Saturday, 29 October 2011

A Tribute to the Aztecs: National Chocolate Day 2011

Yesterday was, in my opinion, the food day of all food holidays: National Chocolate Day. As you may know by now, I try my best to celebrate food holidays with dishes that give me a reason to try (synthesizing) a new recipe, bring me back to something I've made before, or are inexpensive and easy to make. Yesterday's celebration was no exception and this time around my celebration dish was one that covers all three of these areas. The simplest recipes of what I made involve three principal ingredients: heavy cream, chocolate, and something to serve as a coating (more chocolate, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, salt, etc.). I first recall making these in high school and so it took me quite some time to resign myself to the fact that this was as simple to make now as it was back then. I'm talking about truffles. No, I'm not talking about truffles as in the fungus, but rather the chocolate version that resembles those expensive delicacies best found by pigs.

While the Mayans were perhaps best known for making use of cacao in a hot drink form, it is the Aztecs who are better known and associated with utilising cacao for cold drinks and building economic strength through this crop. Dating as far back as 1400 B.C.E., chocolate has since then migrated from present day Honduras to Europe since the Columbian Exchange to nearly every corner of the world. From nearly every corner, some of that raw cacao heads to the States and then to the factory of the Hershey company. For the majority of the truffles I made, I used Hershey's Dark Chocolate Chips. But first, I heated 1/2 c and 2 tbsp heavy cream with 2.5 tbsp of butter from the Farmers Market just until the butter melted and the mixture started to boil. Reducing the heat to low, I melted in 10 oz of the dark chocolate chips; once smooth, I added about 2 tsp vanilla extract. What I essentially created was a rich ganache which in this form can also be used as a layer between cakes or a top coat frosting to seal multiple cake layers. I then transferred about 1/2 c of this mix into one bowl and poured the rest into a bigger bowl; the bigger bowl went straight into the fridge to set overnight (if making these during the day, you can wait for about 4 hours... if the ganache will last that long...). To the smaller bowl, I added 1 heaping tsp Nutella (next time, I'll add a bit more to strengthen the flavour; original inspiration found here) and mixed everything quickly together so that I could get that bowl in the fridge.

For a third truffle variety, I melted one 3.5 oz bar of Lindt's Intense Dark Mint chocolate into a warm mixture of 1/4 c heavy cream and 1 tbsp butter. To finish off this ganache, I stirred in a small splash of vanilla extract. This, too, went into a small bowl and into the fridge to set overnight.

Before calling it a night, I twice fried three slices of smoky maple bacon for one of my truffle coatings and cooked one of my bacon and black bean quinoa cakes in the rendered bacon grease. Alongside this late night meal, I celebrated National Chocolate Day a little early with a chocolate milkshake and freshly whipped cream.

In the morning, I melted the remaining dark chocolate chips (2 oz) in a bowl over a small pot of hot water. To add a bit of shine, I added some light corn syrup but unfortunately added too much; the chocolate seized itself and formed something that had the tougher texture of a gelée. To save the chocolate, I added a touch of heavy cream (essentially making ganache again) until the chocolate relaxed long enough to act as a coating for some of the truffles. I used a melon ball scoop to evenly parcel out the chocolate ganache.

After scooping the ganache in batches, I used my hands to make a rounder truffle ball and set a batch of 18 into a bowl of dark chocolate cocoa powder. Six of the truffles went into the melted chocolate described a few sentences ago and then, once coated, into a bowl of the crisped bacon finely chopped the night prior.

9 of the truffles also made their way into the melted chocolate and were then topped with Turkish Black Pyramid sea salt, one of six "starter set" salts I had been given a while back. The insert that came with the set suggested thinking "Aztec and strew [the salt's] black pyramids atop thick pumpkin soup." With this in mind, why not put this over chocolate?

At this point, it was time for me to head to work and so I brought the truffles I had finished, plus the ganache bowls of Nutella and dark mint, with me to my office. Once there, I finished shaping the rest of the truffles, coating the Nutella-based ganache in dark cocoa powder and drizzling some melted Hershey's milk chocolate over eight truffles, and enrobing the 13 dark mint ganache truffles in powdered sugar.

With a velvety smooth interior (though I preferred getting the truffles with a more solid bite to them-- refrigerate the truffles if you're so inclined), these dark chocolate truffle varieties do not hide the chocolate flavour and are true ambassadors for one of the world's most noticeable flavours. According to many a website, truffles can last for a few weeks in an air-tight container, assuming they can last long enough to be put into storage containers! For my complete photo album, click here.

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