All posts by Cocofancy

General Tsao’s Chicken

When I saw this post on Savoring Time in the Kitchen, I knew I just had to make it. It looked too good in that photo not to try. I ended up not getting any pictures of the food while I was making this, but at least that image is a good one to drool over.

The big things I learned from this recipe: deep-frying on the stove top is a bit more difficult than I realized because of temperature fluctuations in the oil; using corn starch to bread chicken is much easier/better than using flour (though you have to make sure you use the chicken quickly after stirring the corn starch in – I briefly forgot the adhesive powder of corn starch, and spent a bit too much time futzing around with stuff after powdering the chicken – I had to pick it apart manually because the egg/starch became glue); and Susan is right – you will want to make a double batch of the sauce because it’s amazing.

General Tsao’s Chicken

Chicken
4 cups vegetable oil for frying
1 egg
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (you may substitute chicken breast)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 pinch white pepper
1 cup cornstarch

Sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or olive oil)
3 tablespoons chopped green onion
1 clove garlic, minced
6 dried whole red chilies (I chopped my chiles before I realized they were supposed to be whole, and they were wonderfully warm)
1 strip orange zest
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons chicken broth
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut oil

2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Heat 4 cups vegetable oil in a deep-fryer or large saucepan to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Using olive oil for the deep frying would be a slightly healthier option.

Beat the egg in a mixing bowl. Add the chicken cubes; sprinkle with salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, and white pepper; mix well. Mix in 1 cup of cornstarch a little bit at a time until the chicken cubes are well coated.

In batches, carefully drop the chicken cubes into the hot oil one by one, cooking until they turns golden brown and begin to float, about 3 minutes. Remove the chicken and allow to cool as you fry the next batch. Once all of the chicken has been fried, refry the chicken, starting with the batch that was cooked first. Cook until the chicken turns deep golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Stir in the green onion, garlic, whole chiles, and orange zest. Cook and stir a minute or two until the garlic has turned golden and the chiles brighten. Add 1/2 cup sugar, the ginger, chicken broth, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and peanut oil; bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes.

Dissolve 2 teaspoons of cornstarch into the water, and stir into the boiling sauce. Return to a boil and cook until the sauce thickens and is no longer cloudy from the cornstarch, about 1 minute. Stir the cooked chicken into the boiling sauce. Reduce heat to low and cook for a few minutes until the chicken absorbs some of the sauce.

This is amazing just with rice, or with some steamed bok choi or broccoli. So very filling and good!

Risotto-Stuffed Lemon Thyme Chicken

I’ve had this young organic chicken sitting in my freezer for a couple of months now. It was part of the bundle of food my mom gave me when she moved. It’s about twice the size of a cornish game hen, but not super-large, so I have been saving it for something interesting. Some time last week, I turned the TV on at work, flipped it to Food Network, and saw Giada de Laurentis making something delicious. I can’t remember if she was making risotto or not, but somehow I got risotto stuck in my head.

I’ve never made risotto. I’m pretty much too impatient to make rice most of the time. I’m much more comfortable with noodles. Oodles of noodles. But I was stuck on the idea of risotto. Especially with lemon. Lemon Risotto. The food idea was chasing itself around my brain, so I figured I’d act on it. I mean, how difficult could risotto be? I just need to be patient. Right.

The following (especially the risotto part) is why I generally don’t do anything without a recipe. It just doesn’t work out most of the time. I had a little trouble finding a chicken-stuffed risotto recipe, but finally came across one that worked.

Roast lemon thyme chicken with a lemon risotto stuffing

1 1.8kg free-range chicken
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1 bunch lemon thyme, chopped; one sprig reserved
coarse sea salt
1/2 cup arborio rice
1 shallot, chopped
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1/3 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Reserve 1 tbsp butter. Mix lemon thyme into remaining butter, along with plenty of course sea salt. Rub under the chicken’s skin, concentrating on the breast.

