This is a second in a series following the Tasting class I took taught by Samin Nosrat. An alternate title for this post could be “How to Read a Recipe,” which might sound really obvious but believe me, it’s actually not.
Having tasted all sorts of wonderful ingredients and started to tune our palates as well as our minds, Samin asks us to choose from a variety of different dishes to prepare for lunch. She has selected each one for its ability to convey a certain flavor or taste, from a clean broth soup, to a rich, creamy remoulade (basically French coleslaw), pasta with a bite and a kick, and chocolate caramel truffles for depth and layers.
People who know me think I’m pretty good at making decisions. That perception is based on the fact that I tend to act quickly and get stuff done. However, what they don’t see is the endless wrangling my mind goes through before and after I’ve made a decision. I spend much of the first part of the class trying to decide which dish I wanted to make. The remoulade, because I’d learn how to make mayonnaise properly? The broth, so I could learn how to poach an egg like a pro? The pasta, because there were lots of different elements? Or Pierre Herme’s chocolate truffles, which is where my heart takes me, but somehow I feel that this is too obvious a choice. In the end, the truffles win primarily because there’s a pile of best quality dark chocolate sitting on the counter and because the recipe calls for making caramel which is a skill I’ve wanted to acquire for some time.
As it turns out, the dessert station is the least popular and there are just two of us on board. I skim the recipe as we start to weigh ingredients out using a scale. Yes a scale, not a cup (which is for measuring bra size in my opinion). We break the chocolate up into squares, pour the cream in a measuring jug, dig some white sugar out of a bin, slice off the appropriate amount of butter. You get the picture.
I take on the task of making the caramel. I’ve heard all sorts of things like no sugar crystals up the side of the pan, brush them down with a wet pastry brush, etc, but this recipe seems more forgiving. Everything goes along very smoothly: the sugar turns a nice dark color as I add it three tablespoons at a time, taking care not to stir the first batch until it’s really dissolved. The butter melts nicely in the scalding hot melted sugar. The impressive foaming action happens when I add the cream (video here). A little bit of sugar has caught on the bottom so I keep stirring until its dissolved.
The recipe instructs us next to slowly add the caramel to the chocolate so it melts and becomes one beautiful melded chocolately carmely type of a thing. And this is where things start to go awry. My partner is nearly breaking her arm trying to blend the two ingredients, and it’s then that I pause to re-read the recipe. It calls for the chocolate to be finely chopped. Now this we did not do. Uh-oh. My partner keeps stirring as I keep adding the by-now lukewarm carmel hoping that things will magically get back on track. No such luck.
We consult Samin and decide to stir the mixture over a double boiler to encourage the chocolate to melt. This is a good idea… in theory. In practice, the heat is too much for the chocolate to handle and it “splits” expelling all the oils and leaving us with a heavy blob of unworkable chocolate carmel and a slick of clear oil. Samin explains that adding an ice cube or two should help the emulsion to re-form (you can use this method any time fats split, like with making mayonnaise). It kind of works, but not really.
Now it’s time to pull out the big guns. If I’d been at home, I probably would have given up at this point and started over, but economy in the kitchen is a true virtue and we had already committed some very expensive ingredients to this endeavor – from Strauss heavy cream to the best dark chocolate money can buy, so Samin persists down the problem-solving path. She suggests we use a food processor to basically beat those split ingredients back into emulsifying submission, “But be careful,” she warns us, “You could overbeat it and it’ll split again.” Oh great, these food ingredients are as tricky as persuading a toddler to do something on your agenda, not theirs. Finally it works and we put the recalcitrant yet yummy chocolate carmel mixture in the fridge to chill for a few hours.
Next comes the fun part. We need to turn the mixture into bite-size truffles. Using hands we have first “floured” with cocoa powder we roll the little gems between our palms and then toss them in cocoa powder to give them one more layer of taste and chocolately depth.
We pop one in our mouth for each one we put on the tray and soon the whole class has gathered around to chat and debrief on the day. Despite my initial shame at making such a rookie mistake as not reading the recipe thoroughly before diving in, I realize that by making an error I have learned far more than if things had gone smoothly. And, dear reader, such is life.