I don’t know if you remember reading about this, but late last year, Hershey’s Kisses made their British debut. I did wonder how Hershey’s would be received in Britain – chocolate, and sweets generally, always seem to me such a culturally specific taste. The Cadbury bars sold in Britain taste totally different to the ones you can buy over here – more chocolatey and milky, less waxy. Of course, British candy isn’t uniformly superior – take liquorice allsorts, which are gross, although it’s debatable whether they’re grosser than jelly babies, which might taste fine but are shaped like babies. Babies! The whole idea is barbaric and deranged.
Hershey’s does have its partisans abroad, apparently, or at least has inspired imitations. Take the Kaiser, for example, whom we encountered three or four years ago in Taipei, shopping in the Carrefour. Recalling a time when I failed to stop the car at a sidewalk kiosk in southern Taiwan to buy a pack of “666 Cigarettes” and regretted it for years after, I put a few Kaiser items in the cart. When we returned to Baltimore, we contemplated the purchase. Most comically named Japanese chocolate tastes pretty good, so we thought the odds for Taiwanese candy bars were decent. Besides, the packaging made some bold claims. “Such best-quality.” “As good as other imported brands.”
The first clue that something was wrong was the texture. The Kaiser, perfectly intact and unblemished from his long journey, broke not with a crisp, glossy snap but a silent crumble. Mildly fazed, I handed a chunk to Nat. In the moments while we hesitated, the Kaiser did not melt between our fingers but shed only a thin coat of brown dust.
“Are you sure this is safe?” asked Nat.
I reminded him that Taiwan is a post-industrial country with modern food safety standards, and we popped the chunks into our mouths. “Best-quality,” my eye. I will give The Kaiser his “distinctive taste” claim, though – unlike most actual chocolate, it tasted exactly like Snack Pack. Chocolate-flavored Snack Pack. Pressed against the roof of the mouth, it flattened into waxy sheets rather than melting. It immediately called to mind the low-grade chocolate ration the proles receive in 1984 and the “Mockolate” featured on an episode of Friends (“this is what evil must taste like!”).
The second bar somehow turned up in the back of my car, possibly having escaped on the way to the dump. Having been through several summers, it should have melted and deformed. It did not, proving that the Kaiser is great and terrible. Mostly terrible. Worse yet, a recent inventory of our chocolate drawer turned up two bags of the kisses. I ate one upon discovery just to relive the horror. The Kaiser’s texture and flavor had not changed during several years in chocolate drawer purgatory.
For truly excellent quality and distinctive taste, try making your own chocolate treats. I don’t mean literally from cacao beans – although that might be a project for another day. Just try working from high-quality bars, and incorporate your favorite flavors and textures. One of the best I’ve developed is a deep milk chocolate with honeycomb. Recently, I’ve been serving it at the end of meals, sometimes with a brown butter bouchon that you can eat in one or two bites.
Deep milk chocolate, orange flower honeycomb
I developed these chocolates for a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean-themed dinner last weekend. Chocolate isn’t really a Middle Eastern flavor, but orange flower water and honey certainly are, and a little creative license never hurt anyone. These are meant to have a deep milk chocolate taste, so don’t go crazy on the bittersweet chocolate. If you do, the chocolates will be harder, with more of a snap (assuming you temper them correctly), and won’t have the milky taste that works so well with the honeycomb.
I formed these using polycarbonate chocolate molds, but I’ve also used silicone ice cube forms (such as one might buy at IKEA), to good effect. The polycarbonate-molded chocolate has a cleaner and smoother surface, but I received no complaints about the silicone-formed chocolate.
8 oz milk chocolate (about 33%)
8 oz bittersweet chocolate (about 55%, not much higher), divided into 6 oz and 2 oz portions
1 c + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 1/2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp water
1 tsp orange flower water
2 tsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
You also will need:
silpat and a sheet pan
food-grade silicone molds for chocolate or ice or whatever
Line the sheet pan with silpat.
