Friday, October 2, 2009

Whipped Dark Chocolate Truffles and Key Lime Passion Truffles

For my second visit to Maryland, I baked a few of my favorites- with a few twists. I absolutely adore chocolate, especially dark chocolate, and proudly consider myself a chocolate purist. I figured, however, that for the occasion I should mix it up and try something new.

Wanting to bring something attractive, I finally settled on chocolate truffles and giant bakery-style cookies. I made both white and dark chocolate truffles, as I wasn't sure of anybody's preference (hey, I was covering my bases!). For a spin on my normal white and dark chocolate ganache recipes, I went with Key Lime Passion White Chocolate Truffles and also Whipped Dark Chocolate Chambord Truffles.

I haven't any photos of the ganache-making (I was covered in chocolate and working quickly, it's tough being the baker/photographer) but I can give a basic outline of the steps. Like most things I make, I do not have or use a recipe, but I can give basic amounts and ingredients in case anybody would like to make these or something similar.

As a general rule, I start my dark chocolate ganache with 1 pound of good bittersweet chocolate (whatever you use, make sure that it is good quality, and something that is high enough cocoa percentage to not be too sweet but also low enough that it will melt properly) and 1 cup of heavy cream. To my ganache, I added Chambord, good vanilla extract, and strong prepared coffee. After letting the prepared ganache cool and become firm, I whipped it until it was light and fluffy. I dipped each whipped center in dark melted chocolate, then decorated with an extra drizzle of dark chocolate and dark chocolate sprinkles.

I make white chocolate ganache slightly differently, using less cream and also sometimes adding a small amount of unsalted butter. Grand Marnier pairs well with white chocolate, and to these I also added fresh key lime juice, some key lime zest, vanilla, and passion fruit extract. I dipped these in dark chocolate (I like the contrast of the sweeter white chocolate with the slightly bitter dark chocolate- I feel that dipping them in white chocolate makes them too sweet) and decorated with "lime wedges" I made with white chocolate, green food coloring, and coarse sparkling sugar.

My inspiration for these cookies comes from a NY Times article which was released on my birthday in 2008. (A sign? Perhaps.) The article discusses the quest for the "Perfect" chocolate chip cookie, and is complete with a recipe. After trying the original recipe days later, I made a few changes and came up with my own version to suit my tastes. While the cookie in the recipe truly was delicious, I couldn't help but make a few alterations :)

I use salted butter, increase the amount of brown sugar and decrease the amount of white sugar (I used maybe 1/2c white), and use a mix of all-purpose and cake flour. (I prefer chewy cookies). Also, if you make these, I would suggest scooping the cookies as soon as you finish your dough and before you chill them- otherwise, you will run out of man power by your third cookie scoop and your pretty chocolate discs will have suffered some serious injuries. I also used a mixture of dark chocolate discs and white chocolate pieces. I highly suggest using discs/thin slices of chocolate as opposed to chips. The discs spread out while they bake, and give you beautiful thin layers of chocolate and cookie. I've counted 8 layers of chocolate before near the center!

Caramel Cake Cravings

A few months ago, I went through an intense and insatiable craving for caramel cake. This wasn't the sort of craving which could be satiated by a store-bought caramel, or even a bag of store bought caramels. It had to be a caramel cake, and I had to make it. In my desperate haste for satisfaction, I researched some caramel cake recipes and tips, eventually coming up with my own.

I started by making a basic caramel syrup with roughly 2 cups of sugar and 1.5 cups of water. Cook on high until the syrup becomes dark amber, making sure to brush down any crystals that form on the sides. Once the desired color is reached, quickly add 1 cup of water to stop the cooking process. BEWARE, this step is dangerous! The syrup does not take kindly to the water addition, and will pop and spit all over the place if you aren't careful. I (thankfully) was wearing long sleeves, but in the 2 seconds it took me to pour in the water, give a stir, and reach for a lid, my kitchen had received a caramelized sugar syrup makeover, and it was not fun to clean up :)

The syrup, while quite a hazard to my body and my kitchen, was delicious. Essentially, it tasted like the caramelized sugar topping to a Crème brûlée. Extra syrup is a great addition to coffee or spiced tea, giving it a festive touch.

I love cakes with layers. The more layers, the better. It makes for a beautiful cake, and really allows you to be versatile and creative with what you put between your layers. I used a basic yellow cake mix, and baked it into (I think) 8 layers. You can do this by either baking it in large amounts and then slicing it into layers, or by baking each layer individually. I prefer to bake each layer separately- this way, every layer has the same texture, it is not as crumbly, and I don't have to worry about messing up perfect layers.

For the frosting, I made a simple recipe with butter, vanilla, confectioner's sugar, heavy cream, and some of my caramel syrup. I did not use or write a recipe for this, but started with maybe 2 sticks of butter and added my other ingredients until the desired flavor and consistency was achieved. I do not like my desserts to be terribly sweet, and this icing is already extremely sweet in large amounts, so I initially iced my cake very thin (by adding more heavy cream to the frosting) then added more confectioner's sugar to the rest in order for it to be thick enough to decorate. The decorating was the best part! I did a very thin coating of frosting on each layer, alternately brushing the layers with caramel syrup. As long as you use a very little amount of each, it makes the cake wonderfully moist and not too sweet.

To decorate the outside of the cake, I caramelized some sugar with the kitchen torch and randomly broke it over the top, along with some coarse demerara sugar. The sides of the cake were completed with a "basket weave" design (I used a flat ridged tip), and the top was adorned with "flowers" from the special flower tip Dad gave me for Christmas. Thanks dad!