Featuring: 2008 James Beard Award Winner Holly Smith, founder and chef of
Our fifth chef confection collaboration was a laid-back pleasure, as ingredients suggested by Chef Smith assembled themselves in unfussy, organic ways. Smith hung out in our kitchen, enthusing and sharing her outlook on food. Her love of artisanal Northern Italian food and support of organic agriculture were apparent in her initial ingredient suggestions and our shared dialogue. From beets to pistachios to Vin Santo wine, each ingredient was delicious and balanced independent of any accompaniment.
Our chocolatier, Becky, prepped candied beets in advance
Idea #1: Pistachios and pink peppercorn. We prepped by creating 3 different pistachio paste options. One was straight pistachio, one with feiulletine, and one mixed with crushed almond brittle. The smooth and velvety pistachio paste with the feiulletine was the winner, and when Holly pressed peppercorns into the top, they really popped! The kitchen brainstormed for a while about possible decoration methods - peppercorns as a decoration, on top of chocolate, or pressed into the praline before the enrobing?Idea #2: Vin Santo Caramel. Vin Santo is a very flavorful style of Italian dessert wine. We reduced it like crazy to round out our buttery caramel. Holly tasted it and immediately called for thyme and a touch of sea salt. The kitchen pulled one of their molds out so that we could pipe the caramel into a hard chocolate shell, and then finely chopped some fresh thyme to include in the mix. Holly was right, with a touch of sea salt, the flavors fused to create the perfect balance of sweet and savory.
Idea #3: Bruti ma Buoni
Literally means “ugly but good”. We loved this idea, and Becky had prepared a sample with hazelnut bits. Holly makes her own at Cafe Juanita that is a bit less crunchy, more nougat-y. She promised a biscuit exchange, and experimentation with these is still in the works. We loved the idea of embedded chunks of these quintessential Italian biscuits in chocolate to create a rich, chewy nougat experience.
Discussion of biscuit merits and thoughtful tasting continued...
Idea #4: Beets, Hazelnut and Marcona
The beautiful beet gelee prepped by Becky spurred an impromptu praline making session. We didn't have marcona almonds, but love Holly's idea to make a praline out of them. On top of the earthy, beety note, a sweeter praline with a touch of house made feiulletine was just the thing.
The hours passed swiftly, but with such delicious results! We will have a wonderfully hard time choosing which direction to take this...
From left: Nathan, Deb, Holly, Becky
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set of photos from our session with Chef Smith on Flickr