Tiger Mom Butter

I like tiger butter, and few confection places really do it right. Most chocolate shops don’t carry it. My favorite local tiger butter from Oh! Chocolates seemed like it was out of stock as often as not, and since they moved out of Bellevue, it’s pretty rare that I’m in the neighborhood to pick some up. Sometimes you’ll find a fudge by the same name, but it’s certainly not the same beast.

Clearly I needed to learn to make this myself. I looked around online, and found a bazillion recipes that used almond bark and chocolate baking disks. I didn’t want some home kitchen knock-off. I wanted the real, top shelf stuff. The mother of all tiger butters. We’ll call it “tiger mom butter”. Because everything else is kittens by comparison.

The recipe here is the result of many iterations, and some well-fed coworkers. The quality of ingredients makes a difference. The recipe below has the short version, but I’ll talk you through the ingredients here. I don’t normally like brands in recipes but if you want to recreate it without too much thinking, for this one it’s helpful.

First, the base is a white chocolate, not an almond bark, and not “white confection chips”, which are basically sugar and oil. Look on the package for cocoa butter high in the list of ingredients. I’ve used Lindt and Ghirardelli bars, and both work well.

Next is the peanut butter. Packaged stuff varies a lot in how much sugar, additives, etc. To control for that, I used fresh-ground butter from dry-roasted peanuts. You can usually find the grinder in the bulk foods section at a grocery store. If not, Adam’s is probably your next best bet. The goal is to avoid extra sugars, oils and additives, and control the sweetness a bit. Sometimes the grinder is loaded with honey roasted peanuts. I haven’t tried, but if you do, let me know how it works out.

Sugar is sugar. Just pay attention to the powdered part, unless you like crunchy hard bits in your chocolate. Not that I would know anything about that. Really.

Finally, there’s the chocolate. Again, we’re paying attention to sweetness, and dark chocolate is not all created equal. A 60% dark Ghirardelli squares work perfectly, 72% if you want to taste more of the bitterness. I like the 72’s for eating, but thought it was too much in this one. If you use a milk chocolate, you’re going to lose some of the flavor contrast between the peanut butter mix and the chocolate.

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In terms of hardware you’re really going to want for this is a good instant read thermometer. Temperatures are important to make this come together right. I’ve mentioned this here before… I really love my Thermopop. It’s fast and simple. And faaast. Your also going to want a silicone mat or pan. I’ve tried various other options, but the white chocolate & PB wants to stick to everything. Silicone does the trick.

The Recipe:

Hardware

  • double boiler
  • silicone mat or 9×9 silicone baking pan
  • spatula
  • butter knife
  • measuring spoons & cups

Software

  • 8 oz Ghirardelli White Chocolate (2 baking bars) broken into small chunks
  • 2/3 c. fresh-ground unsalted peanut butter (peanuts should be the only ingredient)
  • 3 T powdered sugar
  • 4 oz 60% dark Ghirardelli chocolate (~10 squares) broken into small chunks

Instructions

  1. Mix the sugar into the peanut butter in a small bowl, and warm in the microwave on low power to about 115 F. Cover and set aside. This will make sure that you don’t just set the white chocolate when you try to mix it in.
  2. Melt the white chocolate. Since you’re adding a lot of PB, you don’t need to temper it. It’s going to have a softer texture. Tempering won’t really have any effect. Still, don’t overheat it. About 100 F is a good working temperature.
  3. Stir the peanut butter and sugar mix into the white chocolate a spoonful at a time, and mix well.
  4. Pour out on silicone mat and spread to 1/2 in. thick. Make 3-4 deep parallel grooves with the flat face of a butter knife.
  5. Melt & temper the dark chocolate. I just quickly wash & reuse the bowl from the white chocolate. There’s plenty of time.
  6. Pour into grooves.
  7. Drag a butter knife perpendicular to the grooves. Go deep. Think tiger claws (but don’t cut the mat!). Rotate 90 degrees and repeat 1-2 times until you get desired appearance.
  8. Move to fridge to set. Cut into square before completely firm.

Tips:

  • If using a silicone pad, set it on a baking sheet to make it easier to move to the fridge.
  • Work the chocolate in deep. It’s stiffer than the pb mix, and will crumble off if it just sits on top.
  • Don’t temper your chocolate in the microwave. Not if you truly love it. Here’s my preferred method, and it’s really not that hard, just requires a little patience.
  • There’s no need to rush between pouring the pb white chocolate and pouring the dark over it. The peanut butter mix will take quite a while to set at room temperature.
  • If you’re using a 9×9 silicone pan, you can set it on a baking sheet or cutting board, and tap it on the table a few times to get a smoother finish.
  • Cut it before it completely sets, otherwise it’s hard not to crumble it.

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PS: One more note from the failures department. Don’t try this with a product called PB2. It lacks in flavor, and ends up just tasting like a powdery mess.

Northwest Chocolate Festival – writing-off the sugar buzz

The Northwest Chocolate Festival was quite an experience, and perhaps only just a bit of chocolate overload. Pacing yourself is important here. Seriously! With over 100 vendors, most of whom are selling chocolate bars or other chocolate-based confections, there’s no way to survive them all in one weekend without great care.

