This month's Chocolate with François challenge was selected by yours truly. When I was asked to select the recipe for July, I carefully perused Chocolate Epiphany, searching for something different. I wanted a recipe that would really put my cooking and baking skills to the test, something that would teach me something new. As soon as I read his recipe for Chocolate Beignets with Crème Anglais, however, the search was over....
"This is my version of the American doughnut; a ball of ganache that is dipped in a great beer-based
yeasty batter, then fried and served with a crème anglais dipping sauce instead of icing."
Oh François, you had me at ganache, battered and fried....
Are you kidding me??? This sounded so incredibly over-the-top and decadent that I simply had to do it. And if anything could help me get over my fear of frying, fried chocolate ought to do it.
Fried foods are yummy - no one can really dispute that. Certainly there are a number of arguments questioning the healthfulness of fried foods, but their palatability can hardly be denied. Nearly every culture on the globe has a food that is plunged into boiling hot fat until it is crispy and brown and sizzling, and this would not be the case if it wasn't tasty. But as soon as we get to the part about the "boiling hot fat", a part of me cringes. I've always lived with a healthy fear of all things flaming or boiling - basically anything that has the ability to permanently remove my flesh if I'm not careful, and deep frying is at the top of that list. Ironically though, even as a kid the junior food scientist in me wondered why putting things into one pot of boiling liquid (ie: water) produced such drastically different results from another pot of boiling liquid (ie: oil). Today of course, I understand a bit more about the process of caramelization, and more about why I didn't always fit in as a kid - but that's an entirely different post. Ya, who am I kidding - that's an entirely different blog.
Anyway, back to frying... basically, deep frying is dangerous on many levels, and that's why I have steered clear... until now. After returning home from dinner one night, I broke out the ganache and the canola oil and got busy conquering my fear. The key is to stay focused and busy enough that you don't have time to think about being scared - kind of like getting over a fear of heights. The longer you sit and think about how high up you are, the longer your vivid imagination has to take over and present you with wildly fanciful images of how things could possibly go wrong. And once that happens, you're screwed. Best really to just get off the elevator, walk straight ahead to the railing, look out (not down!) at that vista and breathe. The other key, at least in term of deep-frying things, is to be very organized. Get your bowls of egg wash, dredge and batter all lined up, nice and close to your pot of hot oil. Keep your tools handy, line a plate with a few paper towels and then dive right in. In no time, you will find that it's not so scary after all. And once you take the first bite of that crispy, melted chocolaty orb, you will declare yourself a convert and you will wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place.
This little dessert got some very interesting feedback. My father-in-law, who is visiting right now from overseas, declared that these should be illegal. Hubby and his co-workers envisioned "beignet junkies loitering outside the back alleys of seedier pastry shops in Paris" - and they only got to taste them the next day, when they were no longer crispy and wonderful, fresh from the frier. Which brings me to my other note; these really do need to be enjoyed within about 20 or 30 minutes of being made - eating them after that is like trying to enjoy day-old french fries, it's just not the same (but three people can only eat so many balls of deep fried ganache at 10 o'clock at night without going into a diabetic coma, so off to the office they went). Because of the richness of the beignets alone, I chose not to make the crème anglais dipping sauce, and instead sprinkled them with a bit of coarse Maldon sea salt, which was excellent. The salt highlighted the chocolate's characteristics and, in my opinion, the sweetness of the crème anglais would have been too much. That said, I'm still going to include that recipe for you here, for those of you daring enough to go all the way...
Chocolae Beignets with Crème Anglais
from Chocolate Epiphany by François Payard
225g (8oz) chopped dark chocolate
250g (1 Cup) heavy cream
In a medium bowl, place the chopped chocolate. In a small saucepan, warm the cream, but do not allow it to boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate, and gently whisk to combine. Once the ganache is thick and silky, cover with plastic wrap and chill until set - 3-4 hours at least.
Once set, scoop tablespoon amounts of ganache onto a parchment lined baking sheet and put this into the freezer for 30-60 minutes, until the ganache is firm.
25g (3 Tbsp) active dry yeast
30g (2 Tbsp) warm water (110˚F to 115˚F)
1 XXX ml (12oz) beer, at room temperature - any beer will work, but avoid strong dark stouts
400g (2 3/4 Cups) flour
45g (3 Tbsp) sugar
Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it stand for 10 minutes, until the yeast begins to foam.
Pour the beer into a medium bowl, slowly whisk in the flour and the sugar. Let the batter rise for about 10 minutes, until the beer bubbles up, or overnight in the refrigerator.
2L (2 quarts) vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten, at room temperature
85g (1/2 Cup) dry bread crumbs
Fill the large pot of oil. Clip a deep-frying thermometer to the side of the pot, and heat the oil to 350˚F. Put the egg and the bread crumbs in separate, shallow bowls.
Dip the frozen ganache balls into the egg, then dredge in the bread crumbs, taking care that they are thoroughly coated. Dip them in the beignet batter until they are completely coated.
Fry the beignets in the oil, a few at a time or the oil will cool down too much. Fry them for 2-3 minutes, until they are deep golden brown. As they are done, remove them to a plate lined with paper towel to drain. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt or kosher salt. Serve immediately with plenty of napkins!
Crème Anglais (if you really feel the need to add more sweetness to this incredible dessert)
makes 2 cups
240ml (1 Cup) whole milk
240 ml (1 Cup) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split
6 large egg yolks
75g (6 Tbsp) sugar
Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes, to make an ice-water bath.
Combine the milk and cream in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Scrape the seeds of the vanilla bean into the pot, and add the pod as well. Bring the mixture to a boil.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture turns a pale yellow.
Pour about 1/2 Cup of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to keep the eggs from curdling. Return the yolk mixture to the pan with the remaining liquid over medium heat, and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 3 minutes. If you drag your finger through the mixture when it coats the spoon, the trace should remain.
Remove the mixture from the heat, and immediately strain it through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Place the bowl in the ice bath to cool the mixture rapidly, then cover and refrigerate until the mixture is thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours, or up to days.