Sunday, 8 April 2012

One Step Closer to Just Right: Another Go at Ladyfingers and Chocolat Chantilly

Happy Easter and early morning greetings from New Orleans! I'm currently sitting in an airport lounge, as more and more people make their way through the security screening. We'll soon board for a 6am flight heading to D.C. this early Easter morning, and I cannot wait to get in a proper nap before my second flight back to Columbus. This year's ethnic studies conference came to a close Saturday afternoon, and I'm already looking forward (or perhaps more so hoping) for everything to realign once again for next year's conference tentatively scheduled for Colorado. But more on that later; I've still got this post and the next to write! Indeed, so much has happened in such a short amount of time that it's somewhat strange to think that the main subject of this post happened last work week. Every year (at least recently), our Division auctions off a soup and salad luncheon for a group; this year, the members of the Biology Department won the luncheon and my contribution to the mix was an improvement on my ladyfinger recipe and a slight technique adjustment for quickly whipping up chocolat Chantilly.

After finally getting around to buying a new baking sheet (I like to think it's because I out used my former one), I realised there was no way I could feasibly pipe all of the ladyfingers onto two trays and have them bake evenly in my small oven. That said, I made the recipe twice, merging this recipe with the others I used in my aforementioned post. The first time around, I began by separating two whole eggs: the whites went straight into my standing mixer bowl, while the yolks went into another bowl with about 1/3 of my total 1/4 c granulated sugar. Also, be sure to preheat your oven to 350°F and have a small bowl of confectioner's (a.k.a., powdered) sugar ready to go for dusting. It's also very helpful to pre-line your baking sheet with wax paper.

As I beat the egg yolks and sugar like no other (until the mixture about triples in size and ribbons of creamy egg form; then add a few drops of vanilla extract and then whisk everything one last time), I set the standing mixer on medium speed. When the whites started to foam, I added about 1/4 tsp cream of tartar; and when the mix started to form soft peaks, the mixer was set slightly higher as I added in the remaining granulated sugar.

On top of the yolk mixture, sift in (either in its entirety, or as I did the second time around, in small batches alternating with the whites) a mix of sifted flour (1/2 c), baking powder (1/4 tsp) and a pinch of salt.

Quickly, but gently, fold in the dry ingredients with all the wet ingredients. And don't fret if it seems to be too clumpy at first (again, as I had done the second time around, I alternated the dry and whites), as the batter will work itself out. I do, however, think it's mastering this process that will ultimately aid in getting the ladyfingers to turn out correctly.

[Unfortunately, my layover in D.C. wasn't long enough to finish up this post (nor was I even able to find a strong wireless connection), and so I'm picking up from my apartment in Granville.]: Into a piping bag (or in my substitution, a gallon size plastic baggy) carefully get all of the foamy yet slightly firm batter. Cut a small corner of the bag and quickly pipe the batter into your lady finger shapes. It's important to work quickly because the batter will make its way out of the bag whether you're ready or not. What did work this time, thankfully, was the fact the batter more or less held the shape I piped out (as opposed to the sloppy, liquidy mess from last time). Also, as soon as the batter has been piped, get this into the oven pronto! The last thing you want is for the air bubbles from the egg whites to deflate the lady fingers. If nothing else, it is for sure this timing that makes or breaks the height of the lady fingers. Ah yes, and because I had so much batter left, I also piped some out into a wax paper-lined loaf pan. Now, I had forgotten to do so, but make sure you lightly dust your lady fingers before getting them into the oven. It was until it was too late did I sift too much powdered sugar after they were nearly done baking.

The cool thing about the lady fingers is that they're done in a matter of minutes (less than 10, I'd say). Do note, though, that this is not enough time to make a new batch of batter and pipe; in this process of taking them out and letting them cool, you have a small window of about 2 minutes before the batter sticks too well to the wax paper.. so much so in fact that you'll most likely end up with torn wax paper providing a nice undercrust as show above.

As shown in this above photo, and as I had done with my second batch, you'll note that they can be easily peeled after having the very slight cool down time (ready to go after a minute of waiting and then as soon as the wax paper is warm enough to handle). As you may also note, I went with lady finger dots instead of actual lady fingers as I reverted to making mini sandwiches out of this batch. In the end, though, I was able to save a few from the first batch.

For the filling, I whipped up a batch of chocolat Chantilly, following the same exact recipe as my last go (using 1/3 c water with one 3.5 oz bar of chocolate). This time around, however, I put the bowl into which the melted chocolate would go directly into the ice bath of the larger bowl (as shown above). This entire set then went into the freezer (so that everything would be cold; I think I may have even put the whisk in there too).

And with that, I eventually got the chocolat Chantilly whipped up even quicker than the last time. Again, you'll know you've finished beating the mixture of melted water and chocolate when it becomes thick enough to twice coat your whisk and you feel the resistance of the resulting chocolate.

Transported then to our luncheon site, I got some of the cream sandwiched between two pieces of the delicate lady finger disks. Of course, there was still "too much" chocolat Chantilly that I just went ahead and served the rest as a separate dessert (or if not at least as a topping).

Now, I'm not one for claiming anyone's food as being "the best," so I'll leave you with this photo of two of my favourite dishes, both of which use turkey in some capacity. Also really notable were an Asian-inspired salad that made use of ramen noodles (the dish would have been great alongside the ones prepared for a previous residential hall food and culture program) and a fruit pizza (which is always great any time of the year; and you can also have seconds and thirds...because it's got fruit on it...). For more photos, including other dishes made by other members of the Division, click here.

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