Thursday, December 17, 2015

Evolution of the truffle

At this time of year I often make truffles. Something luscious, vegan and packed full of kilojoules is the perfect way to celebrate the solstice.

Over the years the truffles have evolved from a coconut cream based chocolate ball, to an infused coconut oil one. 

The problem with truffles is they’re often frustrating and time consuming to make. The mix needs to be firm but not so cold it shatters, nor so warm it melts just looking at it. Let’s face it – late at night on the solstice eve, constantly walking between the workbench and fridge to rechill the mix between every half dozen truffles gets a tad tiresome. In humid December weather, sitting in a tepid bath with an icy drink (and smouldering companion) would be way more fun.

A couple of months ago I promised to take a sweet to a friends place for dinner. I dithered. I dathered. Until finally I only had a couple of hours to concoct something. The ‘something’ became a cubed version of truffles, simple cut into mouth-sized bites. 

If time permits you can still go down the sensory truffle path and infuse the oil with orange peel, spices or something else equally delicious (chilli anyone?). But the version I ended up creating with walnuts and liqueur worked fine. Lets put it this way; there were no complaints or leftovers.

Because how I conceptualised this recipe and what actually went into it are slightly different - I'm giving two different ingredients lists. I know some of you actually like qualities and others (like me) have a 'look and adapt' approach. Lets keep everyone happy!

The truffle that became a square

Freeform ingredients list

2 parts good quality chocolate
1 part coconut oil (plain or infused)
Pinch of sea salt

Texture and flavour
A handful of walnuts, broken into smallish pieces - and/or nut paste
A generous handful of something fruity with an edge e.g. dried cherries, freeze dried raspberries or orange zest
OR a couple of tsp of a good quality liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Frangelico if you want to extend the nut thing use hazel instead of walnuts. (Note: too much grog might stop it from setting)

A quantified list of ingredients

200 gm 80% good quality chocolate
100 gm coconut oil
100 gm almond butter (make sure it's pure, check the ingredients especially if its a big brand)
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp Grand Marnier


If you’re going to infuse the coconut oil, start this a day or two before. Otherwise the chocolate slice takes a few minutes to put together, plus another hour to chill.

Assemble your ingredients and find an appropriate tin or container. Ideally use a square or rectangular baking tin (nothing with sloping sides or alas, you’ll just have to eat all the trimmings!)  Aim for a size appropriate to the mass of ingredients so that the chocolate concoction comes up to about 3-5 cm high (depending on how small our large you want your squares). Metal is ideal, you don’t need to grease, though you can line with baking paper if desired.

Blitz or chop the chocolate so they’re in even sized pieces. In a double boiler gently heat until half the chocolate is melted.

If your coconut oil is solid, melt over a low heat – it takes a very short time so don’t take your eye off it. I usually let it half melt then turn the heat off.

Combine the chocolate, nut paste (optional) and oil (hopefully they’re still semi solid rather than a liquid but it still works, though the nuts or fruit might drop to the bottom). Mix through the nuts, fruit and/or flavouring of choice.

Refrigerate for about an hour until fully solid (use the freezer if in a hurry). It's a good idea to allow it to come up to room temperature before cutting, to avoid snaps and shards. If necessary, run a warm knife around the edges and cut into bite-sized cubes. Of course if you painstakingly lined the tin, you just have to pull the slab out and cut.

You can pretty up the cubes of chocolatey goodness with a sprinkling of cocoa, icing sugar or rose petals but really, these taste so good they don’t need they don’t need it.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Making, eating, planning

Though semi-retired, this blog is still my cook's journal. A place to remind myself how I cooked something new. It's much easier to search this online repository, than hunt for scraps of paper. 

Notes to self:


Vin de pêche - Zoe visited my little community garden plot and me last month and spied a rather neglected peach tree in the far corner of the block (past where the redback spiders dwelling and whatever makes my skin itch, near the mulberry tree). Vin de pêche! She exclaimed. I did a test batch with half a bottle of leftover, dry French rose. I followed the recipe to the letter, only halving the ingredients.
Result: Strong marzipan flavour (phew! right tree! You say almond. I say marzipan). Maybe my taste buds differ a little from Leibovitz's - I found it a little too sweet, though chilled right down with a load of ice this was less noticeable. Nor did I find it as potent as he and Zoe claim. 
Next batch: less sugar, more brandy. Will try 40 leaves (a bit less marzipan), 2 - 3 tabs sugar, 5 tabs brandy, in a fruity bottle of red.
Serve with a lot of ice. If too strong, douse with soda.

Vegan chocolate rough "cookies" - a variation on carnival cookies utilising 4 very ripe bananas and most of a 250 gm jar of 'hazelnut chocolate spread' (a very healthy organic, dairy-free alternative to Nutella and about 4 x the price - fortunately it was at use by date at the local coop so bought at wholesale price). Hacked the recipe by adding a couple of decent handfuls of shredded coconut instead of nuts (plenty of hazelnuts in the spread) and a heaped teaspoon of mixed spice. I had the remains of a block of 85% dark chocolate so whizzed them into chunks. With the added banana and the chocolate spread it was a wetter batch than usual so used closed to double the usual amount of oats, semi chopped. Taste fab.


Nori butter at Bannisters - I must work out to make this! I'm guessing toasted nori, blitzed to a powder and combined with good quality butter but will consult Dr Google before attempting. It's up there with the miso butter. I'd eat flavoured butter all day if my body could tolerate it!

Who knew Rick Stein has an Australian restaurant, in an unlikely location over three hours drive from Sydney? It's coastal but not on the beach, in a hotel/motel complex (calling it a resort would be going too far). Fortunately I was having a great weekend out of town with friends, just 20 minutes down the road. I think we've found our new Christmas tradition - the festive lunch you'd like to have if you didn't have to be with your family on the day. 

Food was delightful, relatively simple but the stunner was really fresh, good quality produce. The menu (except sides) is exclusively seafood. And at a premium price. The setting is lovely. The staff do their best. Don't think a city restaurant of this calibre would put someone on the floor with such an extensive skin condition but as she said in response to our "see you next year" - "Yeah I'll probably be here. There aren't many jobs down here" in a despondent voice. She was a good and attentive waiter nonetheless.

I ate: paprika dusted Kiama prawns (a special on the day), stupendously fresh marlin/swordfish/snapper/salmon sashimi, shoestring fries (not my choice but very more-ish) and Stein's signature Blue Eye Madras tomato and tamarind based curry. A lunch to remember with my wonderful Sydney friends. 


I'm back on Christmas duty with my dilutive New Zealand family. How to make breakfast/lunch/dinner for three adults remotely interesting? Suggestions please. On the upside - for the first time since the birth of the internet - there will be Wi-Fi at home! At least that's got the entertainment sorted.Any fish/veg friendly, simple festive food ideas? Things are a little limited over there, I'm so used to an abundance of fresh fruit and veg here I could outsource the entire day from the fish market, Marrickville market and the likes. Wellington, despite the holy grail of Moore Wilsons (not looking forward to the trolley crush there next week), I'm working in a limited kitchen with none of the basics I'm used to (including a sharp knife and a gas stovetop!).When I get back from the homeland - I know that Santa is bringing me a fermenting crock! The new year will be kimchi/sauerkraut and pickle central. Let me know if you have a dairy-free ferment fave to share.

I hope you have a good one and that 2016 is an inspiring year full of delicious experiences.

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