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{Candy Week} Wild Blueberry and Blackcurrant Cream Truffles

It has become a tradition for me to make edible gifts for my clients and friends who live far away every year. Here are the treats I’ve shipped in the past:

This year, it’s candy time! I’m sharing four different kinds of candies with you this week, all of which make perfect homemade gifts. I wish I could ship treats to everyone (that’s how much I love to make edible gifts!) but I figure recipes is second best, isn’t it?

Wild Blueberry and Blackcurrant Cream Truffles // FoodNouveau.com

Wild Blueberry and Blackcurrant Cream Truffles

I’m not sure whether there’s a treat that spells holidays more than truffles. They’re the quintessential hostess gift, and they sell for a prime at chocolateries, pastry shops, and gourmet grocery stores. But you know how easy they are to make, right? They’re so easy, in fact, that I thought they had become common and shied away from making them, thinking people I would gift them to would shrug them off and think, “Oh thanks, more truffles.” Because, of course, there’s no such thing as truffle overdose, this year I decided to whip up a batch—and I’m so happy I did. There’s nothing boring about these: the fruity berry flavors complement the bitter, earthy notes of the chocolate amazingly, without turning them too sweet. It’s the perfect dessert for people who say they don’t like dessert, and they’re great with a sip of Sherry cask whiskey, or the liqueur you made the truffles with.

In the recipe, I use the product of a local blackcurrant farm, Cassis Monna & Filles, which makes an outstanding crème de cassis (“blackcurrant cream”). If you can’t find blackcurrant liqueur, you can use any berry-based liqueur, such as Chambord, or double the amount of wild blueberry jam to make them alcohol-free.

Makes about 32 truffles (the recipe can easily be halved)

For the truffles
12 oz [340 g] bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp [30 ml] unsalted butter
¼ cup [60 ml] heavy whipping cream
¼ cup [60 ml] smooth wild blueberry jam (if there are whole blueberries in the jam, press it through a sieve so it’s smooth)
¼ cup [60 ml] blackcurrant cream or liqueur
¼ cup [60 ml] cocoa powder

To finish
12 oz [340 g] bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tbsp [15 ml] vegetable oil
Optional: cacao nibs

Melt 12 oz [340 g] chocolate with the butter, cream, and wild blueberry jam in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the liqueur. Pour into a small container, cover, and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Take the chocolate mixture out of the refrigerator. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl. Using a 1-inch [2.5-cm] scoop or melon baller, from the chocolate mixture into balls and drop them onto the baking sheet. If the chocolate mixture is too firm to work with, leave it a few minutes more at room temperature to soften. Roll each ball in the cocoa powder to coat lightly and return to the baking sheet. Place in the freezer until frozen, about two hours.

Melt the remaining 12 oz [340 ml] chocolate with the oil in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water until smooth. Remove the chocolate balls from the freezer, and line a second baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Using two forks, turn each chocolate ball in the melted chocolate to coat evenly and carefully transfer to the prepared baking sheet. If desired, sprinkle a little cocoa nibs on the top of each truffle when the chocolate is still soft. If the chocolate cools too much, reheat it and continue coating the balls.

Alternatively, you can skip the coating step altogether and serve the truffles dusted with cocoa powder as is. Both options are delicious, but the extra chocolate coating makes the truffles extra special!

Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes, before serving. The truffles will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Always bring back to room temperature before serving.

Recipe Credit: Adapted from Lou Seibert Pappas, The Christmas Candy Book

Download this recipe in PDF format - Food Nouveau

{Candy Week} Crispy Maple Mini-Meringues

It has become a tradition for me to make edible gifts for my clients and friends who live far away every year. Here are the treats I’ve shipped in the past:

This year, it’s candy time! I’m sharing four different kinds of candies with you this week, all of which make perfect homemade gifts. I wish I could ship treats to everyone (that’s how much I love to make edible gifts!) but I figure recipes is second best, isn’t it?

Crispy Maple Mini-Meringues // FoodNouveau.com

Crispy Maple Mini-Meringues

I recently made several batches of éclairs to create my latest How-To post, so I was left with lots of egg whites. I usually don’t mind having egg whites leftover because they become the perfect excuse to whip up a Lemon Meringue Pie (one of my favorite desserts). This time though, I had a lot more than what is required to make a pie-topping meringue, so I decided to use it to make candy. I always thought mini-meringues were super cute, but I had never made them myself. Being that I’m such a maple syrup lover, of course, they had to be flavored with it and sprinkled with maple sugar. The resulting mini-meringues are super crisp, but they melt and become sticky in the mouth, like honeycomb does. They’re an irresistible treat and they’re so photogenic too! They make a great hostess gift, but I’m thinking they would make for perfect wedding favors too.

