01 July 2011

novel nosh - Like Water For Chocolate

So, as you may or may not know, I'm not just an amateur chef, I'm also a librarian.  After graduating college with a degree in literature and art history, I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself.  As the months of post-graduate uncertainty passed, I filled my time with dance parties, hardware stores, coffee, nannying, and trips to the library.  It was those trips to the library that lead me to realize that I could turn my love of literature into a career.  It's still pretty slow going as library jobs seem to be fewer and further between, but I love what I do.  Who wouldn't love being surrounded by books for a few hours a day?  And I work at a school so I get to hang out with students and talk about books for that part of my day... how cool is that?

Well, a little while back (ok, it was all the way back during spring break.  I'm kind of a slacker; sue me) one of my students was talking about a movie she had to watch for Spanish class.  It happened to be Like Water for Chocolate which happens to be one of my favorite books; one that I read for my own high school Spanish class.  When I told her this, she was eager to read the book that she didn't realize the movie was based on, so I lent it to her to read over her Spring Break.  When classes resumed, she excitedly came into the library, eager to talk about the book.  This particular student also happens to share my affinity for delicious and baked treats, so our book discussion quickly led to the recipes in the book.  Now, even though this is one of my favorite books and cooking is one of my favorite hobbies, I've never gotten around to attempting any of the recipes described in the novel.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Like Water for Chocolate, it is the story of a young woman, Tita, who all her life longs to marry Pedro but cannot because of her mother's strict beliefs that the youngest daughter never marry in order to take care of her family as they age.  Instead of expressing her love physically and emotionally, she expresses it through her cooking.  The story of this Mexican family is told through monthly installments of recipes and their preparation that tie into significant events in Tita's life.  It is a really beautiful story of love and loss, family and friends, food and festivity.

While discussing the story and it's culinary elements, I thought that a great addition to to delirious kitchen would be recipes inspired by the books that I read.  And I thought it would be cute if I made it a regular installment with a cute name so I tossed a few around -  dancing around my head were ideas like 'feasting on words' and 'food for thought', but I eventually decided on 'novel nosh'.  And so, that brings us to our first installment of novel nosh - Like Water for Chocolate.  But it would be way too simple to just whip up one of the recipes described in the book (though I do plan on attempting at least one of them in the future, so look out!)  Instead, I looked to my creative side and came up with my own recipe.  

Obviously it had to be something with chocolate.  But what else?  My mind wandered to Mexico and the beautiful blue-green ocean waves that engulf it's coasts.  And then I started thinking about the sun and the creamy, caramel skin described so romantically in Laura Esquivel's book.  Naturally this led me to make an attempt at sea salted caramel brownies.  And trust me when I say there is no better word to use than "attempt" when discussing my culinary escapades this time around.  Here's how it all went down - 

I figured that it would be best to make the salted caramel sauce first.  Now, we all know that I'm a pro at making caramels, but caramel sauce is an entirely different story.  My first try was a total disaster since, as I was trying to get a good shot of the bubbling amber goodness on my crummy old camera, the mix started to smoke and burn.  Though it still tasted like caramel, it had an icky burnt taste that no amount of gooey chocolaty yumminess could conceal.  So, round two!  The sauce came out much better, but a little thinner than I had imagined it.  As I mixed it in with the brownie batter, I began to question my concoction.

mmm smokey burnt caramel

After the caramel catastrophe, I entered into the brownie meltdown.  After an eternity in the oven, they still came out all goopy with edges of burnt caramel that refused to come off of the pyrex pan.  I think there were two main problems - 

     1.  Like I mentioned before, the caramel sauce that I made was a little 
     too runny.  For the second time around, I'd use less water or even none 
     at all.  
     2.  I mixed too much.  When I mixed in the caramel, I was going for 
     a swirl like you see in marble brownies.  Instead, I just piled caramel on 
     top (all of it which, come to think of it, was probably way too much to 
     begin with) and kind of stirred instead of swirled.  Second shot, I'd 
     sandwich the caramel, maybe 2/3 of the sauce, between a couple 
     layers of brownie mix and gently swirl.  

But these mistake brownies weren't a total waste.  They actually are exactly the kind of brownie you would get at the bottom of a warm brownie sundae!  They're just undercooked enough and the caramel makes them extra gooey.  I put them in little tart tins and stuck them in the freezer so that I could heat them up and top them with some vanilla ice cream for a special treat in the (probably very near) future!

That was all last night.  Tonight, I made a second attempt at this sure-to-be-delicious dessert.  With my altered caramel recipe and a new swirling technique to mix the sauce in with the brownie batter, I was prepared.  And success!  The sweet and savory caramel swirl combined with the chocolaty goodness of my fudgey brownies topped with salted pecans made for a dessert that perfectly reflected the dramatic richness of Like Water for Chocolate.  So there you have it, the first installment of novel nosh.  I hope you've enjoyed it because I've got quite a few books on my shelf shouting recipe inspiration at me that I'd love to share with you, dear readers.  

now that's perfectly amber caramel

resist the temptation of gooey brownie batter... 

sea salted caramel sauce
1 c granulated sugar
6 tbsp unsalted butter (room temp)
1 tsp coarse sea salt
2/3 c heavy cream
1. In a heavy sauce pan over a medium high heat, whisk the sugar to melt until it becomes a deep amber color.  The sugar might get a little clumpy but be patient, the clumps will melt away.  As the sugar starts to darken, whisk in the salt.
2. As the sugar/salt combo is darkening, whisk in the butter to melt and remove from heat.
3. Add the heavy cream, whisking it in completely.  The mix will bubble up and might splatter a bit, so be careful.  Remember, hot caramel is like molten lava.  Remove caramel to a small bowl and let cool for at least 30 minutes before mixing in with brownie batter.  
* you won't use all of the caramel syrup for the brownies, so put the leftovers in a small container and refrigerate to use as an ice cream topping or apple dipping sauce.  yum! 

sea salted caramel swirl brownies
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
5 oz semi-sweet chocolate
3 tbsp cocoa powder
8 tbsp unsalted butter (room temp)
3 eggs
2 tsp bourbon vanilla
1 1/4 sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 c flour, unsifted
sea salted caramel sauce
1/2 c chopped pecans
finely ground sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small sauce pan, on a low heat, melt butter and chocolates.  Do not cook, just let it melt.  When chocolate and butter are melted into a thick sauce, whisk in cocoa powder and let cool.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla, salt, and sugar until well combined.  Stir in chocolate sauce until combined.  Add flour and mix well so that there are no lumps.
3. Pour half of the brownie mix into a greased 8x8 pan.  On top of that, scoop 6-9 spoonfuls (or as my mom would call them, dollops) of sea salted caramel sauce.  Pour the remainder of the brownie mix on top of the caramel.  With a dull knife, very gently swirl the brownie batter and the caramel but do not mix.  Just swirl.
4. Top the prepared brownies with chopped pecans, a few pinches of sea salt, and an extra drizzle of caramel sauce.  Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  (I think my oven may be a little off because it took almost an hour for these brownies to cook completely and this recipe has never taken so long.  Just keep an eye on them and check relatively frequently so that the caramel doesn't burn.)
5.  Let cool for at least an hour before cutting into 9-16 brownie squares, depending on how gluttonous you want to be.  Enjoy!

como agua para chocolate

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