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Chocolate Salami

Looking for an easy treat for Valentine’s Day? You’ve got plenty of time to make this chocolate “salami” that requires no cooking, and comes together lickety-split, using ingredients you may already have in the house. I used amaretti cookies to simulate the bits of fat running through a real salami, but you could use graham crackers, digestive biscuits or even chocolate chip cookies.

Crumple them up and mix them in a bowl with nuts and dried fruit of your choice. I used pistachios, hazelnuts and dried cherries and it was a winning combination. But if you like almonds or walnuts instead, or dried cranberries or dried apricots, those would be delicious too.

Melt some chocolate. You could use milk chocolate, but I prefer dark chocolate and used Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate. If you want to spring for a more expensive chocolate, go for it, but Hershey’s Special Dark won a blind taste test on America’s Test Kitchen years ago and I’ve been using it since then for nearly all my recipes requiring dark chocolate. It costs a lot less than the specialty brands, so that’s a nice plus too. Mix the melted chocolate with all the above ingredients and add some liqueur. It’s not strictly necessary, but it does add another layer of flavor.

Some recipes for chocolate salami ask you to add raw eggs, but I thought I’d try it without, since so many people have health concerns about using raw eggs in recipes. The risk is miniscule, but still, why take any risk, I thought.

Next, dish out the chocolate into a log shape. It will be too soft to shape at this point, so put it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, or until it firms.

Once firm, roll it into a log shape to make it more “solid.”

Then roll into confectioner’s sugar to simulate the white “bloom” that appears on aged salami.

If you have some butcher’s string, tie it across the chocolate salami to mimic a real salami.

Slice it and watch the surprise when people realize it’s not really cured meat, but a delightful chocolate treat. Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Chocolate Salami
 
 
Ingredients
  • 12 oz. chocolate, melted (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 1 stick (8 ounces) butter
  • ½ cup crumpled amaretti cookies (or graham crackers or "digestive" biscuits)
  • ½ cup pistachios
  • ½ cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped (or other nuts you prefer
  • ¼ cup dried cherries
  • 1 T. Cherry Marnier (or any liqueur you like)
  • powdered sugar for exterior
  • twine (optional)
Instructions
  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.
  2. When it is nearly melted, add the butter in pieces and melt it.
  3. Chop the amaretti cookies and nuts (I left the pistachios whole) and put in a bowl with the cherries.
  4. Pour the melted chocolate over the nuts and cookies and add the liqueur.
  5. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 15-20 minutes until it firms up, but keep checking because you don't want it so firm that it's too hard to roll.
  6. Dish out the chocolate onto a piece of plastic or waxed paper.
  7. Roll into a log and place it back in the refrigerator until very firm, maybe an hour or so.
  8. When it's firm, sprinkle powdered sugar all over.
  9. Tie up with butcher's string if desired, and slice to serve.
 

Like A Kid In A Candy Store

Like a kid in a candy store

It wasn’t the typical weekly meeting for my chit-chat group of Italian friends called “Le Matte.”
This week we met at a chocolate factory. And it was bliss.

The above photo is of some marshmallow “peeps” after a dip in milk chocolate.

Here is a photo of the dipping machines – white, dark and milk chocolate.


This magical place is the David Bradley Chocolatier factory, in Windsor, New Jersey. We were lucky enough to be given a tour by Christine O’Brien, daughter of the owners Robert and Marcy Hicks, who founded the company in 1978 under the name “Sophisticated Chocolates.”

First, she let us choose some fruit and dip it into those chocolate tanks. Some of us chose big luscious strawberries. Some of us chose big fat orange segments. Some of us chose big luscious strawberries and then went back for big fat orange segments. Dipped in dark chocolate.
Yum. Excuse me while I savor the moment.

But that’s not all. We kept touring the place and tasting as we went along. Solid chocolate, potato chips dipped in chocolate, oreos dipped in chocolate, you name it. You like milk or white chocolate rather than dark? Chris was very accommodating and gave us samples of whatever flavor we liked. Of course, we all shopped and shopped later on in the outlet store next to the factory.


