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Don’t wait!!!

February 10th, 2011

Yesterday I heard somebody on the TV saying a balanced diet is a cookie in each hand. Well, I don’t agree at all, for me a balanced diet is a MAPLE CARAMEL BAR in each hand (and some leftovers in the kitchen, of course). Sadly, I broke my foot last Sunday and, at this moment, I’m stuck in the sofa with none of these bars to cheer me up. My advise, make this recipe while you can!!!!!

So, here is my favorite and the last of three ultimate Valentines chocolate candie recipes. Trust me, that’s one for the books! (I had to use this expression!)

Grease a flat surface such as baking sheet or use a silpat.

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water and sweetened condensed milk. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Add corn syrup, maple and continue cooking and stirring, for approximately 10 minutes or until the mixture reaches 110°C/230°F.

To test it manually, drop a small amount of caramel into a cup filled with cold water. Press the caramel drop between two fingers; it should form a thread.

Add the butter and continue cooking while stirring, for additional 7 minutes or until the mixture reaches 115°C/239°F. You can test manually once again. The drop should form now a soft and malleable ball that will flatten easily between your fingers.

Immediately, pour the mixture into the prepared surface, sprinkle with salt and let it cool at room temperature.

Set up the pecans. Moisten them with water and maple. Add the sugar and toss together to mix.

Spread the nuts in a baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt and bake for approximately 15 minutes or until they’re golden in color.

Take the pecans of the pan immediately. Let them cool and then chop.

Now, it’s time to “build” our bars. When the caramel is completely cool, coat one side with tempered chocolate and let it set for 15 minutes.

Turn the candy over a parchment paper and cover the other side with the rest of the chocolate. Immediately sprinkle the chopped and glazed pecans onto the chocolate. Let it set before cutting or eating!

Here we are, after the third biggest snowstorm of Chicago, admiring the snow that’s falling again. But for this time, it comes silently, without wind or fanfare, turning whiter what was already white . Beautiful!

So, to show my admiration, WHITE CHOCOLATE!

And just because our next candy is pink and chocolaty, it doesn’t mean it’s perfect only for Valentines Day. Combined with raspberries and almonds, these little rochers are crunchy, a bit tart, easy to make and, the best part, carry the perfect amount of chocolate, the minimum to feed any addiction and the maximum allowed to prevent any extra weight.

No, there’s no escape, you still have to temper the chocolate. But for this time no molds, no filling and just one batch.

Moist the almonds with the rose water or rum, add the sugar and toss them together to mix.

Spread the almonds in a sheet pan and toast until golden. Allow the nuts to cool at room temperature.

Crush about 2 tablespoons of dried raspberry in little pieces and keep the rest intact.

Mix the almonds with the cereal and dried raspberries.

Now it’s time to add the tempered chocolate: divide the nut mix in two parts and work with one at a time. The chocolate can get cold and set quickly if you do it at once.

Mix the white chocolate in one part, and blend just enough to coat the nuts. Spoon small amounts of the mixture out onto parchment paper. Repeat until all the nut mixture is used.

Let it set in a room temperature or place in a refrigerator for 10 minutes.

Simple, simple, simple!!

Getting ready for Valentines!!

February 1st, 2011

Computer broke! Yes, bad news! It’s getting better now but I had to take a break from the virtual world. Good thing is I spent my time cooking and got a few posts done for Valentines!!! I’m going to publish them on the next days, starting today. First I have to say something.

Brazil doesn’t celebrate Valentines. Actually, we do have a similar date to celebrate “love” but it happens just in June 12th. I don’t know why, I could investigate but it’s not important. I just love to have excuses to enjoy it twice. And when I say “to enjoy”, I mean to eat twice as chocolate as I’d if I had just one date to celebrate. And even better, to pair my favorite ingredients using a lot of cocoa, of course! So I’m postponing my trip memories. Let’s talk about CHOCOLATE!  Because love without chocolate isn’t love!

I know chocolate can be scary to work with, especially if we start to talk about temperature, tempering, bloom, blablabla…. Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid such work when you think about a high quality chocolate. But I have to ask you: “please, don’t give up before reading this post!!!”

I started to play with chocolate when I was 11, due to my sister Aline. We used to melt it in a boiling water bath, letting all the vapor get into the bowl. Funny is we didn’t have idea why the chocolate kept setting, even in a high heat. To handle that, we just used to work very quickly and ate all the hard and sandy leftovers. That’s how I learned chocolate doesn’t like humidity (the first and, I guess, the most important thing you have to know). In second comes the temperature, but it is not a taboo at all. Unless you burn the chocolate, what is unlike to happen, if the tempering goes wrong, the chocolate’ll still be good to use in baking recipes or good to be eaten, at least by you.

