For the current edition of Cook the Books, we are reading Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, an autobiography with recipes at the end of each chapter. One of the recipe pages is titled Bread and Chocolate and it starts thus:
This is a simple trick familiar to every French child. There’s something surprisingly right about chocolate and bread together, all that dark, rich sweetness against the chewy, salty crumb. It’s one of my favorite snacks.
I am Italian and grew up eating bread and chocolate (pane e cioccolato) as a snack. My home town, Perugia, is also the home of Perugina, a world-famous chocolate factory. However, I think that my upbringing is similar to that of many others in the chocolate-producing parts of Europe. In other words, I have known the pleasure of eating bread and chocolate for as long as I can remember. And I wrote about it some time ago, in an article titled Bread, Chocolate and Happiness:
The next time you look for a tasty snack or want to pamper yourself — or just because — break a piece of your favorite chocolate and cut a piece of freshly-baked, unflavored, good quality bread (maybe baked in your own oven), sit down and focus your attention on the flavors and sensations in your mouth, the contrast between the smooth chocolate and the bread textures (crunchy crust, soft crumb), the way both soften in your mouth and one melts, the meeting of the twine brought about by considerate chewing, the gingerly sojourn in your mouth that allows all taste buds to get their share of the flavors, the slow-motion swallowing that sends parting thoughts tinged with sweetness. A marriage of human bread and godly chocolate was celebrated in your mouth.
Inspired by the theme of chocolate, I decided I would try to do something I had had in mind for a while. Two events combined to direct my actions. First, an appreciation for chocolate-covered pecans, a kind of nut with which I became familiar only after moving to California. Second, in doing some research for an article on chocolate making, I ran across this piece by Shirley Corriher about chocolate tempering. Tempering chocolate is something I was apprehensive about doing at home, mostly because it uses a quantity of chocolate that goes beyond what I want to deal with in one session. In any case, the article explains how to avoid tempering chocolate if you start with tempered chocolate. (Another article from the same author is here: you want to focus on the paragraph titled A Radical Shortcut to Tempering.)
Armed with the information in the article, some good chocolate and pecans, I got down to work. I did not look at any recipe, because I knew what I wanted: simply toasted nuts covered in bittersweet chocolate.
- good quality chocolate that you know is already tempered (like bars made for eating): I use about 2/3 chocolate with 70% cocoa content and 1/3 chocolate with 60% cocoa content; I suggest to start with 3-3.5 oz. (85-100 g) of chocolate
- pecan halves
- cacao nibs (granella di fave di cacao), optional
Toast pecans in a 350 F (175-180 C) oven. The amount of time it takes depends on the oven and on the size of the pecans. In my experience, there is a fine line between not toasted enough and burnt, so every time I toast a batch, I keep a close watch. I set the timer for 10 minutes, and follow the progress very closely, adding time as needed. Let the pecans cool while you prepare the chocolate.
Melt chocolate according to the instructions in the article (see also quote below). You'll need a good thermometer that gives you the required accuracy: I have such a thermometer, which I need for cheese making. It is very important that you chop the chocolate finely: this will take a bit of time. I place chocolate in a small non-reactive metal bowl placed over a pan with steaming (not boiling) water. Make sure the bowl does not touch the water and that no water gets into the chocolate. Melt as directed, checking the temperature regularly:
Stir constantly until about two-thirds of the chocolate is melted. Take the bowl from the heat and continue stirring until all the chocolate is melted. For dark chocolate, you want the whole mass to end up at 89 to 91 F (87 to 98 for milk and white). As long as you haven't exceeded 92 F, your beta crystals should be fine...
If you use this shortcut method, you should still test the chocolate on parchment or waxed paper to make sure that the chocolate sets up hard and shiny.
Verify that your chocolate is indeed in temper. Smear a thin layer onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper, then wait five minutes and try to peel the chocolate from the paper. If it peels easily and the chocolate is shiny, not blotchy, you're fine. [source]
Prepare a tray (like a baking sheet) lined with parchment paper. When ready, toss some of the pecans into the chocolate, stir to coat well and then use a fork to pick them up one at a time (if you want individual chocolate-covered pecans), or at the same time shape them into small clusters of 2-3 nuts. Deposit pecans on the parchment paper.
As you add the pecans and stir to coat them, the temperature of the chocolate decreases and the consistency is no longer nice and fluid, so you'll need to warm up the chocolate slightly before you cover the next batch of nuts. Again, make sure the temperature remains within the limit of temper.
When you are left with a small quantity of chocolate in the bowl, covering pecans becomes difficult, so you can toss into the chocolate cacao nibs: stir, shape with a spoon and deposit on the lined sheet (see the morsel on the far right in the photo).
I have already made three batches of chocolate-covered pecans and the only problem I have encountered is controlling consumption. I found the oyster half-shell while walking on the beach and I thought it would work well as a small bowl.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the noci pecan ricoperte di cioccolato audio file [mp3].
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