Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Modular Dessert: Dark Chocolate Cups with Matcha Buttercream

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Candy-making can be intimidating, it's true. No one likes struggling with molten sugar and thermometers, and, all too often, what ends up being produced at home still isn't up to the quality and craftsmanship of store-bought treats.

And yet, there are a few quick treats that are, relatively speaking, painless to create, and which look as (if not more) attractive than their professionally-made cousins. Today's recipe falls into both of those categories, and it's incredibly versatile to boot.

The techniques and shortcuts I'm going to present today aren't particularly revolutionary, at least in candy-making circles. That being said, they're not well-known by most home cooks. Consider today's post a way to acquire a handy ability, a way to develop yet another skill you'll be able to call upon in the kitchen. Let's get to it.

Dark Chocolate Cups with Matcha Buttercream
Makes several dozen; extras keep forever in the freezer

Buttercream Base
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 Cup Sweet Cream Butter (1 stick)
1.25 pounds (1.25 boxes) confectioner's sugar
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract

Various Flavoring Options
(each will be enough to flavor 1/3 of the batch)

6 Envelopes (6 grams) Matcha (green tea) powder
4 Envelopes (4 grams) instant Espresso powder
24 Fresh Cherries (for cordial-style)

Chocolate Coating
3.75 pounds (60 ounces) of bittersweet chocolate
1 and 1/2 Cups of Sweet Cream Butter (2.5 sticks)
[Editor's Note: Observe that the amount of each flavor indicated above is sufficient for 1/3 of the total batch. As a result, if you wanted to make an entire batch of Matcha-flavored candies, you would need 18 envelopes (18 grams) of matcha powder. Additionally, the flavorings suggested above are only that -- suggestions. Feel free to experiment with curry powder, cayenne, various citrus zests, and other dry flavorings.]

First off, we need to make our buttercream base. Start with one stick of butter and one 8 oz. package of cream cheese. Let them come up to room temperature to get soft, setting them out on the counter for about 30 minutes.

Whip the butter and cream cheese together with a hand-mixer. Once everything is well blended, start adding in your confectioner's sugar. I've suggested the use of 1.25 pounds of sugar, but, in truth, this will be a matter of taste. A little less wouldn't hurt, and neither would a little more. That being said, anything above 1.5 pounds may make your teeth hurt. Consider yourself warned.

Whip in your Tablespoon of vanilla extract. Resist the temptation to add more; if you dilute the buttercream too much, it will refuse to set. If you want more vanilla flavor (or if you want to make plain vanilla buttercream candies), scrape in the seeds of a vanilla bean as well.

From here, separate your buttercream base into thirds. As the editor's note above mentioned, you can make them all the same flavor, but, given the option, and knowing how easy it is, why wouldn't you want to make multiple varieties?

[Editor's Note #2: For the interest of time, this post will only cover the making of the matcha candies. For the espresso-flavored candies, simply follow the same instant-powder technique. For the cherry cordials, simply roll fresh pitted cherries into the center of a ball of plain buttercream base (after the base has had a chance to firm up in the fridge).]

These days, most matcha powder comes in skinny one-gram envelopes like these. Count them out, and add them to 1/3rd of the buttercream base (as seen at the top of this post), which will be pretty loose at this point. Once all your flavorings have been added, place the bowls in the refrigerator so that they cool and firm up.

Instead of using clunky metal molds to form the candy (what candy makers have been doing forever), it's much easier to use disposable, foil-lined cupcake liners, providing a classic cup shape without the hassle. Make sure you get the foil-lined ones -- while they're slightly more expensive, the added stiffness will help the cups hold their shape and make them easier to handle. Believe me, I'm not the first person to suggest doing this; that being said, it's such a neat idea, I'm happy to pass the information on.

Next, melt down half of your chocolate over low heat -- 12 ounces to 1/2 of a stick of butter. Hey, I said this was easy, not good for you. For the best results, stick to melting down 12 ounces at at time; this will keep things from burning and ensure greater control overall.

Pour your chocolate into the cups, just enough in each to coat the bottom with a thin layer. Place the cups into the freezer (placing them on a cookie sheet really helps with this) for 15 minutes, or until firm.

Next, remove your buttercream from the fridge; it should have the consistency of Play-Doh. Remove your chocolate coated-molds from the freezer, roll balls of buttercream (if you were making cordials, this is where you'd roll the cherries into the center of the vanilla-flavored balls) and place them in the center of the cups, one to each. Return the cups to the freezer once more.

Melt down the rest of your chocolate with the rest of your butter, once again in batches. Remove your cups from the freezer. Pour chocolate into each so that it covers over the buttercream ball, and, one last time, return everything to the freezer.

After about a half-hour, the candies should be firm. Dust each with more matcha powder and pop them out from the molds. Keep the cups in the refrigerator until shortly you're ready to serve them -- they will melt if left outside all day, particularly in the summertime. The final product:

This may seem slightly involved process, but I assure you, it's painless. The flexibility of the recipe, the ability to use whatever chocolate you desire, the infinite variety of filling flavors, the fact that there are no thermometers needed -- this is about as easy as candy-making gets.

Best of all, these keep forever under the right conditions; if you keep a bag in the freezer, you'll always have something on hand when unexpected guests arrive. That is, of course, if you can keep yourself from sneaking one every time you go to the kitchen.

Next weekend, we'll return with something entirely different. See you then.

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