Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sexy Symbiosis - Parmigiano-Reggiano Chocolate Truffles

Sometimes, regardless of how delicious something is, I really wonder if I should blog about it.  I mean, just because *I* think it's "da bomb" doesn't mean everyone else isn't going to think I've gone completely mental.  Then I remind myself that I have already posted about Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwiches.  So I have probably already convinced everyone that I am a little off-centered. :)

There really is a madness to my method, though.  You see, I was poking around on the net trying to ferret out some information on the chemical make-up of brewed coffee.  (Yes, this is what I do for fun)   When I found what I was looking for, I was gobsmacked by the fact that coffee contains some serious quantities of  Glutamic acid.  I knew it contained several amino acids such as Valine, Leucine, Lysine, Arganine, Glycine, Thyrosine and Proline, but the 47.4 mg of Glutamic Acid really surprised me.  The next highest amino count was Leucine at a mere 11.7 mg and everything else was below 10mg.

This got me thinking about Glutamates.  No, I am not talking about the synthetically made Monosodium Glutimate, which is actually a sodium salt of Glutamic acid.  (meaning the amino acid has been bound to a sodium atom) MSG is very different from a free Glutamic acid molecule.

Which brings me to "What exactly is Glutamic acid?"  Glutamic acid, is an amino acid.  Amino Acids are the building blocks of Proteins and Lipo-Proteins. (which are what your cell membranes are constructed out of)  Glutamic Acid (GA) has a second function though, it also triggers your taste buds with, what the Japanese refer to as, Umami, or the "savory" perception.  I say perception, because it's not so much an actual flavor, like Salty, Sweet, Bitter or Sour; it's really more of a chemical trigger that makes you "think" you are eating meat.  In essence triggering the, "HEY, this is protein, you should eat it!" response in your brain.

This is where MSG comes in.  The sodium salt, that is MSG, activates your receptors and tricks your brain into thinking it's consuming meat.  That is why it is added to so many nutrient devoid processed foods.  It triggers the compulsion to eat more, since we are hardwired to crave protein just as strongly as we crave the sweetness of sugar.  Alas, in the case of processed foods, it usually isn't protein you are eating, but some form of filler. There is another shoe that needs to be dropped as well, because our bodies process this salt form of GA completely differently from actual free GA, which can lead to what is commonly known as "Chinese Food Syndrome" or the massive headaches that accompany large doses of synthetically created glutamate.

Now there are foods that contain tried and true "free" Glutamic acids.  The list of these is long, but the top contenders are, well, actual meats like steak or anchovies (anchovies are glutamic acid bombs, which is why you use only 1 or two in an entire recipe)  There are also many non-meat items that contain significant amounts of free GA, such as fermented soy products like Tamari and Black bean paste, tomatoes (which is why tomato sauce and paste are so popular) Seaweed and Kelp like Nori or Kombu, and the sharper Cheese; of which Parmigiano-Reggiano is the undisputed king, I think. Even grains such as Barley and Oats contain significant amounts of free Glutamic acid.  Now mind you, there is plenty of GA locked up in actual protein molecules of these foods, but it is only the "free" GA that triggers your umami perception.

OK, now that I have completely bored everyone with a science lesson on GA and umami I will get back to my original train of thought.

We never bat an eyelash at adding Coffee to Chocolate to "round" out and "deepen" the flavor.  When I saw the amount of GA in coffee, it all started to make sense.  Coffee acts as a "savory" backbone to chocolate.  Well, if this is true, then there should be absolutely no problem adding something like tomato paste or Parmigiano-Reggiano to chocolate.  Even *I* am not ready to jump into adding tomato paste to chocolate quite yet, so I decided on the Parmigiano-Reggiano this time.  (But I'm toying with Lemon and Black Pepper for the near future)  The flavor profile of the cheese has some added benefits as well.  Parm is slightly nutty, which is good, but it also lends some significant saltiness... I love Chocolate with Sea Salt.  So I came to the conclusion that this was a fairly logical, if somewhat shocking, pairing.  Besides, I think the idea is kind of sexy in a way.

Look at it this way, Mole sauce, which is AWESOME on chicken, is a savory sauce that adds not only some heat, but significant umami-ness to said chicken... It contains Chocolate.