In addition to their three retail outlets, in Windsor, N.J., Cherry Hill, N.J. and Manalapan, N.J., the company sells to lots of stores across the country, including upscale places like Barneys in New York. Many of their products are also sold under private labels. Their busiest time is Christmas, when lots of corporate clients place orders. But they’re pretty busy right now too, with bunnies and eggs and other Easter items taking priority. Chris said that they go through about 2500 pounds of chocolate a week.
Everything is made to order and made fresh daily. “We are working a little harder, but it’s going to taste better,” Chris said. Their stuff doesn’t go to the big box stores where you don’t know how long ago it was made. If you’re buying candy for Easter from their shelves, you know it was made within a day or two.

Here’s one of the workers filling the molds by hand.

And here are some of the bunnies that are ready for packaging:

dark
or milk:

They also make novelty items like chocolate lollipops in the shapes of stars. They’ll also make specially-designed items for events like baby showers, weddings or other occasions. You can check them out on their website: http://www.dbchocolate.com


And here’s a photo of some of “le matte” getting ready to checkout –
Milena, Eleanor, Paola, Shirley, Dede, Rena and Linda

Candied Orange Peel

Candied Orange Peel

Even if you thought you didn’t like candied orange peel, wait till you try this one.
This is not your grandmother’s candied fruit.

Last year I bought some candied orange peel to use in a Pastiera, an Italian Easter dessert that I’ll be posting in the next couple of days. This year I came across a terrific post on “Use Real Butter,” that outlined how to make the confection, so I thought I’d give it a try. It wasn’t really that difficult and it is so superior to anything you can buy. I’ll never go back to store bought candied orange peel again and I’ll bet you won’t either.

Dip these strips into chocolate and you’ve got a first-class gift that will really impress your friends.

Here’s what you’ll need:

peels of 3 – 4 large oranges (leave the white pith attached)
3 cups sugar
1 cup water

Cut the oranges in half and squeeze out all the juice. Scrape out all the pulp, but leave the white pith. I use a grapefruit spoon and it works great. Every recipe that calls for orange rind always says to remove the pith because it’s bitter – and it is. But for this recipe, if you don’t leave the pith, you’ll end up with a puny peel after all the sugaring. In order to counter the bitter taste, you need to boil the peels first. I boiled mine four times as you’ll see below.

Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut the orange halves into strips.


Place the strips in a large pot and cover with cold water. Let the water come to a boil and cook for five minutes. Drain. Repeat three more times.


Cook sugar and water and cook at high heat until temperature reaches 230 degrees. Add peels and lower temperature to a simmer. Cook until peels are translucent. It may take as little as 1/2 hour or as long as an hour and a half, depending on your altitude. Remove peels and drain on metal cake racks. They will be sticky so work quickly. If not dipping in chocolate, you may want to roll in sugar to make them even more crystalline-like, however I omitted this step. Even without the extra sugar, they tasted plenty sweet and looked great.


Let the orange strips dry. It took at least two days for mine to dry thoroughly enough since it’s been rainy and humid here the last couple of days. Depending on the weather when you make these, it could take less or more time.

Dip into tempered chocolate and place on waxed paper or parchment paper until dry.

To temper chocolate, start with a good quality chocolate. There’s no point in going to all this trouble and using a mediocre product. Chop up the chocolate into small pieces. Over a double boiler, place 2/3rds of the chocolate in a pan, being careful not to let any water or steam enter the pan containing the chocolate. Heat the chocolate until it reaches 115 degrees for dark chocolate or 110 degrees for milk or white chocolate. I use an instant read thermometer, the kind you’d use for a roast. But there are also special thermometers especially for chocolate if you want to spring for that. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the rest of the chocolate, which will lower the temperature of the chocolate to about 84 degrees or so after a couple of minutes. Next, place the pan briefly over the double boiler and let the temperature increase to about 87 degrees for milk and white chocolate or 89-89 degrees for dark chocolate. This should only take five to 10 seconds. Don’t let the temperature rise above 91 degrees. The chocolate is now tempered and ready to use. Try to keep it over warm (but not simmering) water so it stays the right consistency while you are dipping, or place the pan on an electric heating pad set to “low.”

