dark chocolate pumpkin and almond truffles with sea salt and black pepper

dark chocolate pumpkin and almond truffles with sea salt and black pepper |A Brown Table

I'm an accidentally messy person in the kitchen! Even with the best of intentions and precautionary setups, I fail because I am clumsy at times. There are times when I try to make clean moves with a lot of effort but end up tackling something else and things spill. On other occasions, it might not be me but it might be my environment. All of this somehow gets even more amplified when I work with chocolate and cocoa. Melted chocolate goes all over the kitchen walls and cocoa powder dust is all over the counter top. Be warned chocolate truffle making is messy but the rewards are well worth the effort and cleanup. And if you make 3 dozen like I did, you could probably reward yourself with one after every little spot you discover!

dark chocolate pumpkin and almond truffles with sea salt and black pepper |A Brown Tabledark chocolate pumpkin and almond truffles with sea salt and black pepper |A Brown Tabledark chocolate pumpkin and almond truffles with sea salt and black pepper |A Brown Table

Happy Hallowed Halloween! No costumes for me this year but I plan to make up for it with some homemade truffles. I've always thought of truffles as the confectioner's tool when it comes to invoking mysterious moods and dark chocolate is probably one of the best ingredients that conveys this sentiment with perfection. You might never know what is inside a box of assorted truffles and even if you do, you're still eager to bite through the layer of dark goodness just to taste what's inside. 

Though the filling inside these dark little bundles might not be a mystery there are different types and levels of flavors that you will experience when you taste them. You'll first taste the salt and pepper, followed by the intense dark chocolate layer and then the mild sweetness of pumpkin and almond. With so many fun and complex flavors, these might just be the best little adult treat for Halloween!

dark chocolate pumpkin and almond truffles with sea salt and black pepper |A Brown Tabledark chocolate pumpkin and almond truffles with sea salt and black pepper |A Brown Tabledark chocolate pumpkin and almond truffles with sea salt and black pepper |A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find helpful while making truffles;

  • I recommend making the filling larger, perhaps 3/4 of an inch in height. I found that 1/2 inch makes way too many. Too many is a good then when you want to eat but when working with warm chocolate and frozen truffle filling, you want to move as quickly as possible. 
  • You can use either almond or cashew flour in the filling, almond has a less pronounced taste than cashews and doesn't take away from the pumpkin flavor.
  • Keep the melted chocolate on a pan of warm water but make sure it is not hot, or the chocolate can dry out if overheated. If that does happen, you might need to add a little more melted chocolate to get things silky smooth again. Do not add water or the chocolate will seize.
  • Once you remove the frozen filling, keep them cold. You can keep the tray over a pan filled with ice cold water or even freezer bags to maintain the cool temperature. 
  • The sea salt crystals and black pepper are optional. I didn't have Maldon salt flakes at home so I used some sea-salt crystals, they worked well for me, you don't need too much of either ingredient, just a little hint goes a long way. 
  • I found the bamboo skewers to work great for the dipping the filling mounds into the hot chocolate. If you do decide to make the mounds larger than I made them, then you can use your hands to dip. Since the mounds are frozen the chocolate will harden quickly so work as fast as possible.
  • Use a good quality dark chocolate, I used Guittard's 63% extra dark cacao chips. 
dark chocolate pumpkin and almond truffles with sea salt and black pepper |A Brown Table

dark chocolate pumpkin truffles with sea salt and black pepper

yields: about 3 dozen mini truffles (1/2 inch tall)

ingredients

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 cup (8 ounces) unsweetened pumpkin purée

1 cup (3 ounces) almond flour 

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2-3 tablespoons brown sugar

8 ounces dark chocolate semisweet or bittersweet chips (I used 63% cacao chips from Guittard)

1 - 1 1/2 tablespoon sea salt crystals (you won't use it all) (Maldon sea salt flakes would be perfect here)

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1. In a small thick-bottomed saucepan, heat the coconut oil on a medium-low flame. Add the pumpkin purée, almond flour, salt and sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon and cook for about 5 - 7 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated (The cooking time here will vary depending on the amount of liquid in the purée).  Remove the mixture from the stove and allow to cool.

2. There are two different ways to create the filling for the truffles. You can scoop the pumpkin-almond mixture using a melon ball or a small ice cream scoop or alternatively, do what I did. Transfer the pumpkin filling to a clean icing bag or a icing syringe fitted with a 1/2 inch plain pastry tube. Scoop or pipe out the filling onto a baking tray/sheet lined with parchment paper into 1/2 inch high mounds. Once the mounds are lined out on the sheet, freeze the entire tray for about 1-2 hours until completely frozen. 

3. While the mounds are freezing, melt the chocolate in a thick bottomed saucepan over a pan of barely simmering water (watch to ensure the chocolate doesn't overcook or burn). Stir the chocolate with a silicone spatula until it silky and smooth with shiny sheen. Keep the melted chocolate warm over a pan of warm water. 