I really have never felt so much like I was molesting a chicken. Not sure why. I’ve rubbed buttery stuff under chicken skin before…. This time just felt so much more….molesty. 

Heat the reserved 1 tbsp butter in heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Fry the shallot and remaining sprig of lemon thyme gently for 5 minutes until the shallot is softened.

Add the rice and lemon zest, mix well.

Add lemon juice, white wine, and stock. Bring to a boil and cook briskly for 2 minutes.

Being the wonderful multi-tasker I am, I started the butter/shallot stuff going as I was rubbing the chicken down. I didn’t realize how long the chicken molestation would take, so I ended up over-doing the shallots a bit.

Remove the lemon risotto from the heat and spoon into chicken cavity. Truss legs into place and position in roasting tray.

Roast chicken for 1 hour, until cooked through.

Remove chicken from oven. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

The chicken turned out very well for the most part. The stuffing risotto was good. But when I tried to make a bit more risotto for accompaniment, I apparently failed. See, every risotto dish I looked at said to do the frying of stuff, add wine/alcohol, cook until liquid almost gone, then add the chicken stock in 1/2 cup increments, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time. I tried that… Maybe I was rushing (probably), but my risotto came out mushy ._. Apparently I did it wrong. Anyone out there have any ideas?

Spiced Chocolate Torte with Chocolate Ribbons

I really didn’t think I’d be doing anything else that would be considered vaguely valentiny, but it happened anyway. I had an excess of the buttercream filling from the molded chocolates, so I figured that was a good enough excuse to make the cake the filling goes with. I first made this cake for my birthday a month ago, and it was amazingly delicious, almost illegally sexy in its chocolate loveliness. But I also kind of made a mess of it, mostly because I had no experience whatsoever with modeling chocolate. I have no idea what I was expecting when I tried to make the ribbons, but it turned out absolutely terrible.

Yeah, not much to look at, but oh! was it good. I had been hoping to revisit the recipe and see if I could make it turn out a bit better, and this was the perfect excuse.

Do beware that this recipe takes some time, not least because you have to melt about 42oz chocolate in various amounts at various points. I generally use Dove chocolates because they melt nicely and have a good flavor, but pretty much any decent chocolate will do. For white chocolate, I recommend Guittard or Ghirardelli chips.

Spiced Chocolate Torte Wrapped in Chocolate Ribbons

cake

1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
8 eggs, separated, room temperature
10 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), melted, lukewarm
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp each ground cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg
1 1/3 cups unbleached flour, sifted
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar

buttercream

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup (agave syrup works wonderfully)
4 jumbo egg yolks
1 1/2 cup (3 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature (cut into pieces before warming – makes things much easier)
6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), melted and cooled (but still pourable)
1/4 cup dark rum

glaze

12 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 tbsp honey
3/4 tsp instant coffee powder

chocolate ribbons

7 oz high-quality white chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup light corn syrup or agave syrup, divided
7 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), broken into pieces

I know, a whole lot of stuff. Make sure everything is ready before you start – you’ll regret it if you don’t.

cake

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 11/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of each cake pan with waxed paper; butter and flour waxed paper. (This is where the heart-shaped pans came in: I have no matching cake pans. I actually only have three cake pans, and they’re springform pans in three sizes. Yes, I could have just cut them down to the size of the smallest one, or done them one at a time, but I figured I’d go up to Mikal’s dad’s house to see what his cake pan selection looked like. The only two pans he had of matching size and shape were the heart pans, so I went for it. Frankly, you do need three pans for the batter – if you are gentle enough with folding the ingredients in, the batter expands quite a bit.)

Using electric mixer, cream butter in large bowl. Gradually beat in sugar until smooth. Beat in egg yolks 1 at a time. Blend in melted chocolate. Slowly mix in pecans, vanilla, and spices. Gently fold in flour in 4 batches (batter will be very thick and dense).

This is the batter before the flour. You’ll need a really large bowl for this stuff. 

Using electric mixer fitted with clean dry beaters, beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar in another large bowl until medium peaks form.

