Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Chocolate Violet Creams For Christmas

Chocolate Violet Creams are an old British favourite that have made a come back in recent years. Sarah Lawrence tells us that when the demand for violets surged Bill Keeling of Prestat's told her that: “Twice in three years, the world-wide supply of crystallised violet petals ran out.” Prestat started making violet creams in the early 20th century and actress Sarah Bernhardt commissioned an inverted Violet Cream from them, sadly a long lost recipe. I'm not sure when Violet Creams were invented but Fry's sold the first Chocolate Cream Bar in 1866 – but violet was not one of the fondant centres. They were certainly popular in the early 1900s - one of Agatha Christie’s victim’s is poisoned by a box of Violet Creams! Jean Neuhaus invented pralines in 1912 and crystallized violets are used as one of the decorative toppings.

Violets have been used in cooking as far back as the 14th century as a flavouring for desserts, salads and in stuffings for poultry or fish. When Napoleon married Josephine, she wore Violets, and on each anniversary Josephine received a bouquet of violets. Following Napoleon´s lead, the French Bonapartists chose the violet as their emblem, and nicknamed Napoleon "Corporal Violet". In 1814, Napoleon asked to visit Josephine's tomb before being exiled to the Island of St. Helena and when he died, he wore a locket around his neck that contained violets he had picked from Josephine's grave site.

The French are also known for their violet syrup, most commonly made from an extract of violets. In the United States, this French violet syrup is used to make violet scones and marshmallows. Viola essence flavours the liqueurs Creme Yvette, Creme de Violette, and Parfait d'Amour. Parfait d' Amour is a liqueur and appears to have several forms - exactly who invented it remains unclear but the House of Lucas Bols in the Netherlands claims to have originated the liqueur but so does France . The colour is a magenta and violet hue and it is flavoured with orange peel, rose petals, vanilla and almonds. It was very popular in the 19th century and was once served in French brothels as an aphrodisiac!

It is also used in Parma Violets confectionery. I must admit I have a secret love of Parma Violets and found out recently that they were launched in 1946.

I have a recipe for making my own Chocolate Violet Creams which I have yet to try but it seems fairly straight forward so I thought I'd share it with you:

3tbsp double cream
Purple food colouring
2tbsp violet syrup
275g icing sugar
200g dark chocolate, broken into small bits
1tsp groundnut oil
20 crystallised violet petals, to decorate

Put the cream, a drop of the purple food colouring and the violet syrup in a bowl and mix. Sift the icing sugar over the cream mixture and stir to combine. Tip the mixture out onto a work surface lightly dusted with icing sugar and knead the fondant with your hands until it all comes together in a firm ball. Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Using your hands, roll 20 teaspoon-sized lumps of mixture into balls, then flatten them slightly and place on a plate. Heat 5cm of water in a pan. Place a heatproof bowl on top, making sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Place the dark chocolate and the groundnut oil in the bowl and warm until melted. Remove from the heat and cool for 10 minutes.

Line a flat baking sheet with baking parchment. Take a fondant ball, one at a time, and, using two forks, dip it in the melted chocolate until coated all over. Be careful not to melt the fondant. Place the coated fondant ball onto the baking parchment. Top each chocolate with a crystallised violet petal and leave to cool and set in a cool place.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Pink Champagne Truffles for Christmas

The chocolate truffle was actually invented in 1895 for a Christmas feast so it seems rather fitting that we still give them as gifts at Christmas over 100 years later! Pâtissier Louis Dufour created the first chocolate truffle in Chambéry, France after running short on ingredients for his Christmas sweets. He used the ingredients he had to hand and dusted the finished confections with cocoa powder. He named them truffles as they resembled the prized truffles found underground.

Chocolate truffles were introduced to London by Antoine Dufour and his story can be found at Prestat, one of London's oldest chocolate shops. Antoine established Prestat in 1902 and quickly became famous for its cocoa-dusted truffles, named ‘Napoleon III’ (after the 19th Century gourmand French emperor who spent several periods of exile in London with his loyal chef).

Prestat makes chocolates for Her Majesty The Queen under Royal Warrant and has a long history of celebrity customers from the actress Sarah Bernhardt in the 1910s through to Sir John Gielgud and Dame Peggy Ashcroft in the 1950s, Princess Diana in the 1990s and Stephen Fry today. Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, was also a fan of Prestat truffles and made them central to his novel My Uncle Oswald.

