Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cookistry Cooks Books: Sugarbaby

This post is a testament to how far you can mess up a recipe, and still come out with something edible - and even good - at the far end. Maybe it's that good of a recipe, or maybe it's just dumb luck on my part.

I know what went wrong, and I know why I screwed up. And yes, those are two different things.

The why is because I was distracted. You see, I'd just read a blogger grousing about how a PR rep didn't treat her with the respect she was due. Because, yanno, she's a blogger.

Sigh. Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale.

These days, saying you're a blogger is like saying you're a bipedal carbon-based life form. Anyone can have a blog. It's not like there's a test. Yes, there are good blogs and great bloggers, but saying that you're important simply because you're a blogger is just a little silly.

As far as PR people, they may not treat bloggers with the same respect they give to traditional press because some bloggers don't treat themselves with respect. Do you realize how hard it is for PR companies to get anything published in traditional media?

Do you realize how easy it is to get PR information published on some blogs? Often, it just has to involve giving something to a blogger (ooh, a sample of lint! I can write about that!!! SQUEEEE!)

Deep sigh.

Traditional media treats PR people with a healthy dose of skepticism. The media folks sift the news out of the advertising-like content in press releases, they publish what they think is newsworthy, and they dump the puffery in the trash.

On the other hand, bloggers welcome PR folks with very open arms. Bloggers aren't usually interested in hard news, which is fine, but it makes them vulnerable to the lure of free samples and the accompanying media kits.

Now, I'm not saying that bloggers shouldn't accept samples for review. Reviewing is legitimate journalism. The problem is when the articles are not reviews but are actually closer to advertisements for the products.

And I've got nothing against bloggers who participate in blog contests and events. Being paid for writing about a product is great, too. The problem is when the line is blurred between reviewing something and being paid to write about it. If the blogger is clear about the intentions, then it's not a problem. When it's a mash of review and paid writing, it's a mess.

Savvy PR folks know that many bloggers will not say negative things about free products, because those bloggers don't want to strangle the golden goose. Instead, those bloggers will write nice things - gushy gooey nice things - about the free products. Despite some pretty clear FTC rules.

That explains why some PR people might not treat bloggers with as much respect as, say, a writer for the NY Times. So, when a blogger notices that lack of respect, should the blogger then write, in detail, about the terrible injustice at the media-only event?

I mean, writing about a product event is not the same as a review of the product. No, it's a review of the event that showcased the product. If you're buying a box of soap, do you care if a publicity event had a few snags? No, you want to know if the soap will get your clothes or your dishes or your grubby children clean.

Or maybe readers are interested in the "inside gossip" about the world of media events. I mean, I read the post, didn't I?

And if some bloggers are happy when they're posting glowing reviews about products they don't actually like just so they can get the same freebies to give to their readers, that's up to them. The truth is that giveaways draw visitors. Those blogs will be popular, no matter what's written.

It's a big internet. There's room for a whole lot of different blogs.

So I shook off my grumpiness. It's all good.

Meanwhile, as all those thoughts rambled through my brain, I (sort of) screwed up this lovely recipe.

Dark Chocolate Mousse
Adapted from Sugarbaby by Gesine Bullock-Prado

1 cup unsalted butter
8 eggs, separated
4 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 pound bittersweet chocolate pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt

Note: I halved this recipe when I made it, but these amounts are the original. Halving wasn't my problem. That comes later.

Melt the butter in a saucepan or in the microwave, but don't let it brown. Transfer the butter to a large metal bowl, and place the bowl over a pot of simmering water. Attach a candy themometer and have a whisk glued to one hand. Or, have it nearby.

Add the egg yolks, 2 cups of cream, 1/4 cup of sugar, and vanilla extract. Whisk like mad until the custard thickens to the point where it coats the back of a spoon. Make sure the temperature has risen past 160 degrees. (It will, and probably well before it even starts to thicken. The thermometer might be overkill here, but do as you will.)

Take the custard off the heat and immediately add the chocolate pieces, making sure the custard coats all the chocolate. (Note to self: next time make sure the pot holders are nearby, because otherwise you have to stop whisking while you're looking around frantically for the potholders to grab the hot bowl. Taking the pot off the heat is somewhat helpful, but that water underneath is still simmering.)

