Chocolate Making Tips

Chocolate

Candy is one of my favorite things to make. Over the years, I’ve made my fair share of marshmallows, caramel, truffles and toffee. However, where I always struggle is adding chocolate to these delectable treats. It seems like that should be the easiest part- heat up some chocolate and dunk. My experience has not been that simple. Chocolate is a fickle food.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop at Rachel Dunn Chocolates in Concord, CA. This class was ideal for me. The fillings were made and the whole class was about dipping. Here are my takeaways:

  1. Use More Chocolate: You need more than what the recipe requires in order to avoid the scrapping the bowl to cover the final chocolate moment (my biggest downfall). Give yourself enough chocolate to have a good dip by keeping an extra two to three pounds on hand as starter chocolate. Use both the amount suggested and your starter chocolate. When you are done dipping, pour and spread the extra chocolate out on the counter. If you’ve tempered it properly, you can use it as your starter chocolate next time.
  2. Dip and Flip: When dipping items in chocolate, it felt right to dip and then slide the tool out. This method results in a mess. Instead, dip the chocolate and flip it so that the your tool is on top. It helps give an even coat. Think about the truffles you see in stores with little peaks artfully on the top…yup, dip and flip.
  3. Stir the Chocolate: Chocolate likes to set. To help prevent it from setting, stir the chocolate. It needs to be stirred from the outside in. However, if the outside starts to set, do not include that area in your stir.
  4. Be Aware of your Surroundings: That draft in your house? It impacts the chocolate too. Be aware of the temperature changes as you dip. Some methods recommended for the home cook to keep chocolate at the right temperature includes hot pads with linen layering and keeping a warm oven open.
  5. Thickness Matters: Ok, first get your mind out of the gutter! We are talking about different types of candy needing different types of shells. Consider the filling and what type of thickness would compliment it. For example, a truffle is great with a thin shell. To create the right thickness, tap on the edge of the chocolate bowl to get rid of excess chocolate (more tapping= thinner).
  6. Cool the Chocolate: This one is a little more tricky. Once you are done with the chocolate, you want it to cool immediately. However, if you are somewhere it is hot, that might not happen. Pop the chocolate into the fridge for a couple of minutes. However, don’t leave it in for too long or you may get a sugar bloom.

Hope these tips help with your future chocolate endeavors. Happy chocolate making!

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March (very late): Walnut Dacquoises

Yes, April is almost over and my March recipe is going up. Eeek. I promise that I did make this in March!

Passover and Easter came early this year. We celebrate both in my household which made for an interesting Easter brunch (more on that later). For Passover dinner I was assigned the task of making dessert. The tricky thing about Passover is that you are not suppose to use any leavening agent. For the record, baking powder and baking soda are two very close friends of mine in the kitchen. For that reason, it gave me the perfect opportunity to try out a new recipe from Martha Stewart- walnut dacquoises with apples and ice cream.

Walnut Dacquoises

Here are my take aways if you decide to make it:

  • Be prepared to buy a lot of walnuts and honey: These are probably the most expensive ingredients. Watch for walnuts on sale or it may be worth the trip to Costco.
  • Skip the pastry bag: I did not have a tip large enough to use my pastry bag. To skip the headache of running to the store, I put the walnut mixture in a ziplock bag and cut off the corner. It makes for a beautiful clean up. This is also not a recipe where you need a fancy tip.
  • Reduce the butter: I love butter. However, the ratio of honey, butter and apples seemed off. The apples were swimming in the sauce. My goal was to just infuse additional flavor into the apples. I think you could cut the butter and honey in half. It should be noted that I did double my recipe.
  • The ice cream is delicious by itself: This was my first time adding things into store bought ice cream. I did two varieties: (1) Breyers Natural Vanilla and (2) vanilla almond milk (for the lactose intolerant crowd). The honey walnuts added a delicious flavor. I would consider making just the ice cream part again for an easy dessert.
  • It is a rich dessert: Everyone seemed to enjoy the dessert. However, it is very rich. After a big meal it may push you into the uncomfortably full zone. This would be best served with a lighter dinner.

One last thing I did want to share was our Passover friendly Easter brunch menu. Here is what was served:

  • Vegetable hash with eggs: Awesome recipe that makes you feel healthy. I cut down on the potatoes and added some butternut squash to the mix.
  • Chicken apple sausage: Standard Aidells sausage.
  • Fruit salad
  • Champagne
  • Homemade fruit juice: Apple and pear.
  • Tea

Setting the table is always fun. I did geek out and fold the napkins into bunnies. Yes, my brother and I spent a fair amount of our free time as children practicing napkin folding techniques. Don’t judge 🙂

Table set Breakfast

February: Lemon Cupcakes with Strawberry Frosting

Lemon cupcakes with strawberry frosting

Happy Valentine’s Day! To celebrate the day, I opted to make cupcakes. Strawberry lemonade is one of my favorite treats. I decided that I needed to make it into a cupcake.

For the base, I used a wonderful lemon cupcake recipe from the Stir. The cake is a bit more dense than traditional cake. However, it is very moist.

silicon vs. tinFor this baking session, I tried using free-standing silicon cupcake holders and a traditional tin. The cakes looked so different! Can you guess which one is the silicon?

The silicon is on the left. The cupcake liners did not fit well so the cakes had an uneven bottom and one edge popping in. The traditional tin sheet gave the cakes a brown edge from the pan. Overall, I preferred the color of the silicon but the shape of the tin. I may need to invest in a silicon pan that is a solid piece of silicon.

For the frosting, I made a decadent strawberry buttercream from my baking addiction. However, I found that the strawberry flavor was not strong enough. It is most likely because strawberries are out of season. I ended up adding two more tablespoons of strawberries to the frosting with some powder sugar to thicken it back up. After a frosting disaster with my decorating bag, I gave up and went with the old fashion smooth frosting style.

