The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!
Although my first instinct were to make some pretty classic (read: pedestrian) candies like peanut butter cups, pecan turtles, and bonbons filled with vanilla buttercream, which happen to be personal favorites of mine, the more I explored the options and started thinking outside the box, the more ideas I had. I ended a week of experimenting with about 7 different varieties of candy. (The first week of preschool helped provide me with some free time, woot!) But I have also been thinking a lot about healthy food choices in the wake of my son’s naturopath appointment and test results last week, so as (organic) sugar-laden as my candies are, I tried to at least give a nod to including nutritious ingredients as I went. I also decided not to order chocolate online because the weather is too dang hot, and I didn’t want pay extra for specialized shipping.
I love coconut, and although I had never yet tried it, I knew I wanted to incorporate coconut butter into the filling of at least one of my candies. For those who aren’t familiar with it, coconut butter is basically just dehydrated coconut that has been pureed into a spreadable state like any other nut butter; Artisana makes a popular, if spendy, version of this product. I opted to make my own coconut butter by dumping unsweetened shredded coconut in the food processor and letting it run for 15 minutes. Thanks to all the luscious coconut oil exuded in the process, the resulting puree (which never achieved quite a velvety smooth mouthfeel) was quite liquidy coming out of the machine, but solidified after a few hours at room temperature. Very little active work, and about $4 less per pound than Artisana! Coconut butter is shelf-stable as well, so it doesn’t take up precious refrigerator real estate.
I decided to blend some of my homemade coconut butter with melted white chocolate and stuff it into fruit for my first candy varietals. The white chocolate gave the coconut sweetness and structure, but I wasn’t able to find any casein-free options locally, so I ended up settling on a bag of Ghirardelli chips. Right now is fig season, so I quartered ripe Black Mission figs and stuffed them with a teaspoon or so of the filling; the leftovers went into pitted Medjool dates and between homemade graham crackers.
Once the fruit spent a little time in the fridge to firm up, I haphazardly tempered a small amount of Valrhona Caraibe 66% dark chocolate fèves (are they shaped like cacao beans on purpose?), using the microwave at 50% power to melt the chocolate and then seeding it with a little more chopped chocolate; to be honest, I didn’t even bother checking the temperature. The figs got a dip and a drizzle and went back in the fridge to harden; I also dipped one hardened ball of white chocolate/coconut butter, and used up the last of the dark chocolate on several small chocolate bark “cookies” with raisins, coconut, and chopped almonds for Nolan. The dates went undipped.
My dad ate the figs and dates almost singlehandedly; I didn’t taste anything but the little coconut ball. We caught him snacking on the dates at all times of day, and these little treats were so easy to make, with only 3 ingredients, that they will probably find their way onto the regular snack rotation here. Nolan loved the chocolate bark, and then surprised me by eating at least two of the figs and proving once again that he will eat about anything that has been dipped in either peanut butter or chocolate. Figs contain loads of dietary fiber, antioxidants, calcium, iron, and zinc; and dark chocolate, aside from its highly touted antioxidants, is also rich in zinc.
Next up, marzipan candies! I made my own marzipan in the food processor with whole almonds. In the future, I will have to experiment with making marzipan from soaked and dehydrated almonds, but I didn’t have time this week. My own food processor is out of commission at the moment, so I used my mom’s smaller one and my basic batch of marzipan had to be blitzed in 3 parts.
I kneaded dried wild blueberries and cinnamon into my marzipan, then rolled it out into a square and cut it into individual portions. Nolan took care of the odd-shaped corners at lunchtime, although after a few bites he started fishing blueberries out of his mouth. The almonds in marzipan are a great healthy source of calories for Nolan, full of antioxidants and good fats. And the blueberries, beside being an obvious antioxidant powerhouse, are a good source of vitamin C, which helps facilitate iron absorption.
I really wanted to infuse blueberry into the white chocolate shell of these candies, and I tried everything I could think of short of making powder from freeze-dried berries, which would have been the ideal course. First I made a white chocolate ganache with cream and a strained blueberry syrup so thick it was almost jelly; it looked good and tasted good, but was too thin for dipping and stayed soft and sticky even in the refrigerator. The next day, despite my suspicions, I tried stirring some of the warmed blueberry syrup directly into some melted white chocolate; naturally, it seized instantly and turned into a chalky mass. I rolled it into some little balls just for fun, and decided that my last chance was just to mince some dried blueberries, stir them into the white chocolate, and call it good.
