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World Nutella Day: Pierre Herme’s Nutella Tart

World Nutella Day

I once ate a chocolate chip cookie that fell in the dirt. I wash ziplock bags and reuse them. I like taking the second-to-last item on a dish so someone else will feel guilty about taking the last one.

Up until I visited my first food blog three years ago, “I like to eat Nutella straight off my finger” would have joined the list of culinary confessions above. I was so crazy about that chocolate-hazelnut spread that I Googled it, which brought me to Il Forno’s post about Nutella’s 40th birthday. After reading about Nutella’s history in detail, I no longer felt like a nut. I may eaten a jar of Nutella in one week, but one girl finished it by the spoonful over three days.

Another case in point: Sara from Ms. Adventures in Italy and Shelley from At Home in Rome solemnly declare today “World Nutella Day” – a day to celebrate, to get creative with, and most importantly, to EAT Nutella.

I made a Nutella tart from Pierre Herme, known worldwide as the Picasso of Pastry. When I went to Paris last November, I bought a 6 Euro slice of cake and a 2 Euro macaroon from his store. Boy, were they worth it. All the textures and flavors were perfectly balanced. That man is a culinary engineer.

Nutella tart

The recipe was first posted on Il Forno’s site. It’s a mouth-shattering crust with a layer of Nutella, bittersweet chocolate cream, and toasted hazelnuts. A couple notes:

  • Use unsalted butter, or the salt will overpower the chocolate. If you only have regular butter, you can be a smart aleck and call it “salted chocolate hazelnut tart” (not that it’s my thing).
  • Drizzle the butter into the chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly. The mixture will want to split because it’s so greasy. I actually think silken tofu would make a fine substitute, but that’s another post.
  • You only need half the amount of hazelnuts called for: a half cup.
  • If you don’t have a tart pan, form the dough in a 9-inch springform pan, making the sides 1-inch tall.
  • People have complained that Herme’s tart dough is difficult to work with, so here’s a recipe from Into to Fine Baking at The New School’s Culinary Arts program.

Lynn’s Tart Dough – Pate Brisee aux Oeufs (French Pastry Dough with Eggs)

by Lynn Kutner

This dough is a dream to work with: it hardly sticks and can withstand heavy rolling. The secret ingredient, an egg, enriches the dough.

Take the extra effort to blind bake the dough so it keeps its shape. Brushing the crust with egg wash and sugar will make it stay crispy.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk (save the white to glaze the crust)
2 tablespoons ice water (a few more drops if necessary)

In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. With your fingers, rub in the butter until the mixture feels mealy (small bits of butter are still visible). Aerate the dough with your hands as you work.

In a measuring cup, add the egg yolk. Add water ALMOST to the 1/4 cup mark. (1/4 cup is the maximum total of egg and water)

Make a well in the flour-butter mixture and pour the liquid in the center. With a rubber spatula, flip the flour from the outside in. If the dough is too dry, break it up in the center and add a few more teaspoons of water.

Flatten the dough into a circle about 1/2″ to 3/4″-thick. Wrap in plastic and chill two hours to overnight.

If you chilled the dough overnight or froze it, let it sit at room temperature until it is pliable but not soft. If the dough cracks when you work it, let it heat up a little longer.

Lightly dust a rolling pin and work surface with flour. Roll the dough 1/8″-thick. Work from the center and roll in one direction, stopping just short of the edge. Turn the dough 90 degrees and continue till finished. Gently ease the dough into a tart mold and trim the edges. Cover with the surface plastic wrap or wax paper and freeze while you preheat the oven to 400 F.

When the oven is ready, prick the dough with a fork all over. Cover the dough with foil and weigh it down with raw dried beans, rice or metal pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is lightly colored.

Remove the foil. In a small bowl, combine the leftover egg white and a couple teaspoons of water. Brush the egg wash on the crust and sprinkle with a couple teaspoons of sugar. Return the crust to the oven and bake for until golden brown, about 5-10 minutes.

Related links:
Nutella cake
Su Good Sweets’ homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread recipe
All other Nutella posts

Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme

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Food bloggers’ potluck

pumpkin-stuffed leeks

Put 10 food bloggers in a room, and you get one of the most delicious potlucks ever. On Oct. 21, Danielle of Habeas Brulee hosted a food bloggers’ potluck in her Brooklyn home.

Danielle and her partner Dave were gracious hosts, respecting everyone’s food preferences, from no meat to no olives (but olive oil was fair game). There was too much good food to be had, so I regretably didn’t have a chance to try everything. The menu for the night:

French onion soup dumplings

Danielle made festive French onion soup dumplings. She made onion soup from scratch, carefully filled dumpling skins with them, steamed them, then broiled them with cheese and croutons.

Nicole of nex0s made pumpkin filled leeks topped with pomegranate molasses. These babies looked like tamales and had the perfect mix of sweet, sour, spicy and salty.

masa topping on casserole

Photo: Vannesscipes

Vanessa of Vanesscipes made a meal-in-one vegetarian casserole with sweet potatoes, beans and masa crust. Mmm, two of my favorite vegetables together!

Texas red chili
Photo: Homesick Texan

Lisa of Homesick Texan made authentic red chili. Chili with vegetables, she says, technically isn’t Texas red. I heard everyone oohing and ahhing over this one, and I regret not trying it.

proscuitto

Julie of A Finger in Every Pie made the most delicious appetizer: proscuitto wrapped figs and goat cheese. It was salty, sweet, crunchy and smooth at the same time. This dish makes me give up my vegan tendencies. She also made Pierre Herme’s korova cookies. It’s a chocolate sable (sandy shortbread) studded with fine bittersweet chocolate and a sprinkling of salt. Someone commented that I was thinking really hard when I ate these. Of course! Any time I eat chocolate, I savor the aromas. I’m usually not a fan of crispy cookies, but these sables were very good for what they were. Julie cooked up a storm, by the way.

pumpkin streusel bread
Photo: A Finger in Every Pie

She also made pumpkin streusel bread and fattoush (salad with pita croutons).

