I’m on a bit of a downer this week. It comes of post-holiday blues, and too much time spent on Facebook. Oh Facebook, how great you make everybody’s lives look. Also despite the startlingly warm Autumn we’ve been having, the clocks have turned back and it is horribly dark in the evenings. Urgh. Winter is Coming.
So I tried to create a taste of warmer climes – Italian torrone.
Torrone comes in two forms, the hard, chewy nougat you get in the UK, and the softer, truffley version. I tried some when I was in Naples, it’s sweet and rich and you can only eat tiny pieces before starting to feel sick. I used a recipe from Italian blog Dolci a go go with the aid of Google Translate.
I found making the torrone was a bit faffy. Nothing particularly hard – just lots of melting of chocolate, and sticking the whole lot in the fridge to set. You know when you make something, and you’ve had fun making it, but you probably won’t ever bother making it again? Yeah, I think this goes into that category. However, I do reckon it could go down very well as an edible Christmas gift, especially if you use the torrone as a vehicle for dried and candied fruit, nuts and chocolate pieces. Think of it as a fancy Italian fridge cake!
Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Spread the hazelnuts out in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast until lightly browned and fragrant, tossing them occasionally to make sure they toast evenly. Allow the hazelnuts to cool.
Melt 150g dark chocolate. Using a brush, cover the inside of a non-stick loaf tin with the melted chocolate, pop in the fridge to set, and then brush another layer on until all the chocolate is used up. This forms a chocolate shell around the torrone.
Then melt the white chocolate, and mix together with the nutella and toasted hazelnuts. Allow to cool slightly so when you add it to the tin, it doesn’t melt the dark chocolate shell. Fill the tin with the nutella cream, and tap to level out. Return to the fridge overnight to set completely.
Melt the remaining 50g dark chocolate and pour over the set nutella cream to form the dark chocolate base of the torrone. Return to the fridge to set completely.
Turn the tin upside down, and firmly tap to release the torrone. It should slide out without any problems. Cut into thin slices with a hot sharp knife.
When you don’t know what to get somebody, an edible gift is usually a good way to go. Whereas a box of chocolates or macarons is pretty amazing to receive, I do enjoy going the extra mile, and making presents from scratch!
Today I was reading the Guardian article on making the Perfect Chocolate Truffle, and immediately had a strong desire to make some. Chocolate truffles always go down well as gifts, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to experiment with some new recipes instead of always sticking to my go-to formula.
For the truffles, I used a mixture of Lindt Cooking chocolate, Lindt 70% eating chocolate, and Valrhona Noir 68%. I dusted the results in Green & Black’s cocoa powder. All of the truffles tasted equally fabulous, it was quite actually hard to discern any difference between the chocolates I’d used, but my favourite was the Lindt cooking chocolate, which had the most round-bodied flavour.
My own recipe for truffles always turns out slightly soft, which makes it perfect for using as a topping for chocolate cakes, but slightly difficult when it comes to forming little spheres, rolling them in cocoa powder, and packaging them up neatly.
I melted down milk and dark chocolate together, and combined it with an equal quantity of double cream. This mixture I popped into the freezer to set. It is quite soft, so it was with speed, and some difficulty that I rolled them out into balls, covered with cocoa powder, and stuck into the fridge.
Next up was the Paul A Young truffles. They looked very straightforward, and in terms of method and ingredient volumes – very similar to my own go-to recipe. However, the cream and sugar formed a much thicker mixture in the pan, and it was much richer-tasting as well, the dark chocolate being unadulterated by any additional milk chocolate flavours. Very delicious. This also took quite a long time to set, so I resorted to chilling the ganache in the freezer, and similarly, was on the soft side when it came to rolling them out and coating the balls in ganache. Another one to keep in the fridge.
Cocoa & Me is one of the cutest blogs ever, written by a Japanese market stallhaller in London, she has some of the most beautifully crafted baked goods I’ve ever seen. Not surprisingly, I was keen to give her basic ganache truffles recipe a whirl.
The ganache split as I was making it, but it wasn’t too disastrous, so I gave it a good whisking, poured it into another bowl, and stuck it into the fridge, hoping it wouldn’t do any further separating whilst it was chilling.
