For the current edition of Cook the Books, we are reading Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, an autobiography with recipes at the end of each chapter. One of the recipe pages is titled Bread and Chocolate and it starts thus:
This is a simple trick familiar to every French child. There’s something surprisingly right about chocolate and bread together, all that dark, rich sweetness against the chewy, salty crumb. It’s one of my favorite snacks.
I am Italian and grew up eating bread and chocolate (pane e cioccolato) as a snack. My home town, Perugia, is also the home of Perugina, a world-famous chocolate factory. However, I think that my upbringing is similar to that of many others in the chocolate-producing parts of Europe. In other words, I have known the pleasure of eating bread and chocolate for as long as I can remember. And I wrote about it some time ago, in an article titled Bread, Chocolate and Happiness:
The next time you look for a tasty snack or want to pamper yourself — or just because — break a piece of your favorite chocolate and cut a piece of freshly-baked, unflavored, good quality bread (maybe baked in your own oven), sit down and focus your attention on the flavors and sensations in your mouth, the contrast between the smooth chocolate and the bread textures (crunchy crust, soft crumb), the way both soften in your mouth and one melts, the meeting of the twine brought about by considerate chewing, the gingerly sojourn in your mouth that allows all taste buds to get their share of the flavors, the slow-motion swallowing that sends parting thoughts tinged with sweetness. A marriage of human bread and godly chocolate was celebrated in your mouth.
Inspired by the theme of chocolate, I decided I would try to do something I had had in mind for a while. Two events combined to direct my actions. First, an appreciation for chocolate-covered pecans, a kind of nut with which I became familiar only after moving to California. Second, in doing some research for an article on chocolate making, I ran across this piece by Shirley Corriher about chocolate tempering. Tempering chocolate is something I was apprehensive about doing at home, mostly because it uses a quantity of chocolate that goes beyond what I want to deal with in one session. In any case, the article explains how to avoid tempering chocolate if you start with tempered chocolate. (Another article from the same author is here: you want to focus on the paragraph titled A Radical Shortcut to Tempering.)
Armed with the information in the article, some good chocolate and pecans, I got down to work. I did not look at any recipe, because I knew what I wanted: simply toasted nuts covered in bittersweet chocolate.
- good quality chocolate that you know is already tempered (like bars made for eating): I use about 2/3 chocolate with 70% cocoa content and 1/3 chocolate with 60% cocoa content; I suggest to start with 3-3.5 oz. (85-100 g) of chocolate
- pecan halves
- cacao nibs (granella di fave di cacao), optional
Toast pecans in a 350 F (175-180 C) oven. The amount of time it takes depends on the oven and on the size of the pecans. In my experience, there is a fine line between not toasted enough and burnt, so every time I toast a batch, I keep a close watch. I set the timer for 10 minutes, and follow the progress very closely, adding time as needed. Let the pecans cool while you prepare the chocolate.
Melt chocolate according to the instructions in the article (see also quote below). You'll need a good thermometer that gives you the required accuracy: I have such a thermometer, which I need for cheese making. It is very important that you chop the chocolate finely: this will take a bit of time. I place chocolate in a small non-reactive metal bowl placed over a pan with steaming (not boiling) water. Make sure the bowl does not touch the water and that no water gets into the chocolate. Melt as directed, checking the temperature regularly:
Stir constantly until about two-thirds of the chocolate is melted. Take the bowl from the heat and continue stirring until all the chocolate is melted. For dark chocolate, you want the whole mass to end up at 89 to 91 F (87 to 98 for milk and white). As long as you haven't exceeded 92 F, your beta crystals should be fine...
If you use this shortcut method, you should still test the chocolate on parchment or waxed paper to make sure that the chocolate sets up hard and shiny.
Verify that your chocolate is indeed in temper. Smear a thin layer onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper, then wait five minutes and try to peel the chocolate from the paper. If it peels easily and the chocolate is shiny, not blotchy, you're fine. [source]
Prepare a tray (like a baking sheet) lined with parchment paper. When ready, toss some of the pecans into the chocolate, stir to coat well and then use a fork to pick them up one at a time (if you want individual chocolate-covered pecans), or at the same time shape them into small clusters of 2-3 nuts. Deposit pecans on the parchment paper.
As you add the pecans and stir to coat them, the temperature of the chocolate decreases and the consistency is no longer nice and fluid, so you'll need to warm up the chocolate slightly before you cover the next batch of nuts. Again, make sure the temperature remains within the limit of temper.
When you are left with a small quantity of chocolate in the bowl, covering pecans becomes difficult, so you can toss into the chocolate cacao nibs: stir, shape with a spoon and deposit on the lined sheet (see the morsel on the far right in the photo).
I have already made three batches of chocolate-covered pecans and the only problem I have encountered is controlling consumption. I found the oyster half-shell while walking on the beach and I thought it would work well as a small bowl.
This is my contribution to the current edition of Cook the Books, hosted by Deb of Kahakai Kitchen. You can find the guidelines for participating in the event here, and here is the announcement.