Remember to start beating the egg white at a high speed. You’ll notice a lot of air bubbles 

Gently fold 1/4 of whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining whites. Divide batter among prepared pans, spreading evenly. Bake until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Run knife around sides of each cake. Let stand 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks. Cool to room temperature.

They came out a bit large. I would recommend doing three layers if you can. I forgot to butter and flour the parchment, it’s a bit pockmarked. 

buttercream

Stir sugar and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil 1 minute. Meanwhile, using electric mixer, beat egg yolks in medium bowl until pale and thick. Gradually beat in hot sugar syrup; continue beating until mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes. Beat in butter 1 piece at a time, incorporating each piece completely before adding next. Blend in melted chocolate, then rum. (If buttercream looks broken or curdled, place bowl with buttercream over medium heat on stove burner and whisk 5 to 10 seconds to warm mixture slightly, then remove from heat and beat mixture again on medium speed. Repeat warming and beating as many times as needed until buttercream is smooth.)

Reserve 1/2 cup buttercream. Set 1 cake layer, flat side up, on rack; spread with half of remaining buttercream.

Since I had the orange and raspberry buttercream from the Valentine’s chocolates, I striped the two flavors across the cake rather than mixing it together or halving it or something. This way each bite will have a slightly different flavor. 

Top with second cake layer; spread with remaining buttercream. Top with third cake layer; use reserved 1/2 cup buttercream to fill in seam where cake layers meet. Freeze cake until buttercream is firm, about 2 hours.

glaze

Stir all ingredients in top of double boiler over gently simmering water until mixture is smooth. Remove from over water. Stir until glaze is thickened, about 5 minutes (do not allow glaze to set).

Pour 3/4 of glaze over top of cake. Carefully and quickly tilt cake back and forth so glaze coats sides; smooth sides with spatula, adding some of remaining glaze where necessary. Chill cake until glaze is set. (Let it completely set – trying to lace the ribbons when it’s not fully set results in sad marrings in the glaze.)

chocolate ribbons

Melt white chocolate in top of double boiler over gently simmering water; stir until smooth. Stir in 1/4 cup corn syrup. (Do be sure to scrape all the syrup out of your measuring utensil, otherwise your ribbon strips will tend toward dryness and be hard to bend.) Pour onto baking sheet. Chill until firm, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer white chocolate to work surface and knead several minutes. Shape white chocolate dough into ball. Wrap in plastic. Let white chocolate dough stand at room temperature 1 hour.

Repeat with bittersweet chocolate and remaining 1/4 cup corn syrup.

When you undertake this project, don’t start it in the evening unless you’re planning on being up a long time. By the time I got to the step of putting the modeling chocolate in the fridge for 30-40 minutes, I was tired, so I figured I’d pick it back up in the morning. When my alarm went off the next morning at five, I found that the chocolate had set and was absolutely useless. I had to restart that whole process and put some alarms on to remind me on timing for the steps. 

Cut white chocolate dough into 4 pieces. Flatten 1 piece into rectangle. Turn pasta machine to widest setting. Run chocolate through 3 times, folding into thirds before each run. Adjust machine to next narrower setting. Run chocolate through machine without folding. If chocolate is more than 1/16 inch thick, run through next narrower setting. Lay chocolate piece on rimless baking sheet. Repeat flattening, folding, and rolling with remaining chocolate pieces. Repeat process with bittersweet chocolate dough.

Cut four 8×1-inch strips from rolled white chocolate dough and four 8×1/2-inch strips from rolled bittersweet chocolate dough. Center bittersweet chocolate strips atop white chocolate strips to form 4 ribbons. Run 1 ribbon from base of cake to center. Arrange remaining 3 chocolate ribbons equidistant from each other in same fashion so ribbons meet in center (Step 1).

