Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Peanut Butter & Jelly" - Forward Thinking/The Best Time of Year

Been a little while I know. I skipped a week to plan ahead. Thanksgiving is coming and those who know me know that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. With two full spreads in the works I'll be busy for the next nine weeks testing dish after dish and putting all of the results here.

It's been bugging me that I haven't officially posted the PBT&J I made two weeks ago but between planning Thanksgiving and attempting to live a life outside of the kitchen slightly more than usual it continually slipped my mind. There's my confession, now let me cleanse that sin.

Here's the thing about making candy; it's awful. But it's also a blast. Candy is more temperature sensitive than an old lady in the freezer section of the supermarket. A difference of a few degrees will create entirely different things. There is almost no wiggle room. And since I'm still mostly terrible at documenting my work, cook by sight and smell often, and write everything from memory this may take more than one try to get the results I got. I attribute this pair of treats as much to luck as skill.

As always credit where it's due: Thomas Keller has been instrumental in taking my game to a level I didn't even know it could go and really helped me find my "voice." If you're interested in cooking and looking to be better he's well worth checking out. This pairing is often served at The French Laundry as a little subversive (get used to that adjective) treat at the end of the meal. It's hands on, pretty, and a nice reminder that no matter how high and mighty people get about food the first thing it should always be is fun.

Special Equipment
Food processor

Peanut Butter Truffles

If nothing else these little jerks will test every ounce of your patience. On paper they're relatively easy to make but when it's time to get dirty and form them it can be tough. Despite their outward appearance of frailty as you roll and coat them know that they're tougher than they look, and they will look like a hot mess. Just act like you haven't screwed up as badly as you think you have while making them and you'll be fine. Now that I've talked you out of making them let me tell you that they are delicious. If you get them right they're better than a Reese's.

Don't use Hershey's. It tastes awful and disobeys all universal laws of candy making. Ghirardelli should be your minimum standard for chocolate. Use all natural peanut butter as well. Skippy makes a pretty good one that I like to use.

4 oz milk chocolate, chopped
1 lb natural peanut butter
1/4 C sugar
2 tsp salt
12 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature chunks
16 oz 60% cacao chocolate, chopped
unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Melt the milk chocolate in a double-boiler until smooth, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Process the peanut butter, sugar, and salt to combine. Add the chocolate, process to combine well. Scrape sides and bottom of mixing bowl, add the butter, process to combine until smooth and thinner than before. Transfer filling to clean bowl, chill ~2 hours until firm, stirring once or twice. **Filling can be covered and chilled up to 1 week.**

Shape chilled dough into ~1" mostly round balls, place on parchment lined tray, chill at least 1 hour until very firm.

Heat ~2/3 of the 60% chocolate in a small, deep pot on double-boiler to 134F, remove from heat and stir in remaining chocolate to melt, cool to 84F. Return to heat, stirring constantly, until 90F. Remove from heat. Using a skewer, gently dip chilled peanut-butter balls into chocolate one at a time and return them to the parchment lined tray. Once all have been dipped repeat the process. Chill truffles to set. **Truffles can be chilled for several days.**

Before serving lightly sift with cocoa powder.

They weren't all that pretty.

Grape Jellies

So much to learn from such a little thing! Temperature control, balancing acidity to work with pectin, cold plate testing, dealing with and adapting to failure. Who said candy isn't good for you? If done correctly you'll have beautifully smooth and firm jellies with a deep rich color that melt in your mouth. If you screw up you'll have fresh homemade jelly, which isn't too bad a consolation prize. I'm just a beacon of hope today, eh?

Juicing grapes is a misery so look for 100% organic grape juice. It can't have a single additive or be from concentrate since anything but pure juice may not play nice with the pectin. Apple pectin powder can be hard to find in a supermarket but supplement stores like GNC usually stock it. Pectin is actually pretty neat, it's basically the fibrous junk left behind when fruits are pressed for juice and sometimes used as a stabilizer in place of gelatin. But unlike gelatin it's not all the same. In this case apple pectin requires a certain level of acidity to activate which is why the lemon juice is necessary. Thomas Keller neglects to mention all of this so I'm glad I read as much about making jelly as I did before starting.

2 C organic unsweetened Concord grape juice
2 1/4 C + 3 1/2 Tbsp sugar, divided as such
1/2 C light corn syrup
2 Tbsp apple pectin powder
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

Place a glass or porcelain dish in the freezer.

Line a 9"x13" baking pan or casserole with plastic wrap leaving some overhang to grip later.

Combine 3 1/2 Tbsp sugar with apple pectin in medium bowl, set aside.

Combine juice, 2 1/4 C sugar, and corn syrup in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking gently to dissolve sugar. Simmer gently until completely combined and clear. It will be too dark to be "clear" in that sense of the word. The entire mixture will just look...cleaner than it did at any point before. Whisk half of the hot liquid into the sugar/pectin until dissolved and no lumps remain, return to pan. Add lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until 219F. Maintain that temperature +/- a degree as best as you can and cook until noticeably thickened with pretty heavy resistance to the whisk. Spoon a small amount onto the chilled plate. The jelly is ready when it firms quickly and doesn't slide around the plate. Pour into plastic lined pan and spread into smooth even layer. Sit uncovered at room temperature on a cooling rack ~3 hours until fully set and completely cool (not even remotely warm).

Gently remove jelly from pan with plastic overhang. Cut into desired shapes, tossing each one in sugar to cover completely (they will be super sticky). Best served immediately after coating with sugar but will stay lightly covered at room temperature for several hours. If the sugar has faded by then just toss them with some more to get them looking good again.

Like little rubies.

Moments after coating.

This was taken about an hour after the first coating and the sugar has already visibly faded.

And that's the PBT&J. I hope you enjoyed reading it and hope even more that you try making it. I've got one more special meal planned for the 2014 New York Rangers Puck Drop and then it's all Thanksgiving up to and after November 29th. I'll probably take an hour or two off on the 30th before getting right back at it for Christmas.

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