In the 1960s, a giant version of the Napoleon III truffle was created by Prestat named The Prestat Bomb truffle. It was available in Plain, Coffee and Orange flavours. Apparently Prestat are recreating it for Chocolate Week (October 10th -16th, 2011).

Prestat's Pink Champagne truffles are made with Marc de Champagne which isn't easy to find here so I have come up with a simpler recipe to try at home. Marc de Champagne is a traditional Eau de Vie (brandy) that is produced by distilling the grape skins, seeds and stalks, which are left from the pressing process in the first stages of Champagne production.

250g dark chocolate
250g milk chocolate
100 ml whipping cream
1 egg yolk, beaten
65g butter
100 ml pink champagne
4 tsp brandy
cocoa powder to dust

Combine the chocolate, butter and whipping cream in a saucepan. Heat until the chocolate has melted, stirring continuously. Add in the beaten egg yolk and stir. Return to the heat and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously. Remove from heat. Stir in champagne and transfer truffle mixture to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Beat cooled truffle mixture with electric mixer for about a minute. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Use a small scoop to form 1 inch balls. Place each ball on the prepared baking sheet. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until firm. Roll truffles in cocoa powder. If you want to make a pink dust to coat your truffles you can use pink sanding sugar.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Crystallised Ginger for Christmas

I know Christmas seems to come earlier every year but I often make things in advance so that I am not so rushed once the festive season starts. Crystallised Ginger is one of Nick's favourites and is easy to make. I have made Marrons Glacés (chestnuts candied in sugar syrup) before and the recipe is basically the same.

Crystallised fruit (or Candied or Glacé fruit) was introduced to Europe during the Crusades. Preserving food using honey or palm syrup is a long standing method and was known to Ancient China as well as Rome - the Romans even preserved fish by soaking it in honey. However in Ancient Mesopotamia (now the land corresponding to modern day Iraq, N E Syria, S E Turkey and S W Iran) crystallising fruits was a speciality of the Arabic cultures. Crystallised citrus fruits and roses were served at Arab banquets and the speciality was brought with them as the Arabs moved into parts of Southern Europe.

In France the tradition of crystallising fruit in honey goes back to the Middle Ages and Apt in Provence is still renowned for it. In 1365, when Pope Urban V came to Apt on a pilgrimage, the people of Apt gave him crystallised fruit as a gift. In 1752, the city had six pastry cooks and confectioners. 150 years later, in England, crystallised fruits from Apt became very fashionable.

Ginger was one of the first oriental spices to reach Europe but its original homeland is still uncertain – it no longer grows wild. It's thought that Ginger probably originated in southern or south eastern Asia. March Polo saw Ginger growing in China and Giovanni de Montecorvino (a Franciscan monk and missionary) wrote an eye witness account of it in southern India in 1292. Ginger takes its Latin generic name, Zingiber, from the Sanskrit for ‘horn-shaped’, singabela, emphasising this rhizome’s similarity in appearance to deer antlers.

Tudor England loved Ginger, using it in sweetmeats and cakes and it was said to have been a particular favourite of Henry VIII (perhaps because of its reputation at that time of being a powerful aphrodisiac!) Gingerbread became popular in Elizabethan times and Elizabeth I is credited with the invention of Gingerbread Men as important courtiers had “charming likenesses of themselves” given to them as gifts. In Victorian times it became a popular practice to nibble Crystallised Ginger after a meal when it was disclosed that Chinese medicine recommended it for the digestion.

When Europeans took over the spice trade they hastened to cultivate Ginger in other tropical colonies as well. Ginger was the first spice plant that spread in this way from the Old World to the New, particularly in Jamaica which continues to produce good Ginger. A Frenchman was the first to grind the Ginger root to form a powder so often used today!

Crystallised Ginger

500g fresh Ginger root (peeled and sliced very thinly)
800g sugar
1 litre water
5 green cardamom pods
1/4 tsp salt

Place the Ginger in a pan with water, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes. Make a syrup with the sugar, cardamom pods, salt and litre of water and boil for 20 minutes before adding the Ginger. Boil for another 30 minutes. Remove the Ginger pieces from the boiling hot syrup and dip into granulated sugar. Shake off the excess sugar and place on a cooling rack until dry. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.