Cut ten 6 1/2×1-inch strips from rolled white chocolate dough and ten 61/2×1/2-inch strips from rolled bittersweet chocolate dough. Center bittersweet chocolate strips atop white chocolate strips to form 10 ribbons. Cut ends off 2 ribbons on diagonal. Starting at center, drape ribbons over top and sides of cake to form trailers. To form loops for bows, fold remaining 8 ribbons in half, layered side out. Cut ends into V shapes (Step 2). Arrange ribbon halves with V shapes at center of cake to form bow (Step 3).

The first time I made this cake, I guess I expected the modeling chocolate to set much more quickly than it did. My ribbons came out floppy and I had to prop them up with wine corks. I found that after an hour of driving and another couple of hours in a cold room that they set nicely…. it just takes a while. This time, I decided to manipulate them more purposefully, and let my ribbons set with a cork and a marker to preserve form. It worked quite nicely, though would have been better if I had refrigerated. 

Cut one 3×1-inch strip of white chocolate and one 3×1/2-inch strip of bittersweet chocolate. Center bittersweet chocolate strip atop white chocolate strip. Fold in ends of chocolate strips and pinch to resemble knot; place in center of bow. Carefully transfer cake to serving platter or cake stand.

I had to wipe the powdered sugar off with a damp towel…. Just be sure to do that step before you assemble the cake – you can see some spots I couldn’t get to because I didn’t want to mess up the glaze. 

This turned out much better than my first attempt as far as presentation, and my cake turned out fluffier this time. The only issue I have with beating the eggs is that while the top gets nice and fluffed with my kitchenaid mixer on setting 6 or so, there is still quite a bit at the bottom under the fluff that doesn’t get touched, and I ended up keeping that part back so that it didn’t weigh down the cake. I’m not sure if that’s a “normal” behavior for kitchenaid mixers… I use the whisk, so it shouldn’t happen. It doesn’t happen with whipped cream, at least not as far as I can remember. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Filled Hearts

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s day is here again. I’m pretty neutral about the whole idea behind the holiday, but any day that gives me an excuse to bake is my kind of day.

I really hadn’t thought of doing too much specifically for V-Day, but Mikal and I were roaming around Target a couple of weeks ago and he gave me a wonderful idea. We were looking at the baking items in the seasonal section, and I made a comment about kinda wanting to do something, but really hating the traditional stuff. Mikal mentioned it would be really cool to make human heart-heart shaped chocolate and hand those out, possibly filled with some red syrup of some sort. An amazing idea, of course, though I let myself sit on it a few days before I actually sat down and ordered a mold on amazon.

Around this same time, I saw this amazing dohicky in the actual kitchen section of Target – it is a pot-pie mold!

I love pot pies, and my first thought when I saw this was, “Holy crap! Hand-held chicken pies!” I find chicken pot pies one of the best ways to stave off the cold and sucky, so this made me happy. Honestly, it wasn’t completely the first time I had come across the idea of non-pot pies; some days when I’m exceedingly braindead I peruse websites and recipes and see what strikes my fancy, and one day while planning a halloween celebration I came across this.

Suddenly I had a V-Day yummage extravaganza planned. My only regret is that I couldn’t do more, but these two experiments proved to eat up the whole day.

Heart Pies

Dough

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup ice water, or as needed

Stir together flour and salt with fork to blend. Cut the fat into the flour using a food processor, pastry blender, or two knives. (For pies with liquid fillings like custard or cooked fruit fillings that are thickened with cornstarch or tapioca, the bits of fat should be evenly small, and the mixture should resemble coarse meal. This will result in a mealy pie crust, which is less likely to become soggy as the crust bakes. For pies to be filled with fruit or another nonliquid filling, leave some bits of fat in larger pieces, about the size of a small pea, for a crisp and flaky texture in the baked crust.) This is the reason I love the CIA cookbooks – it tells you a lot of the little things to think about as you’re preparing the food.

