Ready for Another Chocolate Adventure?

October 3rd, 2008

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Thank you to all of you for your well-wishes – they definitely buoyed my spirits over a weekend of sneezing, sniffling, and coughing – let's just say you probably didn't want me anywhere near where your food was being prepared! However, I'm happy to say I am 100% recovered, all tissues and cough drops have been returned to their proper places, and I'm itching to be back in the kitchen!

I have a backlog of posts I'm eager to get up, and the first one is a recap of a very fun event I went to a few weeks ago. Remember the Chocolate Adventure contest from last year? It's back for a second round: entrants are invited to create an original recipe using Scharffen Berger chocolate and one or more of 16 adventure ingredients, from more obvious items like cocoa nibs and matcha tea to true challenges like mustard seeds, jicama, and coriander. This year, the adventure theme is being extended even further: there are three categories: Sweet, Savory, and Beverage. Each category will have a grand prize winner who will get $5,000, signed copies of Essence of Chocolate, Pure Dessert, and Demolition Desserts (I'll add that I can vouch for the excellence of all three books and their necessity on your bookshelf!), plus the honor of having their recipe published on TuttiFoodie and the Scharffen Berger newsletter.

All the official rules are here: you are allowed up to 10 entries, so get your chef's hats on and your tastebuds primed. The contest started on October 1 and runs until January 4th, 2009, so you have plenty of time to come up with the most innovative, adventurous chocolate recipe ever!

To kick off the excitement and get us thinking about unusual flavor combinations with chocolate, sponsors Schaffen Berger Chocolate Maker and TuttiFoodie, along with food diva extraordinaire Marcia of Tablehopper, threw a little party at Orson, Elizabeth Falkner's newest restaurant.

I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Falkner, and I thought the choice of her as a kind of patron saint for a contest celebrating culinary creativity was inspired genius. Falkner is a chef who works fearlessly with sweet and savory ingredients, who plays with flavor and texture in the most whimsical, avant-garde of ways, yet never forgets that food should be foremost delicious and satisfying. Her first restaurant, Citizen Cake, showed she was so much more than just a pastry chef working with sugar and butter, and Orson is just the next extension in her culinary explorations.

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The restaurant looks like a cross between a modern art museum and a sleek, ultracool lounge. The center is wide open and dominated by a dramatic hanging sculpture over a bar, perfect for after-work libations.

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Here's a better perspective of the space. We are about to have John Scharffenberger lead us through a blind chocolate tasting – if you look closely, you can spot the little eye masks at each person's seat. Scharffen Berger has just released a special edition 10th Anniversary bar called Finisterra, made of a blend of beans from Venezuela, Trinidad, and Madagascar. What Scharffenberger did was have us taste each of the three component chocolates individually, to see how they differed in taste, mouthfeel, and finish, and then taste the finished bar, explaining how they combined the three and how they worked with each to create an entirely new flavor, but with identifiable notes from its parts. It was really eye-opening – pardon the bad pun – how not being able to see definitely forced you to concentrate and focus on the flavors of the chocolate in a different way. Plus, there is something just a little naughty about having someone feed you chocolate while you're blindfolded…

I realize I took no photos of Elizabeth Falkner! Well, here's one if you don't know what she looks like. She was busy running back and forth from the kitchen, bringing out an amazing array of courses, all using chocolate and some of the adventure ingredients in some surprising arrangement. All I can say is,  thank your lucky stars that Falkner is not competing in this contest! She is, however, one of the judges, so know that this is one chef who is very well versed in exotic experimentation!

We started off with a rum-based cocktail laced with kaffir lime and chocolate shavings, moved on to potato rounds topped with cocoa nibs and romanesco, and then chicarrones (fried pork skins) dipped in a bittersweet chocolate sauce. By the way, the chicarrones are a staple on her bar menu, but served with barbecue sauce. Give me a bucket of those chicarrones and some chocolate sauce to dip it in, and I will happily die from a heart attack.

For the main courses, we started with a salad of mango, avocado, and cherry tomatoes with chocolate shavings and a violet vinaigrette, and then were served roast pork in a chocolate mole sauce spiced with chili and ginger. Sorry I have no photos of all these – it's not that I pigged out and ate them all before snapping shots, it's just the quality didn't come out very well!

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Here are two shots that did come out decently – this one is a quenelle of Parmesan pudding along with some red peppers, and cocoa nibs mixed with unflavored Pop Rocks – yes, pop rocks are one of the adventure ingredients.  Creamy and rich without being overpowering, and the pop rocks added an interesting sensation contrast to the pudding.