First, the Dagoba folks were very generous with samples though, so a shout out to them. They were one of my favorite bars years ago, and one of my first introductions to “good” chocolate. They still make a great chocolate even if they are now part of the Hershey family. Scharfen Berger was also present next door, also part of the Hershey family. (As a PA native, Hershey’s is still a guilty pleasure of mine).

We mostly tried to focus on the unique and non-local offerings in the expo hall, since there’s only so much you can do with just a fermented chocolate bean and cane sugar. Creo chocolate out of Portland had an amazing dark chocolate peppermint bar. It wasn’t anything completely unique, just very well executed.

From California, TCHO of San Francisco was there, one of our favorites from the bay area (our top pick in SF is Recchiuti, who wasn’t there). There name may sound like someone sneezed, but there chocolate isn’t anything to sneeze at. Firefly was another bay area vendor that we couldn’t pass on. They make a milk chocolate bar from 30% wild-gathered bay nuts that gave it a nutty flavor a little like Nutella, but different too, and in a good way. Because of the significant manual labor in making it, it’s not a cheap bat, but it’s an experience worth trying.

Equal Exchange, a national producer out of Massachusetts (I think) may have been the most distant attendee (not counting vendors that have operations in the tropics for growing or to support local production). Equal Exchange is a staple for us from PCC, and their baking cocoa is our powder of choice for chocolate ice cream.

There were some very unique vendors, to be sure. The Chocolate Conspiracy was sampling their raw vegan chocolate, made with unfermented chocolates and raw honey as a sweetener. It had quite a different flavor profile, and didn’t really tickle my tongue, but for people into the raw movement, it’s a viable alternative, and it wasn’t bad. One of their staffers had my favorite shirt of the day: “Rhinos are just chubby unicorns.” Brevin’s Fudge from Astoria, OR was some of the best I’ve tasted, smooth and creamy, hand crafted by an artisan fudge-maker that’s been practicing his art for 25 years. His root beer float fudge was a great throwback flavor that reminded me of the old root-beer barrel candies a bit. We also got to try basil chocolate, maca chocolate, and quite a few other unique confections, and a delicious Madascar chocolate that had a distinctly cherry-like flavor, but was just pure chocolate. Maca was on offer from a few vendors, so it seems to be having a moment right now.

Familiar Seattle-local names like Fran’s and Hot Cakes also made a showing, but we mostly skipped them since they are easy enough to find around and about, and weren’t really putting anything unique on offer for the event.

There were also quite a few equipment vendors there, mostly focused on commercial operations. If you wanted a chocolate tempering machine to replace your washing machine, this was the place to find it. The Confectioner’s Friend had a few options for hobbyists and small scale operations like caterers, though. I could have bought a small professional-grade tempering machine for about $550, which is better than other options I found last time I looked. I didn’t splurge, since I don’t think I’ll use it often enough to justify the cost, but I did take a card just for good measure. Maybe someday. If I ever got into making food as a business, it would likely be chocolate confections or fruit wine (or maybe both, since they can go so well together).

We got a late start, so we didn’t get to attend any of the sessions, but it was amazing to see so many small businesses bringing such amazing variety of indulgences to our region. We did walk the lower floor where the seminars are held, though, and one thing that’s apparent is the focus on business models that promote fair trade, entrepreneurship and job growth in less developed chocolate growing regions. Of course there was also the 21 and over aphrodisiac session track as well, with sessions like “the herbs that arouse”.

I’m looking forward to going back next year. There was so much we didn’t get to see and taste that even if it were identical to this year, it would be worth a second visit. But of course, it wont be, and that’ll make it all the more exciting.

Ben

 

More Macarons (class @ PCC)

… ’cause you can never have too many.

I just wanted to give a quick plug for a macaron class that we took at PCC with Laurie Pfalzer. The class was fun, Laurie clearly knows her stuff, and her experience comes through. Aside from that, the class is great because you leave with a box full of cookies of various flavors.

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The thing that I most appreciated about the class was trying a new recipe that was a bit different from others that we’ve used, and getting to see how that affects the outcome. The recipe that I normally use is a pain, but we like the results. We make a merengue and later fold in a portion of un-whipped egg whites. In Laurie’s recipe, we just used whipped egg whites, and did not add syrup in the mix. That simplified things a lot, but the centers were a bit less chewy after baking. So now at least I appreciate why we do it the hard way, and what it buys us.

We also got a chance to work with a buttercream frosting. Although she made it, I appreciated getting see the process and have her talk through it. That’s something we haven’t done yet (instead, we use Fran’s chocolate sauce).

And just to be clear, even the simpler recipe from the class was delicious.

This series of classes is just about wrapped up, but keep an eye out: she’ll likely run this class again before too long. This is a perennial favorite.

 

Cookie dynamics

I recently read a post over on OZY by Anne Miller about how to modify your chocolate chip cookies to get various results. There was a good eats piece on this as well a while back. Anyone, just giving a shout out, since this has lots of good details:

http://www.ozy.com/good-sht/the-science-behind-baking-the-most-delicious-cookie-ever/6613

The post’s a bit old, back from May, but it recently seems to have made the rounds on social media again just in time for some holiday season baking so I thought I’d share.