Drizzle a few tablespoons of the ice water over the surface of the flour mixture and quickly rub the water into the flour. Continue to add the water, a tablespoon or so at a time, just until it holds together when you press a handful of it into a ball. The dough should be evenly mouse, not wet, and shaggy or rough in appearance.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather and press the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 roughly equal pieces. Pat each ball into an even disk, wrap well, and let chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Filling

1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, cubed or half-rounds
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (if only I hadn’t completely forgotten to put those in ><)
2 chicken thighs (or an equivalent amount of meat)
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup white wine
1/4-1/2 cup flour
sage, salt, pepper, thyme, brown sugar to taste

Remove the meat from the chicken thighs and slice into smallish bite-size pieces. Toss in a pan with some olive oil or butter and cook until just barely done. Set aside.

Put water in small pan and bring to a boil. Add carrot bits and simmer for a couple of minutes until just cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat process for peas. Sauté onions in skillet until fragrant and slightly browning, then add mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are just done. (By not cooking the life out of the veggies, you ensure that your filling has some texture other than gravy, meat, and those other squishy things.)

In larger skillet, add broth and wine, bring to a simmer. Add flour a little bit at a time until the liquid has the consistency you want. (Keep in mind you might want to keep it a bit wetter than you would like, as you’ll be cooking everything together a bit and the liquid will reduce.) Add the vegetables and meat, then add a sprinkling of sage and some thyme and let the concoction simmer for 5-10 minutes, until flavors have melded and gravy has reduced a bit more. At this point, salt and pepper to taste, and add however much brown sugar you feel necessary to balance the very savory flavors in the dish. Place the filling in a bowl and set in fridge while cutting out the pie crusts. (If you don’t refrigerate the filling before you put it into the molds, it ends up melting the dough a bit, rendering it annoying to get out of the mold.)

Take the pie dough out of the fridge and let sit for about ten minutes or so, until it’s pliable without being too soft. Roll out dough to anywhere between 1/16th and 1/8th inch thick. (These little things are -amazing- for rolling things out evenly D: Before I discovered these, I used a couple of 1/8″ pieces of wood I had lying around for rolling pin guides. These are perhaps the most awesome thing to happen to rolling things out since the invention of the rolling pin.) The thickness of the dough does matter: 1/16″ results in a baked crust that is pretty much perfect as far as ratio of starch to filling, but is more difficult to handle during assembly. The 1/8″ dough is easier to manipulate, but because this mold is on the small side, there isn’t quite enough filling to satisfy all the crust.

Then you open your heart-shaped thinger-doober package up, unclamp it, and use the backs of the mold to cut the shape of the hearts at approximately the size you want them.

(I ended up using the rolling pin on my heart-shapes a bit more because they don’t really leave enough dough for a satisfactory lip around the pocket.)

Put one heart-shape on one side of the mold, spreading the dough a little to make sure it comes around onto the edges a bit. Scoop approximately 1/8th cup filling into the cavity, leaving out as much juice as possible if it’s more liquidy than not. Spread filling around, then place second heart-shape atop the first, close the mold, and press together. (Note: if you use 1/8″ dough, you will occasionally snap the mold apart; that’s ok, because it’s plastic, and goes right back together. Try to not be too hard on it, though.)

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Remove the pie from the mold, and you have a wonderful heart-shaped pocket pie of awesomeness! Repeat process with remaining dough and filling. Remember to refrigerate the dough periodically so it doesn’t completely come to room temperature – if you let it come to room temp, the dough becomes soggy and you’ll lose a lot of the flake.

Bake pies for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Let sit on rack for a few minutes, then enjoy. If you opted for the thicker crust, drizzle some of the sauce from the pan over your pot pie to give it a bit more liquid for the crust to play with.

 


 

I have attempted to make things with chocolate once before, only last time it was truffles. Strangely, it was the ones with a tempered chocolate shell that turned out the best. Strange, considering it was my first time attempting to temper chocolate. At that time, I found this page, which really helped me figure out the process. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure it out for the first batch of chocolate, and I couldn’t replicate the success of the second batch in the third. I’m not sure exactly how I’m screwing up, and perhaps if I had hundreds of dollars worth of chocolate to use I could figure it out. Unfortunately I don’t, but I do have proof of my success.

