Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Bun Came Out of the Oven

This is why I'm not posting much these days! We're very happy to welcome our third daughter to our family. I should soon have a lot of helping hands around the kitchen! But if they prefer to play soccer with their father, that's fine with me too.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Chocolate Mousse and Decorative Cookies

Update May 11:

(For comments on this second batch of cookies see below.)

This dessert deserves photos with better lighting, as well as more practice on my part. But such as this first attempt turned out, I'll post about it now before I run out of time (8 days till baby comes!). And next time I make it again I'll add new photos to this post.

Easy, tasty, light and fun
Both the chocolate mousse and the cookies were very easy to make, and the combination is fun and tasty, which makes it post-worthy in my book! The mousse is airy and quite light, as it contains no butter or cream, and 4 egg whites for a single egg yolk. Also, very little sugar. The cookies are extremely quick to make, and while not exceptionally delicious on their own, they add a nice crunchy back-drop to the mousse. They also offer lots of room for creativity. I've always liked drawing and decorative arts in general, and I enjoy drawing or writing with/on food.

A French classic
I found the recipes on chocolat & caetera, whose author Guillemette is currently reviewing the classics in simple French desserts, such as crème brûlée, crèmes au chocolat etc.

Good consistency
I hadn't made mousse au chocolat in a long time, and memories of my last attempts include runny bottom layers where the egg white returned to its original liquid state. This time the mousse survived overnight refrigeration with no alteration of the consistency, or rather an improvement thereof.

Cookies can be piped with a plastic sandwich bag
I think I can improve on the cookies, as I carelessly used a little too much flour, which made the batter slightly too thick for piping elegant shapes. For piping I just placed the batter in a plastic sandwich bag, pushed it all toward a corner and then snipped off a small opening with scissors.

Kid-friendly recipes
As always, my yardstick for easy recipes is whether I can multitask while making them. In this case I made the chocolate mousse while preparing dinner for the family (I had to rewarm the chocolate mixture to get it to 40°C). The next day I made the cookies between picking up my children from daycare and preparing dinner. Under their attentive and sometimes disruptive supervision... An added bonus is the children's delight at seeing their initials or names written in cookie-dough!

Raw eggs
Whoops, I just realized that this perfect mousse recipe has one drawback: it uses raw eggs. Not that the French ever seem to worry about that -- maybe I should have, being pregnant! -- but I prefer to point it out, for those who are careful about these things.

Recipe: Chocolate Mousse
Source: Chocolat & Caetera
Original source: Pierre Hermé, Larousse du chocolat

- 170g dark chocolate (70%) (6 oz.)
[I used 150g]
- 8cl whole milk (1/3 of a cup)
[I used partly skimmed milk]
- 1 egg yolk
- 4 egg whites
- 20g sugar (a little over 1 1/2 Tbspns)

1. Break the chocolate in small pieces and melt gently over simmering water. Bring the milk to a boil.
2. Remove chocolate from heat source and whisk the milk into the melted chocolate until smooth.
3. Add the egg yolk and mix.
4. Beat the egg whites (with a pinch of salt if you wish), adding the sugar gradually once they form soft peaks. Egg whites must be quite firm.
5. Once the chocolate mixture is barely warm to the touch (40°C, or 104°F), mix in one third of the egg whites, then very gently fold in the rest of the egg whites with a rubber spatula.
[Guillemette did not specify this recommendation concerning the temperature of the chocolate mixture. I found it directly in Hermé's book. Maybe it's not particularly important. Also Guillemette melts the chocolate by chopping it fine and pouring the hot milk over it, which saves time too.]
6. Pour into a large bowl or into individual cups and chill for one hour or longer. (Can be made a day ahead).

Recipe: Decorative chocolate cookies
Source: Chocolat & Caetera

- 50g flour (1/3 of a cup or a little more)
- 10g unsweetened cocoa (1 Tbspn?)
- 60g sugar (a tad less than 1/3 of a cup)
- 1/2 tspn ground cumin
[I omitted the ground cumin because of the children, but would be interested to try it on a more grown-up audience]
- 1 egg white
- 30g melted butter (a little over 2 Tbspns)

Mix all ingredients, spread thinly with the back of a spoon or pipe the batter on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, and bake for 5 minutes in a pre-heated 180°C oven. The cookies slide off the paper and become hard as they cool.

[I told you it was easy!]

Update May 11: Comments on batch number 2

I had to give this recipe another try. The cookies came out too thick again, even though (because?) I added a little milk to make the batter more liquid. But I may have snipped too large a corner off the plastic bag I used for piping, causing the ribbon of batter to come out too thick. And since it was runny, it was hard to stop the flow between forms. I'll keep working on it!

