The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette. Annette worked in Paris for the Duke and Duchess de Guiche, and it did not escape the Duke's notice that someone extraordinary was polishing the pewter.
The Duke's notice did not escape the notice of the Duchess either, who was not very beautiful and not very rich, but plenty smart. The Duchess set about studying Annette and shortly found her adversary's tragic flaw.
Armed now, the Duchess set to work. The Palace de Guiche turned into a candy castle...
Annette never had a chance. Inside a season, she went from delicate to whopping, and the Duke never glanced in her direction without sad bewilderment clouding his eyes.
(Annette, it might be noted, seemed only cheerier throughout her enlargement. She eventually married the pastry chef and they both ate a lot until old age claimed them).
The Princess Bride, William Goldsmith
I can take or leave a packet of sweets but, like Annette, chocolate is my nemesis. I can't resist an interesting new truffle, a rich hot chocolate or, to be fair, a square of the bog-standard dark stuff. I've been known to travel across London for a couple of handmade chocolates and a hot drink - so it was really only a matter of time before I started making my own.
The flavours of the ganache I made for these chocolates came out laziness - it was what I had available at home late on a Sunday afternoon. Ganache is fantastically versatile - you're limited only by your imagination in terms of fruit, herbs and spices, so do feel free to try your own flavours if the pink peppercorns and star anise don't appeal. I'm already planning the next batch - perhaps cardamom and rose, lavender and vanilla or blackberry and bay leaf.
Of course, as anticipated, I've spoken only about chocolate, and not about the book these were inspired by. So, before we move on to the recipe, if you only know The Princess Bride as a film, you should pick up the book as soon as possible. It's tremendously funny, and the layers of worlds created (some fictional, some possibly real) are like nothing else I've ever read.
Pink Peppercorn and Star Anise Truffles
Makes 25 chocolates
250g dark chocolate (70%)
150mL double cream
3 star anise
1tbsp pink peppercorns
150g dark chocolate (chopped into small pieces)
Knife and chopping board
Bain-marie (or saucepan and heat-proof bowl)
Silicone chocolate mould tray (I bought this one from Lakeland)
Small plastic spoon
Piping bag (no tip needed)
1. Begin by tempering your chocolate. Chop 150g of the chocolate into small pieces. Melt 100g of it in a heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of barely simmering water until the chocolate reaches 53C. Remove from the heat, add the other 50g of chopped chocolate and continue to stir with a spatula until the mixture reaches 32C.
2. Place your chocolate mould tray on the baking tray and, using the plastic spoon (a cold metal spoon will prematurely set the chocolate), spoon small amounts of melted chocolate into each mould. Use the spoon to push the chocolate up the sides of mould so that it is an even thickness all the way round. You shouldn't be able to see the tray through the chocolate - if you still can, add a little more chocolate. Place the tray in a cool place to set (the fridge if it's a really hot day) while you make the filling.
3. Place the cream in the saucepan over the low heat. Add the spices, and very slowly bring the cream to a simmer. Turn off the heat. Allow to sit for a minute and then, while still warm, pour the cream through a sieve over the chopped chocolate. Leave to sit for five minutes, during which time the cream should melt the chocolate. Give it a stir to ensure there are no remaining chocolate pieces and then leave it to cool, before spooning it into a piping bag.
4. Once the ganache has cooled completely, and is quite firm, bring the lined chocolate moulds out again. Snip the tip off the piping bag, leaving a small hole no bigger than 0.5cm across. Holding your piping bag at a 90 degree angle to the chocolate tray, fill each mould almost to the top. Place the tray back in the cool place.
5. Temper the final 100g of the chocolate. Start by placing around 60g of chopped chocolate into the (cleaned) heatproof bowl over simmering water. Then follow the directions as in step one - heat the chocolate to 53C, then cool to 32C by adding the final 40g of chocolate.
6. Bring the chocolate moulds back into the kitchen and spoon the tempered chocolate into the moulds to fill them right to the top. If necessary, scrape a palette knife or chocolate scraper across the top of the moulds to neaten them. Place the tray back in the cool place for the final time, letting the chocolates sit for at least half an hour.
7. Finally, remove the chocolates from the moulds. Silicone moulds are easiest when completing this step - you can peel the silicone away from intricate shaped chocolates, and they should come out very easily. If you've used a hard plastic mould, give it a sharp, confident tap on the bench and the chocolates should drop out without too much hassle. Store in a cool place and eat within a week - though the box I took to work didn't last nearly that long.
ps. Canny eyed readers (and friends who ate these chocolates) will notice that half of the chocolates in the images above are sprinkled with sea salt, and may have correctly guessed that these are salted caramels. Keep an eye on the blog for a recipe for these at some point in the future.