Molded Chocolates

Filling

3/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup (I used agave and it worked wonderfully)
2 jumbo egg yolks
3/4 cups (1.5 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature (cut while cold – makes it easier)
3 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), melted and cooled but still pourable
1/8 cup dark rum

Stir sugar and corn syrum in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil 1 minutes. Meanwhile, using electric mixer, beat egg yolks in medium bowl until pale and thick. Gradually beat in hot sugar syrup; continue beating until completely cool, about 5 minutes. (Do yourself a favor: add the hot sugar syrup in small doses while beater is off – you’ll avoid a very pretty but very messy sugar drizzle fiasco around the sides of your bowl.) Beat in butter 1 piece at a time, incorporating each piece completely before adding the next. Blend in melted chocolate, then rum. (If buttercream looks broken or curdled, place bowl with buttercream over medium heat on stove burner and whisk 5-10 seconds to warm mixture slightly, then remove from heat and beat mixture again on medium speed. Repeat warming and beating as many times as needed until buttercream is smooth. (Before adding the rum, I halved my buttercream into two bowls, added raspberry liqueur to one, Grand Marnier to the other. Wonderful flavor combinations, especially if you should decided to make the cake this buttercream recipe comes from.)
Tempering Chocolate

For my successful batch, I used about a pound of dark chocolate. The actual amount isn’t so important, it’s more the ratio of melted chocolate to seeding chocolate. There are two methods for tempering chocolate: you can melt it to between 105°F and 120°F, then slather 2/3 of it on a large marble slab and spread it and mix it back into itself until it is a uniform 82°F, then add that back into the chocolate that remained, and bring it to around 88-89°F; or you can melt the chocolate to 105-120°F, remove from heat, and add the seeding chocolate to it and wait for it to cool to 88-89°F. I don’t know about you, but as much as I would love one, I don’t have a giant marble slab, so I seed. The ratio of melted chocolate to seeding chocolate is 4:1. If you want all the technical information, look here. I’m pretty sure I’d butcher the details.

Fully melt the larger amount of chocolate in a water bath (I do this the same way I double-boil things. I can’t tell if it’s actually supposed to be different, but I know it works. Also, if you cut the chocolate into smaller pieces, they melt more quickly and uniformly.) Remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the heat. The chocolate should be at 120°F for dark chocolate or 110°F for milk or white chocolate. (Cooking for Engineers states that as long as the temperature is over 105°F, the crystalline structure of the chocolate has completely dissolved, which is what is needed for tempering: tempering is the controlled restructuring of those crystals to create a crisp shell.)

Add the smaller amount of unmelted chocolate to the melted chocolate. This is called the seed; it will cool the melted chocolate and cause it to set the way you want.

Stir the melted chocolate gently and constantly until the temperature falls to 85°F for dark chocolate or 83°F for milk or white chocolate. This will take 15-20 minutes, and most or all of the seeds should have melted by the end of this time.

Test the chocolate. Testing chocolate for temper is the only way to know for sure that chocolate is actually tempered. Make sure the chocolate is below 90°F for dark or 87°F for milk or white chocolate. Dip a spoon in the chocolate, place the spoon on the work surface, and leave it undisturbed for 7-8 minutes in the working room at 68°F. Don’t refrigerate – this will throw off the results. (You will know within a few minutes if your chocolate is tempered. It will dull a bit, but still be slightly shiny, and it will look hard/dry in a few minutes. If your chocolate hasn’t set by the 7-8 minute mark, you’re not quite there.) After 8 minutes have passed, look closely at the chocolate on the spoon. If the chocolate has set so that it no longer looks wet, and the surface is uniform and without streaks, the chocolate is tempered.

