Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Milk Chocolate, Butterscotch, and Macadamia Nut Whips and Baked Chocolate Mousse

This week marks the beginning of Passover, which if you're interested, you can read more about here. But all you need to know is that it's basically Atkins on crack, for Jews. No flour, no corn, no rice, nothing leavened for 8 days. Fun, right? Although Passover didn't technically start until Monday night, we celebrated over the weekend so that everyone could be together, and I, of course, was tasked with making dessert. We were a big group of 9 with my grandmother, Dan, and my sister and her friends, so I chose to make 2 different desserts for variety's sake. To start, I made the Milk Chocolate, Butterscotch, and Macadamia Nut Whips.

I began by making butterscotch sauce so that it would have enough time to cool before dinner. I combined water with caster sugar in a large pot, and stirred it to dissolve the sugar.

I purposely used an oversized pot to make the sauce so that when I added the cream, it didn't bubble up over the sides as caramel is wont to do. Sort of like a searing hot sugar volcano.

I brought this mixture to a boil, and then let it boil over a medium-high heat, without stirring. I let the sugar boil until it turned a golden caramel color.

Not pictured: me, staring like a vulture into the pot, clutching a wooden spoon and resisting the urge to STIR

While the sugar was boiling, I used a pastry brush dipped in water to wash down the sides of the pot 4 or 5 times to ensure no sugar crystals formed. I wish I could tell you how long it took to get to this stage, but I wasn't really looking at the clock and the recipe gives no indication of how long this should take. I've gone through the process of burning caramel before (during an ill-fated tart tatin attempt), so I know it's not pretty, and stood a vigilant watch over the sugar to make sure it didn't color too darkly. Once it turned that light gold pictured above (and after I hastily took the picture because MY GOD MAN don't let it burn!), I took the pot off the heat and left it for a few seconds to color more, which happens naturally as it cools.

 Look at me sounding all authoritative when I only know this because the other time I made caramel, I learned this the hard way, as did my mother who had to scrape the hard, burned caramel off our brand new tart tatin pan. I told you it didn't go well.

Thankfully, the caramel turned a rich brown color, at which point I added heavy cream which I had also boiled while the sugar was cooking. I did this slowly in a small, steady stream, as the cream causes the caramel to boil up and can bubble and spit, and who wants searing hot sugar splattered onto their hand? Not me!

This was also done off the heat

Once all the cream had been added, I put the pot back on the heat and whisked gently as it came back to a boil, which happened immediately. At this point, I stirred in the last ingredient:


and took the finished product off the heat

OHMAHGAH sooo gorgeous

I was so excited that this turned out so well. It was such a nice color and consistency, and for my first attempt at a butterscotch sauce, I don't think it could have gone any better. I let this cool for a few minutes and then poured it into a container to cool completely on the counter.

Next, I poured the macadamia nuts out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkled them with some salt.

These went into the oven for about 13 minutes until they were a nice golden brown

Well, most were a golden brown. Some were a bit more...toasty

I left the nuts to cool completely, and then had Dan give them a rough chop.

Please note the manly placement of the large butcher knife
Meanwhile, I made the milk chocolate mousse. Originally, this recipe was written with white chocolate, which I now think would be delicious with the butterscotch and macadamia nuts, but I'm just not a huge white chocolate fan. There is a note that says milk chocolate can be used instead, so that's what I chose to do, but next time I'll definitely try with the white chocolate.

I whipped heavy cream to soft peaks and put it in the fridge.

I broke up the milk chocolate and put it in a bowl, guarding it against all the grabby hands in the kitchen.

I boiled a little water with some corn syrup (not pictured because BORING) and poured it over the chocolate, whisking until the chocolate was melted to a batter-like consistency.

Without letting the chocolate cool, I began adding the whipped cream, folding in about a third at a time until it was completely incorporated.

With all the components made, it was time to assemble. Dan and I formed a little assembly line with 8 dessert glasses and began by putting a spoonful of nuts in the bottom of each glass. Next came a layer of butterscotch sauce, followed by some chocolate mousse.

Then, we repeated the steps again: more nuts, butterscotch, and the rest of the chocolate mousse.

I am apparently not great at portion control, because when I started the last layer of mousse, I was nearly out of mousse with 3 glasses to go. We did our best spreading out the last layer of mousse so it at least covered the last layer of butterscotch. Last, we garnished with a little sprinkling of nuts.

These went into the fridge for about 2 hours to firm and set until we were ready to serve.

And because you can never have too much chocolate, I also made Baked Chocolate Mousse, which I served alongside the Whips. 

These required 8 individual 2-inch ring molds, which my mother and grandmother dutifully looked for in three different kitchen supply stores. Our phone conversation while I was at work went something like this:
"No, they have to be 2 inches wide and 1 inch tall...What? They have handles? Well are the handles going to be a problem? Ok, the most important thing is that they're 2 inches wide... No, 2 1/2 inches wide and 1 3/4 inches tall won't work... No, I don't want to go look at them myself. Yes, I still need you to buy all of the ingredients."

