Monday, May 9, 2011

Chocolate Almond Croquant

Last year, I worked at a high-volume pastry/bakery shop for eight weeks because I wanted to learn about pastry techniques and also to see if I would want to own my own vegan bakery.  We'll...I can tell you that I do not want to own a high-volume bakery.  I worked in the restaurant industry for five years and it was a "piece of cake", no pun intended, to working in a high-volume bakery.  The owner/employees work until 3am or all night decorating beautiful cakes and preparing product to be ready by 7am.  It takes an incredible amount of skill, patience and endurance!  But I can tell you the one thing I loved the most about working at the pastry shop was learning about chocolate production.  I found it fascinating and so when I left, I enrolled in a course at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and received my Certification in Chocolates and Confections.  The course was taught by the former Executive Pastry Chef of the French Laundry in Yountville and it was excellent.  So much so, that I was really serious about continuing my education to become a Vegan Chocolatier and open my own shop.  But in the end...I love food more than chocolate and if I ever open anything, it will be a vegan cafe/restaurant.

Yesterday was Mother's Day and my Mom (and sister) love chocolate and Chai Tea so I thought that I would make them Vegan Chai Tea Truffles.  But since they live 3,000 miles away and with the weather I couldn't guarantee that they would arrive in good condition, even though I would use tempered chocolate.  You see, most people who make truffles at home don't temper chocolate and you don't need to because you can keep them refrigerated until ready to use.  But if you're going ship chocolates in May then you need to temper both the ganache (the creamy filling) and the outside coating to make sure that they are stable.  This requires a lot of time and effort.  Making chocolates at home is rather tricky and even at the pastry shop it took a lot of time to produce beautiful chocolates and they used an expensive tempering machine.   So I decided to make an easy chocolate recipe and make Chocolate Almond Croquant Clusters.  "Croquant" in French just means "crunchy" and this is something that my Mom loves as well!

In terms of equipment, I would recommend that you purchase a good quality thermometer and a good quality scale that can register both grams and ounces, regardless if you're making chocolates or just baking.  Working with grams is so much easier and when you have a good scale, you can convert back and forth between both forms of measurement.  So for this recipe, we're using grams and if you don't have a scale and want to convert, just divide the grams by 28.3495 to get the ounces.  It's really easy so keep reading!

Note:  Whenever you temper chocolate, you need about 1 1/2 pounds (682 grams) to make it work.  However, to coat the almonds, you'll only use 250 grams (a little over 8 ounces), but you can save the leftover tempered chocolate for another use.  Actually, if you're not going to ship the chocolates, or leave them out for a long period of time, then you can just skip the tempering and toss the almonds in melted chocolate.  Regardless of what method you use, purchase a good quality chocolate with a chocolate liquor in the range of 55%-70%.  I used a 61% chocolate.

There are two methods of tempering chocolate:  the "seed method" and the "slab method".  For this recipe, we're using the "seed method".  This just means that you melt most of your chopped chocolate to a certain temperature (112-115 degrees) and then stir in the remaining chopped chocolate to bring the melted chocolate to the "tempered stage" of 87-90 degrees.  This guarantees that your chocolate will be shiny, have a crisp snap and will not melt when you hold the chocolate in your hands. 

682g (1 1/2 pounds) good quality dark chocolate for tempering
100g granulated white sugar
15g filtered water
400g raw slithered almonds
12g Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks (not whipped)
250g of tempered chocolate to coat almonds

Method of Tempering Chocolate:
  • To temper the chocolate, chop all the chocolate into small 1" pieces.  Divide chocolate into two metal bowls (456g for the melted chocolate and 226g for the seed chocolate).
  • Add 1-2" of water to a small sauce pan, place the larger amount of chocolate on top of the simmering water.  It's very important that no water or steam come in contact with the chocolate or the chocolate will seize and become useless.  Therefore, keep the heat low and stir with a spatula until melted.  Remove from heat when it reaches 112 degrees.
  • Let the temperature of the chocolate drop to about 100 degrees and then slowly add the remaining "seeded" chopped chocolate, stirring and checking the temperature until it drops to between 87-90 degrees.  You may not need to add all the remaining chopped chocolate.  You can check if the chocolate is in temper by placing a small amount of chocolate on parchment paper and letting it dry.  It should harden and have a snap. 
  • The chocolate should remain in temper while you prepare the almonds.
Preparing Caramelized Almonds:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place raw almonds on a sheet tray and toast for about 3-5 minutes, depending on your oven.  Toss and make sure that they don't burn. Remove from oven and set aside.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat and set aside, along with a large bowl. 
  • In a large 10-12" heavy bottom pan, add sugar and water and cook on medium heat until white bubbles start to form.
  • Add toasted almonds and stir to coat with sugar mixture.
  • Turn off heat and allow the sugar to crystalize--it should form a sandy textured coating on the almonds.
  • Turn heat back on medium and cook almonds, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the sugar caramelizes, about 5 minutes.  You want it to be a deep amber color, but as long as you keep stirring , you won't burn the almonds.
  • Remove from heat and then add butter to almonds and stir to coat.
  • Immediately pour almonds out onto the lined sheet tray and spread out in an even layer and break up any clusters with a spoon.
  • Let almonds cool for about five minutes and then place in a large glass bowl. 
  • Pour 250g of the tempered chocolate over the caramelized almonds and toss to coat.
  • Using a teaspoon, scoop almond mixture into a onto the lined sheet tray, and refrigerate until hardened.
  • And of course enjoy...Happy Mother's Day Mom!!!


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