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Chocolate: A Valentine's Day to Remember
I've had a multitude of chocolate "cigars" over the years. From the mass-produced, pre-packaged ones made with confectioners' coating to a fabulous version at the Les Dames d'Escoffier Grand Dame Award Gala in Los Angeles in October, 1997. I've tried to emulate what Michel Richard accomplished with his chocolate cigars and think I've gotten it right. Before we go into this rather time consuming version, let me give you a couple of other easier cigar ideas.
If you can find plastic candy molds in the shape of a cigar, why not mold a chocolate cigar out of his (or her) favorite type of chocolate and a surprise ingredient? If he or she is a honey roasted peanut lover, chop a few and add to the melted chocolate before molding. If the object of your affections is a coffee fanatic, add a few roasted coffee beans to the chocolate for a crunchy surprise. To make much more "luscious" cigars, place a cooled firm chocolate cigar half onto the top of a filled cavity before the chocolate in the cavity has had a chance to harder. It makes a more 3D version of the usual flat-sided chocolate cigar.
Make your favorite truffle recipe but instead of making the truffles in the classic ball shape make them in a cigar shape. The easiest way to do this is to spread the soft truffle mixture in a parchment or wax-paper lined jelly roll pan to harden in a 1/2" layer. When hardened, you can cut them in strips to the desired length and roll gently into a cigar shape and cover with cocoa powder. If you are really ambitious, you can coat them in chocolate and then roll in cocoa for a crispy crust to the cigar.
Now for my version of very scrumptous chocolate cigars. Be aware that these are supposed to be big "3 Stooges" type cigars. You can achieve a very elegant presentation after dinner or in a gift box if you use a 1/2" gold ribbon as the ring around the cigar and seal it with a "blop" of sealing wax.
We start these cigars with a rich cake filling. I found the "flourless" chocolate cake recipes the best for flavor and texture. If you have a favorite chocolate cake recipe use it or I have included one below. You bake the cake in a jelly roll pan lined with parchment or wax-paper so you can remove the finished product easily. These type of cakes are very, very tender so you have to cut and handle with care but the result will be worth the trouble. Please read the recipe thoroughly before starting so you understand each step of the process.
1 jelly roll pan of cooled "flourless" or your favorite chocolate cake (see basic recipe to follow)
1 lb your favorite semisweet chocolate melted, tempered and kept slightly
warm (See Lesson #3).
1 cup Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted onto a jelly roll pan
parchment or wax paper
Cut the cake into 1/2 inch stripes with a clean, very sharp knife being careful to not crumble the edge. Cut into the desired length -- I like about 8 inches. Pinch the ends of the cake cigar to resemble a real one.
On a clean counter (try not to use a marble or granite slab as the chocolate will cool too fast) spread about 1/2 cup of the tempered chocolate out in a layer at least the length of your cake cigars and about 4 inches wide.
Carefully roll the cake cigar over the melted chocolate coating the cake finger. We are going to do this three times until the cake cigar is completely coated so don't worry if you miss a spot. What we are hoping to achieve is about 3 layers of chocolate coating instead of just one thick layer. This helps to achieve a more rounded edge and gives you a thin but crisp bite to the finished cigar. Coat all the cake cigars once then set them aside to cool on parchment or wax paper before rolling again in the chocolate. Try to smooth out any bumps or ridges with your finger before the chocolate hardens. Replenish the chocolate on the counter as needed.
I found that about 3 rolls in the chocolate gave me a nice thin coating. If you are finding that the cake is hard to handle, the chocolate seems to hold it together as the coating hardens.
After the last chocolate coating and while the chocolate is still wet, roll the cigar in the sifted cocoa. This seems to give the cigar a very real look and adds another dimension to the taste.
Decorate and give with pleasure.
Basic Flourless Chocolate Cake
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp flavoring or liquor (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Completely line (you can go up over the edge) a 12" x 16" jelly roll pan with parchment or wax paper (I find it easier to get the paper to stay put if I rub a little butter on the pan before placing the paper).
Melt the chocolate over hot, not boiling water, set aside. In a mixing bowl, whip the egg yolks with 1/3 cup sugar until they are lemon colored and thick. Slowly add the melted chocolate and the flavoring if desired. Continue whipping until the ingredients are very well mixed.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. While you continue beating, slowly add the last 1/3 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture making sure that all the egg white is incorporated.
Pour batter into the prepared jelly roll pan, smoothing the top as much as possible. Place pan in the center of the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the cake rest for 5-10 minutes. The cake will fall back to about 1/2 inch in thickness. Remove pan to a wire rack and let cake cool completely before proceeding to the next step. When completely cooled you may want to cut off the hard raised edge of the cake.