I hope you've enjoyed my monthlong collaboration with Alessi. It's been truly inspiring to get to work with some of their pieces - not to mention they've been making my place look that much lovelier too! I have a newfound appreciation for the pleasure a beautifully designed product can elicit, whether I'm using it or just admiring its craftsmanship.
For this last post, I'm featuring one of my favorite collections from Alessi. Although they may be best known for their fanciful pieces, Alessi also has an equal number of more understated, slightly more practical styles, including Dressed. The Dressed collection was designed by renowned Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, who has an offbeat, whimsical, and deeply humanist style. The entire collection includes cookware and table settings in aluminum, stainless steel, porcelain, and crystal. Most of the pieces look straightforward, almost minimalist, but then you notice certain portions like the lids or sides covered with a gorgeously rococo raised scrollwork that's elaborate yet refined at the same time.
They are a stunning, poetic melding of the practical and the decorative, especially with the pots and the pans, workhorse staples of any kitchen that are often reduced to the most utilitarian of forms. It's striking to see a simple, plain aluminum pot adorned with a mirror-polished stainless steel lid marked with intricate curls and swirls. It looks like a museum showpiece, but it's actually usuable.
Although I would love to have used some of the cookware in this photo series, it made more sense to show off the table settings. The porcelain dishes and bowls are cut in a sort of abstract curved pattern that looks a bit like petals and a bit like waves. It looks both organic yet structured at once. Some of the dishes and flatware have the same baroque scrollwork on the top, or sometimes the underside. Wanders calls it "introverted decoration", placing details in unexpected areas, and I think it add to the whimsical yet formal nature of the collection.
I just really loved the Dressed dessert bowls and plates, and I wanted to use them to present my recipe, but after some deliberation I wanted a more elegant presentation than just arranging some cake on a plate. So I added in some Marni water tumblers, pressed into service as verrines for a layered chocolate dessert.
Chocolate knows no season, but since it's summer I wanted a very light and chilled dessert. This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy chocolate - It's like a mousse but with an even softer and more unctuous mouthfeel. Namelaka is Japanese for "creamy", and I go dreamy about it in this Valrhona post where I first learned the technique.
Namelaka is a ultra-refined, luxurious way to enjoy chocolate - it has a pleasing thickness and sheen to the eye, and melts like a dream in the mouth. It hardly takes any extra effort to make than ganache; just a bit of added gelatin and corn syrup, and a whir with a stick blender. It will seem very liquidy when you first make it, and you might think there isn't enough gelatin, but that's how it should be. There is just enough gelatin to give the mixture some body without taking away the smooth, almost-liquid flow. You can really see the difference after it's set in the refrigerator: at first glance, it looks just like solid ganache. But once you set a spoon in, it immediately gives and you see it's still perfectly soft and creamy.
I used a mix of Guittard's Etienne 64% and 70%, some of my current favorite baking chocolates. I like them for their clean, not too sweet chocolate flavor with notes of red fruit and cherries, and a dry but not too astringent finish. Use your favorite chocolate between 64%-70% cacao for this recipe.
To balance the richness of the chocolate, I added a dollop of orange blossom water-scented chantilly cream for a floral note. I originally wanted to do a pastry cream but it ended up being too much creamy texture. Instead, contrast is provided with chocolate cookie crumbs and cocoa nibs. You can even put a layer of cookie crumbs at the very bottom if you want even more crunch.
Although it has several components, they are all easily made ahead of time, and you can assemble it right before serving, or assemble beforehand and then chill in the refrigerator. This dessert will take even the simplest of dinners from everyday to special, just like the Dressed collection.
Thanks again to Alessi for the opportunity to do this collaboration. I hope some of the pieces and the recipes have inspired your summer style!
- 10 ounces (284 g) bittersweet (64-70%) chocolate, finely chopped
- 3/4 tablespoon (10 g) light corn syrup or glucose syrup
- 1 teaspoon (4.5 g) powdered gelatin
- 3/4 cup (200 g) whole milk
- 1 2/3 cups (407 g) heavy whipping cream
Orange Blossom Cream
- 1 cup (230 g) heavy whipping cream
- 4 tablespoon (56 g) confectioners' sugar
- 2 teaspoons (10 g) orange blossom water
- A few chocolate wafer cookies, store bought or you can make these
- 2 teaspoons cocoa nibs
- For the namelaka:
- Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a metal bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. Remove from heat.
- Add corn syrup to melted chocolate and stir to combine.
- Bloom gelatin in about 27 g of cold water in a small cup.
- Heat milk in a saucepan just to boiling. Add in the gelatin and swirl pan until it is fully melted and incorporated.
- Pour the milk over the melted chocolate in two additions, stirring slowly with a rubber spatula to combine and emulsify each time. It's important to combine the two mixtures slowly and make sure they are fully incorporated or the texture won't be right. The mixture should be very shiny and thick.
- Add in the whipping cream in two additions, stirring slowly with a rubber spatula to fully combine. You can use an stick immersion blender to further ensure full blending.
- Pour mixture into a shallow pan (a 9 in x 13 in pan works well) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight to let set.
Orange Blossom Cream
- Place cream into clean bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk until soft peaks just start to form.
- Add in confectioners' sugar and orange blossom water and whisk just until combined - do not over whip.
- To assemble the dessert, fill dessert glasses partway with the namelaka. The easiest way to do this without making a mess is to fill a piping bag and pipe in the namelaka into the glasses. Top with the whipped cream.
- Crumble the chocolate cookies and sprinkle on top, along with some cocoa nibs. Serve immediately.