Friday, January 26, 2007

Top Secret Chocolat

What is Chocolate Nirvana and how is it achieved?

When I was going through a particularly turbulent adolescence in the early 1980s, my mother and I bonded over what she called "chocolate nirvana" in the front seat of her beige Ford Taurus station wagon. Like many mothers of teenagers, through my stilted life lens, she was one of those boringly dependable figures in my life who rarely ever revealed that she had any weaknesses at all, except through these little flashes that had hit us very rarely, over the years, like the sun through beveled glass. When I was going through the "crise", she took the old school approach – no comprehension between us. Mom has since allowed us to see the more human facets of her personality, and I appreciate her friendship now and love her in all of her complexity. But at the time, she was my perfect mother, and regretfully for everyone involved I was not.

The first time I was enlightened to her secret weakness for chocolate was much earlier, in the mountains. But just as I'd forgotten that snowy day in an onslaught of worries of cup sizes, makeup, tails dyed which shade of pink, how I was going to raise the cash for my next pair of pastel colored leggings, dozens of vacuume cleaner belts as bracelets, braces, and fine thin hair that just would not stand up on end without gasoline, she sprung another glinting hint at me at a traffic light somewhere near James street on the east side. She instructed me out of the blue that the idea was to fill your mouth to capacity with chocolate in order to completely overwhelm the senses in a wave of chocolate flavor. In a stupor I forgot to blame her for ignoring my weight loss attempts and was sucked into her instruction.

The goal was to weather the little crunching that came after the jaw had worked through a mouth stuffed completely with plain M&Ms, holding thin Ford Musgrove lips together in order to not God forbid let any M&M juice drool flow down our chins as we tried not to laugh. She had to pull the car over into the muddy slush on the shoulder after crossing under a railroad bridge to pull herself together, before merging back into the traffic. These little flashes gave me hope that she was human. At that time, in the dawn of my womanhood, plain M&Ms were just about the pinnacle of the chocolate experience available in the slushy salt-cracked streets of Syracuse New York.

Since that time, my relationship with my mother has grown, and so has my understanding of her love of chocolate. I always try to bring her the best of the best now, she must enjoy it sparingly for health reasons, and she eats it pure. We have enjoyed chocolate together from just about every country it is produced.

There is eating chocolate, and there is cooking chocolate. I didn't really get it until I came to France, and realized that all of the best tasting home cooked chocolate recipes from the French specified chocolate with the lower percentages.

Why? How can you get a better tasting fondant au chocolat, cake, mousse, etc. from a chocolate containing a lower percentage of cocoa? How can the cocoa content affect the end consistency of a dessert? I dove right into cooking home desserts here in France and by sheer empirical experience had every reason to maintain a die hard faith in the "dessert" chocolates, especially formulated for cooking. It is not just a marketing ploy. I have tried all grades, and have concluded from experience that it is a shame to waste the eating chocolate for cooking. Using haute gamme chocolate usually ends up with dense heavy results, and the flavor balance of many baked desserts is lost by using it. "Dessert chocolate" melts better, makes a more stable ganache, and its flavor comes through betterwith melting and cooking. It makes a better tasting sauce. People choose chocolate with a cocoa percentage of 60-65 percent for the best cooked chocolate desserts. If you don't believe me, conduct a test, and get back to me.

I have done tests with all of the common cooking chocolates available to me here in France. The winner on all counts comes from a company called Ethiquable, and is a product of equitable commerce, coming from the Dominican Republic. But that’s just a bonus. In my opinion, this is the best dessert chocolate available. If you live in Lyon, you can purchase it from the equitable commerce shops, one upstairs at the bookstore “Raconte Moi La Terre”, at the Ethiquable Gourmande shop at la Halle Martiniere, etc.

There are those recipes that you transmit immediately without hesitation to all of your friends, and there are the recipes that you hold like an ace in the sleeve. There are recipes that project such classic beauty that everyone assumes they have the personality of a historical figure, difficult and complicated. When you bring a beautiful classic dessert to the table, and your guests have no idea how simple it was to prepare, do you do need to make an effort to hammer in just how simple it is? With profiteroles au chocolat, I do not feel that need. I bask in the glory of their deceptive simplicity.

Home-made profiteroles au chocolat. This dessert is not about chocolate overload, it is about choosing the absolute perfect setting to leverage the taste of chocolate to the hilt by presenting it just so. There is a reason why they call this dessert profiteroles au chocolat and not "ice cream stuffed choux pastry served with sauce". The reason is that this dish begins visually and virtually with chocolate, takes you on a tactile journey right on through, starting and finishing with it on the palate, stating it's theme and summary in the perfect words, rebelling against it for a moment with convincing sumptuousness, and telling us in plain words finalement that this dessert is, as the spoon scrapes the dish, once and for all, about chocolate.

Profiteroles au Chocolat
(serves 4)

Profiteroles au chocolat can be whipped up in the course of dinner preparations very easily. The recipe is not fussy in the least, there is nothing to master, nothing to worry about, and it takes very little time. You can make the choux paste in 5 minutes and work on other things as they puff up into golden pouches, let them cool while you prepare and serve dinner, fill them with ice cream just before serving, and have them on the table in the blink of an eye.

Make the choux paste. This is the exact same recipe as gougères, without the savory spices and cheese. On the evening you plan to serve them, as a first task before getting dinner started, get these in the oven. It takes no more than a 5 minutes.

½ cup water
50 grams or 5 tablespoons of butter
¼ teaspoon salt
75 grams or 2/3 cup flour
a grate of fresh nutmeg
2 eggs

Mix the flour and nutmeg, and have it ready in a cup.

