When I first saw David’s announcement for Sugar High Friday this month, I knew I was in trouble. It wasn’t hard to come up with brand name chocolates, it was whittling down the selections to a single pick. Should I go with the wasabi/sesame dark chocolate chips I picked up at Vosges? Do I stick with my traditional Green & Black bars? Do I run over to Theo chocolates to try one of their new single origins? The Dagoba cocoa I have tucked away is always good. And, I just received a copy of Essence of Chocolate published by the Scharffenberger folks. Or, perhaps I should try to track down some of the artisan chocolate produced by Claudio Corallo that I recently read about in Mort Rosenblum’s Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light.
After days of almost deciding, I came to my verdict. I had tucked away a block of single-estate Venezuelan 100% cacao that I stumbled into at Melt in London. The chocolate, produced by Hacienda El Tesoro without the use of pesticides or fertilizers, is grown in Henri Pittier National Park, and irrigated by the cloud forest. And, as freshness is important in chocolate, I realized I should probably use it soon.
My first impression was concern. As I chopped the chocolate into course chunks, it broke into a dry crumb. Popping a small piece into my mouth, the dryness persisted and the over all effect was much coarser than I was expecting. I had a hard time getting a read on the flavors in this state… it wasn’t quite gritty, but suggested a less refined process. Of course, it’s also 100% cacao… not something I’m used to dealing with… so I decided to proceed and see how it went.
The recipe came to me after flipping through the January issue of Olive magazine, which featured these gorgeous little lemon meringue bites on Asian soup spoons. I knew I wanted to do something similar, but featuring chocolate, and a silky chocolate pudding seemed like a great match. I could just see the little white spoons filled with creamy chocolate and topped with the contrasting meringues, like an egg in negative. And, I love the idea of serving dessert this way… just a few rich bites, enough to tempt but not to satiate.
After searching for a chocolate pudding recipe in about 10 of my cookbooks, I ended up finding one in the new Scharffenberger book. That recipe called for a 62% chocolate, so I bumped the sugar. If you are using a bittersweet or semisweet, you’ll want to reduce the amount of sugar. I also found that I had just run out of milk, so used heavy cream instead resulting in a particularly rich and smooth pudding. The recipe also called for vanilla, but I thought a touch of orange might be a bit nicer with the chocolate and to help cut through some of the potential heaviness of the cream.
The result was a beautifully bright and luscious silk that was not to sweet but had a particularly nice depth. Despite my initial worry about the fineness of the chocolate, it turned out beautifully smooth and glossy, with delicate flavors of spice and pepper. The meringues provided a wonderful contrast, like marshmallows floating on a rich hot cocoa.
Chocolate Pudding and Meringue Spoons
Adapted from the Silky Chocolate Pudding recipe in the Essence of Chocolate, p 167
makes about 4 spoons
2 T cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
a pinch of salt
juice from one orange
1 cup heavy cream
3 ounces 100% cacao, coarsely chopped
1 egg white, at room temperature
4 T super-fine or casters sugar
Combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt in the top of a double boiler. Whisk in the cream and the juice. Heat at a simmer, stirring constantly until the mixture just starts to thicken and coats the back of a spoon. Then, stir in the cacao. Continue to stir until the chocolate is well incorporated, and the mixture is slightly thick. It’s important not to overheat or overcook at this point, or the fats will start to release and separate and you’ll end up with a very icky mess. This happened to me the first time around. Remove from heat. Allow the pudding to come to about room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. You might also want to chill the spoons you are going to be using. This isn’t necessary, but will help keep your dessert nice and cold.
Whisk the egg white to soft peaks, and then whisk in the sugar. It should get thick, glossy and spoonable.
Next, take your spoons, and fill the bowl with the chocolate pudding. Top with a dollop of meringue… but be careful not to overdo it. You don’t need much.
If you have a kitchen torch, use it to brown the top of the meringue slightly. My torch wasn’t working, so I just held my little spoons up to the broiler element on high to brown up the edges.