So, I have tried to explain how my thought process works, and how I came to this conclusion.  I have no idea if it justifies this little experiment or not.  You may still think that I have become totally unhinged.  That's OK... I am eating Chocolate Truffles right now, and enjoying every sweet, salty and savory bite... :)

Parmigiano-Reggiano Chocolate Truffles

255g (9 oz) 60-65% Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped
237ml (8 oz) (1 cup) Heavy Cream
1 TB Parmigiano-Reggiano, shredded (cause it melts a little smoother)
1 TB Unsalted Butter
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (instead of shredded)
optional - 2 oz 60-65% Bittersweet Chocolate, melted (for rolling)

Truffles are nothing more than ganache that has been chilled and formed into balls to resemble the subterranean fungus they are named after.  Which brings me to another thing I need to point out.  When I first started making Chocolate Truffles back in like 2000, I was completely anal retentive about them being perfectly spheroid in shape.  I eventually realized that this is kind of silly, since truffles (the fungus) are not round.  Thus, I make mine a little more free form these days.  If I had "dipped" these, I might have made more effort to make them round, as it makes dipping a much less frustrating experience.

Chop the chocolate fairly finely and place in a medium bowl.

Pour Heavy Cream into a sauce pan and place over medium flame, then add Parmigiano-Reggiano and Butter.

Stir occasionally so until the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the butter melt.
When small bubbles appear around the edge, the cream is ready.

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for 1-2 minutes.

Begin stirring, in the center.

Slowly, as you stir, the chocolate/cream mixture will begin to change....

Until it becomes uniformly dark and glossy.

Cover with plastic wrap on the surface, to prevent crusting, and chill in the refrigerator until set (2 hours or overnight)

Once the ganache has set, line a small baking sheet with waxed paper and grab a small scoop.

Scoop out 2 tsp sized balls of the ganache.

Press into a "spheroid" shape and set on the baking sheet and continue until all the Ganache has been used.

Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate again for another hour or two.

At this point, you have a 3 choices.
  • You can go to the trouble of dipping them, if you like, but I don't normally do that because I find the thick coating of chocolate to detract from the creamy smoothness of the Ganache within.
  • You can simply roll them, as is, in Cocoa powder, Confectioners' sugar or, in this case, Parmigiano-Reggiano (which I do fairly often... The Cocoa Powder or Confectioners' sugar, not the Parmigiano-Reggiano - This is a special case)
  • Finally, you can go ahead and melt some chocolate and "roll" them in your palm to place a VERY thin coating of chocolate on the outside, before rolling them in your final dry coating.
The last method is what I did with these, because it uses only about 2 oz of chocolate, as opposed to dipping which takes an additional 9 oz.
So, prepare your finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano by placing it on a plate to foster easier "rolling".

Place 2 oz of chopped 60-65% Bittersweet Chocolate in a bowl and place it over simmering water...

Stirring until it is almost melted. (the residual heat will melt the remaining chocolate)

You want it fairly cool or it will melt the ganache while you are rolling.

Place a small dollop in the center of your palm.

Place a truffle in the center.

Roll your palms together to coat the truffle in a thin, even layer of Chocolate.

Move the truffle to the plate of Parmigiano-Reggiano and roll to coat.

Place it on a piece of waxed paper to set.

Once all the truffle have been rolled, move them back to the refrigerator for 1 hour to set.

And there you have it, Chocolate Truffles loaded with Umami and Salt.

Now you can present them to your guests...

Or place them in a box and give as a gift....

 Or just eat them yourself....  :)


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Torte Transgression - White Chocolate "Sacher Torte"

Most people have heard about the infamous Sacher Torte of Vienna.  It is, purportedly, the panacea of the pastries... The catholicon of cakes...  The most tempting of torten.

Sadly, though many have heard of this Viennese apotheosis, most of us will never actually taste one.  Oh, people claim that this or that is a Sacher Torte, and many people have a "recipe" that is suppose to be THE Sacher Torte, (even I developed a recipe) but technically they are fibbing... They may be Sacher-esque, or Sacher-like, and maybe even Sacher-ish, but it is unequivocally impossible for any of them to be real Sacher Torten.

The reason is simple.  The recipe is, what amounts to, a state secret kept under lock and key in an underground vault that is guarded by dogs with bees in their mouths and when they bark they shoot bees at you... A-hem..  (I am "multitasking" by watching a Simpsons re-run as I type)

Anyway, there are 2 establishments that have laid claim to Franz Sacher's original recipe.  After a 7 year court battle that finally ended in 1963, (the Viennese are VERY serious about their pastries) the Sacher Hotel was awarded the name "The Original Sacher Torte" and Demel had to call theirs the "Demel's Sacher Torte" These are the ONLY two places in the world that can make the "real" thing.  And if you really want to try the real thing... The Sacher Hotel will ship it to your door. Click Here.  As will Demel's... Click Here.