4. Line another large baking sheet with parchment paper. Take two bamboo skewers and pass one through a frozen filling mound. Dip it into the melted chocolate to coat and swirl to coat evenly. Using the second skewer transfer the chocolate coated mound onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of sea salt crystals and a tiny hint of black pepper. Prepare the rest of the truffles similarly and allow to set and harden at room temperature for about 1 hour. I recommend allowing the entire tray of prepared truffles to cool in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before freezing. Transfer and store the hardened truffles in a dry airtight container in the refrigerator.

caramelized apple and coconut sticky buns

caramelized apple sticky buns |A Brown Table

Before we get to these delicious caramelized apple and coconut sticky buns, I need to announce the winner of the giveaway for the Smitten with Squash cookbook by Amanda Paa. Kelli who made a fall themed strudel with butternut squash, caramelized onions and kale is the winner of this giveaway. Kelli, please shoot me an email with your details so I can have your book sent out to you at abrowntable [at] gmail [dot] com.  

caramelized apple and coconut sticky buns |A Brown Tablecaramelized apple and coconut sticky buns |A Brown Table

As a kid, when I thought I would someday enroll in culinary school, I also harbored a not-so-secret desire to become a pastry chef. Pastry chefs are like magicians (or more appropriately culinary scientists) in my head. They come up with wondrous edible marvels that require a good knowledge of chemistry and food both of which make the inner geek in me rather happy. That desire didn't pan out as I would have wished but then this blog came about and now I find myself baking sticky buns at home! 

caramelized apple and coconut sticky buns |A Brown Table

Sticky buns are definitely an indulgent treat however, if I am going to make a batch at home, I like to have them stuffed up with something other than cinnamon and sugar. I decided to fill the swirls in these buns with little bits of apple and golden raisins enveloped with the delicious flavor of coconut. There's a little bit of applesauce to bring all the flavors together in the filling with a hint of cinnamon, all in all I think these are great to serve at a fall inspired brunch or breakfast.

caramelized apple and coconut sticky buns |A Brown Table

I got the basic dough recipe for the sticky buns from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book.

Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing these guys;

  • Make sure your yeast hasn't expired or else the dough will not ferment and rise properly. 
  • Use fresh cinnamon and firm and ripe Granny Smith apples. Cut those apple bits into small bits so the dough will fold over easily during rolling. Granny Smith apples hold their texture well during baking but they also have a little tartness to them which balances the sweetness of the filling.
  • Personally, I don't like too much of a sugar glaze, so I made a very small amount of glaze for these buns. You can easily increase the amount of glaze by doubling the quantities of the ingredients listed for the glaze below. 
  • I used sliced almonds to top the buns but you can use pecans, walnuts, pistachios and probably any other type of your favorite nut.
caramelized apple and coconut sticky buns |A Brown Table

caramelized apple sticky buns (adapted from The Cook's Illustrated Baking Book)

yields: 12 buns

ingredients 

filling

1 lb granny smith apples

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1 cup unsweetened apple sauce

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut 

1/2 cup golden raisins

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder, freshly ground 

dough

3 larges eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) brown sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons instant/rapid-rise yeast

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher sea salt

4 1/4 cups (21 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour + extra for dusting

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled + 1 tablespoon for brushing the dough and greasing the pan (*you can also use a neutral vegetable oil spray to coat the pan, but don't use olive oil)

1/2 cup sliced raw almonds

glaze (if you want more glaze, double the quantity)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons honey

4 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, freshly ground

1. Wash the apples, peel and cored them. Chop the apples into very tiny pieces (the smaller the better as it will be easier to handle when wrapping the dough). 

2. Heat a thick bottomed medium-sized saucepan on a medium-high flame. Melt the butter in the saucepan and then add the apples along with the lemon juice, apple sauce, coconut, raisins, sugar and cinnamon. Mix evenly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, cover the saucepan with a lid and cook for about 8-10 minutes with occasional stirring to prevent any burning. Remove and keep aside until ready to use.

3. Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer whisk the eggs on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes. Add the buttermilk and whisk for about 1 minute. Then add the brown sugar, yeast and salt and combine for about 1 minute. Add 2 cups of the flour and mix with the paddle attachment until combined. Then remove and replace the paddle attachment with the dough blade. Add the next 2 cups of flour and the 6 tablespoons of melted butter, mix until the dough comes together for about 5 minutes. 

4. Transfer the dough to a clean and lightly floured surface. Knead with hands for about 5 minutes adding the remaining 1/4 cup flour as needed to bring the dough together. The dough should not be sticky but should be soft and pliable. (You might need to add a little more flour if the 1/4 cup isn't enough, avoid adding too much flour). Once the dough has come together, transfer it to a well-oiled bowl, place it in there and brush lightly with a little oil (a neutral vegetable oil spray would work too). Cover the bowl with cling film and keep it in a warm place. Allow the dough to double in size for about 2 1/2 hours. 

5. Transfer the risen dough to a clean and lightly floured surface and shape it into a small rectangle with your hands. Using a rolling pan, roll out the dough into a 16 X 12 inch rectangle, dusting lightly with flour as needed. Brush the dough with the remaining tablespoon of butter, leaving a half inch border along the top edge. 