Put the butter and salt into the water and bring it to a rolling boil.

Add the flour all at once, and stir it briskly with a wooden spoon until the dough separates from the sides of the sauce pan.

Off heat, roughly stir in one egg in the same manner to incorporate it fully, and then the other.

It is impossible to mess this up. Put the dough by teaspoonfuls onto a papered cookie sheet. Give them a little personality with the shapes, and the puffs will better take the chocolate sauce. Bake at 210C/400F until golden and puffed. Let the choux pastries cool enough to handle, slit a hole in the side of each one, and let fully cool.

Just before serving dessert, take 15 minutes to fill them with ice cream and make the chocolate sauce.

Use a disposable pastry bag or a ziplock with the corner cut off to pipe ice cream into each cooled puff. Cut the end rather large, small enough to fit into the end of the puff, but large enough to effectively squeeze them full of ice cream quickly.

Set them in the freezer to keep them from melting while you make the chocolate sauce:

1 200g. bar of dessert chocolate (60%)
¾ cup water
30 grams or 3 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup whipping cream

Melt the chocolate along with ¾ cup water in a bowl suspended over simmering water, stirring from time to time. (you can fill the puffs while the chocolate is melting.) You do not need to hover over the chocolate, and you only need to stir it enough to mix the water and melted chocolate. When you are ready to serve dessert, remove the bowl from heat, whisk in the butter in, and add the cream. If the sauce thickens more than you like, add a few tablespoons of water and return to the heat to liquify.

Put the ice cream filled cream puffs into dessert dishes, and spoon the hot steaming chocolate sauce over them. Serve immediately.

This post was written for Sugar High Friday, a monthly blogging event in which bloggers, given that they can pull their act together in time to do so, produce a dessert following a group theme. This month's Sugar High Friday desserts around the theme "Chocolate by Brand!"

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Blogger Unknown said...

Ah Lucy, another beautifully written and inventive post — fun to read and tantalizing to look at.

(I was among those who could not get their act together in time, but I did make truffles.)

Thanks for the cyber sweets!

12:00 PM, January 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful detailed instructions! I might even try the recipe :-) Thanks.

4:54 PM, January 26, 2007  
Blogger AnAmericanHousewifeinFrance said...

Thanks for including info on where to find the brand of chocolate you recommend. I'll have to try this recipe sometime. BTW, I read one of your past posts and was wondering if you're a fellow Carolina grad.

3:00 AM, January 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, that looks like an incredible dessert.

Secondly, I love the story of you and your mom and the chocolate. It makes me wonder what kind of things my kids will remember about me when they are older...what times memories are made out of.

This was a great post!

5:57 PM, January 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent SHF post. I love reading anything about chocolate and realy appreciate the story and the trials you have gone through to find your perfect chocolate. And profiteroles are a dream. well done!

6:44 PM, January 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love profiteroles! Thanks for sharing the recipe, although I've never piped the ice cream inside. The stress would wipe me out (not to mention the lack of freezer space around here.)

Great entry Lucy!

3:35 PM, January 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mimi, thanks, as always for your support. Your truffles look delicious even if they didn’t turn out exactly as you had imagined they would.

Nikki –I hope you like the recipe! Let me know how they turn out.

Housewife – I hope you do contact me sometime so that we can prend un verre and talk about where we come from and where we’re going! Feel free to call me! (you can contact me by clicking ‘about’)

Kirsten – Thanks for your kind words. They mean so much!

David – Some people prefer them with Chantilly or pastry cream, but I love them filled with ice cream. It’s not stressful! Just wear gloves to keep your hands warm! You don’t really need too much freezer space because the profiteroles won’t stick together if you stack them.

2:13 PM, January 30, 2007  
Blogger franchini said...

These look wonderful and I'm making them for dinner this evening. Stuffing the profiteroles with ice cream is ideal for me because my children do not like whipped cream. I'm going to be trying out a 72% chocolate made by Green and Black, also an ethical brand, that describes itself as 'cook's chocolate'. If the chocolate is good I will send you's the least I could do for the many super recipes I've taken from your site.

10:50 AM, January 31, 2007  
Blogger franchini said...

Update......fantastic recipe, Lucy. It was so easy but came across as far more impressive than the effort I'd actually made. Will definitely make this one again and again. Thanks.

11:49 PM, January 31, 2007  
Blogger Katie said...

Those look postitively decadent and soooo calorie worthy. And the photos are wonderful!

9:42 PM, February 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We love to make these. I'll have to try your nutmeg in the choux. Although I must admit, we just cut them in half and put the ice cream inside with a scoop. Thanks for sharing the brand of chocolate you use.

(P.S. I hopped over here from Mimi's blog. What a wonderful blog you have!)

10:42 PM, February 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am drooling....

9:24 PM, February 05, 2007  
Blogger Linda said...

woah. these look amazing! thank you so much for sharing this recipe.

6:33 PM, February 06, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

franchini - I get such a thrill to see that you've actually prepared them. I'm so glad they turned out well in your kitchen. We might follow David's lead and try them with something else inside, pastry creme for example...

Thanks everyone else for your kind comments!

7:35 PM, February 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those look simply amazing, I'm most definitely going to try this soon. The choux paste also made me think of something else: éclairs au chocolat. I'm curious to see if you know of any particular recipe that works really well/tastes really good? I stumbled upon a couple recipes, all with the same ingredients, but different quantities naturally.
I'll keep you updated on my tentative at profiteroles! And the pastry cream actually sounds like a great idea.
Thanks for the recipe!

7:19 PM, February 20, 2007  

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