I have always loved the idea of giving out food gifts. As with any handmade present, it seems a very personal way to show you care, and that you love the person enough to spend a few hours making something nice for them. Last year, I didn't plan for it early enough to make it happen : Christmas is always a busy period, and we had just moved into our apartment a month before. But this year, I thought about it well in advance, took care of the necessary planning and shopping and set out to make two kinds of chocolate bites to give out to my family on Christmas day.
The first kind of chocolate bites I made are called Mendiants, little bits of goodies atop disks of chocolate.
The Christmas tradition in Provence (South-East of France) is to end the celebratory dinner with "les 13 desserts de Noël". However decadent this may sound, it is actually a pretty ascetic assortment of thirteen (as in Jesus and his twelve apostles) simple desserts : black and white nougat, olive oil bread, various nuts, and dried or fresh fruit. Among these are the four "mendiants" (beggars), symbolizing four mendicant monastic orders and the color of their robes : raisins for the Dominicans, hazelnuts for the Augustins, dried figs for the Franciscans, and almonds for the Carmelites.
This is the origin of the name "mendiant", more generally given to food preparations that involve dried fruits and nuts : cakes, ice cream or, in my case, chocolate bites.
- 250 g high-quality chocolate (I used Valrhona dark chocolate for the first batch, and Nestlé whole milk chocolate for the second. White chocolate would work too.)
- an assortment of dried fruits, nuts (toasted or not), and any other small topping you have on hand. I used :
nuts : pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, pralines
fruits : dark and blond raisins, dried blueberries, dried cranberries, prunes, crystallized ginger, crystallized orange rind
other : big grains of chouquette sugar, small chunks of Petit Beurre (crispy butter cookies by LU), fleur de sel
(Makes about 80 pieces.)
Special gear :
A feuille guitare, which is a sheet of smooth and thick plastic that makes it easy to work with melted chocolate. Parchment paper can also be used, although it won't be as convenient.
Update : I had first written that the kind of plastic sheets used for transparent projectors should work, because that's what a feuille guitare feels and looks like. But my mother very rightfully pointed out that this is probably not suitable for food preparation, so I don't suggest using it!
Melt the chocolate "au bain-marie" : put a small saucepan of hot water over low heat, set a bowl over it with the chocolate cut in pieces, and wait until it melts, stirring with a spoon. This melting method is kinder to the chocolate than the microwave, and you want to be kind to your chocolate, right?
Lay your feuille guitare over a flat and cold surface and take the bowl of chocolate off the heat. Drop small spoonfuls of chocolate on the sheet, using the back of the spoon to make little circles. Set two to three topping elements on the circle. Work a few mendiants at a time, depositing six circles of chocolate, then decorating them, before making three new circles.
Try to create nice contrasting effects with the color and texture and taste of the toppings. No need to hurry, the chocolate should stay melted enough for you to work calmly. But if it gets too hard to work with, put it back over low heat to melt again.
When a batch is complete, put the sheet in a cool place for the chocolate to harden. Wait until the chocolate is completely set before lifting the mendiants cautiously from the sheet.
I love these bites. Each of them, pretty and delicious, offers a new combination of sweetness and crunch. They're also easy and fun to make, if you enjoy working with small intricate colorful things like I do.
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