Archive for July, 2008

Those Wiley Marshmallows!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 30, 2008 by Brian

Marshmallows ain’t easy.

Oh, I’m sure they can be, because you can buy them cheap just about anywhere. But to make them with all-natural ingredients, that’s a different story.

But now we’ve managed to master the marshmallow. After several different batches, I put together all the corrections to all the mistakes I made along the way, and got it right. (Although the not-quite-solid creme I made earlier this week is mighty tasty…)

So, what have we learned?

– Use fresh eggs, separate the whites from the yolks and go. You might think that you can use a carton of “egg whites” even though they’re more expensive and they say they’re 100% egg whites with nothing else added, but no. Real eggs.

– When the recipe says 250 F, it means 250 F. Below that you get a creamy mess, and above that you have hard caramel candy (I didn’t even add that to the egg whites, so I’m not sure what would have happened).

– Extracting the seeds from real vanilla beans is a world away from using vanilla extract.

– Even though the recipe says “5-quart mixer,” you can get away with a 4.5-quart; just be ready to clean up.

– Clean-up isn’t nearly as bad as you might think, because sugar is (thankfully!) water soluble and just rinses away in hot water. ūüôā

Some of these mastered marshmallows will be cut and eat as is, but the rest are going to become the outside of a toasted pecan and chocolate sandwich treat. Any takers for either version?

More Nougat

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 30, 2008 by Brian

The rice paper was inedible, and dangerous.

Well, after a fashion, if you held it in your mouth for a time, it softened. Its true purpose is to be soaked in water and then stuffed like a spring roll. Short of that, it cracked and splintered and could easily draw blood.

The nougat, on the other hand, was extremely edible. And very sticky.

A bit too sticky, and too much honey taste. The first day it was a paste that could only be scraped away from the rice paper, but the next day it had crystallized and peeled right off. Not exactly what I was going for, but not all bad. The nougat needs a bit more TLC as it sets, for starters.

Now, however, I have a fabulous new marble slab on which to cool nougat, as well as chocolate and fudge and even, as I’ve been told, pie crusts. Got it for a song, too, as the piece was taken from the spot in a countertop where the cooktop now resides. And even better, we’ve been invited to share our chocolates at the grand opening of the countertop company’s new showroom next month. Stay tuned…

Nougating

Posted in Uncategorized on July 26, 2008 by Brian

When I was in the south of France a few years ago, I happened upon the city of Aigues Mortes, wherein I happened up on a nougat shop. They had an amazing selection of flavored nougats mounded into cakes, and I bought a hefty slice for eight euros and enjoyed its sublimeness over the next few days.

While you can certainly refer to the inside of a Three Musketeers or Snickers as nougat, these are a far cry from what they made in this shop. Nougat comprises a variety of confections that range from smooth to chewy to hard, and made from sugar and egg whites. American candy bar nougat — I’m afraid to say — is made from corn syrup and soy protein.

Here’s how to make nougat. (Or at least how I made my first batch.) You start with a huge textbook/cookbook that has beautiful pictures and lengthy explanations and complicated recipes, and after reading through it you decide that it’s going to be too difficult, and besides, you don’t have some of the necessary ingredients. So you go online and find a simpler recipe.

(One of the “ingredients” in the simpler recipe is rice paper, which is used to sandwich the nougat as it sets. It was easy to find at a local Asian grocer, but it’s really more like rice plastic than paper, and after I manage to scrape the rest of my nougat off the sheet I’m not going to use it ever again.)

You follow the simple recipe, and end up with something that’s kind of like nougat, but way too sticky to be usable and tastes a bit too much like honey and really wasn’t at all what you were hoping for. Certainly not what they made in Aigues Mortes.

Then you go back to the big book, and you read why you should use a combination of fresh and dried egg whites, and why the temperature is critically important to what form you want the finished product to take, and why each different type of sugar (including honey) play important roles in the end product — basically, why the complicated recipe is the best.

I have to admit this fits well with my learning style of doing and then re-learning. I needed to start with the simple recipe, just to get started, and then see what it did and then read from the experts why exactly it did that, and what needs to be done to make it better.

Now, if I can just source some dried egg whites…

City

Posted in Uncategorized on July 23, 2008 by Brian

I just got done reading a great classic sci-fi novel, City, by Clifford D. Simak. It’s a great series of short stories that fit together in a morality play about how people have¬†difficulty co-existing peacefully with other people. Dogs talk, robots do all the work, humans¬†leave the planet, mutants teach ants to build, and the ants build an entire city — empty and useless — and then disappear.

Each story is engrossing, and individually interesting and complete. Together as a novel they are utterly confusing as the reader looks for common threads to make sense of it all. And even after reading the last chapter I wondered if I fully grasped the meaning in the complexity of the inner workings.

