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back on track

Recipe: mendiants

At the start of the summer I had grand plans to resume long trail runs, big hikes, and backpacking with Neva while exploring new wildernesses. Then we got a puppy. And while Yuki is an exceptional dog, puppy training can derail some (or all) of those big summertime adventures. The incessant smoke from western wildfires didn’t help either. As September neared, my oncologist said I could stop my tamoxifen (estrogen modulator), which I had been taking daily for a decade to prevent a recurrence of breast cancer. That was great news! Except I think it left me feeling tired. In the last month, I’ve finally begun to pull myself out of this funk that slowly crept in and took over my life. Part of that process involved long overdue household upgrades, massive cleaning, and also important life updates – like who will take Yuki and Neva if we both die? Folks, make sure you have a will and make sure it is up to date! Another part was putting my physical and mental health ahead of things like social engagements, social media, other people’s drama, or this blog. The older I get, the more I value my time and what I do with it.

quality time outside with a good friend and good pups

Before we get to the super fast, super easy, super awesome recipe, I need to share Maggie’s story in the hopes that someone out there will see her and realize that their life will be incomplete without this sweet girl. Maggie was surrendered this summer to RezDawg Rescue (the wonderful organization that rescued our beloved Yuki). She was terribly malnourished and neglected. Under the care of her foster family, she has returned to a healthy weight and her beautiful coat is growing back. Despite what she’s been through, she has a lot of love to give. Maggie is a smart and gentle 5-6 year old yellow lab mix who is looking for her forever family and is available for adoption now. Believe me, if we could handle a third dog, she would be my girl. If you or someone you know is interested in providing Maggie with the loving and caring home she deserves, you can apply to adopt at this link: She is currently being fostered in Longmont, Colorado. You don’t have to live in Colorado to adopt Maggie!

maggie is on santa’s nice list

This year’s cookie list is shorter than last year’s list for the sake of my sanity. One of the simplest and most popular sweets I distributed last year were mendiants, which I learned to make 11 years ago in my advanced pastry skills program. Traditionally, these one- or two-bite French confections are disks of dark chocolate studded with dried fruits and nuts. They are crazy easy to make if you merely melt the chocolate without bothering to temper, but tempering the chocolate gives the final product a shiny finish, that distinctive snap, and a longer shelf life. I had a lot of fun thinking up flavor, texture, and visual combinations.

dark chocolate, candied kumquats, hazelnuts, dried apricots, chopped raw pistachios, toasted coconut flakes, pulverized freeze-dried raspberries, cocoa nibs, candied ginger, dried organic rose buds, flake sea salt, almonds, dried cranberries

If you opt to melt your chocolate, do it gently over a water bath or at half power in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring between each zap session. If you decide to temper the chocolate, you can see how I go about the seed method. You’re not limited to dark chocolate. Milk chocolate and white chocolate are a little finicky compared to dark chocolate due to the milk solids and cocoa butter content. They tend to burn more easily and temper at a lower temperature, so you’ll have to be more vigilant.

seeding the melted chocolate

Once the chocolate is in temper, I fill a squeeze bottle with some of the chocolate (I keep the rest in a water bath held at the temperature which keeps the chocolate in temper) and start squeezing out little disks of chocolate onto parchment paper or a silpat mat. If you don’t have a squeeze bottle or piping bag, you could use a measuring cup with a spout. I make the rounds about 1.5-inches in diameter when at maximum spread. It’s important to leave enough space between the disks to keep the edges clean and distinct. If you are a solo operation, you’ll want to pipe about 12 rounds at a time, then sprinkle them with toppings while the chocolate is still wet so they stick, then resume in batches. If you have an assistant, one person can pipe the disks while the other follows with the toppings. Be aware that if you work slowly, your tip may clog with cooled chocolate.

piping the chocolate disks

topped with candied kumquats and crystallized ginger

Jeremy and I played around with different combinations to see which ones tasted the best. Pistachio, rose, cranberry, and sea salt is the prettiest combination. Almond, toasted coconut, and sea salt is reminiscent of an Almond Joy candy. I found ginger and candied kumquat to be bright and refreshing. Hazelnut and dried apricot tasted of autumn, and the freeze-dried raspberry with cocoa nibs paired zippy, tart fruit with earthy, mellow sweetness. It was hard to pick a favorite, so everyone got one of each. Pro-tip: If you happen to have hot hands (which I do), you can use a clean cloth glove to handle the chocolates and avoid leaving your finger prints or smudges on the shiny surfaces.