If the chocolate sets properly, gently warm it over a water bath not exceeding 89°F for dark chocolate or 86°F for milk or white chocolate. Remove any unmelted seeds from the melted chocolate. (I had to shift between having the chocolate on the heat to having it on the counter in order to maintain the general temperature. Other ways to maintain temperature include using a heating pad or nuking it in the microwave.)

Lining the Molds

Pick out your chocolate molds. As I said, I had human hearts, and I even dug up a cutsie-heart mold. You can use anything, really, just make sure it’s clean, has no cracks in the mold, and is free of any debris.

Fill the mold cavities with the tempered chocolate. Use a spoon or ladle and allow the chocolate to fill all the cavities of the mold. Scrape off the excess chocolate. Remove the chocolate from the top of the mold with a scraper, just don’t dip into the mold cavities.

Vibrate the mold on the table. This step will remove any trapped air pockets that could mar the finish of the finished products.

Allow the mold to sit. This allows the shell of chocolate to begin to form. The precise amount of time varies with the chocolate used, the room temperature, and the mold. Usually for small molds, 1-2 minutes is sufficient. (Don’t do multiple molds at once unless you’re really quick about it – I had too much of the chocolate in the first mold set by the time I finished filling the second.)

Pour the excess chocolate out of the mold. Tapping the mold lightly will remove more of the chocolate.

Scrape off excess chocolate. Clean the top of the mold using the scraper again.

Invert the mold. Place the mold upside down, elevated, so that the excess chocolate can drain. Leave inverted for about 5 minutes, or until the chocolate is no longer flowing.

Clean the top of the mold once again. Scrape the top of the mold so that the top edge of each cavity is clean and uniform.

Filling the Mold

Grab the buttercream. The easiest way to get the buttercream into the molds is using a piping bag. Whichever way you do it, there must be 1/8″ between the filling and the top of the mold.

Allow the fillings to firm. If you need to accelerate the process, refrigeration for 15 minutes or so is an acceptable option.

Sealing the Mold

Pipe tempered chocolate over the tops of each cavity in the mold. Allow the chocolate to cover each filled cavity. If the filling is still a bit soft, don’t tilt the mold or you’ll run the risk of mixing the filling and chocolate.

Don’t make the two large mistakes I made: don’t overfill your molds, and immediately smooth the chocolate you pipe over to seal the chocolate if it needs it. Otherwise, you’ll get this: 

Allow the chocolate to set at room temperature for 15 minutes. The chocolate you just applied should set at room temperature.

Refrigerate the mold for approximately 20 minutes. Refrigeration will contract the chocolate and make the finished products easy to release.

Be careful when you try to take the chocolates out of the molds – you could screw up all your hard work. First flex the chilled molds slightly, like you do an ice cube tray. Place a flat pan on top of the mold. Invert the mold and pan together. Tap the pan and mold lightly on the table. Lift the mold off the pan. All or most of the chocolates should have come free from the mold and should be sitting on the pan. If there are reluctant chocolates, don’t beat the mold until they come out – twist a bit more, tap, and if they’re still reluctant stick them back in the refrigerator for another 5-10 minutes and repeat the process.

Mine are still a bit sloppy – this is really the first time I’ve used a mold. These babies are amazingly good, though. Whether you take my route and use the raspberry or Grand Marnier, or just random rum, or none, they’re sooooo good. You can also use peanut butter (if it’s runny, add a bit of powdered sugar to thicken it), peanuts, or even just have solid chocolates. If you go for the solids, skip the filling part and go straight to the sealing without emptying the molds of their liquid tempered chocolate.

Eggs Benedict

It’s funny to look back and see just how many of my clearer memories are tied to food in one way or another. One in particular is of a morning my grandmother made eggs benedict for us on one of our trips down to the house. It think it sticks out because, if I remember correctly, it’s the first time I remember being fully introduced to the concept of brunch. Being a growing child of somewhere around the age of ten, I liked breakfast. The first thing I’d do in the morning is eat. Breakfast used to be my favorite meal of the day. Anyway, on this particular morning I went to make breakfast, and grandma was up by then, and told me not to, because we were having brunch. She proceeded to explain to me what brunch was, and when I asked what we were having for brunch, she explained eggs benedict to me. Having no idea what “poached” meant, or what “holidays” sauce was, I just set to watching and trying to help where I could.

