Saturday, August 27, 2011

{DBC} truffles & bark

Chocolate remind me of Halloween. Images of brightly-colored Reeses's cups, funsized Three Musketeers, sacred Hershey's bars wrapped in familiar cocoa packaging, solid letters branding the front like book covers. Cold nights, vibrant costumes, kids laughing, screaming, "trick-or-treats" happily filling cul-de-sacs and windy neighborhood roads. Most of all, I remember Pikachu ears flapping against the top of my skull, one small hand clutching onto the familiar crooked tail, the other the handle of a flimsy, highlighter-orange plastic bag molded shamelessly into the face of a Jack-o-Lantern, all but bursting with excitement from the thought of sitting on the living room floor and sifting through the night's haul for the best finds [anything unwanted would go to Yusra, of course]. This was when I was about 7.

Chocolate reminds me of plane rides. When Yusra and I were much younger and utilized our immaturity to be as unimaginably figety and difficult as possible on long rides, mom would pacify us with treats of Toblerone. I was always fascinated by the shape of the thing, plucking of triangle after triangle, one by one, and savoring the taste as the chocolate melted in my mouth. Though it served as a distraction for only about half an hour before the sweet inevitably disappeared in our stomachs, the distraction gave my mom a good thirty minutes of peace. A small piece of heaven in a 14-hour flight, but heaven nevertheless. It wasn't until just a few years ago, admittedly, that I realized it was possible to purchase the stuff outside of the realm of Duty-Free shops and airport stalls, but the craving doesn't strike unless I know I'll be strapped into a too-small, too-cramped plane seat later. The first time I had it, I was probably 9, but I can't lie and say that I didn't pop into the Duty-Free while in Madrid earlier this summer for a quick fix before heading home.

Chocolate reminds me of family trips. My father loves driving for hours down long roads, through the mountains, across states. Whenever we used to visit Canada or NYC or Florida, we would drive. Taking a plane didn't seem to make sense for such a short ride; planes were for oceans, not roads. I never minded, though; losing oneself after the first few hours with nothing but one's own thoughts and the constant view of trees, mountains, small towns, and cloudy skies passing by. Cathartic, almost like an out-of-body experience. Dad wasn't one to stop to grab snacks, since he doesn't eat much anyway, but mom always made sure to pack a few Twix bars in her bag for him to munch on when sleepiness struck. Always Twix. Eventually, it became routine, just as constant as the trees, mountains, small towns, and cloudy skies. Though there's little time for family trips now, I'll sometimes reach into my bag when driving back to my apartment, expecting to find a Twix bar waiting.

Chocolate reminds me of a summer in Italy. Hiking through stone roads, surrounded by old Baroque architecture to the hilltops of Ragusa cities, seeking refuge from the glaring heat in cafes. Cups upon cups of gelato, in every flavor imaginable, from tiramisu to cioccolate negro to stracciatella. Most of all, I long for the taste of Modica chocolate, which must be the most exquisite chocolate I've ever eaten, grainy with its lack of cocoa butter, intense flavor bursting straight from the cacao beans, infused with lavendar, vanilla, chilli pepper. The taste stll lingers somewhere deep in my mind, but far enough away that I know I'll have to return to Modica to get it back.

Needless to say, I love chocolate. And so when this month's Daring Baker's Challenge turned out to be chocolate candy, I was more than thrilled. Tommy and I plotted for a while about how we would approach the challenge [we had to select two types of candies to make, one in the realm of bonbons and truffles and the  other, either chocolate or non-chocolate, of our choice].

White Chocolate Coconut-Pecan Truffles

You'll need:
  • 1 3/4 cups [9 oz] white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup ground pecans
  • 2/3 cup toasted shredded coconut

Finely chop or grate the chocolate and place it in a heatproof bowl.  In a medium-sized saucepan over medium flame, heat cream until just about to boil. Quickly remove the cream and pour it over the chocolate. Stir the chocolate until it's smooth and melted. Add in the ground pecans and toasted coconut [if desired, reserve some of each for rolling later] and stir until uniform. Cover the top of the bowl loosely with clingwrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until firm.

To roll the chocolate, scoop tablespoon-sized balls of chocolate with a spoon or melon scooper. Roll the chocolate in your palms to smooth the edges. Dip the chocolate in the reserved coconut flakes or pecans, if desired. Set chocolate balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and return to the fridge to chill completely. Once set, chocolate can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container.

Bittersweet Chocolate Bark

You'll need:
  • 2 cups [12 oz] bittersweet chocolate
  • toppings of choice; suggested:
    • dried cherries, prunes, or raisins
    • pretzels
    • toffee bits
    • butterscotch or peanut butter chips
    • toasted pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, chopped
    • crushed coffee beans

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium flame, heat chocolate until smooth and melted. Remove chocolate from the heat and pour onto the parchment paper. Smooth evenly with a knife. Sprinkle desired toppings evenly over the melted chocolate. Refrigerate chocolate until set, 2-3 hours. Either break or cut into pieces. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Bark jumped out at me immediately, because of the beautiful simplicity and almost guaranteed deliciousness of the stuff, but the other was trickier. In the end, though, truffles won out. They always make me think of Stockholm fashions, Parisian autumns, and Swiss train rides. Like enjoying chocolate in childlike innocence and bliss, behind a mask of elegance and an air of being grown-up. Almost sinful in its deception, but delicious enough not to matter in the least.

In other words, upon contemplation, it was a no-brainer as our second choice.

Like bark, I love truffles for their diversity. There is an endless combination of flavors that one can utilize with truffles, but for some reason, the combination of white chocolate [which I'm normally rather opposed to because I think it tastes like plastic coated in artifical sugar], toasted coconut, and pecans jumped out at me. I suggested it to Tommy, who was absolutely for the idea, and so he walked over after I got home from work [he now lives in the apartment complex right behind mine, which means that weight gain from baking dates seems inevitable] and we got to cooking.

We were quite pleased to find that these desserts are effortlessly simple and extremely quick to prepare; probably no more than 20 minutes were spent prepping the candy, and the bulk of our time was spent watching the second episode of Sherlock [we figure that it'll be during the September challenge that Tommy finishes up the series] while waiting for the candy to set. And then, of course, taste-testing the end results, which were mouthwateringly good.

But I expected little else. It is chocolate, after all. And after a lifetime of delicious memories, it wasn't about to fail me.


Thanks so much for reading!
I'd love to hear your thoughts :)