The finished marzipan candies, half enrobed in plain white chocolate with a garnish of dried blueberry and sliced almond, the other half in blueberry white chocolate.
I knew I wanted to try my hand at a pate de fruits because we have been trying so hard to get Nolan interested in gummy textures like that—half of the multi-vitamin options for kids out there these days are in a gummy form, even the ones at the naturopath’s office, and we have offered him 3 different varieties so far with no success. But what flavor of pate de fruits should I make? The beautiful purple grapes in the back yard are still on the sour side, and the Colorado peaches and cantaloupes we keep buying at the farmer’s market get eaten up long before I consider making them into desserts. But one thing I have a major surplus of right now is cucumber. I keep finding fat yellowing ones camouflaged under the leaves, and have already made quarts and quarts of pickles and relishes. Cucumbers are also a good source of vitamin C and magnesium. So I decided, perhaps foolishly, to try my hand at a cucumber pate de fruits, scented with the elderflower concentrate that we bought at Ikea a few weeks ago.
I peeled, seeded and diced the yellow cukes, and threw in a green one for color; then I simmered the fruit with the elderflower concentrate until tender, pureed and strained out the chunks, and put it back in the pan with sugar and powdered pectin. The result was kind of a dim pea soup green, so I conceded and added one drop of gel color, which almost turned out to be too much! Carefully following the directions, I brought the mixture up to 200F, then 225F, whisking frequently to prevent it from boiling over. The stuff tasted pretty good and looked a little thicker, so I poured it into a parchment-lined square pan and left it out to set.
Looks kinda cool, right? But alas, although it thickened up, my pate de fruits didn’t set up firm enough to cut, even after resting overnight. I wasn’t prepared to give up, however, so I scraped it back into the pan the next day, added another teaspoon of pectin, and brought the temperature back up to 225F, a process which went much more quickly than the first time around.
Kinda looks like that green slime they used to dump over people on Nickelodeon in the 1980’s…
The pate de fruits set decidedly more quickly this time, although it is still a tad on the soft side, as you can see from the way my squares are spreading. I also unfortunately turned the fresh square of parchment paper the wrong way up when I poured in the green slime, so it stuck to the paper terribly and I was only able to scrape off part of the set candy. Because of this, it wasn’t possible to cut it into neat little squares; instead, I rubbed my hands with coconut oil and shaped the stuff into rough squares with my fingers, which was actually kind of fun to do. The finished candies taste kind of like a Jolly Rancher that has been left out in the sun and dipped in sugar, something I may have actually done as a second grader. 😉
Finally, if I was going to make candy, I had to do at least one batch of salted butter caramels dipped in dark chocolate. I decided to put my own spin on this one as well, and added some tahini to the cooking caramel. Funny, I don’t even really like tahini, but I think I used up half a jar or more in the past week: Thanks to its high zinc content, I have been sneaking tahini into all sorts of foods lately, from tomato sauce to stirfry, and its nutty flavor complemented the caramel perfectly.
Next time around, however, I would add the tahini to the caramel right at the end of the cooking time, because I am pretty sure it was what was starting to scorch on the bottom of the pan. Aside from a few extra dark flecks, the caramel itself didn’t seem to be compromised by this flub; it doesn’t taste burnt at all.
A few hours after pouring the caramel into a parchment-lined square pan, it had set up firm enough to slice, but soft enough to chew. Much more satisfactory result than the pate de fruits slime on the table next to it!
This time I used Valrhona Araguani 72% dark chocolate, tempered via seeding in a double boiler and paying attention to raising, lowering, and raising its temperature as directed. I garnished the candies with either toasted sesame seeds or fleur de sel, each representing the flavors inside. These were my favorites of the bunch!
One last note: with the last few tablespoons of Araguani, I made Nolan a few more chocolate bark “cookies,” not only garnishing them with chopped almonds and sesame seeds, but also stirring one dose of his new digestive enzyme, Serenaid, into each round. Since it is sold in pill form and tastes kind of like dust when you pull open the capsule, I have been struggling to find ways to hide it in his diet three times a day, mostly relying on peanut butter. But I think I may have found the perfect delivery system for it here, since Nolan adores chocolate and its melting temperature is under 90F, low enough not to damage the enzyme.
Thanks so much to Lisa and Mandy for hosting this month’s challenge—it was a lot of work, but really fun also. I don’t know that my selections were creative and delicious enough to win the $250 gift certificate from chocoley.com, but it would sure come in handy if I have to start giving Nolan a bite of dark chocolate with every meal, lol.
I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, inducted in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.