Makes about 100 mini-meringues

1 cup [250 ml] maple syrup
3 egg whites
¼ tsp [1.25 ml] cream of tartar
2 tbsp [30 ml] coarse maple sugar

Position two racks in the oven, one in the middle, and one in the bottom, and preheat it to 170°F [75°C]. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil and cook until a candy thermometer indicates 250°F [120°C]. Remove from the heat while you beat the egg whites.

In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Slowly add the hot maple syrup to the egg whites, beating constantly, making sure the syrup never touches the whisk (it would create sugar crystals). Keep on beating for about 3 minutes, until stiff peaks form.

With a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip, shape the mini-meringues on the lined baking sheets: Hold the tip close to the baking sheet, press down on the bag to create an inch-wide [2.5-cm-wide] base, then lift up a little, pressing more lightly, then stop and lift swiftly. This should create the classic “kisses” shape. Keep on piping the meringues, setting them about 1 inch [2.5-cm] apart (they will not expand). Sprinkle each meringue with a little maple sugar.

Place both baking sheets in the oven and let the meringues dry slowly for about 3 hours, switching the sheets halfway through. Depending on your oven and the temperature (whether it’s humid in your kitchen or not), it may take longer to dry the meringues. To check for doneness, try to lift a meringue from a baking sheet. If it comes off easily, it’s done. If it sticks, even a little, let them dry more. Once the meringues are done, turn the oven off, and leave the meringues in the oven for another hour.

The meringues will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Recipe Credit: Adapted from RicardoCuisine.com

Download this recipe in PDF format - Food Nouveau

{Candy Week} Dark Chocolate, Roasted Hazelnut, and Dried Cherry Bites

It has become a tradition for me to make edible gifts for my clients and friends who live far away every year. Here are the treats I’ve shipped in the past:

This year, it’s candy time! I’m sharing four different kinds of candies with you this week, all of which make perfect homemade gifts. I wish I could ship treats to everyone (that’s how much I love to make edible gifts!) but I figure recipes is second best, isn’t it?

Dark Chocolate, Roasted Hazelnut, and Dried Cherry Bites // FoodNouveau.com

Dark Chocolate, Roasted Hazelnut, and Dried Cherry Bites

Does making homemade gifts sound exhausting to you? This recipe will convince you an edible treat doesn’t have to be complicated to impress. Four ingredients and no baking: in 15 minutes you’re done (and the dishes are washed). Bag these cute bites in clear gift bags closed with a ribbon and you’ve got your hostess gifts over and done with. Just a warning though: they’re so delicious, easy to make, and—let’s be honest—addictive, that you will most probably want to go down the variations list over the holidays. If you do, please come back to tell me which is your favorite, or to share your own flavor combination ideas.

Makes about 20 bites

6 oz (about 1 cup) [170 g, about 250 ml] bittersweet chocolate chips
1 tsp [5 ml] vegetable oil
½ cup [125 ml] hazelnuts, roasted, peeled, and very coarsely chopped
½ cup [125 ml] dried cherries, whole or coarsely chopped

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Melt the chocolate chips in a double-boiler or in the microwave at low intensity until it’s smooth. Add the vegetable oil and mix well. Add the hazelnuts and dried cherries and mix with a spatula until all the nuts and fruits are coated with chocolate.

Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls on the lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until the chocolate hardens. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two months. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Note: To give the bites a festive look, dust a little edible glitter over the bites when the chocolate is still soft.

Variations:

  • Toasted almonds and dried apricots
  • Macadamia nuts and dried figs
  • Toasted pecans and candied orange
  • Milk chocolate, 1/3 cup [80 ml] unsweetened coconut flakes, 1/3 cup [80 ml] dried apricots,
    and 1/3 cup [80 ml] candied ginger
  • White chocolate, pistachio, and dried cranberries

Recipe Credit: Adapted from Lou Seibert Pappas, The Christmas Candy Book

Download this recipe in PDF format - Food Nouveau

{Candy Week} Pomegranate and Cranberry Marshmallows

It has become a tradition for me to make edible gifts for my clients and friends who live far away every year. Here are the treats I’ve shipped in the past:

This year, it’s candy time! I’m sharing four different kinds of candies with you this week, all of which make perfect homemade gifts. I wish I could ship treats to everyone (that’s how much I love to make edible gifts!) but I figure recipes is second best, isn’t it?

