Posts Tagged ‘Orange Cookies’

It’s all about the chocolate

Chocolate Crescent Cookies

Chocolate Crescent Cookies…the sea salt makes the difference

Sometimes it’s really all about the chocolate, that’s all.

So here’s the thing: chocolate can actually be very tricky. You really can’t just melt it and pour it into a mold and make your own chocolates. There’s a little task called tempering required. I once helped a pastry chef temper a bit of chocolate that he was then going to pour into molds. His technique was exhaustingly precise and deliberate—justified in the end by little caramel-filled bon-bons that were ceremoniously served at the end of the meal “upstairs.” They glowed as if they had been polished. (The quotation marks around “upstairs” refer to the fact that restaurant dining room was upstairs. Alex, the pastry chef in question, was relegated to the basement.)

Like so many things food related, tempering chocolate is as much science as it is art. Obviously standards and expectations are higher for a professional like Alex than for you and me, the humble home putter-er around the kitchen-er. But the focus remains the same: a smooth, glossy finish devoid of streaks or “bloom”—the little gray marks that betray badly tempered chocolate where the cocoa solids have begun to separate from the cocoa butter.

Yes there are machines that will perform this task for you, but they are expensive and the provenance of the professional pastry chef. After a while Alex’s basement workspace was rewarded with one, but there was a kind of double learning curve involved; Alex had to both learn to drive the beast and trust it too.

Alex’s surface of choice for tempering was a big slab of marble. Among its other qualities (beauty being one of them) marble stays cool. A friend once described her summer living and working with an Italian farm family. During the day the temperatures would reach at least one hundred degrees. After lunch the family would nap on the kitchen floor which was…that’s right, a big slab of marble. She said it was like dipping into a cool pool of water.

Alex would melt his chocolate in a double boiler over a very gentle heat, taking care to not let any steam from the double boiler get into the chocolate. (Moisture can make chocolate seize or clump.)

Periodically he would check the temperature of the chocolate with an instant-read thermometer and either reduce the heat or add “seed” chocolate—extra un-melted chocolate—to cool down the pot. When it reached the consistency and temperature he wanted, he would pour it onto the marble slab and start swirling and scraping it around the slab, stopping every now and then to again check its temperature with his instant-read thermometer. The part I helped with was the swirling and scraping, a technique whose sole requirement was that none of the chocolate would leave the slab and land on the floor or your clothes. (Yes, there was a huge temptation on the part of this glutton to dip my finger into the chocolate. But I liked Alex and didn’t want to make him mad.)

The science behind this—in laymen’s terms—is to stabilize the molecules of the cocoa solids. The result is a shine and a rich, deep “snap” when you break the cooled chocolate.

(Folks like me who buy chocolate at Duane Reade or other places in this real estate challenged city have all been stung by opening a bar of chocolate only to find it had been held in an un-air conditioned storeroom. It’s interesting to see firsthand how badly handled chocolate can become inedible.)

As I said, for the home cook, this rigmarole would seem tedious and unnecessary. (Tedious and Unnecessary? Weren’t they a dance team from the old Ed Sullivan Show? ) If you just want to dip a few strawberries, or the odd pretzel or two, a little care can elevate your chocolate dipped treats into a thing of beauty.

So here’s the Butter Flour Eggs chocolate melting primer, a/k/a my tempering shortcut. Alex and other professional pastry chefs, please turn away now: you’re not gonna like it.

Step 1: take your time. When in doubt melt the chocolate slowly. You’ll know you’re going slow enough when you invoke a deity whose initials are J.C. Example: “J____ C_____, aren’t you melted yet!?”

Step 2: Yes, use a double boiler. A glass bowl over a saucepan with a couple of inches of simmering water is you’re best set up. Keep the heat low to keep steam to a minimum. Steam is an enemy of chocolate. Steam: bad. (Hint: I actually use a triple boiler. The chocolate is melted in a glass Pyrex measuring jug placed on the glass bowl over the simmering pan of water.)

Step 3: chop your chocolate before melting. You should chop it so that it is like gravelly beach sand. (The safest way to chop a block of chocolate is to use a serrated bread knife, and chop at the corners of your block of chocolate.)

Step 4: Reserve roughly a quarter of your chopped chocolate as your “seed” chocolate, to be melted later.

After you have melted your chocolate, use a rubber scraper to stir it and swirl it in the bowl, making sure there are no lumps of un-melted chocolate. The consistency should be somewhat runny. Then add the “seed” chocolate that you reserved and continue to stir until that has melted.

The next step is to find the appropriate vessel with which to convey the chocolate to your mouth. I’m a fan of a mild, slightly crumbly cookie like the orange cornmeal crescents in the photo above. These are piped through a pastry tube then baked. After being dipped in chocolate the cookies are finished with just a flake or two (or three) of sea salt.

Happy Labor Day!


Here’s the recipe for Orange Crescent Cookies


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