Unfortunately, no one carried the specific size molds we needed, but they did find 2-inch biscuit cutters that are essentially just ring molds with little handles on top (and will come in handy next time I make scones). 

I preheated the oven and prepped the molds by giving them a base of aluminum foil and placing all eight on a baking sheet. I also gathered all my ingredients together.

caster sugar, dark chocolate, butter, 1 egg

I put the chocolate in a bowl with the butter, and set it over simmering water, and let the mixture melt, stirring occasionally.

I kept this warm on the stove while I whisked together the egg and sugar until it was pale and thick. Since it was such a small amount, Dan and I took turns doing this by hand.

This looks frothy in the picture, but it was really nice and smooth and thick

Once this mixture was thick, I added the melted chocolate and butter, folding the whole mixture together with a rubber spatula.

Once the mixture was completely combined, I carefully spooned it into the 8 molds. The handles made this a little challenging and the process took kind of a while, but it wasn't too bad.

You can see that the molds are pretty small, and they're only filled about halfway, which is intentional. The chocolate is so rich, dark, and dense in this dessert, that you really only need a small amount, even for chocolate lovers like myself. 

I put the molds in the oven and set the timer for 8 minutes. After 4 minutes, I checked to see if they were forming a ring of large, slightly risen bubbles around the edges, in which case I would have lowered the oven temperature slightly and left the oven door ajar. At the 4 minute mark, the tops still looked smooth, so I left them alone.

Of course, after those last 4 minutes, when I removed the molds from the oven, what did I see?

Oh, hi, ring of large, slightly risen bubbles around the edge! So happy to see you!

Maybe I should have checked again after another minute or two, or it may be that the pan was in the wrong position in the oven (I put it in the middle instead of at the top because apparently I can't follow directions). I was kind of disappointed and sort of tried to poke at the bubbles with a toothpick (very professional, I know), but at that point, I really just had to accept the outcome and leave them alone. The time in the oven isn't really meant to bake the mousses all the way through, so they were still soft and wobbly, and needed to set completely. I left the molds to cool on the pan, and then put them in the fridge overnight so they would be very firm when I tried to unmold them the next day. 

About four hours before I wanted to serve them, I took the molds out of the fridge. Using a small creme brulee torch, we were to gently heat the outside of each mold just enough so that the mousse could be unmolded intact. Dan was super excited to get to play with our brulee torch (because really, all firemen are just pyromaniacs at heart), and was way better than I was at aiming it at the mold and not at his hand, so I let him handle this process.

Without a torch, you can use a warm damp towel, but who doesn't want to play with a mini blowtorch?

The mousses all stayed intact and came out of the molds with no problems, something I completely attribute to Dan's steady hand and tolerance for stressful situations. I tried one, almost burned myself and our china dessert plates, and then started to get all tense and mouth-breathy and had to walk away.

The one odd thing that happened I noticed as I removed the tinfoil from each mold. Around the outside, just where the tinfoil had been was a translucent wax-like substance. I'm not sure if it was from the foil itself or if some of the butter, through the cooking process, perhaps leaked out and was contained by the foil. You can see it on the bottom of the mold in this picture:

It didn't hurt the mousse or the molds at all, and was actually sort of helpful for Dan, since as soon as it started to melt from the heat of the torch, he knew the mousses were ready to unmold. 

We placed each mousse on the serving plates we were going to use later and left them to sit at room temperature until we ate, about three and a half hours later. This allowed them to come back to room temperature, changing the texture so that they still held their shape but were soft and scoopable instead of hard and dense.

Just before serving, I whipped together creme fraiche, heavy cream, vanilla, and confectioner's sugar until it formed firm peaks.

Using two teaspoons warmed in some hot water, I scooped some of the cream in one spoon, and then shaped it into an oval by scraping it from one spoon to the other, forming a canelle. Before trying this, I was pretty pessimistic I would be able to form the correct shape, but it actually was pretty easy, and most of the ovals turned out really well. Dan did some of them too so that I could drizzle each dish with some of the butterscotch sauce, and then Alex topped them off with a dusting of confectioner's sugar.

pretty beautiful, if I do say so myself

These were just as delicious as they looked. The mousse was soft and light, but still packed with the dark chocolate flavor. The cream was not too sweet, so it cut the chocolate nicely, and the butterscotch sauce was a nice accompaniment as well. They were the perfect size so that the chocolate wasn't overwhelming, but you felt satisfied after eating just one. I added a little more butterscotch to mine for a little extra sweetness.

The Milk Chocolate Whips were also delicious with the sweet milk chocolate, butterscotch, and crunchy macadamia nuts. They were an interesting contrast to the bitter dark chocolate mousse and also a completely different texture. The portions were quite a bit larger but the milk chocolate mousse was light and airy so it didn't feel too heavy and the nuts added a much needed crunch.

I polled the table after everyone had tried both desserts to gauge which was the favorite, and I think the majority of people preferred the Baked Chocolate Mousse, but some definitely favored the Milk Chocolate Whips. Personally, I liked the Baked Chocolate Mousse a little better, I think because of the intense chocolate flavor, but both really were delicious.