Chocolate Bark

Chocolate Bark

This is so good and astonishingly easy to make, it’s a wonder I don’t make this more often.

(Just a second while I loosen the buttons on my waistband.)

Oh yea, that’s why I don’t make it more often.

It does make a quick and beautiful gift for any occasion though.

Use a good quality chocolate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be expensive. I recently discovered a delicious bittersweet chocolate at Trader Joe’s that’s a real bargain. It’s called “Pound Plus,” because it weights 17.6 ounces, and it costs only $3.99. You can use milk chocolate if you prefer, or even white chocolate if you’re so inclined. I sprinkled chopped-up apricots, dried cranberries and almonds on top, but the choice is limited only by your imagination. I added a bit of orange oil to the chocolate to give it a more complex flavor, but that’s completely optional.

The recipe is this easy:

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Melt chocolate on top of a double boiler and add a quarter teaspoon of orange oil (NOT orange extract). Spread with a spatula over the parchment. Gently press chopped almonds, apricots and dried cranberries on the surface. Place in a cool room or in the refrigerator until chocolate has hardened. Cut into chunks with a heavy knife.

La Befana Brings Burnt Almonds

La Befana brings burnt almonds

The legend of La Befana is an ancient Italian tradition that takes place on January 6. The benevolent but ugly old witch with a hunchback, wearing a baboushka and ragged clothing, makes her rounds to children the night of January 5, leaving treats of candy (and sometimes coal or garlic for naughty children) inside shoes or stockings left out overnight.

The legend harks back to the 12th night of Christmas, or Epiphany, when the three wise men were searching for the baby Jesus. They found La Befana sweeping her doorway and asked her to join them, but she initially declined, saying she had too much cleaning to do. Later when she realized it was the Redeemer that the wise men were in search of, she changed her mind. She left right away, but unfortunately for her, couldn’t find the baby. That’s why she still goes out each January 5 on her magic broom, hoping to find the baby Jesus, while leaving gifts for other children as well. To this day, children in Italy still receive gifts on January 6 and celebrations and parades are held all across the peninsula. Two years ago on the night of January 5, we were skiing near Bressanone, in the Italian Alps, when we heard drums in the distance. Nearer and nearer came the sound, and along with the drummers appeared a parade of people dressed in costumes from the Middle Ages, with La Befana in a carriage at the very end, tossing out candies to everyone.

This year La Befana surprised us and flew across the ocean to my hometown in Central New Jersey. There at the meeting of “Le Matte,” my weekly Italian chit-chat and coffee group, the ladies were gathered at my friend Vanda’s home. Just when we were having our second round of espresso and pannettone, who walks in but La Befana, wart-y face, babushka and all! She even handed out burnt almond treats for the women — at least the ones who had been nice this year. She truly looked wretched. I sure hope she makes it back across the ocean on that broom!

I’m including a recipe for the burnt almonds that La Befana handed out.

This recipe is taken from Delicious Day’s blog entry, Semifreddo of Burnt Almonds. I made only the almonds, not the semifreddo. The original recipe is in metric measurements, so I converted and doubled the amounts. My almonds turned out crunchy, with a hard-shell candy-like exterior, and they were good, but I must have gone astray somewhere. The ones on Delicious Day’s blog have more a more crystaline-sugary texture to them. I don’t know what I did wrong, but I do know that I have a seriously burned pot that will require a lot of steel wool and elbow grease to clean.

Burnt Almonds

2 cups almonds, with skins
1/2 cup water
2/3 c. sugar
2 T. vanilla sugar (I used vanilla)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Boil the water, sugar, vanilla sugar, and cinnamon in a large saucepan. Add the almonds and let cook over medium to high heat while stirring occasionally. The liquid will have evaporated after 5 – 8 minutes and the sugar will cover the almonds with a dry crust. Now reduce the temperature and keep stirring until the sugar turns liquid again and coats all the almonds evenly as caramel. Pour onto the prepared tray. Quickly separate the almonds from each other with two forks (not with your fingers, very hot!) and let them cool (they keep for several days in an airtight container).