I’ll try to explain a simpler method, not a professional one but one that really suits a work evolving small amounts of chocolate such as the following recipes.

But first:

Tempering the chocolate:

Measure the chocolate you are going to work with (opt for a good quality one and avoid using chocolate chips).

You can use a water bath or a microwave to melt the chocolate. On the first case, never boil the water, don’t let the bottom of the chocolate bowl touch the water and never, ever drop water into the chocolate.

If using the microwave, melt the chocolate in medium power, stirring it each 30 second to help the melting process. Be careful to not over warm  the chocolate. Its own heat helps melting small solid pieces.

Once the chocolate is completely melted, lets start tempering. Place the bowl inside a cold water bath with a few ice cubes. Water doesn’t have to be freezing, just cold.

Using a spatula, stir chocolate constantly until you notice the first sign of solidification on the bottom. Take the chocolate bowl out of the water bath immediately and keep stirring for a few more minutes.

You can use the same process for dark, milk or white chocolate. You can feel the temperature using your lips, just placing a dab on them. The chocolate should feel chilled, not cold or warm. If you have a thermometer you can check the ideal temperatures: 32°C/90°F for dark chocolate and 30°C/86°F for milk and white.

Test a sample of the chocolate to observe if it sets quickly and without streaks. Now the chocolate is ready to be used!

Tempering chocolate requires patience and to be realistic, probably you won’t get it on the first time. And even making everything as it should be, we can get somewhat disappointed with the results.

But you can still mention how much time you spent on the kitchen and always use it as a truly proof of love!


Ginger and Vanilla Bean

Chocolate Hearts

To make these candies I bought cheap heart molds and they gave me a rustic and spotted candy surface. But you know what? I really liked it because at the end what really matters is not a shine, smooth, glossy heart, but what we can find inside!

And for one more time, brigadeiro!!! A really special one, flavored with a combination of ginger and vanilla.

For the filling, combine condensed milk, honey, butter, fresh grated ginger and vanilla bean seeds in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, til you can see the bottom of the pan, about 10 min. For this recipe you have to obtain a creamer brigadeiro, softer than the original. Let it cool completely before using.

Meanwhile, make the chocolate shells using candy molds. Fill any concavity with tempered chocolate and invert the mold over a bowl to drain off the excess. Place the mold upside down in a rack and let the chocolate set. Fill the concavities with ginger and vanilla bean brigadeiro batch, leaving about 3mm (1/8in) of room on the top for a cap.

Cover each piece completely with more tempered chocolate. Lightly, knock the mold against a hard surface to remove any air pocket. You can use a shortcut putting the mold directly into a refrigerator for 10 min. But for a better result, let it stand at room temperature for 15 minutes and then on the fridge for extra 10 minutes.

Invert the mold into a hard and flat surface and flex or tap lightly to remove the candies.

Keep it at room temperature up to 4 days.

In the end you are going to agree with me: making these candies are not the real proof of love. The real proof of love is to resist eating them all and leaving some for who you really care about!

If you want to know more about chocolate tempering, check this book: Chocolates & Confections, by Peter Greweling.

Minas Gerais Special

January 21st, 2011

It’s not a secret we spent the last month in Brazil. And one of the things I like the most when I get home after a trip is to seat in front of my computer, take another look at my pictures (as if I have not done it before) and remember the good moments.

There is a lot to say, a lot to share but I can’t do that at once.

So, here is the first part, a special entrée about Minas Gerais, my home state, with places we visited, food we ate and recipes we love!

(To know more about Minas Gerais, click here)

Coming back

January 16th, 2011

I tried, really!! But it was so hard to write on the last week. The time in Brazil went so fast and we spent the last days hurrying, trying to do everything, see everybody and eat every food we missed. Good news is now I’ve a lot to share, including recipes (because I know I’m in debt here)!

So, I’m starting with a very special one, a dish created by my brother Adolfo to be served in his bar and to compete in a contest as the best appetizer in the city. He didn’t win but who cares, the dish was born as a champion!!!

The name Oktauosso, something like Where’s the bone? couldn’t be more appropriated, first because it’s a joke about the way we speak in my home state, Minas Gerais, putting a lot of words together and swalloing some letters (In Portuguese it’d be Onde é que está o osso?). Second because it’s boneless chicken wings (yes, boneless chicken wings!!!), filled with smoked provolone and baked ‘til the aroma gets to the other block of the street.

For me, it’s a portrait of how we cook in Brazil, spending a lot of time in the kitchen!! And don’t ask me for the amount of ingredients, that’s a totally old school recipe and you have  to figure it out (and you can enjoy testing your own skills on the kitchen).

Here are the directions:

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