Thursday, 7 May 2009

French Housewives Know Best

So I was going to write about lavender biscuits. And I will, in good time. But something much more pressing has come up: 99 percent chocolate.

Today is the first free day I have had in a long long time. The first day with no one to entertain, talk to, account to, be nice to, whatever. Of course I had to bake something.

I've been whipping out little things in the past week, like those lavender biscuits I was talking about. One bowl things that bake for fifteen minutes or less. But today I wanted something that lasted. I wanted to work at chopping, and stirring, and heating. I wanted something that would sit in the oven for a long time, filling the house with the smell of chocolate. I wanted chocolate cupcakes with an obscene amount of frosting to dip my fingers into.

I was to make the frosting first. The butter was frozen, the block of unsweetened chocolate rock hard, and I spent a good while warming myself up by chopping them both into tiny pieces on the flimsy plastic cuttingboard we use here. I simmered cream and sugar, and watched the mixture turn a gentle brown as it bubbled into a cappucino-like froth. I whisked the chocolate and butter into the cream and sugar, and finally, stirred in a bit of vanilla. Frosting, finished.

But wait. There was a baguette sitting on the table. And a little bowl of fleur de sel. And the chocolate had to be tasted.

It was one of those moments, as I ripped through the crackly crust of the bread and dipped it straight into the pot of chocolate, then sprinkled it with crunchy salt. One of those moments when it all just comes together, and it's just so perfect, without trying. It was suddenly so obvious: who needed cupcakes when there's baguette and salt?

I spooned a good quanity onto a little plate and spent some quiet moments swiping the chocolate around with chunks of bread, savoring the rich chocolate and the suprising saltiness every once in a while as one of the little crystals swept across my tongue.

It was lovely.

Like a classy nutella, the whole experience reminded me of something a glamorous French housewife would have put together for her kids when they got out of school. She would be wearing red heels and would be perfectly pristine as she prepared the chocolate. And when the children came tearing in the house she would remain serene, kissing each child on the forehead as they sat at the table, saying quietly to each, Ma cherie...

Now there is a big bowl of chocolate ganache on my stove - I'm planning on putting the rest, if anything remains after the afternoon, in a little jar in the fridge for tomorrow breakfast, or lunch, or both.

That Chocolate Frosting
from The Essence of Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
5 ounces 99% unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into smallish pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan combine sugar and cream and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking every once in a while. Reduce heat and simmer for six minutes. Add chocolate and butter and whisk till smooth. Stir in vanilla. Let it cool, or don't. Attack with crusty bread.

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