Saturday, June 19, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Sorbet with Salted Caramel and Grand Mariner Whipped Cream

Some confirmed chocoholics were coming to dinner, so I was charged with finding a dessert that was relatively summery but still rich and chocolatey. Perhaps some people wouldn't have found this to be problematic, but I tend to think of chocolate desserts as Wintery or Fall-y, or even Spring-y. Summery, not so much. In the summer time I want a dessert oozing with fresh fruit, perhaps wrapped in flaky crust or drowning in a pool of creme anglaise.

'Well,' I thought, 'I can at least make it cold.' I have to give credit for my inspiration to Garrett of Vanilla Garlic, as the recipe is his. He states that the peanut butter in the recipe gives the sorbet a creamy texture, which I suppose it does, but I also found that it imparted a strong peanut butter flavor to the sorbet.

I'm not complaining, though. I mean, chocolate and peanut butter were practically made for each other, right?

(As you can see, the sorbet melts quickly. That's okay, though, because you'll probably eat it quickly, too.)

However, I might next time leave the peanut butter out just to see how the plain old chocolate sorbet tastes. As it was, the chocolate was very rich and decadent, but it wasn't overpoweringly rich the way some chocolate desserts can be. Rather, it was like the distillation of chocolate.

You know how coffee frequently smells better than it tastes and therefore sometimes the idea of coffee is better than the reality of coffee? I feel like some chocolate desserts work in a similar manner. For example, I once made a chocolate tart covered with a chocolate ganache. It was delicious, but it was so rich that the chocolate flavor became almost tainted--like chocolate polluted with too much chocolaty-ness. That probably doesn't make any sense, so I'll just say that this sorbet was like the essence of chocolate without being too overwhelming.

So while I might next time leave out the peanut butter; I would not leave out the caramel. That stuff was awesome, but more on that later.

You know what else I wouldn't do next time? Bring the sorbet mixture up to a boil in a large saucepan. Let this serve as a warning to you if you decide to make this recipe--you need a really large pot. Like 6 quarts large.

Otherwise, you might find that you turn your back for a second, and in that second, the mixture has gone from almost boiling to exploding all over the stove in a sucky-to-clean-up-mess.

Why is it that stuff only seems to explode in the kitchen when you're already in a foul mood? And why were we in a foul mood? Because of the weather. I know it seems silly, but it was Nick's one day off this week, the weather had been cloudy, and the forecast promised a clear, beautiful, sunny day. When we woke up, our mutual reaction to the pervasive gloominess was 'WTF?' and it took a while of moping around and glaring hatefully at the cloudy, grey sky to get over it.

We did, however, eventually get over our foul little moods and we moved on to making caramel. Making it without another explosion, that is. I knew that caramel is prone to boiling over, i.e. exploding, and we didn't feel like another massive cleanup, particularly because this one would be even more sticky and unpleasant.
But I couldn't remember ever having successfully made caramel before, particularly salted caramel, so I consulted that all-knowing entity known as the Internet. A post on Smitten Kitchen seemed to have it exactly right, and she also referred the reader to posts by David Lebovitz (How to Make the Perfect Caramel and Ten Tips for Making Caramel).

David Lebovitz confirmed my suspicion that attempting to make caramel can indeed result in a disastrous, burned, bubbling mess, which is exactly what I didn't need.
He writes:
'Wear oven mitts and a long sleeve shirt. Caramel is hot and can splatter, especially when adding other ingredients to it.Use a sturdy large pot or pan that won't overflow. Keep a deep bowl of icy water nearby to plunge your hand in if caramelized sugar lands on it. If you have glasses, wear them.'

Oh, my. This is when I started to think, 'Is this a bad idea? Should I have made something else? Should I run to the store right now?'

Luckily, it turned out just fine. Delicious in fact. It was the deep, copper Frenchy-style caramel preferred by both Deb of Smitten Kitchen and by David Lebovitz. In the past, I haven't been much of a caramel fan. It tends to be a milky, cloying, one-dimensional stickiness, but I knew that it could be better. In the more deeply browned French-style caramel, this sweet realizes its potential--the cloying sugariness tuns to a deep, toasty nuttiness complimented by the creamy smoothness imparted by the heavy cream, and the tiny tinge of salt serves to tame the sugariness even more.

So the caramel turned out to be a delicious experiment, but I do have one more cautionary bon mot to add:
Do not attempt to do a taste test when the caramel is hot. It will bond to the skin of your finger and/or tongue in a seemingly supernatural manner, and you'll feel stupid trying to act like you didn't just burn the s... out of yourself.

You're probably thinking; No s...., dumba...
Well....I have nothing to say to defend myself. Hopefully you're smarter than I am.

Eventually, with the dinner dishes cleared, we whipped up some whipped cream and sat down to dessert. At this point, our pregnant friend told us that the previous night, she had dreamt all night long about eating Rollos. Wow. What can I say--I'm a mind reader.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Sorbet
(From Vanilla Garlic)

  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 300g sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 45g of peanut butter (organic works best)
  • 300g chocolate (60%-70% cacao), broken into pieces
Pour 750ml water into a very large saucepan with cocoa, sugar, vanilla extract and peanut butter. Bring to a boil while whisking then remove from heat. Add chocolate and a pinch of salt and leave for a minute, then stir until chocolate has melted and you have a glossy mixture. Cool in the fridge for four hours or overnight and then transfer to an ice-cream mixture and freeze per the manufacturer's instructions.

Garrett states that if you don't have an ice cream maker, you can pour the mixture into a shallow pan and stir periodically until it reaches the desired consistency.

Salted Caramel
(Makes about 1 1/3 cups, from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter, the better you can get, the better it will taste
  • 1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature
  • If you only have unsalted butter, a pinch of salt.

Melt the sugar over medium to moderately high heat in a larger pot than you think you’ll need–at least three quarts (I used six), whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice, dark copper color. Add the butter all at once and stir it in. Before turning off the stove pour in the heavy cream (and salt if you're adding it) and turn off the heat (the sauce will foam up quite a bit when you add it; this is why you want the larger pot.), whisking it until you get a smooth sauce.

Use it right away or pour it into a jar and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you take it out, the caramel will likely have thickened a bit but a few seconds in the microwave brings it right back to pouring consistency. We microwaved it covered, in 10 second increments.

Grand Mariner Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream, preferably pasteurized as opposed to ultra-pasteurized
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Mariner
  • Pinch of powdered sugar (optional)
Combine the ingredients in a large bowl and whip with a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer until soft peaks form. Do not overwhip, or you'll have some sweetened butter on your hands. Taste and add more vanilla or a pinch of powdered sugar if you would like more sweetness. Likewise, add more Grand Mariner if you would like a stronger GM flavor.

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