... I prepare a batch of mendiants in the kitchen. These are my own favourites - biscuit-sized discs of dark, milk and white chocolate upon which have been scattered lemon-rind, almonds and plump Malaga raisins. Anouk likes the white ones, though I prefer the dark, made with the finest 70 per cent couverture... bitter-smooth on the tongue with the scent of the tropics.
Chocolat, Joanne Harris, Chapter Seven
I could have chosen any one of the incredible sounding chocolates Vianne makes in Chocolat to include here (and if I ever run out of blog ideas in the future I may well do just that). Barely a page goes by without the mention of some delicious creation - an endless array of truffles and cornets full of sweets. Everyone in town has their favourite, the little treat they drop by for. After a couple of committed re-reads over the years, the one I most wanted to try was Vianne's.
Mendiants are surprisingly and refreshingly easy to make. They can also be adapted to suit your taste - the only rule is that the small discs of tempered chocolate should be studded with nuts, fruit and/or peel. Feel free to use anything you have at home; pistachio and rose petal would be lovely, as would hazelnut and dried cherry. I've gone with Vianne's suggestions - rich dark chocolate with plump raisins, blanched almonds and lemon peel.
ps. Don't forget to check out yesterday's Hot Mocha recipe - all part of the Easter Weekend Chocolat special.
Dark Chocolate Mendiants
Makes around 40
50mL Grand Marnier
300g dark chocolate
Zest of a lemon
40 blanched almonds
Piece of marble (optional, see note below in Step 3)
1. Place the raisins in the small saucepan with the Grand Marnier. Warm over a low heat for five minutes, not allowing the alcohol to come to the boil. Turn off the heat and set the mixture aside for an hour, allowing the raisins to soak up the liquid.
2. Zest the lemon and slice the peel into very thin strips, no longer than about 2.5cm. Line your baking tray with greaseproof paper and set aside.
3. Place the chocolate in the bowl over a large saucepan of barely simmering water. Make sure the thermometer is in the chocolate from the beginning, and bring the heat slowly to 55C. Remove the bowl from the heat (be careful not to drip any condensation onto the marble or any of the utensils - water will cause the chocolate to go dull, or worse, split) and pour half of the chocolate on to the marble to cool it quickly. Spread it out over the cool surface using the palette knife. When the temperature of the chocolate on the slab reaches 28C, add it back into the warm bowl of chocolate, and stir until the mixture reachers 31C.
Note. This recipe involves tempering chocolate - a process that results in shiny, even chocolate that snaps when broken. If you melt chocolate and try to re-set it on its own (ie. not as part of a ganache or in a cake) without tempering it, you risk ending up with dull, crumbly, crystallised chocolate. To temper my chocolate, I bought a slab of marble from my local Topp Tile, a brilliant suggestion from my friend Georgie. It's much cheaper than buying one in a kitchen shop. However, if you don't have access to one, try this instead:
3 (alternative - with no marble). Chop the chocolate into even sized pieces and put two-thirds of it into the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Melt the chocolate slowly, then remove the bowl from the heat and wrap the base in a tea towel to keep the mixture warm. Add the remaining chopped chocolate and stir until the mixture reaches 32C (for dark chocolate). It will take a little while - keep it moving until it's the right temperature!
4. Working quickly, drop teaspoons-full of chocolate onto the greaseproof paper lined trays and flatten into discs with the back of the spoon. Drop a raisin, a slice of peel and a blanched almond onto each disc. Alternate spooning out the chocolate and arranging the fruit and nut onto the discs, to ensure the discs don't solidify before you complete the decoration.
5. Once the chocolates have set, peel them off the paper and store in a cool, dry place, out of the sun. Eat each chocolate in one big bite - the flavours deserve to be experienced together!
Finally, a little tip. How Vianne (Juliette Binoche) manages to wear beautiful dresses and silk scarves in her hair while tempering chocolate is beyond me. It's one to do in your oldest t-shirt; I ended up with chocolate everywhere from my nose to my toes (not to mention all over my flat).