Tse Wei from Off the Bone made artisan bread. I didn’t try it till the end of my meal, because I assumed it was store-bought and wanted to save room for homemade goodies.

curried butternut squash-banana soup
Photo: Scrumptious Street

Stephanie of Scrumptious Street made the most amazing roasted butternut squash and banana soup. The banana made it creamy and balanced the spiciness of the curry powder. It was a great accompaniment to…

focaccia and other breads

Dave’s garlic focaccia with fleur de sel, one of the world’s most expensive salts. Thanks for busting out the good stuff for us! It was baked on a pizza stone, so it had a crackly crust. I’m still dreaming about this bread.

Queen of Sheba cake
Photo: Habeas Brulee

Dave also made Queen of Sheba cake with Scharffen Berger chocolate and cacao nib whipped cream. I’m not a fan of plain Scharffen Berger chocolate: it’s much too assertive, acidic and tannic for my tastes. Suprisingly, it worked beautifully when it was mixed in the virtually flourless cake. It was the best Queen of Sheba I’ve ever had. My only regret was not bringing more home. Not suprisingly, the recipe is from Alice Medrich. Man, my perfect meal would be Stephanie’s curry soup, Dave’s focaccia, a healthy side of beans and Dave’s chocolate cake.
Stephanie of Adventures of Pie Queen brought her mother’s carrot cake. I didn’t have a chance to try any, but I have a soft spot for my grandmother’s.

Last but not least, I brought my macaroons.

To be notified of future potlucks, subscribe to Habeas Brulee’s food bloggers’ mailing list. There is a dumpling part set for Jan. 21.

BTW, the first New York City food blogger potluck that I attended consisted of Chocolate and Zucchini fans. We met in June 2005 when the blog’s writer, Clotilde, visited New York to negotiate a book deal. My, how time flies. The book is finished and will appear in stores on May 15, 2007. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon.com.

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Mason of Chocolate

Pushing Chocolate Forward sign

Butter, sugar, flour and eggs are the building blocks of dessert. These four simple ingredients can create cakes, cookies and meringues. Now, thanks to restaurants such as New York’s wd-50, locust bean gum and carrageenan are the new staples.wd-50 is a play on words alluding to its owner, location, and the chemical compound, WD-40. Unlike the cleaning product though, everything at wd-50 is edible, all the way down to the fried mayonnaise and chocolate consomme (broth).On Oct. 7, wd-50’s former pastry chef, Sam Mason, made chocolate desserts at the French Culinary Institute’s Pushing Chocolate Forward event. Mason, who will open his own yet unnamed dessert bar at 525 Broome St. in SoHo in November, made his “classic” gelled desserts. Gelatin is typically used to set desserts, but there’s a myriad of other agents.

Agar (most commonly used in Chinese and Japanese custards/jellies), for example, sets at room temperature. However, it can also get crumbly and brittle, as I witnessed when I made vegan cashew cheddar “cheese.” Locust bean gum (derived from carob treas) and carrageenan (from red algae) are creamier. These ingredients sound scary, but they’re no more unnatural than gelatin. (You already eat locust bean gum and carrageenan if you eat commercial ice cream.) The only difference is that gelatin is widely available to home cooks.

It takes an experimental chef like Mason to figure out their applications. He takes into account flavor release, rigidity and tolerance to temperature. He even developed an eggless lemon curd with gellan so the eggs don’t get in the way of flavor.
Now that Mason has conquered gels, the next frontier is starches. Just like with gels, the Asians have already made good use of starches, specifically potato, tapioca, wheat and corn. They’re usually not used in Western desserts though. Mason is also excited about the new vacuum dryers, which allow cooks to fry food at 100 F. This device makes it possible to fry chocolate, which burns at 120F. Also, fried skittles turn into puffs.

Hopefully we’ll see these experiments at Mason’s new dessert bar, which will feature eight savory and eight dessert plates, a la carte. There will also be three or four five-course tasting menus.

During the Pushing Chocolate Forward event, Mason made soft chocolate gel with chocolate soil and bitter chocolate consomme with butternut squash gel. The chocolate was provided by E. Guittard, the artisan division of a family-owned San Francisco chocolate company.

E. Guittard is not to be confused with Guittard. The latter is the mass-market line available as chocolate chips and bulk bars (with cheap butterfat added). See’s Candy in California uses Guittard for their couverture (chocolate covering). It’s a workhorse chocolate but not artisan. E. Guittard, on the other hand, makes single-origin chocolates. My favorite is the Ambanja 65% from Madagascar, which tastes like sour cherries. Suprisingly, I didn’t like the 65% Sur del Lago from Venezuela as much. So much for my chocolate tasting map. E. Guittard makes tasty chocolate (Christopher Norman in New York uses their couverture), but I find the flavor to be one-noted and short, a common problem amongst lower end single-origin chocolates.

Below are the recipes from the demo. They are in grams and mililiters, since they’re more exact than cups. I’ll work on converting the measurements. Check out Foodite’s primer on molecular gastronomy (the innovative method that Mason uses) for more info on the space age-sounding ingredients.