The point is that even if you make a chocolate torte, layer it with apricot preserves and pour chocolate glaze over the top, it is still not a Sacher Torte.  That is, unless you are an accomplished cat burglar and can manage to smuggle the recipe out of Austria.  (don't forget your beekeepers suit) I'm just sayin'

Being somewhat of an insurrectionist due to my propensity to rage against the corporate machine, I have decided that since I cannot technically make a Sacher Torte, I am going to fly in the face of over 175 years of Austrian tradition (the torte was "invented" in 1832) and completely twist the idea into an antithesis of the original.  Sort of the Yin to the Yang of the original Sacher Torte.  In geek speak, the anti-matter version.

Thus it is, with a rebel yell, that I offer up a somewhat sweeter version of the Viennese Classic...

White Sacher Torte

142g (5 oz) (1 1/2 cups) Almond Flour
65g (2.25 oz) (1/2 cup) AP Flour 
6 TB Unsalted Butter
170g (6 oz) White Chocolate, chopped
4 large Eggs, separated
100g (3.5 oz) (1/2 cup) Granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp Cream of Tarter (or 1 tsp Lemon Juice)
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt

Apricot Glaze:
283g (10 oz) (1 1/4 cups) Apricot preserves
1 1/2 TB Rum

White Chocolate Ganache
177ml (3/4 cup) Heavy Cream
340g (12 oz) White Chocolate, chopped

Grease 2 9-inch cake pans, line them with parchment, then grease and flour the parchment.

Place Almond Flour and AP Flour in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

Lets take a moment to admire the White Chocolate.

Just look at all that vanilla caviar speckling the creamy whiteness of the chocolate... OK, enough of that.

Chop the white chocolate and place in a saucepan along with the Butter.

Set over low heat and stir until melted, then set aside.

Place Egg Yolks and Granulated Sugar in the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Beat them together until they form a ribbon. (About 8 minutes)

Begin preheating the oven to 325 F degrees while the egg yolks are being beaten.
Reduce the speed of the mixer and slowly pour in the slightly cooled White Chocolate/Butter mixture.

Beat the egg whites until foamy, then sprinkle with Cream of Tarter and Kosher Salt.....

Then continue beating until they reach stiff peaks.

Spoon about 1/3 of the white into the Yolk/White Chocolate mixture and stir it in to lighten it and foster easier folding.

Add the Yolk mixture to the remaining whites and fold until combined.

Fold in the Almond/Flour mixture in 2 additions.

Divide the batter between the 2 prepared pans.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.

Turn out onto a cooling rack and peel of the parchment.

While the cakes are cooling it's time to make the Apricot glaze.
Place Apricot Preserves and Rum in a small saucepan set over medium heat.

Simmer for about 5 minutes to remove a little of the water.
Run through a fine mesh strainer to remove and chunky apricot bits.

You should have about 3/4 cup when you are finished.

Place bottom layer of the torte on a cake board, securing it with a little of the preserves.

Spread 1/3 of the preserves over the bottom layer.

Position the second layer on top.

Pour the remaining preserves over the torte and spread over the top and down the sides to completely encase the cake in a nice smooth layer.

(this will keep it from drying out and allow the white chocolate ganache to flow better)

Allow the torte to sit for 1 hour to allow the preserves to dry out slightly.
Which gives you plenty of time to make the White Chocolate Ganache.
Chop the White Chocolate and place in a small bowl.
Heat the Heavy Cream in a small saucepan over medium flame, until small bubbles appear around the edge.

Pour the hot cream over the White Chocolate and let sit for 1-2 minutes.
Begin stirring, in the center, and slowly but surly....

The mixture will melt and become a homogeneous shiny creamy ivory color.

Cover the ganache with plastic set on the surface to prevent crusting, and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. (White chocolate Ganache is really finicky and significantly runnier than regular dark chocolate ganache even though the ratio of chocolate to cream is much higher, so you need it to partially set up before you pour it.)
Place the torte on a cooling rack set in a jelly roll pan that has been lined with waxed paper. (this will catch the dripping ganache, in case you need to do a second coat)

Pour the ganache slowly, starting around the outside edge, in concentric rings, moving towards the center.

Allow the Ganache to set for 30 minutes. (put the whole thing in the refrigerator for 15 minutes if you are in a hurry)

You may scrape up the left over ganache and beat it with a mixer to incorporate some air so you can pipe it and write "Sacher" across the top, in true Sacher fashion. (or Sacher-esque, or Anti-Sacher or any other variation there of)

Place in the refrigerator for 2 hours to ensure that everything is well set.

Bring it back to room temperature before serving though and as is traditional, since Sacher Torte is fairly dry, serve with mounds of "Unsweetened" Whipped Cream

(Trust me, it's sweet enough, you don't want the whipped cream to be sweet too)