I don’t remember much of the actual cooking, though it was probably because I was getting antsy for food. I do remember my first taste of it once it was done. The sauce was really good, I loved the combo of eggs and ham, and english muffins were of course very yummy.

Since then, my appetite for breakfast in the morning has waned quite a bit (coffee is my breakfast, and I have a hard time drinking my first and second cups with any kind of food at this point), but I do enjoy a good brunch whenever I can get it together to make one. I was going to save this and surprise Mikal next Sunday as a special V-Day weekend brunchy thing, but I have no patience.

This was my first time making eggs benedict, so I looked at a couple of sources, mostly my favorite French cookbook.

Eggs Benedict

english muffins
ham slices (I used Jennie-O Turkey Ham, which works very well)

Hollandaise Sauce

3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp cold water
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
cayenne pepper

Clarify the butter by melting it in a small pan over low heat; do not boil. Skim off any foam. (I avoided having to skim off foam by simply heating the butter on the lowest setting on the stove top. Took a few minutes, but it worked nicely.)

In a small heavy pan or in the top of a double broiler, combine the eggs yolks, water, 1 tbsp of the lemon juice, and salt and pepper and whisk for 1 minute.

Place the pan over a very low heat or place the double boiler top over barely simmering water and whisk constantly until the egg yolk mixture begins to thicken and the whisk begins to leave tracks on the base of the pan; remove from heat.

I believe I may have whisked a bit too much – I wanted to make sure that the tracks made my the whisk were visible. But I think by doing that, I changed the texture of the sauce, because it came out much more solid than I remember my grandmother’s being. 

Whisk in the clarified butter, drop by drop until the sauce begins to thicken, then pour in the butter a little more quickly, making sure the butter is absorbed before adding more.

When you reach the milky solids at the bottom of the clarified butter, stop pouring. Season to taste with salt and cayenne and a little more lemon juice if wished. Cover and set aside.

I added a bit more lemon juice, which helped a bit with the viscosity, but not enough. Also added way too much cayenne. 

Place ham pieces in skillet on stove – heat until desired brownness. (I opted to heat on low heat while I poached the eggs, then kept on lowest heat because the poaching was taking a lot longer than I expected.) 

At the same time, start poaching the eggs. (I don’t know if I was poaching correctly, but I followed what Martha Rose Shulman explained in Culinary Boot Camp: “Success in poaching is all a matter of temperature. The water should be between 140°F and 185°F…. If the temperature goes too high, meat will toughen and become too dry…” Good information! I would assume to simmer, but the target heat range is a bit below that. I decided to crack the eggs into my two ladles, rather than letting the egg go all over the place in the pan. It mostly worked: the first one took a looooong time to cook, second one about the same amount and for some reason had much less egg white, and the third came out perfectly. Throughout the first and second, my temperature hovered around 160°F or so, but it was starting to creep up to 185°F once I put the third one in. I turned the heat down a smidge, and it stayed level, but that one cooked up the best. My pan a not-terribly-cheap Cuisinart, so it’s about medium thickness. It probably took 7-8 minutes or so for the first two, then about 5 for the last. 

When the eggs are mostly done, stick the english muffins in to toast. (You don’t want to do this too soon: I stuck mine in when I started the poaching, not realize how long it would take. I ended up with sad toasted english muffins. Very hard to cut through D:) I assembled mine with the toast on bottom, some Hollandaise sauce (I find them a bit too dry without this extra bit), the ham, the egg, and more sauce on top.

So this is the finished product. Probably a sad approximating of what Grandma makes, but it’ll do. Beware, this is much heavier food than one would imagine it being – start off with one half of the open-faced sandwich. It’s rich and heavy and a lot of protein.