Who can take the sunshine, sprinkle it with dew...

I learned how to temper chocolate this month. Then (with the assistance of my wonderful sous-chef, Mr Leaven) I tempered some chocolate. Then I made some bon-bons. Then (again with the assistance of Mr Leaven) I decided I'd never temper chocolate again.

The reason to temper chocolate is so that it will be all smooth and glossy when it hardens. It snaps when you bite into it. The reason not to temper chocolate is that it will taste the same even if it doesn't look as good, and it's not very fun to try to lower the temperature of chocolate to 82 degrees when it's 109 degrees outside and around 82 degrees in your kitchen.

Tempering (without a tempering machine) is not a difficult process but a time-consuming process which can also lead to 'chocolate elbow'. You heat chocolate in a bowl over steam (careful - if even one drop of water gets into your chocolate it will seize up!), then cool it, adding solid tempered chocolate which encourages the crystallization process ('seeds' the crystals) which is the essential part of tempering. Then you reheat it just a touch and pour it into molds or dip your truffles in it.

You can also temper chocolate on a cold surface like marble or granite, pushing it around until it cools and crystallizes, then somehow getting the chocolate back into your bowl for pouring. I didn't do this, but it looked interesting. It also looked like the kind of experiment that would lead to lots of chocolate on the floor and on me, and possibly on the cupboards and walls where it was flung in frustration.

When you use the 'seeding' method above, you can use either small pellets of chocolate (chocolate chips - but you can't use normal chocolate chips because there's additives - you have to use expensive chocolate chips called callets) or one big chunk of chocolate that you fish out at the end. I tried both and preferred the chunk option. You have to use good chocolate with high cocoa content for the tempering. I used Callebaut, because the local gourmet grocery store (Hubbell & Hudson) sells vacuum-packed big chunks.

I got some Wilton plastic molds from Michael's for around $1 each for the filled chocolates. I thought it would be fun to try to decorate the chocolates with some gold and silver dust, so I mixed a bit of dust with a drop of vodka and painted the insides of the molds before I poured the chocolate.

For the fillings, I tried a few different ganaches. I know that anyone who has ever baked before knows how to prepare a ganache, but it was completely new to me. This is probably an oversimplification, but a ganache is basically cream plus flavorings, heated and poured over chocolate, mixed together and then cooled until thick. The ratio is approximately 2 parts chocolate to 1 part cream.

Ganache #1: White Chocolate-Honey-Pistachio-Rose
1/2 cup pistachios
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp water
8 oz white chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup honey
Rose essence

Make a praline:
- Dry-roast pistachios for about 10 minutes at 350F. Spread the pistachios over a lined baking sheet.
- Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir until sugar is dissolved, then wait for caramelization to happen.
- Pour the caramel over the pistachios. This will be very, very hot.
- When completely cool, break off some and eat it. Then mash the remaining praline into little bitty bits.
Then make a ganache:
- Finely chop white chocolate and put in a medium bowl
- Heat heavy cream and honey until just about to boil.
- Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate, add a few drops of rose essence and the pistachio praline. Stir until chocolate is melted. Cool.

the only picture of the fillings. this is the white chocolate-honey-pistachio-rose ganache.
Ganache #2: Dark chocolate-jalapeno-tequila
8 oz dark chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 fresh jalapeno, minced (seeds removed if you must)
2 Tbsp tequila
Pinch of salt

- Finely chop dark chocolate and put in a medium bowl
- Heat heavy cream and jalapeno until just about to boil.
- Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate, add tequila and pinch of salt. Stir until chocolate is melted. Cool.
there is jalapeno-tequila ganache in there, i promise.
Ganache #3: Raspberry
8 oz dark chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup raspberry puree
2 Tbsp blueberry vodka or other berry liqueur (optional, but I just remembered that I added this in!)

- Finely chop dark chocolate and put in a medium bowl
- Heat heavy cream until just about to boil.
- Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted. Mix in puree and vodka (if using). Cool.

So, once the ganaches were sufficiently thick, I spooned them into some pastry bags.

