05 September 2010

Summer's disappeared

S'mores... they're not just for camp fires anymore!
So here I am, writing my first post in over a month.  It seems like I fell off the face of the earth, but I managed to pick myself up and dust myself off.  The last 6 weeks have been a blur of house-guests, out-of town visitors, errands, dinners,  more visitors, meetings, work functions, appointments and all on top of the regular day job.  Yep, I've been running on fumes, and I sincerely apologize to you, my readers, for the long pause in posting.  For my "tasters",  a sincere apology to you as well, for the long pause in baking... In fact, the past month has been so busy that, for more than a week,  I had no flour in the house, and the shiny new All-Clad pan that my sister brought me when she arrived, stayed in it's package for almost 10 days before it felt the heat from my stove.  When I finally did re-stock my pantry with staples, I started with some basic chocolate chip cookies.  Gooey and warm, I piled them into a pretty glass apothecary jar as a housewarming gift for a friend, before heading off to see her new place.  I was also hired to bake a carrot cake for a summer garden wedding - the best kind of wedding to have, in my opinion.  It's just too bad that the weather has been so unseasonably cold for August.  I'm sure when the bride was planning her August wedding, she probably wasn't envisioning October weather.

Even though my kitchen hasn't been getting the work-out it's accustomed to, August did bring some really nice foodie surprises...  I received lots of lovely surprises from some blog buddies I met at Food Blogger Connect in London in June.  Gourmet sugars, heavenly scented tea and coffee, beautiful textiles, and an incredible selection of chocolates from around the world.  YUM!  There really is nothing better than finding sweet surprises in your mailbox... it sure beats the crap out of the usual bills and junkmail.

In getting back into the swing of things, I was struck by inspiration earlier this week on Twitter, when a friend re-tweeted some interesting trivia about graham crackers:

RT @Foodimentary  Who knew? Graham crackers,originally "Dr. Graham's Honey Biskets" 
were conceived to suppress "unhealthy carnal urges"(sex)

Huh? Can someone please explain to me how honey-flavoured biscuits suppress "unhealthy carnal urges"? Some incredibly decadent chocolate could probably distract folks for a while, but dude, graham crackers aren't exactly one of those foods that people go nuts for. On their own, they're pretty boring; a dry, crisp mildly sweet honey & brown sugar flavoured biscuit. You can't even call them a cookie! In my world, graham wafers have existed for only two reasons: to be ground up, mixed with butter & pressed into a pan as a crust for cheesecake and flapper pie, and for s'mores. Even then, you only really need them so you don't burn your hand on the molten marshmallow & oozy chocolate when you're sitting around the campfire. So, no, I can't really get too wound up for graham crackers, and I certainly wouldn't be denying my {ahem} carnal urges in exchange for one.  Anyway, a conversation ensued, in which it was suggested that the homemade version were tastier and I should give them a try.  All right, I'm game.  After all, what store bought biscuit is better out of a box than it is fresh from the oven?

I have to admit that these are incredibly simple to make, with a much shorter ingredient list than I anticipated.  So much so, that I doubt I will ever buy graham crackers again (Geez, I hope Honey Maid doesn't go bankrupt! Ha, like they're really going to notice the lost sales of $2.49 every 8 years).  And while I was rolling out dough and cutting them into shapes, I started brainstorming about s'mores, and how to turn them into something that could wow and involves less potential need for a burn kit.  {idea} S'mores Tartlettes!  Aha! Now we're onto something!  

S'mores for grown ups... toasty marshmallow tops

I cut the dough into rough circles and pressed them into my mini cheesecake pan.  "Why a cheesecake pan" you ask? Because it turns out I don't own a mini-muffin pan.  Not sure how that's possible - and I gotta say, it's a little alarming to someone like me who takes pride in her incredibly well-stocked kitchen tool arsenal. After all, I own a mini-cheesecake pan, for crying out loud!  Anyhoo... I baked up my little graham wafer crusts, made a thick fleur de sel dark chocolate ganache and then got to work on my homemade marshmallows for the top.  Homemade marshmallows?!?  Hang on, lady!  Isn't that just a tad overboard?  You know what?  It's not.  Unless I'm sitting around a fire with a nice marshmallow-toasting stick in my hand I'm about as fond of store-bought marshmallows as I am of graham crackers, but homemade ones - those are incredible!  When you taste one, you can see how marshmallows pop up in gourmet stores all over Europe - because they're delicious!  And if you have a stand mixer, they take a whole 10 minutes of actual effort on your part.

The end result looks pretty impressive, and tastes pretty incredible too.  It's one of those things where the individual ingredients themselves don't have a lot of wow, but put those components together, and you have a hit.  I think these would be a huge hit on the dessert table at your next party.  Great finger food, not as messy as their original counterpart, and they look as though you spent hours and hours making them, when in fact it should take you less than one.  So here's the recipe, tuck this one away for the upcoming holiday season, when party trays need some a little inspiration.  These are bound to be a huge hit.

Happy Baking!