And now, for lack of a better segue...

As part of the enrollment process for culinary school(!!!!), I had to get tested for Hepatitis A and TB. Since I'm in Richmond and refuse to form relationships with any real doctors, I chose to have the tests done at a clinic down the street, sort of like an urgent care center that's open 365 days a year. I called the day before to be sure they would perform the tests, and went after work the next day. I explained why I was there to the person checking me in and handed her my insurance card. She started to confirm my mothers name, address, and employer, which is when I realized she was using my old insurance information and completely ignoring the insurance card right in front of her (I had been there once before for something so minor, a physicians assistant checked me out for literally 5 minutes and sent me home with nothing more than a $90 bill. This was after I waited for more than an hour. I know, why on Earth did I go back there? Because I am lazy and it's a mile away from my house). I quickly informed her that I was no longer on my mom's insurance, but had my own. "Oh," she replied and then started looking at the insurance card which clearly stated my correct insurance. So, before when I handed you that card, that was just what, for kicks? I could have handed you my expired Rec center card and you wouldn't have noticed.

I waited for all of 2 minutes and was called back to the patient area. We went through the usual routine of weighing, measuring, and blood pressure-taking, and the medical assistant asked again why I was there. I explained I was being tested for Hepatitis A and TB and showed her my medical form. She seemed a bit confused about the whole testing v. being vaccinated thing, but looked at the form, shrugged, and left. Next, a physician's assistant came in (I suspect the same one I saw last time) and said chirpily, "So, you're here for a vaccine?"

...No. I'm just here to be tested. He did a double take to ensure I was being tested for Hepatitis A, not B or C, and left. A few minutes later a nurse popped her head in.
"Hey, what's your name?"
Calling down the hallway, "Yeah, it's her. She's in here."
Um, where else would I be?

I was mildly amused at this point, but not really concerned, although perhaps I should have been given that there were very few people in the clinic. Maybe it is easier to keep track of people when all the rooms are full...

Finally the lab tech came in to draw my blood for the Hepatitis test. He confirmed he was in the right place and started to set up shop, telling me he had a hard time finding me. I gave him a confused look. "Did you move rooms?" he asked. I'd been sitting in the same room in the same chair for 10 minutes. Apparently they had me listed in a different exam room than the one I was in, and after not finding me in that room, he had actually chased after a woman in the parking lot (apparently as opposed to checking other exam rooms first), and proceeded to yell after her to wait as he hadn't drawn her blood yet. Please take a moment and picture that...Frantic man in a white lab coat carrying a tacklebox of needles: "Wait! I still need your blood!"

Now, here's my question. If I had gone into the clinic to be tested for Hepatitis, and left without getting any blood drawn, how would I think they would be performing the test? By analyzing the air I was breathing? Just by looking at me? "Hmm, she doesn't look Hepatitis-y to me." Believe me, I would not leave the clinic without getting blood drawn. Thankfully, the lab tech was perfectly competent at actually taking my blood, and now all I have to do is hope they don't misplace my blood sample. I mean, if they can keep track of a whole person...oh, wait...

My TB test was a slightly different story. I knew it was a skin test, and sort of assumed it would be like a little something they would swab on my skin and I would come back in 2 days to see what it looked like. My medical form from the school particularly led me to believe this as it depicted a giant needle circled, with a line through it boasting, "No Shots!" Oh how naive I was.

Granted, shots are something that aren't really a big deal to me. I give blood, I have tattoos; needles don't scare me (Now, the dentist. That's a different story *shudder*). What is slightly unnerving is when I'm expecting an alcohol swab and see a big syringe instead. It's just surprising. Also the words, skin and bubble: not two things I want to hear in the same sentence. When I told Dan that the TB test hurt, he seemed surprised since he gets them every year (a perk of working with sick people all the time) and they never hurt. Maybe they did it wrong. Maybe they accidentally gave me TB because they did it wrong and now it's starting to itch and I'm coughing and SHUT UP. He was also willing to bet me $5 that he could rip my bandaids off in one fell swoop. He then downgraded and just offered to give me $5 if he failed and accept the mere satisfaction if he succeeded. I declined the offer.

I also fell on Dan's (wooden) steps while carrying Dexter the other day, landing on my knee, thigh, and hands, because yes, I did drop Dexter in order to brace my fall. Now I know a dog is different than a baby, but this does not bode well for my future offspring, although Dexter definitely faired better than I did. We fell forward so he just sort of dropped down onto the next step, and I made sure not to squish him. And while I laid there momentarily making a truly unholy sound, he continued to hop up the rest of the way and then look at me quizzically from the top floor. So not only are both my arms bruised from various needle pricks, but both my legs are sporting angry bluish patches as well.

Aren't you glad I spared you of these physical maladies until after I had written about all the delicious chocolate?

How dare you insinuate that I'm not your baby

I'm sorry I didn't mean t-

No, you're dead to me.

Next Indulgence: Frosted Banana Cake and Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd

1 comment:

  1. Those chocolate desserts were soooo yummy and quite beautiful!

    And I suppose after seeing that last pictures I will give Dexter another chance...


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