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This was the one "real" dessert – imagine that we've had about 8 dishes, all using chocolate in some way, and only one was a sweet item! This was, of course, one of my favorites – chocolate and black olive ice cream sandwiched between thin cookies made of chocolate, cocoa nibs, and espresso. I'm not a fan of olives, but this was really something special – the bitter saltiness of the olives played wonderfully off the chocolate, making it sweeter and more complex at once. It's one of those dishes that makes you happy you've opened your mind to possibilities heretofore unconsidered.

All of us lucky enough to be at Orson certainly came away with a new appreciation for the versatility of chocolate as an ingredient. I've seen plenty of amazing creativity out there in the blogosphere as well, so I'm sure all of you who enter will be dreaming up some astonishing dishes!

I'm being a little less creative for this post, but after eating at Elizabeth Falkner's restaurant I couldn't help making one of her recipes from Demolition Desserts. This one, called A Chocolate Tart Named Desire, is a sweet, sassy ode to the South – essentially a warm chocolate cake batter baked in a buttery tart shell lined with a layer of rich caramel. Decorate with some pecan praline and some mint-and-bourbon-laced cream, and you have yourself a beautiful, balmy evening on the front porch – or a cozy evening inside, if fall's already settled in firmly where you are.

The dessert is multi-part, like most of Falkner's desserts, but it's worth the work – the chocolate tart is nicely rich and smooth, and I like how the tart crust "corrals" the cake batter so it doesn't run everywhere. The caramel sauce and pecan praline just up the decadence factor – there's something about pecans and brown sugar and butter that makes it really hard to stop eating them. Finally, a little bit of mint, just to cut through all the richness and add a sprightly top note.

It's good to be back, everyone – best of luck if you're entering the Chocolate Adventure contest, and also come back next week – I'm the next Sugar High Friday host and I'm just about ready to announce the theme!

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Other Recipes to Try

Tiramisushi

Rosebud Creme Brulee


Warm Chocolate Caramel Tart

adapted from Elizabeth Falkner's Demolition Desserts

makes about (8)  3 1/2 in tarts

Crust

1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons (2 ounces) sugar

1 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened,cut into small pieces

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons heavy cream

Caramel Sauce

1/4 cup water

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter

3 large eggs, separated

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

To make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix a few times with the paddle attachment just to combine.

Add in the butter and mix on low speed until it just starts to come together – there should still be visible pieces of butter and it should not be a smooth, homogeneous mass.

Add in the egg yolk and cream and mix until the dough just forms into one mass.

Turn out dough onto a piece of plastic wrap. form into a flat slab, and wrap well. Chill for at least one hour to let the dough firm up.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and place eight 3 1/2 tart rings on it.

Take out the dough, cut in half, and return rest to the refrigerator for another time. Roll out the dough to about 3/16" thick. Using the tart rings as a guide, cut out rounds of dough and press into the tart rings, forming it to the bottom and sides. Trim the dough off the top so it is even with the tart rings.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway. If the dough starts to puff up, push it back down with a dough tamper.

Remove from oven and let cool while you make the caramel sauce and filling.

To make the caramel sauce: Combine the water, cream of tartar, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until it reaches 350 degrees and has turned dark amber. Be careful not to let it burn.

While the sugar is cooking, you can heat the cream up in the microwave or on the stove until it is warm but not boiling -it will prevent it from causing the hot caramel to seize up when you add it.

Add the butter to the caramel and stir to combine.

Pour in the cream, being careful as it will bubble out. Some of the caramel may seize up, but just place back over the heat and stir until it's melted again.

When it is all combined and smooth, remove from, stir in the salt and vanilla, and let cool before using.

To make the filling: Combine the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl and melt over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a clean mixer bowl, whip the egg whites with 3 tablespoons of the sugar and the salt until soft peaks form. Set aside. 

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg yolk and remaining sugar together until combined and thick. Slowly pour in few spoonfuls of the warm chocolate mixture and whisk to combine until smooth. Pour in a few more spoonfuls and repeat. You want to do it slowly because if you pour it all in at once the chocolate could seize up.

Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture gently with a spatula. Sift the flour into the bowl and fold into the chocolate mixture as well.

You can use the filling right away or refrigerate for up to 3 hours.

To finish the tarts: Spoon 1 tablespoon of the caramel sauce into the bottom of the tart shells. Spoon the filling on top of the caramel sauce, covering it completely and filling the tart shell all the way to the rim.

Bake the tarts for 10 minutes. The filling should puff up and still look slightly shiny. Serve immediately.

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