6. Using a large flat spoon or silicone spatula, transfer and spread the apple filling over the dough. Smooth with your hand or the spoon. Lightly grease your hands before you handle the dough. Starting with the longer side, begin to lift the dough and roll, pressing tightly but gently to form a cylinder. Pinch the ends firmly to seal the cylinder. Using your hands, gently shape the cylinder to an even diameter. The cylinder should be around 18 inches in length. Using a sharp serrated bread knife, gently cut through the center of the cylinder with a sawing motion. Cut each half similarly into 6 equal parts. Line a rectangular baking (13 X 11 inch) dish with parchment paper, grease lightly with a little butter (or spray lightly with an oil spray). Place each of the 12 buns in the pan cut side down, arranged next to each other. Cover and allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours in a warm spot. 

7. While the buns are rising, prepare the glaze. In a small stockpot, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter on a medium-high flame. Add the sugar, honey, water, salt and cinnamon and stir until the mixture is smooth and the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring the syrup to a boil and then cook for another 5 minutes with constant stirring until it just begins to caramelize.  Immediately remove from stove and keep aside until ready to use. If the glaze begins to harden, warm it slightly before use to melt and add 2 -3 tablespoons of water to dissolve it. 

8. Place a wire rack in the center of the oven and a pizza stone on it (if you don't have a pizza stone to bake with, just use the wire rack). Heat the oven to 350F. Once the oven is warm, sprinkle the almonds over the buns and bake the pan with the buns for about 20-25 minutes until just golden brown. Immediately remove from oven and carefully drizzle with the warm glaze all over the top of the buns. Transfer the buns back into the oven and bake for another 6-8 minutes until the glaze just begins to caramelize (watch it carefully to make sure it doesn't burn). Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Slide the buns out of the pan using the parchment paper onto a wire rack. Serve warm by pulling the buns apart or cutting through with a serrated knife. 

kheer/indian rice pudding

Kheer | A Brown Table

Diwali is the festival of lights and perhaps one of my favorite holidays that I got to spend with my dad's side of the family. The celebrations were never over the top but there would be little oil lamps lit up in the evening and tasty food served. I looked forward to the huge feast that was to follow and all the desserts. Delicious desserts, in all sorts of shapes and sizes that are amazing! Every year when Diwali arrives, my cravings start to kick in, perhaps because they bring back fun memories or because I've somehow ingrained the thought that certain foods should be associated with specific events. Either way, I make the most of this special festival.

Kheer | A Brown Table

There are lots of delicious desserts that are prepared to celebrate this bright festival. From sweet cashew pastries to rich milk desserts and one of my favorites to eat on Diwali, is a humble rice pudding called kheer (though I'll make it at other times of the year, if I can find an excuse). Kheer is a rather simple and easy dessert to prepare, milk and fragrant basmati rice and lots of lovely dried fruit. There's something comforting in sticking a spoon into a bowl of rice and milk lightly scented with cardamom and eating all those delicious sweet dried fruit. 

Kheer | A Brown TableKheer | A Brown Table

To make kheer at home here are some of my kitchen tips, 

  • Use whole milk or low-fat milk. It will make a creamier base.
  • I only use green cardamom to infuse the milk, however I have tasted some versions with ground cinnamon. I'm not a huge fan of cinnamon and cardamom together in kheer because of the contrasting warm and cool notes of each spice, they can get quite pronounced when it's just the two of them together.
  • Use basmati rice, it brings a lovely aromatic flavor to the kheer. 
Kheer | A Brown Table

Here are some of my favorite reads that I'm drooling over this week,

Kheer | A Brown Table

kheer/ indian rice pudding

yields: 4-6 generous servings

ingredients

1 cup basmati rice

2 1/2 cups water

1/2 gallon whole milk

2-3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon rice flour

2 tablespoons water

4 green cardamom pods, cracked and gently crushed

1/2 cup mixed raisins (use different colored raisins if possible) + 1 teaspoon to garnish

1/2 cup dried medjool dates, chopped + 1 teaspoon to garnish

1/4 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted + 1 teaspoon to garnish

1/4 cup chopped pistachios, lightly toasted + 1 teaspoon to garnish

2 tablespoons rose water (optional)

1. Wash the rice thoroughly under cold running tap water. Place in a thick bottomed stock pot with the water and bring the water to a boil on a high flame, then immediately reduce to a medium-low and cook until the rice is tender and soft. Most of the water will have evaporated at this point.

2. Once the rice is tender, stir in the milk and sugar. Whisk the rice flour and water together in a small bowl to form a slurry and add it to the milk. Fold in the cardamom, raisins and dates. Cook over low heat until the milk reduces to half its original volume and the mixture begins to thicken. This will take about 25-30 minutes. Stir occasionally. 

3. Once the milk has thickened, remove from the stove and stir in the almonds and pistachios. Allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours until chilled before serving. If the kheer is too thick in consistency, add a little more milk to thin it out. Taste and adjust sweetness if necessary. Sprinkle the rose water over the kheer and garnish with the extra raisins, dates, almonds and pistachios.