Soft Chocolate Gel with Chocolate Soil

chocolate gel

by Sam Mason

The gel is magically creamy and solid at the same time. A topping that resembles crushed Oreo cookies provides a textural contrast. If you really want to walk on the wild side, sprinkle the top with salted pumpkin seeds. I’m not a fan of salty chocolate, but Mason believes that dessert should border on savory.

For the gel:

530 g cream
500 g 64% chocolate, chopped into small pieces
120 g sugar
600 ml water
1.6 g locust bean gum
1.6 g kappa carrageenan

Scald the cream and pour it over the chocolate and sugar. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

In another bowl, add the water, locust bean gum and carrageenan. Use a hand blender to combine thoroughly. Boil the mixture.

Whisk the hot gel and chocolate mixture together. Pour it into an 8″x8″ pan lined with plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours to set.

For the soil:

250 g sugar
250 g almond flour (very finely ground blanched almonds)
150 g all-purpose flour
102 g cocoa (can substitute coffee or freeze-dried corn powder)
5 g salt
125 g butter, melted

Whisk the dry ingredients together. Then stir in the melted butter and till the mixture looks mealy. Bake in a greased or parchment-lined 12″x8″ pan (also known as a half-sheet size pan) in a preheated 300 F oven for 15 min.

For the chocolate oil:

100 g dark chocolate
100 ml oil
15 g cocoa powder

Melt the chocolate and oil over low heat. Stir in the cocoa.

For the garnish:

Deep-fried or toasted pumpkin seeds
Salt to taste

To assemble:

Slice a piece of gel that’s 2 1/2″ x 1″ large and about 1/3″ thick. Sprinkle the top with chocolate soil, pumpkin seeds and a couple grains of salt. Garnish the edges with chocolate oil.

Bitter Chocolate Consomme with Butternut Squash Gel

chocolate consomme with butternut squash jelly

by Sam Mason

Chocolate consomme is chocolate-flavored water that has had its solids removed, resulting in a clear drink. Whisked egg whites draw up the “impurities.” After long simmering, the eggs whites are scooped away and the end product can be sipped like tea or used as a base for translucent sorbet.

clear chocolate consomme

For the consomme:

6 L water
1 kg chocolate
60 g cocoa
650 g egg whites
65 g cacao nibs

In a large pot (allow for at least 2″ of head space, or the mixture will boil over), whisk the water, chocolate and cocoa over low heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites and cacao nibs till frothy. Temper the whites by pouring a little of the hot chocolate mixture over the egg whites and whisk vigorously. Add the egg white mixture into the pot and heat it so it’s just hot enough to hold your finger in there, and it barely bubbles around the edges.

Sam Mason about to boil over the consomme

simmering chocolate consomme

The egg whites will set and bring impurities to the surface. Continue cooking for 2 hours. Strain through a cheese cloth or coffee filter. Then ladle off any remaining fat.

For the butternut squash gel:

600 g water
200 g rum
3.8 g low acyl gellan
5.7 g high acyl gellan
1620 g squash puree (Roast a squash in the oven and sweeten with maple syrup and cinnamon to taste)

Add all the ingredients except the puree in a pot. Use a handblender to mix thoroughly and boil. It will get really thick and then become more liquidy again. Then add the squash puree. Pour the mixture into an 8″x8″ pan lined with plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours to set.

For the garnish:

Toasted hazelnuts
Fresh taragon

To assemble:

Invert the squash gel onto a cutting board and cut into 3/4″-cubes.

Sam Mason slicing the jelly

Place in a small bowl and ladle in 1/4 cup of the consomme. Garnish with a hazelnut and sprig of taragon.

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Fancy Food Show 2006: Best in Show, Continued

Since the Fancy Food Show was a treasure trove of good products, here is the remaining Best in Show.

Condiments

Molino Real Chocolate CreamMolino Real
Best healthy Nutella: Chocolate Cream

This chocolate spread tastes so good it must be bad, but it’s just cocoa powder, milk, cinnamon and agave nectar. The sweetener is a natural derivation from the blue agave plant, the same plant that gives us tequila. It’s great for diabetics, vegans or people who want to venture beyond white sugar. Agave is similar to honey, except it is runnier and has a more neutral taste.
Photo: Molino Real

Barefoot Contessa lemon curd

Barefoot Contessa
Best lemon curd

I usually do not buy dessert sauces because they are so easy and cheap to make (if you can dissolve sugar in hot liquid, you can make a sweet sauce), but the lemon curd from celebrity chef Ina Garten tastes like the real deal. It contains just sugar, eggs, butter, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt. Other brands were slimy (due to artificial gelling agents) or bitter (due to too much rind).
Photo: Straub’s Fine Grocers

Dalmatia fig spread

Dalmatia
Best fig spread

If you could bottle up the freshest figs, this would be it. The Adriatic figs are hand picked on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia and then sun dried. The spread is not too sweet, not too sticky and not too fermented. The orange version took first place at the Fancy Food Show in 2004, but I like the plain one best.
Photo: FoodMatch Inc.