On a completely unrelated note, I’m still struggling to get my business license with the City of St. Louis. The complexity of the inner workings are even confusing to people who work there — three people who work in the same department gave me three different answers to one of my questions.

And while it’s helpful to have an entire agency designed to help businesses get what they need, this week I was nearly helped to death by someone who first said that my plan (to clear the last remaining “violations” from my occupancy permit) would surely fail, then recommended a different approach, and then came full circle to tell me I needed to go back to my original plan.

So today I went back to write another check (of course) to replace the one that I had shredded on Monday. If all goes well and talking dogs and mutants don’t take over city hall, I should be able to conduct (official) business by the end of August. Stay tuned.

Experimenting 101

Posted in Uncategorized on July 19, 2008 by Brian

As my heels and ganaches continue to cool whilst I wait for the City of St. Louis to give me permission to sell officially, I have time (between unofficial sales) to try my hand at some new truffle flavors.

This is not at all easy.

One might think that, given several tried-and-true recipes for ganache, that one might substitute various ingredients to achieve a different flavor. Certainly you can get by with substituting rum for scotch, but, well, when you get into some other issues it gets rather complicated.

One of the references I’m using (with adorable prose translated from French, such as, “Let us study the behaviour of chocolate…”) explains it all in detail. A lot of detail. Detail, I must admit, that has much more meaning to me now that I’ve tried and failed with several experiments.

(By failed I mean that the ganache was either too soft (which means I needed to let it set longer, and then cut it and let it dry a bit before dipping) or too hard (which means I cut the brownie-like concoction and dipped a few pieces anyway) — taste is important, too, yes? And not wanting to waste anything, the rest is being made into real brownies.)

In any case, I have these wonderful formulas, which previously meant very little to me and now mean a great deal. Which means that I’ll be better able to determine how I can make these dried bananas, grapes and pineapples into a Tropical Breeze truffle…

Meanwhile, I’m dipping some Maker’s Mark truffles on Monday, and definitely making some more caramels, both traditional and creme brulee, being that I, um, well, sold the ones I just made last week. Let me know if you’d like to get some fresh ones.

Mystery Solved

Posted in Uncategorized on July 13, 2008 by Brian

So, this issue with the ganache that didn’t work? (There were actually two, but the mint — which was completely solid — didn’t even make it to the cutter.) A little bit of research and I figured out exactly what went wrong.

I’ve known all along that ingredient temperatures are important, but I’d been relying more on the look and feel of the melted butter — the last ingredient added to the ganache, which gives it a nice creamy texture. As it turns out, I was putting it into the mix at precisely the wrong temperature.

Oddly enough, butter needs to be either too hot or too cold. “Just right” makes it want to bind together and separate from the rest of the mixture, which is exactly what it did. If it’s too hot, it won’t bind and clump together, and if it’s too cold, well, basically it’s starting to solidify and won’t stick to itself.

Armed with this¬†knowledge, I was able to make my vanilla,¬†chili-vanilla, and newly minted ganaches the way they’re supposed to be, at least as they’re setting.¬†We’ll see tomorrow when I dip them.

Oh, and the caramels! It turns out that if you overcook caramel, you get toffee — it’s not chewy, but rather crunchy. Didn’t bother the friends who tried it on Friday night, which makes me think that I need to find some way to use it in something. More thinking…

The next batch, however, was absolutely perfect. I can’t wait to dip them.

Oh, and the rose-petal truffles. A friend tried them and came up with a singular description: “They taste pretty!”

Nuf said.

A Bad Day in Chocolate

Posted in Uncategorized on July 10, 2008 by Brian

Yesterday the chocolate was not with me.

Which is to say that a bad day in chocolate is better than most good days sitting at a desk. But still.

My chai tea ganache didn’t set right. Or, rather, it set too much, and ended up more like a brownie than a creamy ganache. Tasted great, and I dipped it anyway (I was dipping my rose petal/red tea, too) but it’s not right.

But the dipping didn’t work well, either. I don’t know if my brownie/ganache was crumbling in the chocolate, or if it didn’t melt completely as I was tempering it (yes, I checked the temper, and it was fine), but there were lots of bits of chocolate that made it difficult.

Most telling, though, was the fact that in the first batch I dipped, I had quite a few that tipped over as I was setting the freshly dipped truffles on the tray. The more frustrated I got, the more I tipped over. Ah, I see a pattern here.

I stepped away from the chocolate, worked on a few emails, ordered some shipping containers, and then approached the tempering machine again. And didn’t tip a single truffle.

Now if I can just figure out what happened to that ganache…