Friday, January 3, 2014

Adventures with sugar, in various forms

It's been a while since I've entered a recipe contest (ever since the stupid Pillsbury Bake-Off dispensed with real judging and decided to go the stupid crowd sourcing way), but I saw one the other day that I couldn't pass up. From the people at Scharffen Berger chocolate comes The Chocolate Adventure contest. The theme this year was "bars" and other than creating something that could be considered a bar, using their chocolate, and involving at least one of the "adventure" ingredients, the contest pretty much let the world be your oyster. Excuse to buy fancy chocolate and make desserts even after the gluttony of Christmas has just ended? Game on.

As a quick disclaimer: yes, I realize none of my readers will actually make this. I know that my tolerance for cooking projects that dirty every dish in my kitchen is far greater than yours. And frankly, as someone who had previously never attempted to temper chocolate before, this recipe actually tested the boundaries of my own cooking abilities. Thus, I'm not actually including the recipe here, just a sort of description of the process. If you are feeling adventurous and have about 10 hours to kill (really though most of that is inactive prep time!!), then let me know and I'll shoot you the final recipe.

The concept for this particular recipe came from a delicious olive oil and blood orange cake/sweet bread I made a few years ago. It cemented in me that olive oil and blood orange go well together in sweet things. It also seemed like a good flavor combination to pair with a fairly dark chocolate. In terms of turning it into a bar, my immediate thought was an ice cream bar, as anyone who has ever had olive oil ice cream will understand. Behold! The chocolate-covered olive oil with blood orange caramel ice cream bar was born! Well not entirely. I actually tried swirls of blood orange marmalade and blood orange syrup before settling on the caramel, but you can read about that thrilling thought process below.

Step one was to zest and juice a bunch of blood oranges. Actually that's more like step two as the real step one was to take artsy photographs of blood oranges:
Tart fruits make art beaut's
 Next was to make the ice cream, which I don't have any actual pictures of. It was your pretty basic ice cream custard making: lots egg yolks, cream, whole milk, sugar, and olive oil. Your basic line up of health foods. Well anyway, olive oil is still on the list of good fats this year, right? After the custard was done, I threw in some orange zest before letting it chill (the first of many 3 to 4 hour waiting periods) and putting it into the ice cream maker.

While that business was cooling, I worked on my blood orange component. I had purchased some blood orange marmalade which tasted great and led to a nice subtle flavor in the finished bars. I opted not to go that route though because while blood oranges can be readily found these days, blood orange marmalade seemed like a speciality ingredient that would be  hard for many to find and I didn't want to even attempt to make it on my own. The next option was blood orange syrup (seen below). This resulted in the most beautiful color of the three options; however some taste testers (read: Sam) found the result to be a little too tart, so this option also was ultimately rejected in favor of the winner: blood orange caramel sauce. Essentially, this was the same preparation as for the syrup except with twice the sugar content and allowing the sugar to caramelize first.

It's gorgeous! Just sadly a wee bit too tart
Once the ice cream was done, I poured it into plastic wrap lined pans and added the blood orange component to each. This was then swirled with knives for both proper distribution and prettiness. The mixture was then covered with the overhanging plastic wrap and pressed down to ensure it was tightly packed in the pan. Then, you guessed it, back to the freezer for another 3 to 4 hours!

The blood orange marmalade option. 
After the ice cream was frozen into appropriately hard bricks of deliciousness, I removed the plastic wrap and cut them into bars. These bars are a bit bigger than I decided to ultimately go with, but you get the idea.
The blood orange syrup ones are on top. Aren't they like a beautiful sunset?
 Now up to this point, the process was relatively easy. Just a lot of waiting around really. However, everything I read about making ice cream bars insisted that the chocolate needed to be tempered. Since the recipe was for a high end chocolate company, it seemed like they would probably agree that their chocolate shouldn't be allowed to be dipped untempered and thus result in ugly chocolate bloom (such are the potential horrors should you dare to use untempered chocolate as a coating). So temper, I did!

For those who have not tempered chocolate before, it's really not hard so much as it is time consuming. It requires melting chocolate over simmering water until it is precisely 115 degrees on a candy thermometer, then adding in more unmelted, tempered chocolate until the temperature is brought down to the low 80s. Then you have to bring the whole mess back up to 87-90 degrees and maintain that. Also, if you get even a single drop of water in the chocolate you may as well just throw the chocolate in the garbage (note: I would never advocate actually throwing chocolate away) because you've totally ruined it. The whole process took about 20 minutes.
I'm a tempering machine
 I will say that I think I first time tempered like a pro. The coating dried in minutes in the freezer, looked beautiful, and had the appropriate texture. At any rate, the final step was to pull the frozen ice cream bars from the freezer and dip them in the chocolate (see picture below). Ignore the shoddily covered bars in the front. It was at this point that I realized I should have bought more chocolate. We tried two different types of Scharffen Berger to determine the optimum pairing, a semisweet (62%) and a bittersweet (70%). Both were delicious, but I thought the bittersweet went better with the sweetness of the caramel.

The dipping. I promise some of them achieved full coverage.
After that, the bars were done! Only ten hours or so after I began them. Again most of that time was spent watching tv on the Internet and other far less productive things, so don't let the overall recipe time be the thing that prevents attempting this one. Recipe available for all those who are interested.


  1. Many questions! How do they taste? Did you do bars with just the caramel or other versions (syrup, etc.)? What is criterea for winning the contest? (I hope it's not ease of preparation.) Do you regret not just interpreting "bar" as a kind of cookie? In other words, was it a success? I hope so!

  2. They tasted great! I liked all of the bar versions, but Sam wasn't partial to the syrup ones. Criteria for the first round is based on perceived taste, spirit of adventure, use of the chocolate, and yes, ease of preparation. Then they pick the top few (15, I think?) and actually make them in their test kitchen, so that round is more heavily weighted to actual taste. Even though ease of prep is a factor, I'm not too worried because this was the winner last year:

    As for not interpreting a bar as a cookie, I think if I'd thought through the whole tempering process, I might have. Although really you should temper anything that involves a chocolate coating, so I probably couldn't have gotten around it easily anyway.

    As for it's success, I think so! It was fun and while I spent a bunch of money (good chocolate is pricey!), I did end up with some delicious ice cream bars. Will know if the judges thought it was a success in March.