Also if the cookies are bumpy it's because I used my home-made vanilla sugar, which was a little lumpy. Finer sugar would make for smoother cookies.

What I really like about this recipe is that it's sturdy enough to allow the creation of large shapes. Yes I had some breakage, but creating a few backup names for events such as birthday parties would be no major extra effort.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Experimenting with Meringues and Chocolate

Who would ever guess these pale-looking flecked meringues pack a strong, bittersweet chocolate flavor? Again, I had extra egg whites to dispose of after making lemon tartlets for a dinner guest, and thought this might be a chance to try another recipe from my favorite cookbook of the moment, Bittersweet. Meringues keep for a long time, so I could just make them, pack them in a box and forget about them.

They're very easy to make, and are surprisingly chocolatey when you bite into them. And yet, I'm not sure I would eat them on their own very gladly. Perhaps the chocolate I used (72% cocoa) is too bitter. Perhaps I'm not a huge fan of meringues. But I think they would work well as a decoration or base for a dessert with other flavors.

Recipe: Chocolate Meringues
Source: Alice Medrich, Bittersweet
(Recipe somewhat abbreviated)

- 5 ounces (140g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 2/3 cup fine sugar (133g) (you can process regular sugar in food processor to make it finer)
- 3 large egg whites, room temperature
- 1/8 tspn salt
- 1/8 tspn cream of tartar (I'm sure you can do without if you don't have any)
- 1 to 2 TB unsweetened cocoa powder (optional, I didn't use any)

1. Preheat oven to 200°F (95°C). Line baking sheet with parchment paper. You can draw circles on the paper if you want to make meringue disks for building a dessert.
2. Pulse chocolate with about 1/3 of the sugar in a food processor, until it looks like fine crumbs.
3. Beat the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar, taking 1 to 1 ½ minutes. The meringue should stand in very stiff glossy peaks when the beaters are lifted.
4. Pour all of the ground chocolate mixture over the meringue and fold it in with a large rubber spatula just until incorporated. If you are using a pastry bag, scrape the meringue into the bag. Pipe large circles or small meringue shapes as you wish. Use a fine strainer to sprinkle the tops of the meringues lightly with cocoa, if desired.
5. Bake for 2 hours. Turn off the oven and let the meringues cool completely in the turned-off oven. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

* * *

I was about to hit "publish" when I remembered another recent experience with meringues and chocolate, which I actually did enjoy eating very much, and which luckily I thought to photograph for a possible future post.

I made these with the left-over meringue batter from my last celebration cake, Meringue d'automne. I then sandwiched some of the left-over chocolate mousse between two meringues, and voilà, yummy little treats. I'll post the recipe for the meringues below, as I think this recipe makes for more tender meringues than the one above. As for the mousse, I'll post it later when I finally get around to giving the full recipe for the Meringue d'automne cake. Just so you know, it's very rich in butter, which may be a good thing to insulate the meringues so they don't get soggy.

Recipe: Meringues
Source: Pierre Hermé, Larousse du Chocolat

- 4 egg whites
- 200g (1 cup) sugar
- 1 vanilla bean

1. Preheat oven to 120°C
2. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out its seeds.
3. Whip the egg whites at medium speed, while sprinkling, from the beginning, and very gradually, half the sugar, and then the vanilla seeds. Continue whipping until the eggs are quite stiff, shiny and firm.
4. Pour in the rest of the sugar gently and very carefully fold it in with a spatula, taking care not to work the egg whites too long to avoid deflating them.
5. Pour batter in pastry bag and pipe shapes (disks, individual meringues) on parchment-paper lined baking sheet.
6. Place baking sheet in the oven, close door but prop a wooden spoon to keep it open a crack. Bake for 20 minutes at 120°C, then lower the temperature to 100°C. Bake for another 1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the meringues dry out for 2 or 3 hours, leaving the spoon in the oven door. Let the meringues cool on a rack.

* * *

And on a final note, since I've decided to cover all my meringue and chocolate experimenting -- but sadly here I have no picture -- the first recipe should not be confused with Melting Chocolate Meringues, also from Bittersweet. This recipe uses melted chocolate and nuts to make "deceptively light and delicately crusted" cookies that are "moist and meltingly bittersweet within." I've made these several times in the past and they were delicious.

The only thing is they never came out very pretty for me, which is why I haven't posted about them (honestly I have to remember to make them small or they look like something you might find in a cow field... sorry). But you can find some good posts about this recipe on Fool for Food (in German) or Brownie Points (in English). And if I ever do make a pretty batch, I'll be sure to take a photo and update this post.

* * *

Whoops, I'm not done yet! By coincidence, the same night I made the top-most recipe two other bloggers posted about meringues: Again, Fool for Food with these tasty-looking raspberry meringues, and these ethereal maple meringues on Jumbo Empanadas.