All My Life
I have been a writer all my life. Even before I could write, I would crawl into my father’s lap with paper and pen in hand and ask him to write down the words that came to my mind, to help me construct the stories I wanted to tell.
Cooking came close on it's heels. As a little girl I would go to my aunt’s house and help with the cooking and baking. I would stand on a stool and stir boiling pots or ask for her help to bake cookies for school projects.
Both began as efforts engaged in and learned from those I held dear. Together we gathered the things we needed and created and enjoyed the process no matter the outcome.
Poetry in the Kitchen
Maya Angelou, in an interview about her newest book Great Food, All Day Long, describes how writing and cooking are much the same:
"Yes, cooking is like writing poetry... You want the best ingredients. When you’re writing a poem, you hope to have a good vocabulary, and to choose the nouns and pronouns and verbs carefully. The way you put them together will determine how they affect another person. And it’s really because you’ve been careful in the choice of your ingredients and respectful of how they work together. That’s true of all the efforts in life."
I like that! It is, in the end, all a process of alchemy. We take a bit of this and a bit of that and with heat and pressure, the happy affinity of one bit for another, we transform the basics into a new creation, something much more than the sum of its parts.
What a Little Heat Can Do
A case in point: Truffles. Take a little wholesome cream, a few ounces of bittersweet chocolate, a pinch of exotic spice or delicate zest. Apply heat gently... and wait.
In time you will arrange a setting. By candlelight you will scoop the firmed ganache with a spoon and roll it in a cloak of cocoa powder embellished with spices. Even as you roll it the heat of your fingertips will soften the ganache and on your tongue it will melt irresistibly to a luscious softness that is enormously more expressive than a sip of cream or a nibble of dark chocolate alone. This is more than merely a flavor. It is poetry to the tongue; romance in every bite.
So write your Valentine a love letter in chocolate. For inspiration read Love Letters: An Anthology of Passion or How to Write Love Letters, both by Michelle Lovric. Collect the nouns, pronouns and verbs; then translate to sugar and spice, chocolate and cream, as you create the base and the palette for these truffles. Then read them together as you create your own unique confection.
There is a writer in every one of us on Valentine’s Day!
Jamie's Deconstructed Chocolate Truffles
1½ cups cream
1 lb dark (70% cocoa solids) chocolate, broken into small bits
a knob (2 Tablespoons) of unsalted butter
Zest of one clementine
pinch of sea salt
splash of brandy
ancho or chipotle chile powder
course colored sugar or sprinkles
biscotti, gingersnaps or shortbread cookies
To make the Truffle base:
In a medium saucepan, over medium-low heat, gently warm the cream until small bubbles form around the edges. It should be hot but not boiling.
Add the butter and the orange zest. When the butter has melted pour the hot cream mixture over the broken chocolate pieces, whisking gently until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add a small pinch of salt and stir in a splash of brandy.
Pour the chocolate mixture into a pretty dish. Place it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or until set. Garnish the top with a Chocolate Filigree Heart if desired.
To make a White Chocolate Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup cream
5.5 ounces white chocolate
a few drops of vanilla
Repeat the process as described above being extra gentle and watchful in warming the cream. When the mixture is smooth whisk in a few drops of vanilla, if desired, or the seeds of a vanilla bean, if you have one.
The mixture will be thin by comparison to the truffle base, a good consistency for dipping.
After whisking, when the mixture is smooth, pour it into a small serving dish and refrigerate. When chilled through, garnish with a Chocolate Filigree Heart if desired.
Place the pretty bowls on a tray. Arrange small dishes of cocoa powder, nuts, toffee bits, decorative sugar or whatever you like around the chocolate dish, for dipping. I added ancho chili powder and cocoa nibs. You could add crushed toffee or Butterfinger bits. Decorative sugar or crushed hard candies are pretty. Be creative.
Fill a teacup or small dish with steaming hot water. Place spoons in water (I used long handled iced tea spoons). Set out another tray of biscotti, ginger snaps or butter cookies. Gather guests around the table and let them spoon out their own truffles and roll them in cocoa powder, nuts, toffee bits, dip them into the white chocolate, or whatever you like. Or smear the truffle mixture on cookies.
Serve with chilled champagne, sparkling water, dessert wine or coffee.
Other types of chocolate can be used for the truffles too. If using milk chocolate reduce the amount of cream in the truffle base to 1 cup. For white chocolate truffles reduce the amount of cream to 3/4 cup.
Other ideas for Valentine's Day:
- Use your words! Write your own love verses or borrow from famous authors. Pen them on a scrap of parchment-like paper in your best handwriting and tuck them into a homemade Fortune Cookie.
- Spread your truffle base between round store-bought crackers for a contrast of tastes and textures. Refrigerate until firm. Dip in chocolate or butterscotch coating in a variation on Golden Treasure Cookies. Yum!
- Make Sugar Cookies shaped like hearts or flowers. Use your own personal artistic vision to decorate with Royal Icing.
- Meringue Cookies are simple (only 7 ingredients), inexpensive and perfect for Valentines Day. Sweet and airy yet luscious with just a taste of chocolate and nuts. These are a light expression of homemade love. You can even make them heart-shaped if you like.
- Share the ultimate Brownie, made with olive oil and infused with the flavor and goodness of almonds, walnuts and blood orange.