What is the best gift to give your host or hostess? Flowers and chocolates are always a treat and a bottle of wine is fine but I often find I want to do something a little less obvious, I want to make a real effort.
At the end of November we were invited by an American friend to a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner. I might add he was the only American there and hosting an evening for a mix of French and English. To make matters even trickier when it comes to gift giving he also happens to be a trained Parisian chef.
I decided to really push the boat out and make homemade chocolates. I have made these before, because trust me I have learnt the hard way never to try something new at the last minute. However, the last time was a decade or more ago. To make the chocolates one has to coat small petits fours cases with chocolate, literally painting it on. At the time our five children were very young ranging in age from 10 down to just a few months old. I had a friend helping me and between us we armed them all with a sterilised paint brush, made sure hands were washed and let them loose. I think maybe Gigi, the baby at the time, was taking a nap because looking back at these photos I see the highchair is empty! Hours of fun followed, more for them I think than us, as we ran back and forth trying to avoid total disaster as the painting of cases slowly disintegrated into a free for all afternoon of chocolate face painting.
But the end result was sinfully delicious. I’m not quite sure why it has taken me 12 years to decide to try again!!
This time I was alone and calm. Music played in the background, the rain hammered against the windows, the fire glowed in the corner, it was definitely a morning for slow cooking. I urge you to try them if you have a couple of hours to spare. They are almost like a tiny dessert in themselves with a rich creamy orange filling enrobed in a dark chocolate case. Pure decadence !
You will need:-
150g (5ozs) dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa)
finely grated rind and juice of 1 orange
5ml (1tsp) Sugar
225g (8ozs) white chocolate
75ml (5 tbsps) double cream
25g (1oz) unsalted butter
chopped almonds to decorate
24 small paper petits fours cases.
First arrange the petits fours cases on a tray and sterilise a small paint brush. Then melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
Now you need to quite literally paint the inside of the cases. With trial and error I found the easiest way was to pour some into the bottom of the case and then spread it up the sides with the paint brush. Make sure it is as thick as possible otherwise it will be too thin to peel off the paper later.
Once they are all painted, set them aside to cool.
Then gently heat 3tbsps of orange juice with the sugar until dissolved then bring to the boil. Bubble for 3 – 4 minutes to reduce to 2 tbsps and then allow this syrup to cool.
Break the white chocolate into a bowl. Add the cream and heat slowly over simmering water until the chocolate melts. Off the heat whisk in the orange syrup and orange rind. Gradually beat in the butter. Cool until the mixture is the consistency of whipped cream.
Spoon the mixture into the chocolate cases.
Place in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
Then here comes the fiddly bit which I prefer to do but you don’t have to. I like to now peel all of the cases off the chocolates, I find it is nicer to offer them ready to eat.
Finally sprinkle them with some chopped almonds and a little orange peel or anything that appeals to you. (The almonds and bitter orange peel however are a great counterpoint to the sweet filling).
Then store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
*** Liqueur Chocolates
If you want to make these even more special replace the orange syrup altogether with 30ml (2 tbsps) of your favourite liqueur, think something along the lines of cointreau or drambuie.
Now all you have to do is arrange them on a pretty plate or cover a box in brown paper as I did and add a ribbon and you really do have a very special and very different gift.