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 French chocolate mendiants to give out to my family on Christmas day.
Chocolate mendiants are part of the French Christmas tradition
Chocolate mendiants are small disks of chocolate garnished with assorted toppings. This is in reference to the Christmas tradition in Provence, where people end the celebratory dinner with Les 13 Desserts de Noël. However decadent this sounds, it is actually a pretty ascetic assortment of thirteen (as in Jesus plus 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, or 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 food term “mendiant”, more generally given to food preparations that involve dried fruits and nuts: cakes, ice cream or here, chocolate mendiants.
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.
And don’t miss the other kind of chocolate bite I made also: French chocolate truffles!
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- 250 grams (9 ounces) high-quality chocolate (I use Manjari 64% couverture chocolate)
- Assorted nuts, toasted: pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, pralines
- Assorted dried fruit: raisins, blueberries, cranberries, prunes, crystallized ginger, crystallized orange rind
- Other toppings : big grains of chouquette sugar, small chunks of Petit Beurre (crispy butter cookies by LU), fleur de sel
- A feuille guitare, i.e. a sheet of thick food-safe plastic that makes it easy to work with melted chocolate. Use parchment paper if unavailable
- Melt the chocolate in a double-boiler: place a small saucepan of hot water over low heat, set the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over it, and allow it to melt gently, stirring with a spoon.
- Place your feuille guitare on 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 form little circles, about 4cm (1 1/2 inches) across.
- Place 2 to 3 topping elements (nut, fruit, and/or other) on the circle. Try to create nice contrasting effects with the color and texture and taste of the toppings. Work a few mendiants at a time, forming six circles of chocolate then decorating them before spooning in new circles.
- When a batch is complete, place the sheet in a cool place for the chocolate to set, then pluck the mendiants cautiously from the sheet.