Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday Chocolate-making with Friends

’Twas a month before Christmas, and an invitation did come
From my co-worker April, with promise of fun;

It’s a day of chocolate-making for gifts or yourself,

Our co-worker Rhonda could be another elf.

So we spent an entire Saturday at her SOMA loft,

Making caramel with lavender that was pillowy soft.

There were espresso-infused truffles and apricots galore,

Which were made into chocolate barks with nuts and a lot more.

Out in the living area there was a whole lot of chatter
From her two interesting parrots who really did matter.

“Who’s the prettiest bird?” could often be heard;
While Rhonda’s husband read quietly saying hardly a word.

Jason and John came later to help
And we ordered pizza for lunch without using
My wondering eyes enjoyed the silky dark candy,

And my Canon digital SLR sure came in handy.

I captured hundreds of photos to remember the day
So I could blog about chocolates made the personal way.

More rapid than eagles I quickly uploaded

The images to my laptop, then a horror unfolded;

“Damn it! Damn it! How can this be?!”

The card said ZERO, there was nothing to see!
Call it a fluke, but all my images were zapped;

So was my spirit, I felt like a sap.

All I had were the candy, all finished and nice
I took photos of them and said they’d suffice;
Because in the end, no matter the pain

I had memories of fun and friends that I gained.

So thanks to April for the generous invite
And Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!

If it wasn’t clear from the above, the digital memory card gremlin cleared all the images from my memory card while I tried to upload my images of my day of chocolate making. At least it wasn’t photos of my Buenos Aires trip or of a honeymoon!

My co-worker April has been making chocolates for fun for years, and during the holidays she makes them as gifts, which is a great idea now with the economy the way it is. One of the chocolates we made was this incredible lavender-infused caramel covered with dark chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel. She adapted a recipe from Michael Recchiuti’s cookbook, “Chocolate Obsession.” It’s so good, I plan to make it again (and maybe then I can show you photos of the process). Or you can try to make them yourself. It’s actually pretty easy. I’ve reprinted the recipe below with the addition of the lavender (which actually came from our co-worker Rhonda’s garden).

Lavender-inflused Fleur de Sel Caramels
Adapted from Michael Recchiuti’s “Chocolate Obsession”

About 50 pieces

Flavorless vegetable oil for the pan
1.5 cups (10.5 oz.) granulated cane sugar
1/2 Tahitian vanilla bean, split horizontally
1 cup (8 oz.) heavy whipping cream
2 T (1.5 oz. by weight) light corn syrup
1 T (1.5 oz.) unsalted butter with 82% butter fat, chilled
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel in fine grains
Tempered 61-70% chocolate for dipping*
Fleur de sel in fine grains for finishing
1 T lavender flowers for cooking

Making the caramels

Bring heavy cream in a small pot to a boil over medium low heat and then remove from heat. Add lavender and let seep for about two hours.

Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly coat the paper and the sides of the pan with flavorless vegetable oil.

Put the sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Use a copper pot if you have one. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pot. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the sugar melts. (This may take awhile.) When all the sugar is melted, then continue to cook without stirring until the sugar turns dark and amber, about 5-6 minutes.

When the sugar is the correct shade, stir in the corn syrup. Remove the pot from the heat and put a sieve or splatter guard over the pot. Reheat the heavy cream mixture if necessary. Wearing an oven mitt, slowly pour the hot cream into the sugar syrup a little at a time. The mixture will splutter and foam.

When the bubbling subsides, return the pan to medium heat and cook undisturbed until the mixture registers 252 degrees F on a candy thermometer (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat, and stir with the wooden spoon. Add the salt and stir until evenly distributed.

Pour the caramel into papered pan and let cool at room temperature.

Assembling the caramels

Invert pan and peel off parchment paper. Cut into sticks one inch wide with a slightly oiled knife. Then cut into 1-inch squares.

* Temper chocolate by melting about 1 pound of dark or semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler or microwave until chocolate reaches 100 degrees (use a digital thermometer to test the temperature). Stir chocolate to cool it to about mid-90s. Throw in a few pieces of hard chocolate and continue stirring. When temperature of chocolate dips to 86 degrees, then start dipping in caramel squares to coat. If chocolate starts to seem thick, you may need to warm it up again to temper the chocolate. (Coating works best when temperature stays around 86 degrees.) Lay coated caramels on parchment paper, and sprinkle some fleur de sel on top. Then allow to cool to set.


Passionate Eater said...

As I read Chef Ben's new post, my breath bated, in glee;
And when I reached the "chocolate" part, I squealed a brief, "Yippee!"
Even though, he lost his pix, he blogged about it well,
The candy-making night with friends, was quite a tale to tell.

The post-candy making pictures still came out wonderfully, and your Twas the Night Before Christmas-inspired poem was so innovative and fun! I love your post Chef Ben! Bookmarking it now!

Anonymous said...

I ran into your blog while searching "making chocolates" online. Your readers may be interested in a how to make gourmet dipped chocolates sold at I put the URL under my name in this post as well.

Anonymous said...

you guys and your poetry! strangely enough I just went to see a cowboy poetry reading in Monterey last week... the pictures of the chocolates are beautiful even if you only have the end product. my condolences on the loss of your data single guy.

Single Guy Ben said...

PE, I can always count on you for an inspiring response.

Foodhoe, thanks! And I've never heard of a cowboy poetry reading. And it's too late in the evening to think of something witty to say about that. So I'll have to just leave it at that. ;-)

Palidor said...

Wow, those look so perfect!!