Pomegranate and Cranberry Marshmallows // FoodNouveau.com

Pomegranate and Cranberry Marshmallows

I first made marshmallows at the end of last year, and while they were delicious and very popular (I shared the recipe – in French – in the holiday edition of Quebec City’s online food magazine, Fou des foodies), their texture was a bit too fluffy for my taste. In my mind, marshmallows need to be chewy. You know how, at first bite, marshmallows stick to your teeth and kind of resist to give in to your bite? That’s the texture I was looking for. In an Australian magazine, I found a variation that used more gelatin, no egg whites, and corn syrup. I resisted using the latter last year–by pure foodie snobbism, I admit–but let’s be honest: corn syrup is difficult to avoid in the candy world. Since I never use the ingredient otherwise, I decided there’s little harm in using some to make oh-so-delicious candies once a year.

Makes about a hundred square inch [2.5 x 2.5 cm] marshmallows

½ cup [125 ml] pomegranate juice, plus about ¾ cup [180 ml] more (see recipe below – I use POM brand)
3 unflavored gelatin envelopes, for a total of 0.75 oz [21 g] gelatin powder (I use Knox brand)
2 cups [500 ml] granulated sugar
¾ cups [180 ml] corn syrup
Red food coloring, liquid or gel (optional)
Vegetable oil, for greasing
¼ cup [60 ml] cranberry powder (see note)

Pour ½ cup [125 ml] pomegranate juice in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle over the gelatin. Let it rest to allow the gelatin to absorb the liquid.

In the meantime, put the sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan and add just enough pomegranate juice to cover the sugar, about ¾ cup [180 ml] more. Stir thoroughly and brush down any sugar sticking to the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush (to prevent sugar crystals from forming when heating the mixture).

Cook over low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then turn up the heat to bring it to a boil. Using a candy thermometer to monitor the heat, boil the syrup until it reaches 265°F [130°C]. Once it does, take the pan off the heat and let it cool for 1 minute.

Whisk the gelatin mixture, using the stand mixer, on medium speed. Add the hot syrup, pouring it slowly down the side of the mixer bowl. Don’t allow it to touch the whisk directly or it’ll create sugar crystals in the marshmallows.

Once all the syrup has been added, if the color of the marshmallow isn’t as bright as you’d like it to be, add a few drops of food coloring and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes really thick, like a stiff meringue. It’s ready when you see the whisk forming bubblegum-like strands on the surface.

Bubblegum-like strands on the surface of marshmallow mixture // FoodNouveau.com

Line the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 in [23 x 33 cm] baking pan with plastic wrap (use a smaller pan if you want thicker marshmallows), leaving plenty folding over the sides of the pan. Lightly grease with vegetable oil, then scrape the marshmallow mixture into the pan using a greased spatula. The mixture is super sticky, so you’ll have to fight it a little. Once it’s all in the pan, press it down using the spatula, then cover with another sheet of greased plastic wrap, and press down on the plastic wrap to create an even surface. Leave to set in the refrigerator for at least one to two hours, until the top feels firm when pressed.

Once the marshmallow is set, lift it off the tray using the extra plastic wrap. Peel off the plastic wrap and place the very sticky marshmallow on a lightly greased surface. Pour the cranberry powder in a shallow bowl. Cut the marshmallow into cubes using a lightly greased knife, then roll each piece in cranberry powder.

The finished marshmallows will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for up to two weeks.

Note: Cranberry powder is a new and somewhat niche product. A sprinkle of it adds a flavorful and healthy punch to many things such as desserts, salads, lattes, or even salmon tartares and gravlax. You can also dissolve it in hot water to make a delicious hot beverage. It’s not a cheap ingredient, but a little goes a long way, and it has a long shelf life. I use the one made by a local company here in Quebec City, Nutra-Fruit, but you’ll find a similar product here. If you can’t find cranberry powder, you can also use pomegranate powder, pulverized freeze-dried raspberries, or just plain cornstarch, which is the usual and basic marshmallow coating.

Recipe Credit: Adapted from Delicious Magazine

Download this recipe in PDF format - Food Nouveau

How to Make Chocolate Éclairs: An Illustrated Step-by-Step Recipe

How to Make Chocolate Éclairs (and Variations) // FoodNouveau.com

Have you heard that éclairs are the new macarons? The classic dainty French pastry, described by the Larousse Gastronomique as a “small elongated pastry made with choux pastry, filled with cream, and glazed with fondant,” has taken the pastry world by storm this year. For most of its 160 years of existence, the éclair was a pastry shop staple, most often offered in classic flavors like chocolate, caramel, and coffee. Most French people grew up eating it as a special treat, but until recently it was rare to hear someone coming back from Paris saying, “I’ve had the most amazing éclair!” More colorful counterparts, such as macarons, were making lasting impressions instead.

