I could envision…almost taste…the dessert as I drove back from work last Tuesday. It was just an idea, one of those culinary day dreams I typically sink into whenever my mind has the luxury of wandering at will. It sounded so perfect, every element going in to create an explosive combination. It would have the crunch of the biscuits, the crackle of the cooled sugar drizzle, and the supple touch of my chocolate ganache layer – with butter, chocolate, sugar and orange rind coming together to form a simple, but classic time-tested combination. I couldn’t help but grin with satisfaction as I pulled into the garage…this would be such a breeze to whip up for Sally‘s afternoon gingerbread party that I’d be attending on Friday, yet SUCH a killer combination. Pure genius.
Or more importantly, what was the moral of the story? What was that one unifying theme that ties together all the flaws of my (brilliant) dessert concept into a simple, coherent lesson? The moral is critical to reconciliation, critical to that cathartic moment that I should have had after shoving close to 400g of dark chocolate, 500g of melted caster sugar and 20 digestive biscuits down the trash chute.
After giving it some thought this week (once the initial shock of nearly burning down the kitchen had receeded) I came up with the following potential options for morals of my twisted dessert tale:
The Botched Biscuit Bar Story
Story: I began building my dessert in layers, with a layer of spiced dark chocolate ganache (cooled and set in the refrigerator), crumbly digestive biscuits, caster sugar that had been melted and mixed with freshly grated orange rind, and then another layer of chocolate ganache to seal the deal. Left it to freeze overnight, so that I could cut it up into mini bars that would be drizzled with an artistic rind-spiked melted sugar flourish the next evening.
Ending: My digestive biscuits, hammered and crushed with a rolling pin, had failed to coalesce into a perfect, sliceable crust. When I tried to cut up the mini bars, the digestive biscuit layer caved in and was impossible to cut through in any manner that looked less than barbaric.
Even my artistic melted sugar flourish wouldn’t be able to save these nasties.
Moral: If you’ve shattered something to bits, don’t expect it to magically stand up together for you again. (I know what you’re thinking…no, not even if you mix it up with chunks of butter. Been there, done that.)
The Trash to Truffles Story (sequel to the Botched Biscuit Bar story)
Story: When faced with chocolate, biscuit and crackly sugar debris in place of my envisioned beauteous dessert bars, I decided to do the only respectable thing one could do with a gloop of spiced dark chocolate: roll it up into truffles and dust them with cocoa powder. That seemed like a pretty neat – even sophisticated – idea…dark chocolate truffles with the crunch of digestive biscuits and citrus melted sugar at the core.
Ending: I popped one of the gloop-reincarnated-as-a-truffle in my mouth, and it tasted like…well, like regular melted dark chocolate, with a faint, almost imperceptible murmur of a crunch somewhere in the background. Since there had been two layers of chocolate ganache to one layer of digestive biscuit crumb and barely a drizzle of orange sugar lashed in between, the chocolate overpowered everything else when rolled up into a ball. My truffles had the markings of a failed crime scene cover-up, which any discerning palate (which I can safely say, every foodie and blogger attending Sally’s gingerbread party could attest to owning) would be able to detect and catch me out red-handed.
The Twice Bitten, Third Still Presumptuous Story
Story: With two major failures behind me, I was still determined to try salvaging my dessert. The goal was to differentiate my truffles away from being melted chocolate clichés by reinfusing some of the citrus sugar crackle that I’d originally intended my creation to have. Solution: Dip each truffle into a boiling pot of melting sugar stirred with fresh orange rind. The sugar would then harden into a sweet crust that would crack open in your mouth to reveal a semi-molten chocolate truffle.
Ending: Where do I begin…the truffles melted into unsightly shapes the second I dipped them into the pot of simmering sugar (obviously. what was I thinking.) The melting sugar got contaminated with melted chocolate, and quickly lost its perfect streaming consistency. As I tried to keep the melted sugar in liquid form – low burner, then water bath, then low burner again after I clumsily tipped the pot of melted sugar into the water bath – the liquid sugar quickly crossed the optimal temperature, bubbled up and got burned. Thick and burned sugar that congealed on the unshapely truffles and had to be gnawed at to get to the melted chocolate truffles within. The total antithesis of the sugary crack! and chocolate gush experience that I had planned for only minutes earlier.
The I Told You So Story
Story: As a last recourse (and because I hadn’t yet arrived at the morals of the previous three stories), I decided to try melting one last batch of sugar, and trace it into sugar baskets like the kind my mother used to make for us years ago. (Please note: By now, my original dessert concept had been completely stabbed to death and buried. I was resorting to copying/pasting a well-tried recipe that didn’t have my ingenuity scrawled all over it.)
Me: Mom, remember those sugar baskets you used to make back in the day? The ones where you’d trace lacy melted sugar designs on an orange, and then remove it off the orange once it had hardened into a pretty little sugar basket?
Mom: Yes, but it’s 10pm now. I’ll show you how to do them tomorrow.
[Me (thinking): I’ll just attempt to do it now myself, how hard can it be?]
Ending: I ended up tracing the pretty sugary designs not just on the chosen orange, but also on my thumb and fist, promptly scorching the skin right off my hands. And as the final act of dessert doom, the pot of sugar subsequently erupted into flames and put an end to anything edible that could have emerged from the kitchen that night. [As I watched the flames, two thoughts immediately popped up in my mind: (a) I should really put this fire out before my folks wake up and see smoke. (b) I should totally get a picture of this first…where’s the Canon? In that split second, I sagely went with option (b)]
Moral: Don’t play with melted sugar, especially not if mom told you so. Disobey, and thou shalt get burned. And no cool pack or tub of aloe vera shalt heal the pain.What moral should I take away from all this? Any of the four above? Any overarching ‘meta’ theme that encompasses them all? I’ve contemplated this long and hard this week, and I’m still struggling to pin one down. Though on a related note, on my drive back home from work today, I had the sudden glimmer of an idea…what if I’d done everything – crushed buttery digestive biscuits, melted sugar drizzle laced with orange rind, smooth layer of dark chocolate ganache – in individual shot glasses? Not bars, but little shots of the textures and flavours I was looking to combine? That would totally get around having to cut through the layers, and would be such a breeze to whip up. Pure genius I say, I couldn’t help but grin as I pulled up into the garage…