Elsa's Story Mandarin & Orange Preserved

Elsa’s Story
Best orange preserves

Orange marmalade is often plagued with sour and bitter notes, but Elsa’s Story is delicious. Good preserves like this one taste like fruit, not corn syrup. Elsa’s Story also makes fine cookies.
Photo: Elsa’s Story

School House Kitchen mustard

School House Kitchen
Best mustard

This mustard has remarkable smoothness and body, unlike French’s neon yellow variety. If you like the sweetness of honey mustard and the richness of Grey Poupon, School House Kitchen manages to put them together. They also donate 100% of their profits towards education.
Photo: School House Kitchen

Tasmanian spiced cherries

34 Degrees
Best preserved fruit products

This Australian company has unusual, great tasting fruits. The dried muscats (floral flavored grapes) come still attached to their branches. They also have a selection of fruit pastes to spread on cheese, toast or ice cream. The most unique items are the Tasmanian spiced cherries. They are sweet, slightly acidic from the vinegar marinade, and peppery. Think of them as sweet versions of cured olives.
Photo: 34 Degrees

Miscellaneous

Luxe green tea

Luxe
Best tea: Traditional Japanese genmaicha

Green tea leaves are combined with toasted brown rice in this strong yet refreshing tea. It was so bold and rounded that I could not believe it came from a bag. The silken bags are completely biodegradable: no glue, no staples.
Photo: Luxe

Skotidakis Greek yogurt

Skotidakis Goat Farm
Best yogurt

Their Greek yogurt tastes just like sour cream, but it is healthier because it is only made from milk. Once you try the plain yogurt with a dollop of honey, you may never go back to the watery, grainy commercial brands. They may have distribution problems because they are a small farm from Canada, but do beg your supermarket to carry them.
Photo: Skotidakis Goat Farm

Kind Fruit + Nut bar

KIND Fruit + Nut
Best energy bar that tastes like candy: Sesame & peanuts with chocolate

KIND Fruit + Nut bars satisfy my sweet tooth, but they are healthier and more natural than most other energy bars. Other bars are laboratory engineered (mmm, textured vegetable protein and partially hydrogenated fat!) and taste like it. KIND is a mixture of toasted nuts, fruit and honey. My favorite is the sesame-chocolate bar, which tastes like halvah, but the macadamia-apricot is very good too. KIND lives up to its name, donating 5% of its proceeds to charity.

Keep in mind that these bars are nutrient and calorie dense. Sure there’s plenty of wholesome ingredients, but nuts are high in fat. Still, if you’re going to splurge, it’s much healthier and tastier (in my opinion) than a candy bar. Also, these bars are not meant to be meal replacements; they are low in complex carbohydrates.
Photo: KIND

chocolate Maya bar

Larabar
Best chocolate energy bar: Mayabar

These gooey chocolatey bars are even less processed than the KIND bars. They consist of dates, cocoa powder and chunks of nuts. There is no added sugar! Like the KIND bars, these are high in “good” calories. They are satisfying but will not keep you full for long: they have no grains (complex carbs).
Photo: Larabar

Bubbie's mochi ice cream

Bubbies
Best ice cream novelty: Mochi ice cream

Asians are the pioneers of chewy desserts. The Taiwanese brought bubble tea, a sweet drink accompanied by extra-large tapioca pearls. The Japanese and Chinese brought mochi, a sticky rice cake filled with sweetened beans, peanuts or sesame. In 2001, a genius in California replaced the traditional fillings with ice cream. My goodness! A drink that you eat? An ice cream that you chew? What is the world coming to?

Bubbies is an upscale (read: pricier) competitor to Mikawaya, the company that created this frozen treat. Although Mikawaya is ubiquitous in Chinatown and American supermarkets, Bubbies tastes more natural. You can’t beat their selection of unusual flavors: strawberry chocolate chip, lychee, passion fruit, guava and peanut butter.
Photo: Bubbies

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Fancy Food Show 2006

Fancy Food Show logo

Before food makes it to the supermarket, it’s displayed at the Fancy Food Show, an annual convention with endless tables of specialty foods. From July 9-11, the Jacob Javits Center in New York showcased 160,000 products from 2,200 exhibitors. An estimated 24,000 attendees, including retail store decision makers, distributors, caterers, chefs and media (yours truly) sought out the best gourmet products.

From the moment I saw the floorplan, I knew that this foodie’s paradise and dieter’s nightmare would be overwhelming. Booths are not grouped by category, so you can eat a chocolate truffle before you get a bowl of pasta and bump into a mascot handing out hot sauce. (For all of you who make meals out of Costco samples, you can can do the same here, but you’ll hear from your stomach later.) If you’re lucky, booths were organized by country and state, but most were randomly strewn throughout 300,000 square feet.

I don’t mean to stereotype, but Italy focused on olive oil, cured meat and cheese; Germany had sausage and bulky grain products; England had shortbread and greasy food; Texas had lots of beef and spices; China had dehydrated vegetables to make your own cup-o-Noodles; and middle Eastern countries had dates.

As for general food trends, there were lots of fruit pastes (like sliceable jam) with nuts, gourmet bake-at-home mixes for molten chocolate cake and creme brulee (It’s ironic that anyone who makes creme brulee needs a blow torch or a broiler. Anyone that serious about food probably wouldn’t bake with mixes.), alternative natural sweeteners (Mostly in the form of agave nectar and honey. I was disappointed that molasses, date sugar, evaporated cane juice, stevia, and fruit juice concentrate, etc. didn’t make a mark.)

In chocolate trends, cacao nibs were popular. Nibs are plain cacao beans; once sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and lecithin are blended in, it becomes chocolate. In the words of chocolate expert David Lebovitz, “The term ‘cacao’ refers to the beans used to make chocolate, and ‘cocoa’ usually refers to the powder made from the beans after they’re roasted and pulverized.” Also, prominently labeled single-origin chocolate was abundant. It’s not enough to know about cocoa percentage anymore; the country of the beans can indicate their taste. To see how Venezuelan v. Santo Domingo beans taste different, check out my Michel Cluizel chocolate review.