To add a little wow to cupcakes since the frosting was so plain, I opted to make hearts from strawberries. Here is a Vine of my cutting technique:

Super Bowl Sunday

Image

The Super Bowl is a great time to go shopping. The malls are empty and it is the time of year when you can start to look at spring clothes. However, with the 49ers playing this year, I felt that as a resident of SF, I needed to watch the game. It was a good game with a rough ending.

The highlight of a Super Bowl party is the extremes of sweet and salty food. I took the game as an opportunity to make pretzels for the first time with cheese sauce. The recipe was posted on Pinterest from the site Smells Like Home. Although it took more time than I originally anticipated, the work was worth it. I doubled the batch and was pleased that I did. However, my mixer had mixed feelings about handling that much dough. The cheese sauce was OK. Next time I may try to make a sour cream or ranch sauce with chives.

On the tech side of the world, it is great to see the evolution of big companies using social media. @Oreo rocked it. With the power outage they quickly came up with a witty tweet. Articles today credit the fact that they had a team setup with complete control to execute on a real time campaign. The work really paid off in terms of buzz. I would be curious though if they will be able to correlate it back to Oreo sales.

January: Homemade Pop-Tarts

Pop-tartBaking is a lot of fun for me. However, I never seem to make enough time for it. That is why my resolution this year is to bake one new recipe a month. It will give me an excuse at least once a month to roll up my sleeves and bust out the apron.

This month I decided to try homemade Pop-Tarts. Yes, as a child I enjoyed those cardboard like pastries. There is something so amazing about putting a pastry in the toaster. The warm filling…ah.  When I was tempted by the box on my way through the grocery store, I decided to resist and instead try it at home.

I used a recipe from Smitten Kitchen. The filling combinations are endless. However, I decided to stick to the basics for my first batch. Half were apricot pineapple jam (ok maybe a not so basic flavor) and the other half were brown sugar cinnamon. Some other future combinations to consider:

  • Smores: Use mini marshmallows or leftover homemade marshmallows plus chocolate chips. With the dough change out the sugar for honey and replace some of the all-purpose flour with graham flour.
  • Nutella + Bananas + Sea Salt: My mother saw this brilliant combination on a cooking program after I’d made my batch.
  • Two jams together: Perhaps I ate too many seasonal Pop-Tarts but I recall flavors that were combinations of colors. What about a blueberry and strawberry jam swirl?
  • Lemon curd: The tang of the lemon would help pack a punch to these buttery treats. Consider a simple icing over the top once they are fully cooled.

Ultimately the exterior was like making pie crust. If you decide to make Pop-Tarts here are the lessons I learned from my first batch:

  • If you have a food processor use it. The recipe gave multiple options. I like the ease and clean up of the food processor.
  • The dough does show the pea size butter chunks in it when you are rolling it out. Don’t be worried.
  • If using a jam filling, thicken the jam while the dough is chilling. The jam needs time to cool too or else it will start to melt the dough. I mistakenly did it later and had to shove the jam in the freezer.
  • When poking holes in the dough, I used a fork like the recipe recommended. However, you may want to consider a toothpick or bamboo skewer instead to have more control over where the holes are placed.

Let me know if you try making them. I would love to hear about the filling you use!

2012 Food Flashback

Looking back at the last year is a funny way to start a blog. However, I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. It only makes sense to share a few delicious highlights of 2012.

Chicago-style hot dog

Pasta

Carrots

January: A wonderful trip to Chicago. At the Wilmette Chuck Wagon, I enjoyed my first Chicago-style hot dog.

February: Made pasta from scratch for the first time. A rolling-pin played substitute for a proper drying rack. Fresh pasta is much tastier than the stuff you buy at the store. Ravioli are on my list to try next.

March: With the arrival of the endless supply of girl scout cookies purchased earlier in the year, little room was left for any baking. However, my rediscovery of the Dutch Baby at the Original Pancake House was glorious.

April: Harvesting carrots of the winter season was thrilling but the carrot size was a little disappointing. I have so much more respect for the farmers who sell carrots at the market.

Alton BrownJamBirthday Pancakes

May: Attended the Cooking for Solutions at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (highly recommend the event) with my wonderful mom. At the event we had the opportunity to go to the book signing of one of my cooking idols, Alton Brown.

June: My first batch of cucumbers became ready for pickling. The results were varied. I made the mistake of adding some sugar to one batch and was not happy to discover I’d essentially made bread and butter pickles.

July: My family jammed together. By that I mean we made a ton of jam together. The volume was somewhere around a gallon (maybe two). Flavors included peach, apricot and apricot-pineapple (the family favorite).

August: Enjoyed some amazing food at Outside Lands. However, the food highlight of the month was cake batter pancakes for my birthday.

Baby shower cookiesThanksgiving dinnerHoliday Party

September: Had fun making sugar cookies for a baby shower in duck and moon shapes.

October: Devoured an incredible surprise cake at Simply Hired. The chocolate was drool worthy. Thank you Simply Hired!

November: Thanksgiving was of course the food highlight. Found an awesome recipe for butternut squash soup that cuts the time down over normal soup (no squash roasting). My family also enjoyed the two giant loaves of bread that I picked up from Tartine. The olive bread was a treat.

December: Hosted a holiday gathering. Treats included a hot chocolate station with homemade peppermint marshmallows and star-shaped plain marshmallows, nutella fudge, the softest sugar cookies I’ve ever made (thanks Pinterest) and cookie dough pops. I’ve pinned all of the holiday recipes to my  Sweet Treats Pinterest Board.