating on the truffles. Repeat with all the truffles. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes approximately 24 large truffles.

Chocolate Fondue
Adapted from Michael Chiarello
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon cabernet sauvignon
Combine the sugar, heavy cream, chocolate, and butter together in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter and chocolate have melted and the mixture is smooth.

Remove the bowl from the skillet and add wine and whisk together. Transfer to a fondue pot with a flame underneath. Serve with pound cake cubes, strawberries, and biscotti bits on the side, for dipping.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

In search of the perfect flan

I'm such a huge fan of custard desserts: pot de crème, crème brûlée and of course, crème caramel (familiarly known as flan).

I'll admit that I have yet to make THE perfect flan. One with a silky light custard and a caramel top that's the lovely color of amber. The texture cannot be too runny or too "eggy".

In the past, I had always made flan using the more common method of adding condensed milk, but I found it to be a little too sweet and dense. I ran across this recipe which uses heavy cream in lieu of the condensed milk, so I thought I'd give it a try. The original recipe is your standard caramel vanilla flan; I just added the orange for a little extra flavor.

Orange Flan
Adapted from Tyler Florence's Flan recipe on the Food Network
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • zest of 1/2 large orange
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped OR 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks

To create the caramel: Combine 1 cup of the sugar and 1/4 cup of orange juice in a heavy-bottomed pot or pan. Place over medium-high heat and cook until the sugar begins to melt. Swirl the pan over the heat until the syrup darkens to a medium amber color, about 10 minutes; don't stir with a spoon. Remove from the heat and immediately pour into a 2-quart round flan mold. Tilt the dish so that the caramel evenly coats the bottom and a bit up the sides, place in the roasting pan and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, bring a kettle of water to a boil for the water bath and keep it hot.

Combine 1/2 cup of orange juice, cream, citrus zest, and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium-low flame. Bring the cream to a brief simmer, stirring occasionally. Take care not to let the cream come to a full boil to prevent it from spilling over.

In a large bowl, cream together the whole eggs and yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Whisk until the mixture is pale yellow and thick. Temper the egg mixture by gradually whisking in the hot cream mixture; don't add it too quickly or the eggs will cook. Pass the mixture through a strainer into a large measuring cup to ensure that the flan will be perfectly smooth. Pour the custard into the caramel-coated mold.

To create the water bath: pour the hot (not boiling) water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the side of the mold; be careful not get water into the custard. Carefully transfer to the middle oven rack, and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the custard is barely set and just jiggles slightly. Let the flan cool in the water bath, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to serve, run a knife around the inside of the mold to loosen the flan. Place a dessert plate on top of the flan and invert to pop it out.

Flan is not a difficult dessert to make, although achieving a good caramel may take some practice. My latest attempt turned out a bit light (boo!). I guess I take a more conservative approach when caramelizing sugar, especially since you can go from a nice amber color to destroying your most prized piece of All-Clad cookware in a matter of a few minutes. In any case, this was pretty tasty and I would definitely make it again.