So what allowed such a triumphant comeback? Many credit the feat to French chef Christophe Adam, who worked for 15 years at Fauchon, the first place I discovered that the éclair could be so much more than its classic alter ego. Every year in September, Fauchon has an “Éclair Week” at the Place de la Madeleine location, and I had the delightful luck to be there in 2009. I saw and tasted creations that looked like art pieces and were filled with sweet and savory flavor combinations I never imagined could be associated with the traditional éclair.

A selection of Fauchon’s “couture” éclairs. In 2009, the collection featured three dozen sweet and a dozen savory éclairs.
Couture éclairs at Fauchon, in Paris // FoodNouveau.com

One had my name written all over it: filled with a zesty lime cream, it was topped with tempered white chocolate printed with my favorite Japanese woodblock print, The Great Wave, by Hokusai.
Lime and white chocolate éclair at Fauchon, Paris // FoodNouveau.com

I mean, who would think of filling an éclair with chicken Chantilly and topping it with green peas and diced carrots? Christophe Adam, that’s who. After leaving Fauchon, he went on to open a shop that takes the éclair out of its usual supporting role and puts it front and center. At L’Éclair de Génie  (“Stroke of genius”), dozens of colorful sweet and savory éclairs line up in glass cases that make them look like jewels. These gutsy and creative offerings quickly pushed the shop to the top of food lovers’ bucket lists and paved the way for other specialty pastry shops in Paris and abroad. On my last visit to Paris this summer, I discovered Popelini, a shop that sells exclusively choux (cream puffs).

An elegant choux line up at Paris’ Popelini:
An elegant choux line up at Paris' Popelini // FoodNouveau.com

Though the new, creative éclairs crafted by more and more pastry chefs around the world are indeed amazingly delicious, I have to admit a few classics still hold my gourmande heart. At the very top of my list is Stohrer’s chocolate éclair. The city’s oldest pastry shop, Pâtisserie Stohrer, has been sitting on Paris’ rue Montorgueuil since 1730. Nicolas Stohrer, the original owner and a pastry chef to royalty, is said to have invented the rum baba. More recently in 2011, the pastry shop’s chocolate éclairs were declared “The Best of Paris” by Figaro Magazine. Slender, filled with a dark chocolate cream, and presenting the perfect filling/pastry ratio, Stohrer’s chocolate éclair is one of the first treats I indulge in when I go to Paris, and it has become the standard I want to achieve at home.

Stohrer’s elegant éclair display:
Stohrer's elegant éclair display in Paris // FoodNouveau.com

Stohrer’s classic chocolate éclair, judged “The Best Éclair in Paris” by Figaro Magazine in 2011:
Stohrer's classic chocolate éclair, judged "The Best Éclair in Paris" by Figaro Magazine in 2011 // FoodNouveau.com

While making éclairs at home is sure to elicit impressed wows from your guests, you can rest assured: they’re surprisingly easy to make. If you carefully follow the instructions to make the choux paste, it’s a sure thing the éclairs will puff up beautifully in the oven, creating a hollow interior to be filled with pastry cream. After making them many times, I find that the most time-consuming process is filling up, glazing and decorating the éclairs. Piping the pastry cream into the éclairs without making a mess takes practice, but you can do as many chefs do and simply slice open the éclairs to pipe the cream inside more quickly.

Mastering how to make éclairs adds many strings to your bow: instead of piping the dough into logs, you can make mounds of it and get cute, airy choux, which you can turn into profiteroles, which you can then turn into a croquembouche, if you’re feeling really ambitious. Or you can add cheese to the dough, skip the filling, and make addictive savory gougères, which are the most festive bites I can think of.

A chocolate éclair topped with toasted hazelnuts // FoodNouveau.com

A few notes about making éclairs:

  • Always make the pastry cream first, preferably a day in advance, because it needs to cool down completely before you fill up the pastry shells.
  • Pastry shells can be baked in advance. Cool them down completely and store them in storage bags or containers, being very careful not to squash or flatten them out. They will keep for a couple of days, or you can freeze them for up to a month.
  • Éclairs are best eaten the day they are filled, but they keep for a day or two just fine. This of course also applies to choux.
  • When it comes to flavors and toppings, be creative! The pastry cream can be flavored so many different ways: white, milk, or dark chocolate, maple, vanilla, coffee, caramel, pistachio, raspberry… I can think of a hundred variations. Same goes with toppings: classic éclairsare only glazed, but why not jazz them up a bit with fresh fruits, nuts, or edible glitter? They will look even more appealing and festive.

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