When I applied to college, I wrote my essay about cooking. I titled it "Imagining Alchemy."
Alchemy, because I found cooking to be almost magical; imagined, because I did very little cooking outside of my daydreams. I wrote about my desire to cook: the fact that I'd spent much of my childhood leafing longingly through cookbooks, that I eagerly awaited the arrival of the far-off day when I'd be out of my parents' kitchen (the one in which I could barely fry an egg and use the toaster without permission) and in a space of my own. I wrote about dishes I'd never made and processes I'd only ever tested in my mind. My essay was dreamy and wistful, and by rights, I should have had a good-natured chuckle at my naivete upon re-reading it eight years later.
The funny thing is, I didn't. Though most of the predictions I made during senior year of high school about college and my future in general were completely off the mark (I didn't study psychology, and I didn't take a single class in the English department, let alone declare the major), the sentiment of that essay has held true.
I still like the word sabayon (and its Italian equivalent, zabaglione.) The process of baking bread still fascinates me. I've learned more about the tedious, dirty and exhausting parts of cooking, but the activity hasn't lost its charm. I know it doesn't usually play out this way, but for once, reality doesn't pale in comparison to daydreams.
Now that I have kitchen space of my own, I can devise multi-part, multi-step recipes building on all the untried dishes I thought about years ago. I can learn about caramelized white chocolate, and I no longer have to content myself with merely reading through the steps.
I can steal spoonfuls of the mixture as it cools - sweet and toffee-like, with a browned-butter edge - and wonder about what I might use it in, what other flavors I might combine it with.
A sauce, something very simple, just the white chocolate thinned out with heavy cream. Use it to dress an ultra-dark, bitter flourless chocolate torte. Accent with raspberry - no, citrus. Citrus peel, for its floral, bitter note, the one that plays off the fruity quality of dark chocolate. Serve with orange liqueur-spiked whipped cream to cut the richness.
I can candy kumquats (and forget to take photos of the process - oops. Wikimedia Commons to the rescue!)
I can sketch out exactly how I'd present such a dessert. (Even if my drawing skills leave something to be desired.)
I can determine the exact cocoa content I want in the chocolate for the flourless torte. (Seventy and eighty-five percent, in equal parts.)
And on a quiet weekend morning, I can put all the pieces together.
Imagining alchemy may be lovely, but the reality is much, much better.
Bitter Flourless Chocolate Torte with Caramelized White Chocolate Sauce, Candied Kumquat, and Orange Whipped Cream
I will freely admit that this is probably one of the most finicky recipes I've ever devised. It's not a terribly difficult recipe, but the whole thing takes a week from start to finish, and some of the steps are time-consuming and rather fiddly. I wouldn't hold it against you if you skipped the kumquats - you could probably substitute a spoonful of decent-quality marmalade without too much drama.
(Serves six to eight, depending how thickly you slice the torte. It's very rich, though, so a little goes a long way.)
For the candied kumquat peel:
Start preparing the candied kumquat peel a week before you plan to serve the finished dish. You'll have more than you need for this recipe, but the leftovers will keep for weeks in the fridge. (They can be added to baked goods, or used to garnish other desserts.)
Take eight ounces of kumquats, and clean and dry them well. Place in a large glass jar or a small, deep bowl.
In a small saucepan, combine seven ounces sugar with seven ounces water, Bring to a boil and cook for two minutes. Pour the hot syrup over the kumquats. Cover with a round of parchment paper, and place a can or other heavy object on top to keep the kumquats submerged. Allow to sit until fully cool.
Transfer the kumquats and syrup to a glass container with lid. Place in fridge; leave for four days. After four days, remove the kumquats from the syrup. Cut each fruit in half and scoop out the pulp (it should come out cleanly.) Cut each peel into strips.
Preheat oven to 120C. Place the strips on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for one hour; allow to cool. Place the kumquat peel back in the syrup. Return to fridge for two more days.
To prepare for serving, take a spoonful of kumquat peel and place in a saucepan with a little water. Simmer 1 min. Allow to cool, then drain well and cut the peel into fine slivers.
For the caramelized white chocolate:
(follow link to David Lebowitz' blog for detailed instructions)
Preheat oven to 250F.
Take twelve ounces of good-quality white chocolate, cut into rough chunks, and place them on a rimmed baking sheet. (Line with parchment paper for easy cleanup, if you like.)
Place the baking sheet in the oven. After ten minutes, smooth out the chocolate with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Bake for thirty to sixty minutes, stirring at ten-minute intervals, until the chocolate is a deep shade of golden brown. Season with a pinch of salt.
Transfer to a jar with lid. Allow to cool completely before sealing. Store at room temperature.
For the flourless chocolate torte:
Make the torte the day before you plan to serve the finished dish.
Preheat oven to 400F. Line a 3.5 x7 inch baking tin with parchment paper.
In a bowl set over simmering water, melt together half a stick of butter (two ounces), two ounces finely chopped seventy-percent dark chocolate and two ounces finely chopped eighty-five percent dark chocolate. Remove from heat; set aside.
Crack two eggs into a second bowl and place over simmering water. Beat until eggs are pale and tripled in volume. Fold half the mixture into the melted chocolate, then the remaining half. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin.
Set the tin in a larger baking dish, and fill the larger baking dish with water until it comes about halfway up the tin. Transfer the dish to the oven.
Bake for nine minutes uncovered, then cover with tinfoil and bake for an additional three minutes. Allow to cool completely before refrigerating overnight.
For the caramelized white chocolate sauce:
Make this an hour before serving.
Gently heat a quarter-cup of heavy cream, and pour it over two ounces of chopped caramelized white chocolate. Stir until the mixture is smooth and even; chill.
For the orange whipped cream:
Make this shortly before serving.
Whip half a cup of heavy cream with a tablespoon of sugar and a few drops of Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur - just enough to flavor it lightly.
To assemble the whole affair:
Unmold the torte by using the parchment paper to lift it out of the tin. Cut the torte into slices, and allow them to come to room temperature, or microwave very briefly, on very low heat, until just barely warm.
Drizzle sauce on serving plates in a decorative pattern. Arrange torte slices on serving plates. Top with whipped cream, and garnish with kumquat zest. Serve with remaining whipped cream and extra kumquat on the side.