The Cocoa & Me truffles set really well; a lot firmer than my usual go-to recipe, rich and dense. Whilst I do enjoy the convenience of not having to coat the truffles or leave them in the fridge permanently, these had a slightly crumbly texture which I wasn’t too fond of. The meltier texture of softer truffles somehow seems more luxurious, although it is more tricky to handle. This would be a good robust truffle if you were packaging them up and handing them out as gifts.
Finally, Tartlette’s recipe! It is unusual here in that it doesn’t require any double cream, but relies on dark chocolate, butter, icing sugar and egg yolks. This was handy as I’d just used all of the cream up!
I made a half batch as I didn’t have quite enough butter, reduced the quantity of icing sugar to 50g, and altered the method for greater simplicity by heating the chocolate and butter together in a bain-marie; whisking the egg and icing sugar together, and finally mixing the sugary eggy mixture into the melted chocolate and chilling the tempting chocolatey goo in the fridge.
I actually really loved the Tartlette truffles, and they went down very well with everyone (except the resident chocolate hater). They had a great texture and flavour, and like the Cocoa & Me truffles solidified nicely, which is always a plus in my book as it means I don’t have to roll them in an additional coating of chocolate. They had a slightly less smooth mouthfeel than my usual truffles and I’m not quite sure why. It wasn’t unpleasant at all, just noticeable.
These truffles are definitely one to make again, and possibly experiment further with by adding other flavourings e.g. adding a bit of jam, and rolling them in freeze-dried raspberry powder.
What wins the prize of Perfect Truffle?
Well, I still prefer my go-to recipe in terms of simplicity, and all-round pleasing flavour, especially when it comes to a younger, more sweet-toothed audience. Accolades for flavour and ease of packaging go towards the Tartlette ones. For the sophisticated palate, the Paul Young truffles are a winner. Pick and choose your chocolate vice 🙂
Currently reading The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett. If you’ve read My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin, you will love this novel. It’s certainly got a very feminist slant and I was quite surprised to see some of the more controversial issues (especially for that period in history) being covered in the book.
Accompanying my reading, damn good chocolate fudge.
Fudge making doesn’t seem to be all that easy, I have to admit. I tend to either cook it too long so it goes grainy, or not long enough so it’s squidgy instead of set. The first batch didn’t go well, but second time lucky worked a charm and I had a beautifully array of dark brown, slightly squidgy smooth squares which got the flatmate seal of approval!
Now, I didn’t want to first failed batch to go to waste, so I thought I would do a spot of experimentation. I crumbled it up, and heated it all in a big pan with a bit of extra evaporated milk until it was smooth and liquid again. If i tipped the mixture out into a tin at this stage, I found that it would set to the consistency of a soft caramel. On the other hand, boiling the mixture for a couple of minutes longer at a high temperature, plus the addition of a few more squares of grated chocolate produced fudge again, hooray! It was firmer than the good batch, and a bit darker thanks to the extra chocolate, but it set with a beautiful glossy sheen, and tasted, dare I say it – even better! You just can’t go wrong with extra chocolate, can you? 🙂
Melt the butter, sugar and milk together in a pan over a low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the marshmallows and turn the heat up, boiling the fudge for 5-6 minutes. Take the pan off the heat as this point and add the chocolate. Leave for a minute to melt, and then stir the mixture together which is hard work! Quickly pour the mixture into the tin and leave to set for a couple of hours, then chop up into yummy squares.
Yummy and easy, and oh so lovely. Sophie Dahl may be an ex-model, but she isn’t just all about looks. Don’t use caster sugar if you haven’t got dark brown because it does make a big difference to the taste.
Peanut Butter Fudge (slightly adapted from BBC Food)
500g dark brown sugar
250g crunchy peanut butter
300g icing sugar
handful salted peanuts
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the brown sugar and milk. Boil for 2-3 minutes, without stirring. Take the pan off the heat, and stir in the peanut butter and peanuts. Put the icing sugar in a large bowl, and pour the hot peanut mixture on top, and beat together until smooth. Pour into a 20cm square baking tray, and set aside to cool slightly, then chill in the fridge until completely cold. Cut into squares.