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Monday, November 27, 2006
Le hasard fait bien les choses – Truffes à la cannelle, au caramel au beurre salé, au gingembre et à la vanille

[Cinnamon, salted caramel, ginger and vanilla truffles]

I am currently working on the impact of colour - and more generally vision – on perceived flavour.
Many studies have shown that the colour of food has an influence on flavour.
what happens when one gets no visual hints? When the food eaten has the same exact form but different flavours?

Sugar High Friday was the perfect occasion for me to experiment.
I would make four different truffles but instead of shaping the ganaches into different forms and them dipping them into different tempered chocolate (for example, white chocolate speckled with vanilla seeds for the vanilla truffles), I would roll them in cocoa powder to get the same look and avoid a fashion kitchen faux-pas (it seems the current rule is to wear skinny jeans – preferably grey – with flats and a long sweater).

The results were astonishing – though predictable.
With visual clue (i.e. ganaches dipped in different chocolate)
The people detected the flavour almost immediately and the resulting perceived flavour was stronger.

Without visual clue (i.e. plain truffles rolled in cocoa powder)
It took a longer time for the people to guess the flavours which are now considered more subtle.

Apart from the experiment I am glad to say that these truffles - from Pierre Hermé's PH 10 - are a pure delight.
The invert sugar and good amount of butter make them smooth, sweet and strong.

- Balthazar or cinnamon truffles
This is always a winner combination. The cinnamon adds warmness to the already rich ganache.

- Makassar or salted caramel truffles
These were very mellow and had a great caramel au beurre salé flavour. They definitely were a favourite.

- Lou or ginger truffles
These had the most robust flavour; tangy and powerful. I really liked it at first but quickly got bored.

- Barbade or vanilla truffles
Probably the most difficult flavour to detect – very delicate at first but then you get a burst of banana/vanilla taste which is due to the vanilla-enriched ganaches.

It was very funny and exciting to pick a truffle, not knowing what taste it would have.
As we say in French: 'le hasard fait bien les choses'.

- - - -

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Truffles in the making...

Johanna of the Pasionnate Cook is the current host of Sugar High Friday. And this month theme is 'truffles'. Chocolate truffles.
I plan to make four truffles from my ultimate role-model - Pierre Hermé - recipes:
- Lou or ginger and milk chocolate truffles
- Makassar or salted caramel truffles
- Balthazar or cinnamon truffles
- Barbade or vanilla truffles (hence the picture)

Sadly i won't be able to write about these ganaches lusciously wrapped in chocolate till next monday.
'Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre...'

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Saturday, November 11, 2006
Un orage, deux voitures et un millionaire’s shortbread – Petits carrés au caramel et au chocolat

[A storm, two cars and a millionaire’s shortbread]

Millionaire's shortbread; from Donna Hay's Gourmandises

Ivonne and Orchidea, asked us to share a special dish both comforting and full of memories. Here is my little story:

There are some days that are unforgettable; I mean, not willingly unforgettable. Those kinds of days you'd prefer not to remember or actually, days that end up making great stories for long winters' nights.
Indeed, if I knew an effective mean to reprogram my brain in order to dismiss memories from these days, I'm not sure I would go for it (though, I certainly would if asked right after 'la catastrophe' [the disaster]).
Looking back, I - now - remember those times with a hint of emotion because of all the lessons they taught me and all the benefits I've retained over the years.
Funnily enough, it seems that the benefits in question are mainly food-related. As if I was more keen to cook (or more possibly to eat) when utterly shocked.

Last July - the 29th to be accurate, my home-town was hit by a violent storm. My parents had left the house a few days before for a three-week journey.
The thunder started rumbling.
Without being aware of it, I started counting the seconds to get a rough idea of the location of the storm.
1, 2... Still far!
The minute after I felt what was unknown for me before - a loud crashing noise echoed and a bright light made me blind for a short moment. All this at the same exact time. The lighting had just hit the small road in front of my house.
I rushed to the kitchen and turned off all the electric appliances - including the oven, where a cake was being baked for 'le goûter'. Then, without thinking, I grabbed my father's car keys and jumped into the car, heading towards the south to escape to the storm.
When I finally got to my boyfriend's house I felt relieved yet shocked.

That night I received a text from my parents saying they would not be reachable for the next three days.
It was ok. I was in a safe place now.
But as the saying goes, 'il ne faut pas mettre la charue avant les boeufs'.