There was a dismal attempt at whole-grain products. Most were rock hard and tasted like medicine that your doctor would prescribe. Others, like Milton’s multi-grain cracker squares, were tasty but relied on enriched wheat flour (a euphemism for bleached white flour—you don’t need to enrich something if its nutrients are intact) and had the same nutrition as Cheez-its. As a whole, the grains didn’t fall far from the tree. Familiar grains like whole-wheat flour, oats, corn, rice, sesame and flax were staples, but kamut, spelt, millet and quinoa were virtually non-existent from the show.

samples

After sampling hundreds of products to the point where everything tasted the same and I could no longer talk in straight sentences, the best products became apparent. If you ever go, pace yourself and be selective before tasting the overabundant olive oils, olives, sauces, cheese, and preserves. It helps if you bring a friend or randomly bump into one, such as Gerald from Foodite.

Following 101 Cookbooks’ lead, here’s my personal Best in Show. Look for these products in specialty food stores like Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca, Zabar’s and Fairway.

Chocolate

I’m breaking products down by category, so why not start with my favorite food?

valrhona chocolate
Photo: Foodite

Valrhona
Best chocolate

Every time I try a different brand of chocolate, I always come back to Valrhona. The flavor is unparalleled: complex, rich but never bitter. Out of all the flavors at the show, I liked the Manjari the best, which Valrhona describes as “A highly aromatic bouquet, 64% cocoa. Made from Criollos and Trinitarios beans from Madagascar. A distinctive chocolate flavour with an intense bouquet of red berries.” The 72% Araguani and 85% Abinao were perfectly palatable, but I prefer a little more sugar in my chocolate.

Dolfin chocolate

Dolfin
Best chocolate runner-up

Dolfin comes at a close second behind Valrhona. I usually associate Belgian chocolate with mildness. Pure Belgian chocolate, like Callebaut, has a weak aroma and bland taste. Begian-style truffles from Neuhaus and Leonida’s are heavy on the dairy. Dolfin, however, is wonderfully nuanced. I love their dark chocolate bars with crunchy cacao nibs.

Margaux chocolate twigs
Photo: Mademoiselle de Margaux

Mademoiselle de Margaux
Best shaped chocolate: Sarments du medoc

Elegant packaging and presentation aside, Mademoiselle de Margaux makes tasty chocolate twigs that are perfect for nibbling. They come in natural tasting dark chocolate, orange, lemon, mint, raspberry, coffee, toffee and hazelnut flavors.

Monbana cocoa

Monbana
Best cocoa

When I visited France two years ago, I smuggled their hot cocoa mix so I could savor it back home. From the looks of it, the Chocolate Powder mix contains natural cocoa and raw sugar. Even if mixed with water instead of milk, it tastes as rich as hot chocolate. They had distribution problems in the U.S. before, but they plan to get off the ground soon.

Photo: Monbana

Chocolats Olivier
Most potential

The oldest chocolatier in France (open since in 1780 during King Louis XVI’s rein), Chocolats Olivier recently acquired new ownership. They feature single-origin chocolate and truffles. The chocolate in their chocolate-covered raspberry jelly was forgettable, but the jelly tasted fresh and was full of seeds. When they sort things out, I think they’ll be really promising.

Chocolat modern

Chocolat Moderne
Best truffles

Chocolat Moderne is a nouveau chocolatier that gets its flavors right. Even under the melting heat of the display, the chocolate-covered grapefruit caramels and lychee truffle with crunchy pralines tasted bright. These chocolates were just as delicious as they looked. They were much better than their more famous competitor, Vosges Haut Chocolate, whose chocolate didn’t taste anything like its advertised flavors of curry or pandan. However, it is with great reservation that I recommend Chocolat Moderne, since the gentleman at the booth snubbed me. He tried to convince me that he had no samples available, although I saw the people before and after me grab from the prominent tray of truffles. Later on, I discovered samples at the Focused Tasting area.

Photo: Chocolat Moderne

Dagoba nibsDagoba
Outstanding organic chocolate

If you’re into conscientious eating, check out Dagoba’s certified organic chocolate. Other organic brands, like Divine Chocolate, are crumbly, and Endangered Species has a lingering malty sweetness. Dagoba chocolate doesn’t suffer from these pitfalls, and it comes in unique flavors such as xocolatl (with chilies, spices and cacao nibs). Having things labeled organic and fair trade is a plus, but I think they can be redundant if you already seek out artisan chocolate. Good cacao beans come from small farmers who care about the crop and already take care of their land. Some chocolate makers, such as El Rey and Jacques Torres, deliberately avoid becoming certified because they think the system is flawed. Big corporations can afford certification, which defeats the purpose of supporting the small artisans.

Dagoba also makes one of my favorite chocolate-covered cacao nibs. They resemble rice krispies in size and texture, and each one tastes slightly different, keeping your tastebuds guessing. There is actually one brand that makes better nibs, but I had such a bad personal experience with the owner that I want to boycott their products.

Photo: Dagoba

Blanxart chocolate

Blanxart
Best rustic chocolate

This Barcelona chocolatier leaves the cacao beans chunky and uses coarse sugar. The chocolate-covered hazelnut nougat is also very good.

Photo: Blanxart

Coming up in parts two and three: the remaining Best in Show and behind the scenes at the Fancy Food Show.

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IMBB 27: The Joy of Soy

Is My Blog Burning - Soy

I know of no other food that is as versatile as soy. In its natural state above, it resembles green peas. It can also stand in for milk (as soy milk), custard (as silken tofu), cheese (as firm tofu), meat (as tofu or tempeh), flour (as okara), nuts (as roasted soy nuts) and salt (as soy sauce or miso). High in protein, fiber and antioxidants but relatively low in fat, soy is a staple in my kitchen.

dried soybeans
Dried soybeans

For the monthly themed cooking events, Is My Blog Burning and Sugar-High Friday, Reid at ‘Ono Kine Grindz has asked bloggers to make soy cuisine.