This post contains the roundup of the event.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
noci pecan ricoperte di cioccolato
or launch the noci pecan ricoperte di cioccolato audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
I love the sound of this recipe. Something I'll have to try. I love your serving shell, too. ;-)
Posted by: Paz | September 20, 2011 at 08:45 PM
Ah, tempering chocolate is a skill I would love to learn. I have read there are several competing methods both w/ and w/out machines. Your pecan clusters look such a treat. I love that oyster shell. What an extraordinary shoreline to find such pieces of the sea.
Shall try bread and chocolate next time there is a decent bread in the house, maybe toasted brioche - or is that too decadent? In any case, you've given me an idea for a recipe. I'll have to kick it around a bit, but it has legs, I think.
Cook the Books sounds like a fun group. I'd like to make the time/energy to participate. We'll see.
Posted by: Susan | September 20, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Pecans have been imported to Greece only a few years ago and we only get them roasted. They were love at first "bite" and I am hooked ever since. The chocolates you made are so tempting.
Posted by: Ivy | September 20, 2011 at 09:44 PM
Mi hai fatto venire l'acquolina! Che bonta' questa combinazione. Devo leggere l'articolo di cui parli.
Posted by: Laura | September 20, 2011 at 10:02 PM
The chocolate covered almonds we get during fundraisers are so addictive.
Posted by: bellini | September 21, 2011 at 12:51 AM
ah eccole qui... ;-))
Posted by: astrofiammante | September 21, 2011 at 10:03 AM
I love bread and chocolate! Nothing better than a croissant with chocolate and coffee for breakfast.
Posted by: Katie | September 21, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Great CTB post and entry! I love how beautifully coated with chocolate your pecans are--they look so inviting. I got into the habit of good chocolate melted on good bread with olive oil and a touch of sea salt after trying some in a chocolate cafe in New York. So delicious. ;-)
Posted by: Deb in Hawaii | September 22, 2011 at 12:39 AM
Ciao Paz. It requires a bit of patience, but it is not difficult, and of course you can use other nuts as well.
Ciao Susan. The tempering machine is a neat tool. Besides taking care of the temperature changes, it keeps everything neat and clean. Definitely try bread and chocolate. Toasted brioche sounds indeed decadent ;) I personally like to use breads with a bit of body. I am glad I provided inspiration: now I am curious to see where it leads you.
Ciao Ivy. I am glad you have tasted pecans and I liked them.
Ciao Laura. E' davvero un'accoppiata vincente.
Ciao Val. Addiction is indeed a danger with chocolate and nuts.
Ciao Marta. Ebbene si', ecco qui il dolce segreto ;)
Ciao Katie. Croissant with chocolate brings the pairing to a different level ;)
Hi Deb and thanks for the kind words. What you describe sounds very interesting.
Posted by: Simona Carini | September 22, 2011 at 07:54 AM
They look wonderful!
Posted by: Alicia (Foodycat) | September 23, 2011 at 03:33 AM
Thanks Alicia. As I said, they come with a big warning: "addictive." However, nuts and chocolate and both good for us, so the combination is justified even health-wise.
Posted by: Simona Carini | September 26, 2011 at 03:15 PM
That's a gorgeous photo with the seashell candy dish. Great post for Cook the Books!
Posted by: Rachel @ The Crispy Cook | September 27, 2011 at 06:36 AM
I did not discover bread and chocolate until I was into my 20's and I regret all those missed years. Chocolate covered nuts I discovered much earlier. They are one of my dad's favorites and he used to hide them when I was a kid, making them all the more tempting. Yours came out beautifully, thanks for sharing.
Posted by: Jessica@The Literary Foodie | September 28, 2011 at 08:28 PM
I have yet to try that bread and chocolate combination. I love chocolate with nuts though, and dried fruit as well. Just recently did some tempering of our homegrown cacao (after a long involved process of preparing the beans, liquefying and grinding smooth overnight in a concher. Yikes!
Posted by: Claudia | September 29, 2011 at 01:44 PM
Hi Jessica and thanks for sharing you childhood memories. Hiding food certainly makes it more tempting.
Ciao Claudia. I wish I could grow some cacao trees! Making chocolate at home is indeed a lengthy process: I hope you were happy with the result.
Posted by: Simona Carini | September 29, 2011 at 02:17 PM
I only just discovered the glory that is bread and chocolate over the past few years...and I do love it. However, I have ALWAYS been addicted to chocolate covered nuts...and consumption has always been an issue for me, as well. ha ha ha. Delicious, inspired post Simona :D
Posted by: Heather @girlichef | October 01, 2011 at 07:20 AM
It's never too late, Heather. You made me think I should write a post showing the kind of chocolates I ate as a child. We did not have chocolate-covered nuts the way I made or usually find in the stores. An idea to keep in mind. I am glad you like the post :)
Posted by: Simona Carini | October 01, 2011 at 08:13 AM
Lovely post and beautiful picture--you really described the book so well!
Posted by: Danielle | October 03, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Posted by: Simona Carini | October 04, 2011 at 10:04 AM