let cool completely

ready to pack for distribution

Some folks don’t think it’s worth the trouble to temper the chocolate for a mendiant, but I think it is traditional to do so. It results in a superior confection and is the mark of a good candy maker. Since chocolate is the dominant ingredient, I suggest using a good quality chocolate and tempering to elevate it to rock star status. These make fantastic gifts or holiday nibbles.

one of each

a little fruity, a little nutty

[print recipe]

dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate*

*You can melt any amount of chocolate, but to temper the chocolate, it’s going to be easiest to work with a minimum of 1 pound of chocolate.

dried fruits (apricots, cranberries, currants, berries, figs, etc.)
candied fruits (kumquat slices, ginger, lemon peel, orange peel, mango, etc.)
toasted coconut flakes, dried edible rose petals
candied edible flowers (violets, rose, etc.)
cocoa nibs
flake sea salt
nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, etc.)
freeze-dried fruit (strawberries, raspberries, etc.)

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat liner. Melt or temper your chocolate to the appropriate temperature (see notes below). Drop about 1 tablespoon of chocolate at a time to create a 1.5-inch disk on the parchment or silpat, leaving enough room for the disks to spread without touching their neighbors. I like to use an icing bag or piping bottle, but if the chocolate cools, it will plug up the vessel. Create 12 at a time, then place your toppings in the center of each disk while the chocolate is still wet, so they stick. Don’t overcrowd the mendiants with too much stuff. Repeat until the chocolate runs out or until you have as many as you want. Or if you have an assistant, one person can lay down the chocolate disks while the other follows with the toppings (this is probably ideal). Allow the disks to cool completely.

Tempering dark chocolate: For the seed method of tempering, place all but 10 chocolate chips or chocolate pieces in the top of a double boiler or in a large heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water (about 2 inches deep). Make sure the bowl is wider than the pan because you don’t want water getting into the chocolate or all of it will seize. Stir until the chocolate has melted completely, monitoring the temperature of the chocolate. When it reaches 112°F, remove the bowl from the water bath (it will continue to rise – that’s fine because we are targeting a final temperature of 118-120°F) and set it on an ice pack or a larger bowl of ice to start cooling it. Stir the chocolate constantly to promote proper cocoa butter crystal formation for tempering. Continue to monitor the temperature. When the chocolate reaches 95°F, remove the bowl from the ice pack or ice bath and toss in the chocolate chips. This is called seeding and should encourage the formation of good crystals for tempering. Keep stirring until the chocolate reaches 91°F. Secure the bowl of tempered chocolate to the side of the sous vide tub, making sure the chocolate in the bowl is below the water level outside of the bowl.

To temper milk or white chocolate: Follow the directions above for dark chocolate except milk and white chocolates should target a high temperature of 116-118°F (remove from hot water bath at 110°F), seeding at 95°F and perhaps again at 90°F, and they are in temper between 85 and 87°F. You must use high quality white chocolate – any white chocolate that uses palm kernel oil or coconut oil won’t temper (it will separate and be unusable).

more goodness from the use real butter archives

huckleberry pistachio chocolate bar chocolate truffles candied orange peels homemade almond joy candy

5 nibbles at “back on track”

  1. Trolleira says:

    I´m jumping up and down with cheering and happiness for you – off of Tamoxifen! Yeah!! Another step towards freedom! I am so so happy for you!

  2. Lisa says:

    Yay for no more Tamoxifen!

    I happen to have lots of good chocolate here that was going to get incorporated into something else, but I think I will try to make some of these too.

  3. Kristin says:

    Congrats on no more Tamoxifen! Your mendiants are like jewels. We have some leftover candied orange peel hanging around, and this would be a good use if we don’t use it all up in scones. Although I just realized I forgot to get our daughter a chocolate orange for her stocking, so maybe I should get some chocolate melting!

  4. Molly Iris says:

    Just made these tonight – my first time tempering chocolate and all seemed to go well! They came out snappy and lovely. Toppings included different mishmashes of marcona almonds, some very dear Sicilian pistachios, rose petals, cocoa nibs, candied ginger, chewy dried strawberries, dried apricot, toasted coconut flakes, sea salt…. all good things. Now to hope they make it to x-mas without all getting eaten up ;) Thank you for great inspiration!!

  5. jenyu says:

    Trolleira – Thank you, dear! <3

    Lisa - Thanks! And I hope you liked the mendiants! :)

    Kristin - Thank you! Mendiants are a nice way to showcase simple, but lovely flavors. I think they make themselves pretty :)

    Molly - Ohh! Sounds so lovely and congratulations on getting it just right! Tempering chocolate can be a finicky business, so you are pretty much a rock star tempering on your first try! xo

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