After making soy-sauce candied walnuts, I decided to experiment more with soy sauce in desserts. Soy sauce essentially tastes like caramel-flavored salt, so the idea isn’t too far-fetched.

For my first creation, I made chocolate caramels with soy milk and soy sauce. Out of my two experiments, this one seemed like the safest bet. As the Kikkoman website says, “Kikkoman Soy Sauce…..In Chocolate? Absolutely! Naturally brewed soy sauce can enhance more than just savory flavors — its salty brewed flavor depresses the extra sweetness typical of chocolate syrups and enhances the richness of the cocoa powder. It also helps to blend dairy notes and highlights the fruit top notes of the cocoa. The result: a deep, nutty, roasted chocolate flavor with a rich color.”

These low-fat caramels were tasty for what they were, but they were slightly grainy. I don’t know whether it’s because I used homemade soy milk, which naturally has pulp. Or perhaps the granulated sugar crystallized, in which case more honey was needed. Also, soy milk curdles at the slightest introduction of acid, which was in the natural cocoa powder. You may fare better with commercially prepared soy milk, which is smoother and has thickeners.

My candy also did not set up, even in the freezer. I’ve clarified the instructions, so cook the candy until it reaches the softball stage–248 degrees F. I think these would have tasted better with plain old salt, but if you’re adventurous, add the soy sauce in the end, so you don’t cook out its delicate flavor.

chocolate soy caramels

Chocolate Caramels

Adapted from The Soy Dessert and Baking Book

This is a great way to sneak nutrients into candy.

Ingredients:
½ c sugar
1 c vanilla soy milk
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp honey
2 Tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
1 tsp soy sauce or 1/4 tsp salt

Method:
Line a loaf pan with greased foil.

Over medium heat, melt sugar in a sauce pan, stirring until it has completely dissolved and is light golden in color. Gradually stir in soy milk and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10-15 min., uncovered. Add butter, honey and cocoa and salt (if you’re not using soy sauce) and continue boiling and stirring for another 10-15 min., or until mixture thickens (about 248F) and shrinks away from the bottom and sides of the pan. Stir in soy sauce (if using). Pour into the greased pan and cool 10 min. While still warm, cut caramels into approximately 18 pieces. Wrap in individual candy wrappers. The leftovers freeze well.

Now, what could possibly be weirder than chocolate and soy sauce? How about a dessert where the soy sauce doesn’t have “milk” or chocolate to hide behind? A dessert with just three ingredients? (Two if you don’t count the orange zest, which I didn’t use. Or one if you don’t count the sugar, which is mandatory in dessert.) It’s soy sauce sorbet, which Kikkoman features on its website, along with soy sauce chocolate sauce and soy fruit charlotte.

At first bite, the sorbet has an off-putting fermented flavor, but it gets better as you eat it. It’s the easiest way to make a refreshing “caramel” sorbet without having to caramelize the sugar. Serving it with chocolate sauce does double duty. The chocolate sauce offsets the sorbet’s saltiness, while soy sauce brings out the chocolate flavor.
The sorbet is slightly icy, like a granita. You can add more sugar if you want it smoother.

Now that my experiments are done, I declare soy sauce too weird to put in desserts. At least I tried. If you like Sam Mason-style desserts (ancho caramel or miso ice cream, anyone?) from WD-50, these might be up your alley.

soy sauce ice cream

Soy Sauce Sorbet

Adapted from a recipe by Chef Michael Bloise, Wish at The Hotel at South Beach (Miami Beach, FL)

Yield: 6 cups

4 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce (or substitute 1/3 cup regular soy sauce plus 1/3 cup water)
4 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 Tbsp vodka (optional but recommended to keep the sorbet from freezing hard)

Stir together all ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. Serving suggestion: Chef Bloise serves a small scoop of Soy Sauce Sorbet with ginger carrot cake.

and round-up.

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Blogging by Mail 4: Music Edition

BBM package

In this edition of Blogging by Mail, I received a foodie gift package Mary of The Plane Jane. She lives in the Asian part of San Diego, hence the package contents: Chinese alomond-chocolate wafer rolls, tempura batter mix, an issue of Everyday Food (with lots of streamlined recipes), a crabby bookmark, a cute postcard, homemade peanut butter cookies (I LOVE peanut butter), a handmade card, a variety of teas (not pictured) and a mix CD.

BBM4 contents

What? A CD’s not edible. It does have to do with BBM, as Jason of Food Ninja dubbed this round “Music Edition.” Mary passed on her favorite songs to me, including “(If I Knew You Were Coming) I’d Have Baked a Cake” by Ethel Merman and “I Want a Little Sugar in my Bowl” by Nina Simone. All were feel-good songs that would be perfect for a dinner party. Thanks, Mary!

This package definitely wins for craftiest gift. Don’t forget to check out Mary’s crafty blog for more of her creations!

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The Amateur Gourmet’s 2nd birthday party at The City Bakery

Rebecca, her boyfriend and Adam
The Amateur Gourmet, right, entertains his guests

The Amateur Gourmet, arguably the most humorous food blogger, celebrated his site’s second anniversary this Saturday at The City Bakery.

Ever since reading Adam Roberts’ “Condoleezza Rice Pudding with Berries of Mass Destruction” entry, I fell in love with his writing. Since then, he’s been featured in the Sacramento Bee, Boston Globe and even has a book due out spring 2007.

