Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Second Sugar High Friday (and my cravings...)

What do you crave? Easy. Chocolate. What one dessert do you crave, what do you dream about at night and drool over at restaurants? Not so easy. Of course some form or other of chocolate, but to narrow it down to just one dessert is like asking a mother to pick a child, if her children were made with sugar and came in endless textures and temperatures and flavor combinations.

First the usual culprits went through my head. Things I’d been making since childhood that are probably some of the most simple desserts, but for that reason some of the most satisfying for cravings because they taste like heaven and are easy to throw together at the slightest hint of a sugar pang…chocolate chip cookies (prefaced by many spoonfuls of chocolate chip cookie dough) is my usual go-to. In my mind, everyone knows how to make chocolate chip cookies, but they’re quite a novelty here in Spain and Europe in general. My second idea was brownies. Another recipe I remember from my kid’s cookbook that came with brightly colored measuring spoons, which I still use today (the spoons, that is. Alright, the book too). Again, it’s as much a craving for brownie batter as for the actual cooked brownies, and this week I’ve been especially fighting giving in to that craving.

I wanted to make something different, although in my opinion it doesn’t get much better than chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and a glass of milk. But I decided I could broaden my palette and focus on the main ingredient that my body lacks and demands: chocolate.

I usually have three main requirements for desserts: rich, creamy, and rich. This is why I’m not a fan of sorbets. Anyways, chocolate in its richest and creamiest state, without being a straight up chocolate bar, comes in the form of a little piece of perfection I like to call a truffle. This is what I would work with. Chocolate truffles give me the satisfaction of intense, melty goodness that I hold so dear to my heart, and they allow me to incorporate another craving: pesto sauce.

Keep reading. I’ll explain myself. I could just as easily get down a vat of pesto as I could a vat of chocolate. It was only a matter of time before I combined the two, and not in the fashion of Michelle on Full House trying to mix two foods she liked such as tuna fish and ice cream. I’ll claim inspiration from the recent outbreak of avant-garde chocolates that combine foods not typically associated with dessert, created by the likes of Vosges, Cacao Sampaka, and plenty of other chocolatiers that make everything from black olive to anchovy to fennel chocolates.

I go weak at the knees with the aroma of basil. I’ve been pondering now for a while how to incorporate it into a dessert, basil cheesecake, or some sort of basil cream or syrup, I don’t know how I didn’t think of it sooner: basil truffles. Even better, basil truffles made with olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan and pine nuts, to become my new best friend, or Pesto Truffles. Including all the greatness that is a chocolate truffle with the salty freshness of pesto sauce, this is the definition of my ultimate craving.

Pesto Truffles

preemptive apology: I’m sorry for the inconsistency with measurements, some things I bought and they’re clearly marked grams or milliliters, and other things I eyeballed and therefore estimated in cups because, well, I’m American and don’t think in metric.

400 ml cream
large bunch of basil leaves (depending on how strong a basil flavor you want)
400 grams dark chocolate
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup chopped toasted pine nuts
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 cup cocoa powder
pinch of salt

Ok, this is kind of a long process just because of all the waiting you have to do, or maybe because I'm impatient. First take the basil and put it in a bowl with the cream, cover with saran wrap and let sit overnight in the fridge, stirring occasionally to mix it up. This should infuse the basil flavor into the cream. The next day, take out about ½ cup of the basil leaves and cream and blend with a hand mixer so you end up with a greenish, slightly thickened mixture. You'll use this mixture later to add a really strong basil flavor, I think this is where the the truffles get their body from, so if you want a more subtle basil flavor, don't use as much. Now strain the unblended cream into a saucepan, pressing on the basil leaves to make sure and squeeze all the cream out of them. Pour in olive oil and heat over medium low, stirring everything together. While you’re waiting for the cream to heat up just under a simmer (turn off the heat when you see the first baby bubbles appear), break the chocolate into small pieces in a bowl. When the cream is ready, pour over the chocolate and begin stirring, and keep stirring until all the chocolate pieces have melted. Now take the blended basil and cream and mix into the chocolate and cream until everything is incorporated. Take a little taste and smile. Take another taste if necessary.

Put in the refrigerator until it has cooled completely and is hard enough to roll (I had to put mine into the fridge for four hours and then the freezer for an hour…I’m not sure if it needed overnight in the fridge or because of the olive oil it makes it harder to work with, but if you’re in a hurry, stick it in the freezer before you work it). While you wait for your basil ganache to set, if you haven’t yet, then grate your cheese, toast your pine nuts, and chop them, and then combine together in a bowl. When the ganache is ready, and you’re prepared with wax paper or a plastic container to store them in, or, as it was in my case, a plate to put them on before they were almost immediately eaten, combine the cocoa powder with the parmesan and pine nuts and a tiny pinch of salt (keep in mind, parmesan is salty) all in a bowl.

Get the ganache out and with a spoon, scoop out as rounded of balls as you can, although it’s not easy, I just scraped up the edges of my bowl and rolled/pressed the chocolate into a clump resembling a ball between my palms and then threw it into the cocoa powder mixture and coated well. Repeat until you can’t wait any longer to eat some, your hands get too dirty and need to be washed, or the ganache needs to be refrigerated again.
I tried a couple different ways of coating them, and in my opinion, this was my favorite. I originally only coated the ganache in the parmesan and pine nuts with a sprinkling of salt, but this doesn’t allow you to focus on the chocolate as much, so I think it worked best to combine those ingredients with the cocoa powder so that you get all the different flavors of the pesto along with the added bonus of chocolate. If you're one of those who really loves the combination of salty and sweet, I would suggest a final touch of salt after the truffle has been rolled, letting a few granules fall over the truffles after rolling them because that really brings out the pesto ingredients without overpowering the chocolate. As you can see, these below are the first truffles I rolled, without any cocoa powder. They look nice, but I prefer the mixture of flavors in the other ones.


oliver said...

"I usually have three main requirements for desserts: rich, creamy, and rich."

You missed out rich.

Some of the best deserts are definitely the simplest (or maybe it's because I'm simple? ;-)) A rich chocolate cheesecake is the pinnacle for me, but this looks like something I should definitely try!

Courtney said...

do i hear a request for chocolate cheesecake? just say the words and it's done...

Lynda said...

What a wonderful blog! I almost feel like I have eaten all these lovely delicacies.

Will be trying some of your recipes soon.

Thank you and please keep this going!

Reg said...

Wow, Someone with the time to write out recipes. When people ask me I just tell them "about this much of this and that much of that"

When a friend of my wife asked for a recipe my wife made write a proper one. I had to re cook the stuff because I had never used a recipe.

It took forever, and made cooking a chore.

Reg said...


Sorry, I am new at this, but just a little suggestion. WHen you do the recipes can you use more generic terms for some items?

Like what is "saran wrap" is it some kind of plastic cling film?

Ian said...

My wife has two great (other) loves one is chocolate, the other basil. Time for her to be treated I think. The recipe sounds brilliant. I can already hear "more please"

Stu said...

I'm too lazy to cook from scratch :-( Usually, if I can't be eating it within half an hour of starting to cook, I won't bother.

However.........some of these look so lovely, I may just try one of these days!!

northumbrian said...

Give us the chocolate cheesecake then Courtney!!