S'mores - all dressed up with nowhere to go!
Graham CrackersAdapted from Nancy Silverton's Pastries from La Brea Bakery

375g all-purpose flour 
175g dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cardamom100g unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
115g honey (mild honey is recommended, but I used Manuka honey, which is strong and dark and caramelly, because it's my favourite)
75ml milk
30ml vanilla extract

Adjust the oven rack to the centre and preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and spices in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse  several times to combine. Add the butter and combine, using 1-second pulses, until the mixture is the butter is about the size of small peas.

In a small bowl, mix together the honey, milk, and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough just comes together.  If you want to make these into regular cracker-type biscuits, turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.  If you're making adorable little tartlettes like I did, press a small amount of dough into your tart molds, then chill the entire pan for about 20 minutes.  Because the dough puffs up quite a bit, I recommend lining the tarts with parchment paper and then filling them with pie weights before baking.

While the dough chills, you can make the ganache:

Fleur de Sel Chocolate Ganache
120ml heavy cream
200g dark chocolate (chopped) or high quality chocolate chips
2tsp fleur de sel
1/2 tsp vanilla

Place the chocolate, vanilla and fleur de sel in a heatproof bowl.  In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it is steaming, but do not allow it to boil.  Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow it to sit for a few minutes.  Gently whisk to combine, until the mixture is thick and silky.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

Just add chocolate...
Back to the tart shells:
Bake for 15 -20 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch.  Transfer them to a cooling rack and allow them to cool for about 10 minutes before filling half to 2/3 full with the chocolate ganache.

While the shells are baking up in the oven, you have time to make the marshmallow:

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine's Toasted Coconut Mashmallows

1 envelope gelatine powder
80ml water
100g sugar
115g light corn syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, put 40ml of the water, and sprinkle the gelatine overtop.  Set the bowl back on the mixer, but leave the mixer turned off so the gelatine can "bloom".  
Pour the remaining 40ml water into a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Gently add the sugar to the centre of the pan, then add the corn syrup.  Place over medium high heat and, without stirring, bring mixture to a boil.  Check the temperature and measures 240˚F on an instant-read or candy thermometer.  Remove from heat and set aside until the bubbles dissipate. Turn the mixer to medium-low and, with the mixer running, pour the hot syrup mixture into the bowl in a slow and thin stream .  Once all of the syrup has been added, turn the mixer to high and continue to beat until the mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag and pipe marshmallow on top of the ganache-filled graham cracker shells.  The marshmallow will be extremely sticky, but will set up immediately.
Using a small torch, gently toast the tops of the marshmallow topping.  Alternatively, you can do this under the broiler in your oven, just keep a very careful eye on them so they don't burn.

.... and devour!


The Cooking Ninja said...

oooh...that sure looks yummy. Love your combination. I love home made graham crackers. They taste a lot better than the commercial ones.

MeetaK said...

i have died & gone to heaven! good to have you back and then with such a recipe. you temptress!

Kulsum@JourneyKitchen said...

Oh my God! thats all I can manage to say

Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

Welcome back, and what a way to start back!! This is such a professional looking result - and delicious I'm sure. Thanks for sharing.

oneordinaryday said...

Just gorgeous.

Navy Blue Notes said...

I'm sooo with you on the Graham cracker/carnal urge argument. Cool fact!
Could you package those little Graham cracker cups you made? Heck, package the whole lot. Amazing!

Hazel said...

I totally agree that EVERYTHING is much better homemade and fresh out of the oven. These look very impressive and I must admit I am most intrigued in making some myself as you mentioned they are in fact quite simple! Beautiful.

Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf.ch said...

oh how i wish that last photo was here - in my kitchen - as in ME devouring those irresistible beauties. WOW ! i had jumped in on the twitter chat and i've been thinking about your potential s'more creation ever since. here it is, and even better than i could have imagined. amazing. this one's for the baking file, thanks julia ! and glad to hear you once again are well stocked with flour... and chocolate ! i'd be worried otherwise.

oh, and as for the graham crackers suppressing urges of any sort, i'm thinking it's simply because they were so dry and bland - that you were totally not in the mood after eating them, HAHA ! :)

Cecilia said...

Julia! So glad to have you back! These look really amazing and I bet they were absolutely delicious. I may have to make them some time soon.

andreajoyce said...

Uh, yum! These are divine! Thank you so much for sharing!

Plush Puffs Gourmet Marshmallows said...

Wow looks terrifically delicious. I like the sound of the graham cracker recipe.

Some more grown up s'more ideas at blog.plushpuffs.com!

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

Oh my! These look fantastic! I've got to explore these s'mores!

Hope you are well!

Seattle Pastry Girl said...

Incredible !! I'm stealing this recipe immediately and love the post too,thanks so much for sharing

Jamie said...

First of all, I MISSED YOU! I was very worried about you and searched all over twitter, high and low! And there you were off with other people! But how fabulous to be greeted again by these amazing!!!!! s'more cups. They are gorgeous and I am so impressed you handmade every part! Can you bring some over to me?

Lovoni said...

Hey woman, these look lovely, nice close-up shots! I'd make these and will!