I sweated up a storm while talking with Adam, but not because he’s intimidating in person. Actually, he was a gracious host, making sure to say “hi” to everyone, remember their names, and sharing a delicious tart that he now claims I stole.

No no, everyone’s pores opened up wide because The City Bakery was like a sauna. Their ovens must be on all day, constantly churning out fresh desserts.

City Bakery chocolate chip cookie

I finally tried their chocolate chip cookie, which was revered by New York magazine, NY Daily News, Words to Eat By, and The Wednesday Chef. The cookie was still warm, with swirls of chocolate melting on my fingers and lips. There was a high crispy to chewy ratio; a thick brown crust and pale interior that suggested a high proportion of white to brown sugar (or maybe no brown sugar at all). The giant brown blob on the bottom left suggests that chocolate discs, in addition to chips, were used.

The City Bakery makes a great case for a crispy cookie. Usually, crispy means biscuity, like the Original Chips Ahoy cookies. Crispy at The City Bakery means buttery and crunchy. There was also an extra flavor to these cookies. Words to Eat By called it toffee-esque, but I think it tasted of almond paste.

It was a fun eating experience, but I honestly prefer my own. Chocolate chip cookies are typically described as cakey, chewy and crispy, but there’s a fourth characteristic: soft. Soft and chewy are often used interchangeably, as they tend to occur together. However, the City Bakery’s cookie did not have a hint of softness. The chewy middle required a bit of a workout. My favorite chocolate chip cookies are soft, where one bite can sink your teeth all the way down to the bottom.

City Bakery autumn tart

Adam’s autumn tart was the best tart I’ve ever tasted. Tart cranberries and caramel-covered almonds came together harmoniously in a crispy crust. Too often, tarts have thick, soggy crusts (from soaking up fruit juices over several days). Everything is fresh at The City Bakery, so there’s no need to compensate with brick-like crusts. The tart would have been even better if it was combined with Johnny Iuzzini’s pate sable recipe. Yes, you can make City Bakery tarts using their book, The Book of Tarts!

City Bakery chocolate tart

The chocolate tart was another winner, with its silky, dark chocolate custard. The crust was a little too much like shortbread than a chocolaty crust. Once again, I’d sub Iuzzini’s tart dough but add a little more sugar and some cocoa powder.

City Bakery French toast with hot chocolate

You want a meal? How about a thick slice of French toast with the syrup built in? The burnt edges were crispy, chewy and caramelized. The inside was very eggy, like a dense sponge. The whole thing was sweet, buttery and delicious.

The City Bakery is pricey: $12/lb salad bar, $6-tarts, $2-cookies, $3-French toast and $3.50-hot chocolate, but it’s worth a treat once in a while.

group shot

Oh yeah, on to the people, the reason why I sampled these desserts in the first place! About 20 showed up, including but not limited to Molly (Orangette) Gerald (Foodite), Stacey (Just Braise), Rebecca (who hosted the last NY food bloggers potluck), Anne (of Houghton Mifflin), The Anonymous Lawyer, Lisa (the infamous vegetarian who has posted while Adam was away) and Adam’s real-life friends. If I didn’t mention you, please say hi and remind me!

more guests

Ricky (I think) and Lisa

Adam wows some more of his guests

There was a pop quiz when Lisa asked me why American macaroons were made out of coconut and mine (which I brought along) were made of almonds. Off the top of my head, I explained that traditional French Italian macaroons were made with ground almonds and egg whites. When they came to the U.S., Jewish people substituted coconut and sweetened condensed milk. In short, macaroons are chewy cookies made with nut meat, lots of sugar and some type of binder. I felt unqualified to answer the question, as my macaroons have French ingredients, but they are domed and crackly like American macaroons. It’s something that I haven’t bothered fixing, because they taste so good anyway. Phew, everyone believed me, so I passed the test!

Now that I’ve talked to Adam in person, I know his dirty little secrets, like how he grossly exaggerates his blog. 🙂 He’s made Lisa out to be a mean, picky eater, but she was nice on Saturday! In Adam’s recap, he claims that I hogged his tart, but I had two pieces that were the size of my thumbnail. This was after he passed his tart around to everyone, and he still had half of it left when the party was over. Honest!

Buy the Book of Tarts: Form, Function, and Flavor at the City Bakery

The City Bakery
3 W 18th St
New York, NY 10011
(212) 366-1414

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Four Star Meets Lone Star: Desserts by Johnny Iuzzini featuring Texas Grapefruit, part two

Frozen grapefruit and orange carpaccio with warm almond cake

Continuing on with four-star pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini’s grapefruit dessert demo, we have almond cake with frozen grapefruits and oranges.

The almond cake was served warm from the oven and was like a souffle: light, airy and creamy. It had a delicate browned upper crust. The frozen grapefruit and orange carpaccio’s (Italian for thinly sliced cold food) kaleidoscopic colors were elegant, but I didn’t care for the taste or texture. It was very icy, like a watered down popsicle. I think grapefruit sorbet, bursting with bright flavors, would have been more appropriate. Or, if you’re keen on contrasting textures from the pudding-like cake, a granita would work too.

Grapefruit-tarragon millefeuille

The most elaborate dessert was the grapefruit-tarragon millefeuille. While it did not have a thousand layers as the French name suggests, it did have several components neatly stacked on top of each other. The base was pate sable (tart dough),then citrus sponge cake, sweetened grapefruit sections, white chocolate, tarragon pastry cream, another layer of white chocolate and candied grapefruit peel on top. What a mouthful to say and eat.