Pour the sugar into a small saucepot and sprinkle the honey and water over its surface. Bring to a boil. The sugar will dissolve and combine with the waters and honey. Cook until the mixture reaches 300F/149C. Whisk in the orange flower water, remove from the heat, and immediately whisk in the baking soda. Don’t overmix – just combine enough that it foams aggressively, which will happen instantly.
Immediately pour into the center of the silpat. Do not stir or spread. Place in a blast chiller or a shelf in the freezer to firm up. When cold and solid (about 30 mins), pull the honeycomb off the silpat in one piece and break the honeycomb into chunks. Transfer about 1/3 the honeycomb to a plastic ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pin. Reserve the rest in an airtight container for another use.
Meanwhile, temper the chocolate. In a double boiler, melt 6 oz bittersweet chocolate and the milk chocolate. Remove from the heat and whisk to reduce the heat. Once the chocolate reaches about 100F/38C, add the rest of the bittersweet chocolate. Whisk until it dissolves and the temperature drops to about 88F-90F/31C-32C. Stir in the honeycomb and spoon into chocolate molds.
Return to the blast chiller until solid. Pop out of molds.
Brown butter bouchon
Sometimes I serve these with chocolates as part of post-meal petits fours/mignardises. Other times, I like to pair them with brown butter ice cream for dessert. Brown butter is one of my favorite flavors, and nothing is better than doubling up on a favorite flavor. For a surprising savory twist to the dessert, garnish with a sage leaf fried in butter and finish with a little sea salt.
2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter
1 1/2 c (6 1/2 oz or 187g) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 c plus 2 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp double strength vanilla extract
1/3 c granulated sugar
a little more than 1/2 c firmly packed light brown sugar
Prepare bouchon molds, or timbales holding about 1 1/2 oz, with nonstick spray and flour. Set aside in the refrigerator. In a pinch, you can use mini-muffin tins.
Sift together the dry ingredients. Combine the milk and vanilla in a separate vessel.
In a heavy pan, melt the butter. Once it begins to foam, watch it carefully as it turns toasted nut-brown. Remove from heat. If using cast iron or something similar, pour the butter out so it doesn’t continue to heat and burn. Refrigerate until solid.
Combine the sugars in a stand mixer and beat together. Add the brown butter, solids and all, and continue to beat, creaming until tan and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating completely after each addition.
Once the eggs are fully incorporated, add the flour and the milk mixture on low speed, alternating between the two, about 1/3 at a time.
Fill the prepared molds just short of full. Bake until a tester comes out clean from the center, about 10-12 minutes, depending on the size and shape of your molds.
Brown butter ice cream
I owe the browning method in this recipe to Michael Laisikonis, who in turn attributes it to another chef. It is by far the best way to obtain a large volume of browned milk solids, and it makes total sense – butter comes from churning cream, but in butter-making most of the milk solids are left behind in the buttermilk, rather than the butter. So why not just start with cream? Once all the water boils off, you essentially have nothing but butterfat and plentiful milk solids.
The use of cream also resolves one of the problems with making brown butter ice cream – avoiding the palate greasiness that comes from incorporating actual browned butter, fat and all, into the milk. Once strained, the browned solids shouldn’t be terribly greasy. You can use the strained-off butterfat for cooking, where it subtly conveys that brown-butter savor.
4 c heavy cream, divided in 2c portions
1 1/2 c whole milk
1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla salt
2 tsp bourbon or scotch whisky
Place 2 c of the cream in a small, heavy sauce pot. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking from time to time, until the cream separates to fat and milk solids. Continue to cook, whisking to ensure milk solids do not stick to the pan, until the solids are a deep nut brown. Do not burn. Strain through a chinois to remove as much fat as possible. Reserve the fat for another culinary use. The process should take less than an hour.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients except the alcohol in a sauce pot. Bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugars. Transfer to a vitaprep or blender and add the browned milk solids. Blitz until totally smooth and incorporated. Add the alcohol and chill in a bain marie or in the refrigerator until cool.
Transfer the cold mix to an ice cream machine and spin according to the machine instructions. Turn the frozen mixture into containers and chill for at least three hours to set.