The next day, I was waited for in Cannes. But before going there, I had to go home to change clothes.
Just four kilometres away from home, the car stopped and wouldn't start again. I tried to reach my dad with no success - then I remembered the text and wondered why such a thing happened while I was alone. Alone. I must have prayed really hard because a few moments later I could finally hear the motor.
I was more than happy to be home again.
When ready to leave, I decided to take the other car - my mother's. I didn't want to risk to stay stuck in Cannes.

I went to the party. Everything went well. But then, later that night, when I got into the car and tried to start it, everything went from 'well' to 'dark'.
The battery was dead*.

Can you believe that in two days I faced a storm and the loss of two cars?

I was devastated. Devastated yet willing to bake. I picked up the first book on the shelf and decided I would make the first recipe I would spot. Millionaire's shortbread, it was; sounded good and comforting. Just what I needed. That THE benefit from this experience. Indeed I've made this recipe at least twice since that day of July.
And everytime I make these shortbreads, I still feel the same comfort they brought me after this awful day, which obviously make them taste even better (if possible!).

Hopefully, incidents do not happen that often. That would be too exhausting a life (even if you got a keeper-recipe each time)!

* Apparently the magnetic vibes of the storm had emptied the battery.

Millionaire’s shortbread
Apart from the fact that these squares brought me all the comfort I needed after that tiring event, they are very good.
The base calls for coconut, which is a great twist for the regular shortbread. The caramel mixture is so yummy I could eat it straight from the pan with ‘une petite cuillère’ and the use of oil (I prefer to use cocoa butter, but you can easily substitute it with sunflower oil) in the chocolate layer help getting a glossy look without having to temper the chocolate.
Note – I couldn’t help but use salted butter in the caramel mixture. I am such a ‘caramel au beurre salé’ lover!

Milionnaire's shortbread

for the base
135g flour
45g dried coconut
100g brown sugar
125g butter, melted

for the caramel layer
130g golden syrup
125g salted butter (see note above), melted butter
800g sweetened condensed milk

for the chocolate layer
185g best dark chocolate
3 tsp cocoa butter (use sunflower oil if not available)

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 20cm x 30 cm pan with baking parchment.
Make the base by mixing the flour, coconut, sugar and melted butter. Spoon this mixture into the tin and press to make an even layer. Bake for 10 minutes and transfer to a wire rack.
Place the golden syrup, butter and concentrated milk in a large pan and cook over low heat for 7 minutes. The mixture should be thick and caramel-brown in colour. Pour this over the base and bake for 20 minutes into the preheated oven. Allow to cool completely at room temperature, and then go on with the chocolate.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Mix in the cocoa butter and pour over the caramel. Chill until set.
Cut into small squares and eat!

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Thursday, November 09, 2006
Je suis en retard, en retard; ou peut-être au pays des merveilleuses tartes – Riz au lait au chocolat

[I’m late, very late; or maybe I’m just in wonder(tart)land – Chocolate riz au lait]

A mad tea party, by Arthur Rackham

Time goes by and I suddenly realise that all I’ve been writting about last month are a pie, a tarte and a crostata.
Have I missed something? Was October the month of tart?

There must be something comforting in baking tarts.
The reward of turning simple ingredients such as butter, flour and sugar into a delicious dough, the calmness of kneading it and the reassuring fragrance that fills the entire house.
And indeed, there are – at least for me - few things that make me feel as comfy as tarts do.

A tart seems to be perfect to warm up the cold days autumn is now bringing us.
I guess my current passion for tarts will not stop anytime soon: I can’t wait to recreate the lovely pecan tart I had in Toronto and the pasteis de Belem a sweet friend brought me back from Portugal.
A never-ending tea tart party!

Though, I feel like something will – for a short moment – sooth my tart cravings.

Riz au lait au chocolat
Riz au lait, litteraly milk rice, is the French name for a pudding made of rice cooked in sweetened milk.
It is usually flavoured with vanilla or even cinnamon if one wants to feel warm and cosy.
But I like my riz au lait best when very chocolaty. But then I am the ultimate chocolate lover!
This quite unusual twist brings out – in my humble opinion – the creaminess of the pudding and transforms the rather homely dessert into a luxurious treat.

Riz au lait au chocolat au lait
serves 4

300g milk
60g arborio rice
25g sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
15g butter
100g milk chocolate

Put the milk, rice, sugar and vanilla seeds in a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible and simmer for 30 minutes or until almost all the milk has been absorbed.
Off the heat, mix in the butter and milk chocolate until melted and combined.
Divide the riz au lait between four ramekins and chill until set (at least 4 hours).

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