If you're going to bother making this, do yourself a favor and use good chocolate. One that you like. One that's got a lot of flavor. Because, really, that's what you're going to taste. There's no sense going through all these steps if you're going to end up with something that tastes like sad chocolate. Splurge. Get the good stuff.

Let the chocolate rest a moment in the hot liquid, then stir with a clean whisk or spoon until it's completely incorporated. If there are chunks of chocolate left that refuse to melt, put the mixture on top of the simmering water again and stir until the chocolate is melted.

At this point, my chocolate looks a little not-smooth, like it has started to seize. Sigh. But I remember something I saw on TV, and I figure it's worth trying to save the chocolate, so I whisk like mad and add in more cream. By some miracle it smooths out. Crisis averted. So far. More to come, though.

Make sure the bowl of your stand mixer is clean - any bit of oil will foil this next step. Put the egg whites, the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and the salt in the bowl and put the bowl on top of your simmering water. Make sure the candy thermometer is thoroughly clean and free of oil, egg yolks, or chocolate, and attach it to the side of the bowl (or better yet, have it attached before you begin).

With a clean whisk, whisk the egg whites until the sugar is melted and the mixture reaches 160 degrees. (THIS is where I went wrong, but I didn't realize the problem until later. Carry on ...)

Immediately transfer the bowl to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk and beat the heck out of it on high until you have soft peaks. It should be soft and shiny, not dry-looking. (So far, I'm thinking this is going swimmingly. Ha ha.)

With a rubber spatula, transfer about 1/4 of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and stir to combine the two. It doesn't matter that you're knocking the air out of it, but what does matter is that I'm seeing lumpy flecks of white in the chocolate. Hmmmm....

Transfer the rest of the whites to the chocolate and fold it gently into the custard and oh hell, this is when I realize what's gone wrong. I overcooked the whites and I've got bits of scrambled egg white in my proto-mousse.

If you haven't screwed up like I did, gently fold the whites into the chocolate. It's fine if there are some streaks left. You just don't want to deflate the whites too much.

I pondered throwing the whole thing in the trash, but I didn't want to waste all that good chocolate. So, the heck with the air bubbles, I strained the whole mess through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the clumps. Sheesh. I had no idea if this was salvageable as a mousse, but I tasted it, and it was pretty darned good.

Set the mixture aside. Okay, I can do that without harming anything further.

Clean the mixer bowl and whisk and put the cream in the bowl. Whisk until it's very stiff, then fold it into the custard mixture. Distribute the mixture into 8 serving bowls and chill at least 4 hours before serving.

Or, at least that's what you're supposed to do. 

When I tried to fold the thick cream into my chocolate mess, the cream was way too thick and the chocolate was too thin because it didn't have any air from the whites. Frustrated, I dumped the chocolate into the mixer and beat it until it was mixed. Whatever. Done. Over. I transferred the ... whatever ... into a single storage container to chill. I figured that as best it would be a pudding. I could live with that. If it didn't set enough to be pudding, I planned on churning it into ice cream. Because no matter what, all the bowl-, whisk- and spatula-licking told me that this was going to taste pretty good.

And then the miracle happened. I went to inspect the ... stuff ... after about an hour to see if it had begun to set like a pudding, and when I peeled the top off, it had a fluffy texture, sort of ... well ... mousse-like rather than pudding like.

Whoa. That was a surprise. After it was completely chilled, it actually was actually very mousse-like, and when I scooped it with an ice cream scoop, it made a nice presentation. Like not-frozen chocolate ice cream, sort of. And even though I did all that overcooking and straining, the flavor was pretty darned good.

Just imagine how good this would have been if I hadn't messed it up. I bet you'll do better, though, right?

Disclaimer: I got this book as a review copy from the publisher, but that didn't affect my honest screwing-up of this recipe. I actually quite like the book and look forward to making more recipes from it when I'm in a less fuddled state of mind.

PR People: Sure, I might want to review your product, but you will get an honest review. If that doesn't scare you, feel free to contact me.
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