Monday, February 11, 2013

Resurgence (and chocolate!)

 I guess I've been a little lazy in keeping up with my blogging tasks - like blogging at all. I really have no excuse for not doing it. Summer came, with its warmth, and endless possibilities to get outside and do STUFF. Stuff I should've been sharing all this time. I was just so wrapped up in all of that stuff that I neglected to share with you.  So here we are, back in the doldrums of another cold and dead winter, and I deem it a good time to try restarting my blog, when everything is frozen and uninspiring. Huh - I guess I like a challenge.
Don't get me wrong, I've been up to my usual lifestyle - cooking up a storm with my supply of summer fruits and veggies, still taking up most of the space in my freezer, crafting with leftover bits and bobs found here and there, scavenging and salvaging whatever I can. It's been a challenging season, with more snow and cold days than I'd like to remember - often, the days are just an exercise in finding the best ways to keep warm. Never the less, I thought I would take Valentine's Day as a chance to get back on track, and share an easy and fun treat you can make for all your loved ones. It's also a great activities to get the kids involved in! ...Shall we?

I was pondering a simple and customizable way to offer chocolates to my beloved. Rather than the old heart-shaped store-bought treats, I thought I could come up with a way to make him bite-sized pieces of all the flavors he loves. Also, I am in no way a trained nor practiced chocolatier, so I wanted something easy, something without moulds, something with a 100% success rate. No bain-marie, no thermometres, no difficult steps. I decided to make chocolate pastilles.
Pastilles in french means wafers. I wanted to make wafer-thin bites of dark chocolate, my beloved's favorite, and top the pastilles with all the flavors he enjoys. I also deemed this to be an excellent way to use up lots of small amounts of dried fruits and nuts taking up room in my pantry - you know, what's left in the bag when you make one recipe, and is in no way enough to make any other recipe, so you get stuck with it forever? A handful of hazelnuts here, a few almonds there, three or 4 dried strawberries... I would either sprinkle the pastilles with chopped items, like fruits and nuts, or mix them in, for spices and such.
(almonds, match green tea powder, shelled pistachios, sea salt, dried strawberries, candied fennel seeds, coffee beans, roasted hazelnuts, dried mint leaves, cinnamon and cayenne pepper - all flavors that catered to my beloved's tastebuds)

I compiled a list of add-ins, scoured my shelves for ideas, and collected my findings.
To create the pastilles, I wanted a good-quality dark chocolate as my base. Since I was not going to be doing anything else but melting it, I wanted to start with a quality chocolate, which would guarantee a quality end product. I bought a few large bars, which I then went about chopping up. This would encourage a quicker and more even melting.
I decided which ingredients would get sprinkled on top of plain pastilles, and which would be mixed in, chopping up anything that might be too big for the pastilles. I prepared pans lined with wax paper for easy removal. 
I melted about half of my chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave. The best way to do this without scorching the mix is to heat for 30 seconds, then give the chocolate a stir. Heat the chocolate for another 30 seconds, then give it another stir. Keep up this method of heat - stir - heat - stir until the chocolate has completely melted.
 Using a very small espresso spoon, to make bite-sized pastilles, I portioned out my melted chocolate onto the wax paper-lined pans. I made 8 wafers at a time and, while the mixture was still liquid, sprinkled the tops with one of my chosen ingredients. If the pieces were a little big, I gently pressed them into the chocolate to assure proper adhesion.

Once all the sprinkled tops were complete, I moved on to the mixed-in ingredients. I only melted a small portion of the chocolate at a time, following the same heat-stir method as above, and then mixed in my ingredients a little at a time, tasting after each addition. I did this to achieve the best flavor as possible, trying not to be too generous and overdoing it. No one wants a cayenne pepper-flavored chocolate pastille that sets your mouth on fire!
Once all the wafers were portioned out, I let the chocolate sit overnight to set. Realistically, they are ready to handle and package after an hour, but I was making my valentines WAY ahead of time, so I figured I could afford to be patient! To box the final product, I dropped a few wafers of each flavor into mini muffin paper liners, similar to professional chocolate packaging, and place an assortment into a salvaged cardboard box. I like to keep chocolate boxes I receive as gifts, since they always come in handy for re-gifting foodstuffs. I also packaged up a few smaller boxes(from the dollar store) to offer to co-workers, family and friends.
There you go - homemade Valentine's Day chocolates, made with your loved ones in mind, and definitely made with love. You've still got time before Thursday, go make some yourself!

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