With so many layers, I focused on getting an equal amount of everything in one bite. I literally had to stab the beautiful creation in my feeble attempt. The chocolate shattered into shards; the pastry cream drooped out; an entire grapefruit section slid out leaving subsequent bites naked; the fork hit resistance with the coarse cake; and the crust crumbled. The eating experience could easily be remedied by cutting the citrus sections into smaller pieces.

The dessert was heavy on craftsmanship, but my favorite parts were just the top three layers: cool pastry cream, crisp white chocolate, and some citrus for a little tang. The flavor combo was like an elegant creamsicle. For home application, you could make white chocolate cups, fill with your favorite pudding or pastry cream, then top with citrus sections.

Chocolate-grapefruit crepe suzette with meyer lemon confit

Rounding out the dessert tasting was a relatively simple chocolate crepe filled with grapefruit curd. My favorite dessert of the bunch, the smooth curd (a milkless pudding augmented with eggs and butter) oozed out of the crepe. Really great. At home, you can spread any citrus curd on a crepe, pancake or even tortilla. The buttery suzette sauce isn’t necessary, but the sugared lemon on top is a nice touch.

The experience made me more aware of the different styles of dessert. Iuzzini reminds me of The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller: both bring several components together for the final dish. Iuzzini is no doubt a talented craftsman. He has only worked at four star restaurants: Payard, Cafe Boulud, Daniel and Laduree (they claim to have invented the macaroon sandwich cookie in Paris). He has appeared on several best pastry chef lists from New York magazine, the James Beard Awards and Pastry Art & Design. However, his desserts aren’t for me. It’s haute cuisine: art that’s admired more for its concept than its usefulness (in this case, my stomach). I prefer not to be blatantly aware of every dessert component. It’s as if each part cries out, “Pay attention to me, I’m honey!” “I’m Meyer lemon!” “I’m tarragon!”

It’s not that I’m mindless when I eat. My philosophy is just to use a few quality ingredients and handle them minimally.

More info on Johnny Iuzzini:
New York profile
The Amateur Gourmet’s two reviews of Jean Georges

Jean Georges
1 Central Park W
New York, NY 10023-7703
(212) 299-3900

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Four Star Meets Lone Star: Desserts by Johnny Iuzzini featuring Texas Grapefruit

Johnny Iuzzini's signature dessert tasting
Photo courtesy StarChefs

Every day, four-star pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini dazzles diners at New York’s Jean-Georges with his signature dessert tastings. Contrasting textures and temperatures come together in a central theme, be it chocolate, berries or even beets. This Saturday, he did it for free at the French Culinary Insitute. The demo and tasting was sponsored by Pastryscoop.com (an online publication of the French Culinary Institute) and TexaSweet Citrus Marketing, Inc. Can you guess what the theme was?

Johnny Iuzzini shows off the red-fleshed grapefruit

For three hours, about 80 guests watched Iuzzini prepare five grapefruit desserts and ate the fruits of his labor (pun intended). As a bonus, each person brought home a grapefruit giftbox, a zester (made for dang right handers!) and Iuzzini’s recipes, which I’ve provided through the links below.

Although the desserts were specially created for this event, the building blocks are mainstays at Jean-Georges. The instructions are sparse and assume you have a working knowledge of pastries. If you get past the French terms like chinois and quenelle, you can re-create four-star desserts at home. Where applicable, I’ve included Iuzzini’s tips. I felt like I was at culinary school, greedily jotting down the master’s secrets. Also, the quanities are by weight. One cup of flour can weigh between four and six ounces, a 50% difference! The beloved cup and teaspoon aren’t so accurate after all. Pastry Scoop lists conversions for liquids, flour and sugar to help you out.

WARM HONEY TART, GRAPEFRUIT-SHISO GRANITE,CHARRED ORANGES

Iuzzini’s first dessert was a warm honey tart, accompanied with grapefruit-shiso granite (ice) and charred oranges. The tart crust was technically a pate sable, which is French for “sandy pastry.” The term sounds like a coarse, mealy dough, but it’s not! Pate sable is like a crisp cookie that disintegrates in your mouth. If you only try one tart dough, make it this one. The custard was exceptionally smooth and hid a layer of tart grapefruit sections for contrasting flavors. Continuing with the theme of contrast, the grapefruit granita was cold and chunky. I thought the soul of this dish was the custard and the crust. For home application, I’d skip the citrus sections and the granita. Besides, I couldn’t even tell what that Asian herb, shiso, tasted like.

GRAPEFRUIT MIRROIR, THAI BASIL, BRIOCHE, AND HONEY GINGER ICE CREAM

Next up was honey ginger ice cream, accompanied with grapefruit mirroir (like a runny Jell-O), brioche (a rich bread with lots of butter and eggs) croutons, and a drizzle of Thai basil oil. The point here was to contrast sweet, smooth cream with tart, textured jelly. The mirroir’s texture reminded me of (dare I say it?) brains. Sorry, all that time working at Court TV is infusing me with morbid humor. Iuzzini intended the crunchy croutons to add another dimension of texture, while the basil-infused oil was supposed to contribute a fresh flavor. I thought the dessert could have been fine without these two. At home, you can just layer premium vanilla ice cream with tart jam or citrus curd to get a similar experience.

Coming up in part two: almond cake with frozen grapefruit and oranges, grapefruit-tarragon millefeuille (layered pastry), and chocolate crepes filled with grapefruit curd.

Jean Georges
1 Central Park W
New York, NY 10023-7703
(212) 299-3900

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