Sometimes you find something that just works. For me, that's chocolate and orange. Chocolate and cardamom. Ok, to be honest, that's chocolate and just about anything (but probably not brussels sprouts).
I've been working at a new part time job. I would dearly love to learn how to make chocolates, and I offered my local chocolatier Christophe Saive my slave labor during his busy season if he'd teach me to make chocolates after the rush. I think I'm going to be way ahead on this deal!
In any case, I've been spending all my spare time in the chocolate atelier, doing the basically unskilled jobs that need to be done to get all those chocolates made and ready to sell. Christophe makes between 8 and 9 TONS of chocolates every year. The average chocolate weighs 10-15 grams, which means that he makes around 700,000 individual chocolates every year. All by hand. About half of his yearly volume is sold (and made!) during the Christmas season. Whew! It's a lot of work, and he can use a slave during this part of the year.
One day last week I was there working and Christophe was making some of the ganaches that he later covers with chocolate. He made the Peruvian chocolate ganache and then the cardamom ganache and then the Ecuadorian ganache. As the ganaches cooled in their large trays, he brushed melted chocolate on the top of the tray (which would become the bottom when he turned the ganache out of the trays). The purpose of this chocolate was to provide a little bit of structure when he cut them into squares for later coating with dark chocolate.
As he cut the ganache into squares, there were bits left on the edges which were irregular in shape, and not good for his purposes. I asked what he did with them, and he told me (you might want to sit down before you read further) that he throws it away. I KNOW! So I said, “give it to me!”
That day I went home with a sack full of lovely mixed ganache bits, all of which had a thin coating of dark chocolate on one side. I had in mind making truffles with them, but I had to eliminate the crunchy dark chocolate on the bottom side. Hmmm....what to do? I thought I'd melt it. After all, ganache is just chocolate and cream—melting it would just incorporate a little more chocolate into the ganache. What could go wrong?
Ha. It turns out that if you're going to re-melt ganache you probably need to do it in a bain marie. In any case, I can tell you that you really shouldn't do it in a saucepan on an induction stovetop. It melted all right, but it split. I figured I had nothing to lose at that point, and so I took out my electric mixer (having retired my wire whisk after the meringue incident), added a little more cream and beat that ganache to within an inch of its life.
Beating split ganache actually works. It brings it back to its gloriously shiny dense self. Truffles here we come!
But wait. I was starting to think that I might make something that I could take back to Christophe and his family who were elving away in the chocolate shop, doing all of Santa's work for him. So I put on my thinking cap and came up with----cupcakes! With chocolate ganache frosting. You have to know that cupcakes are not very well known here. They're considered exotic and very special. One of the local pastry shops introduced them a couple of years ago, and they were very expensive (also not very good). I was thinking that a really good cupcake would just about hit the right note.
I found this recipe in the Taste of Home Baking book, which had been a part of the goodie bag we received at the Plate to Page workshop. The recipe I used was for Orange cupcakes. Of course I changed it a little. In place of water I used orange juice. In place of shortening I used butter. In place of 4 egg yolks I used two eggs. I added the zest of an orange and some wonderful orange extract from Nielsen-Massey, another gift from the Plate to Page workshop. If you don't have any, you should get some! And of course I didn't use the buttercream frosting. I used the ganache, thinned with a little more cream.
In case your chocolatier doesn't happen to have some extra ganache laying around, I've included a recipe for cardamom ganache from this cake. See? I'm always thinking of you.
Adapted from Taste of Home Baking cookbook
100 g / ½ cup butter, softened
200 g / 1 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 tsp orange extract
250 g / 2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
125 ml / 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
grated zest of one orange
- Preheat oven to 185 C / 350 F
- Beat the butter and sugar till it's light and fluffy. This will take about five minutes if you do it right—and it's worth it because you're adding air to the butter which will later make your cupcakes lighter. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each one.
- Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the little seeds with the edge of a knife blade. Add them to the butter and sugar mixture along with the orange extract.
- In another bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda and the orange zest. Mix together well.
- Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the bowl with the eggs and sugar, beating well. Then add ½ of the orange juice, then 1/3 of the flour, then the rest of the orange juice then the rest of the flour mixture, always mixing well after each addition.
- Line muffin tins with paper and fill the cups 2/3 full with the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool on wire racks and frost with the ganache when cool.
1 cup heavy cream
1 Teaspoon corn syrup
8 cardamom pods
220 g / 8 oz dark chocolate
- Chop the chocolate into very small pieces and place in a medium bowl.
- Bring the cream and corn syrup to a simmer. Crush the cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle and add to the cream. Take off the heat, cover and let steep for about 1/2 hour.
- Strain the cardamom out of the cream and reheat until just simmering. Watch it carefully--you don’t want it to boil because then it will develop a skin that you’ll just have to get rid of. When the cream is just starting to steam, pour it over the chopped chocolate and let it sit for about 3 minutes. Then stir slowly and gently, starting in the middle until thoroughly combined and then working outward in concentric circles until the mixture comes together. It will. Have faith.
- At this point it will be too runny to use as frosting. As it cools it will become thicker and harder. You will know when the time is right to use it as frosting.
- Now pour yourself a tall glass of cold milk, lock the door and enjoy.
- You can use 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean. Or you can use vanilla paste if you have it.
- The recipe said it made 15 cupcakes. My muffin tins are small, and so this recipe made 22 for me. They baked in 16 minutes.
- I used regular flour to make these since they weren't for me. A good way to ensure that I didn't eat them all! (disclosure: I did eat one. It was wonderful.)