Then we tempered our chocolate and got it into the molds. This was a challenge in itself. The easiest way for me to do this was to spoon chocolate into each individual mold, then tap the mold a few times to release air bubbles (in theory), then tilt the mold every which way and scrape (with a bench scraper) the excess chocolate back into a bowl. You cool the molds for 10 or 15 minutes in the fridge, then pipe in the ganache. This is the part where I learned it's easier to do this without a tip on the pastry bag. I had little jalapeno pieces that didn't fit through my tip, and then there were a couple of chocolate chunks in there that I'd missed which gunked up the tip. Several of my chocolates were overfilled, which makes it really difficult (but not impossible) to add a bottom layer. Anyway, you fill the molds and you can chill for a few more minutes (I didn't) then pour more tempered chocolate over, scrape off the excess, and refrigerate for several hours (preferably overnight).

The cool thing was that, to my surprise, I had some cute little chocolates the next morning that popped right out of the molds! I had to cut off a lot of 'feet' - because I had overfilled them, I couldn't scrape off all the excess chocolate at the base and I had cumbersome (albeit delicious) little chunks attached to the base of each of my candies.
see all the little feet? i'm not so good at cutting chocolate evenly.
The first attempt used the first 2 ganaches (jalapeno and rose-pistachio). The second attempt used rose-pistachio and raspberry. My coworkers loved all of them. Both times I brought them to work, they were gone by lunchtime. Opinions were divided over which was the best. Each was so distinct from the others.

The jalapeno-tequila ganache was really awesome. Quite picante but not overwhelmingly so. When I was choosing flavors, I was imagining delicious margaritas, and the salt worked well in the same way it works on the rim of a good margarita.

The rose-pistachio ganache was so very pleasant. I couldn't stop sneaking tastes while I was making chocolates. That rose flavor can be overpowering, but this was very subtle.

And seriously, there's no question that raspberry and chocolate are perfect together. I think it could have used just a little more raspberry flavor - if I'd had a raspberry liqueur I would have included that - but it was still yummy.

I had some extra ganache left over, so I made yellow cupcakes the next day and used the ganache as frosting. I stuffed a raspberry pate de fruit (see below) in each cupcake for more zing. The cupcakes were a little dry but the frosting was delicious!

For the candy challenge, we were asked to make at least 2 different candies, one of them chocolate. I probably discharged my duty sufficiently with the 3 ganaches, but I thought it would be fun to try another candy. The hosts recommended pate de fruit, sort of like gumdrops but so much more flavorful. We had about 4 cups left of the raspberry puree we'd thawed out, so raspberry pate de fruit was a no-brainer. I used a Food & Wine recipe from Jacques Pepin. The pate de fruit was so intensely raspberry. It was delicious. It reminds me a little of raspberry jellybeans from Starburst. We tried coating the pate de fruit in sugar, but we preferred them without. They were pretty tasty in cupcakes as well.

Raspberry pate de fruit

Two 12-ounce bags frozen raspberries, thawed (4 cups)
1 1/4 cups seedless raspberry jam
1 cup sugar, plus more for coating
3 envelopes unflavored powdered gelatin (2 tablespoons)
3/4 cup cold water

Lightly oil an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Line the dish with a piece of wax paper that extends 4 inches beyond the rim.

In a food processor, puree the thawed raspberries with the raspberry jam and the 1 cup of sugar. Strain the puree into a medium saucepan. Boil the puree over moderately high heat, stirring often, until reduced to 3 cups, about 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water in an even layer. Let stand until the gelatin softens, then heat the water in a microwave for 20 seconds, until the gelatin dissolves completely. Stir the melted gelatin into the raspberry puree, then pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Let cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Just before serving, unmold the pâte de fruit onto a work surface. Peel off and discard the wax paper. Using a sharp knife, cut the pâte into 1-inch squares or triangles. Spread about 1/2 cup of sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll the pieces in the sugar to coat. Arrange on a platter and serve.

So, in sum, very intriguing challenge and very yummy candies, but I will probably be filing this away as a cool thing I tried once. Maybe if we ever have candy-lovers living in the house with us, I'll give it another go, but Mr Leaven doesn't have a sweet tooth and I favor cookies and cakes over candies (except Junior Mints, of course) and that was just a heck of a lot of work. Thanks to Lisa and Mandy for another challenge that really taught me a lot!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

The pdf link isn't working, and the challenge instructions were extremely helpful but also extremely long, so I'm not including all the information from the Daring Kitchen webpage.


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