How to make an almond smile

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This is a story about macarons, and an awesome book called “Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee” (amazon). This book wastes the first half of it’s paper on coffee (that’s just my opinion, though). It talks about beans, sourcing and roasting. These people care about coffee, and Iris tells me it’s really good coffee. I don’t drink coffee. The other half of the ink is about coffee shop snacks though. They put as much passion into those as they do the coffee. That’s where the fun is for me. 🙂

I’ve written about a number of cookbooks now, and with most of them I’ve made the claim that an unskilled amateur would find them approachable. This isn’t one of those books. This is a book full of recipes that sweat the details, and involve more complicated steps.

The macaron recipe is amazing, tasting like something straight out of a Parisian café, but it starts with making the almond flour with non-alkalized cocoa (chances are you don’t have that in your cupboard), then has you beating egg whites to soft peaks while monitoring syrup as it gets to soft-ball stage, so that everything can come together at the right time. A second pair of hands is invaluable to get through this one. This recipe has many, many ways to fail. 4-5 pages of fine print worth, along with plenty of debugging tips. That said, the failures are still pretty tasty. Trust me, I’ve tried them.

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Here are a few tips:

  • At some point, I bought a macaron kit with a silicon baking sheet with ridges that formed a nice template. It wasn’t worth the money. I expected the mix to be worthless, but so was the silicon pad. The macarons lift off parchment easier, and the silicon slows the cooking, making it trickier to get the bottoms cooked without making the tops too crispy.
  • Don’t make the macarons too small. The book calls for one-inch rounds, but next time I’m going with something closer to 2 inches (but not too thick).
  • Chocolate filling is the best part. I have two favorites:
    • If you have access to Recchiuti‘s sauce, it’s second to none. They’re a small San Francisco operation though, and hard to come by elsewhere (if you do have access to their chocolates, their fleur de sel caramels are also not to be missed).
    • The close runner up is Fran’s dark chocolate sauce. Fran’s distributes much more broadly, and is local for us, so this is what I usually have around.

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One last parting shot, since I know a few of the folks that drop by are also amateur photographers. I recently picked up a used Nikon macro flash set (R1C1) and have been playing around with it a bit, as hopefully shows in the photos this week. Usually I’m just capturing cell phone snaps for expedience.

Here’s the setup for the chocolate sauce picture above:

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I split the output to the two flash units about 80-20, with most going to the unit shooting through the diffuser on the right, and the one on the left pointed mostly at the background. There are is a can of Zevia ginger root beer and a bag of almonds in the background that are almost unrecognizable, but provide some nice texture. This was one of about 6-7 variations, and stood out as having the most interesting composition and contrast. The final shot is nearly unedited, aside from one spot-removal that was driving me bonkers.

– Ben

Cookbook: Simply Ming One-Pot Meals

Here are some things to keep in mind that you might not easily glean from the title:

  • “Simply” applies to “Ming”, not “Meals”. While these are generally not multi-day preparations, they’re also not 20-muinite meals.
  • It’s amazing how creatively you can stretch the definition of “one pot”. Many of the dishes in this cookbook require re-using said pot multiple times in a single preparation.
  • Although each recipe only uses one pot, there are many different vessels that are called for. Casserole dishes. Woks. Skillets. Saucepans. Roasting Pans (those are pots?!)
  • Strainers, bowls, and other such accoutrements are not pots. Therefore any number may be called for without exceeding the one pot limit.

Once you come to terms with those rules, this is a great “everday” cookbook with reliable, achievable results. The ingredients aren’t exotic, but most recipes will require thinking ahead. They tend to require at least one item that you’re not likely to just have in the cupboard. Prep time varies quite a bit and may require a little planning ahead, but none of the recipes required a culinary degree to follow.

We’ve worked through quite a few recipes in the book. We’ve adjusted seasonings here and there, and like many of our favorite cookbooks, its starting to get nicely marked up with notes. The fundamental construction of every recipe that we’ve tried has held up well, though.

Among others, we’ve tried mom’s famous vinegared shrimp, a chow mien and a kung pow chicken. While the book is largely Asian-inspired, it ventures across quite a few cuisines, and shines most on some of the more creative dishes. Black bean scallops and zucchini was an unexpected combination that worked very well.

One dish that we were pleasantly surprised with was the gingered pork with leeks. I’m not a fan of leeks, but much like a good curry powder covers up the gaminess of lamb, the serrano chilies and Worcestershire sauce compliment the leeks in a way that makes them … I’m almost embarrassed to say… pleasant.

Speaking of lamb, I’m still looking forward to trying the Moroccan spiced lamb shoulder, as well as a few of the other roasts. It’s the right season for that sort of dish.

As a physical item, the book works well. Print is large enough to read from the far side of a mixing bowl, but barely. The photographs of every dish are clean and pretty, but don’t demonstrate great creativity in their treatment of the various dishes. The margins are a bit small for notes, but most pages have some whitespace below the instructions that works well enough.