Sunday, September 9, 2012

How not to make chocolate glaze

I’m going to one of Beavercreek’s great seasonal potlucks this afternoon, The September Garden Party. For some reason, these venues always inspire me to try some kind of culinary experiment, which usually ends with something strange going into the Monday garbage takeout.

It started with me thinking of what I have a lot of, which today is crispy corn tostada strips, still nice and fresh but too salty for me to eat without binging on them. I thought of glazing them with chocolate—that sounded great. I googled cocoa recipes for chocolate glaze—I have a lot of cocoa, too—and found a simple one, and I thought I had the two and a quarter cups of powdered sugar required. I got down the sugar and got out my never-used double-screen sifter, and started sifting. The sugar was coming out at an excruciatingly slow pace; after ten minutes I had a little over a quarter cup. I scooped all the sugar into the sifter, thinking the weight would push it through faster, and it seemed to go a bit better but after a few more minutes, both my hands were in pain, and I thought, I’ll just beat the lumps out of it—I think I’ve got the two and a quarter cups here. So I dumped it into a bowl and fluffed it with a fork, confident that it would work. Then I discovered a good quarter cup of sugar trapped between the two screens of the sifter, and I was afraid that was the quarter of the two and a quarter that I needed. I didn’t want to start cooking with not enough ingredients—I've done that before. I also didn’t want to spend another fifteen minutes trying to get it out so I started banging it on the edge of the bowl. That’s how I discovered that the way to get powdered sugar through a sifter quickly is to constantly bang it on the edge of the bowl: bang, squeeze, bang, squeeze, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

I decided that I will look for a single-screen sifter on my next shopping trip.

I got my butter-like spread—it’s supposed to be cookable—melting on the stove, and measured out the cocoa. I don’t keep milk in the house, just nonfat powdered milk for baking, so I mixed up the quarter cup I needed, and threw in a touch extra powder for more flavor, and mixed it into the butter with the cocoa. I had a timer on, because it was supposed to heat to boiling in two minutes. After 3 minutes I turned the burner up (electric stove) and kept stirring constantly with the spatula, moved the sugar over so I could get it quickly, and read the instructions two or three more times while I stirred. The mixture had smoothed out and was thickening beautifully when suddenly the butter-spread fat began to separate out, more and more as I kept stirring. I saw the face of Alton Brown saying something about the fat in milk and I turned off the burner, slid the pot to a pad and dumped most of the sugar in, still believing it was just the two and a quarter cups required, and stirring like a fiend. The mostly unsifted sugar made tiny lumps but on the whole it seemed inclined to turn into some kind of chocolate, so I dumped in the rest of the sugar and ran and grabbed my hand blender.

The blender did a great job on the sugar lumps and in a couple minutes I had a pot of smooth chocolate semi-liquid substance, so I carried the pot and a bowl full of tostada strips to my parchment sheets. As I picked up a pair of tongs I noticed the chocolate was turning hard and thick on the inside of the pan, and I thought, uh-oh. The first strip came out with a good  one-eighth-inch coating on both sides, and I knew that was going to be too much, so I scraped it off as well as I could on the side of the pan and kept going. With each strip the chocolate got thicker, and by the time I’d done a dozen strips there was very little left. I thought of using walnuts to finish it off so I ran and got a tub of walnut halves and dumped in a big handful. I stirred them around till they were all decently coated and then spread them apart out on the parchment. That used up the rest of the still liquid-enough chocolate.

Twelve tostada strips and a handful of walnuts: hardly the six-serving de facto potluck offering, but in my defense, no one shy of four hundred pounds could eat more than one of those strips without having an insulin attack. I know, because I ate every bit of the chocolate off every cooking implement, and it was really sweet. So that makes it twelve servings, plus the walnuts.   Then I looked around the kitchen, and the wall behind the counter was peppered with chocolate spray, like dark-brown paint texturing. It was on the wall, the back of the stove, the inside of the open cupboard above me, and the side of the refrigerator, including a skewed chocolate eyebrow on the angel magnet. The farthest it went was to the microwave, ten feet away. It reminded me of the first time I opened my mouth to say something while using my electric toothbrush.

I cleaned up the dishes and touched the chocolate covering on one of the strips—after 20 minutes it still wasn’t really beginning to get hard. I got one of my room fans and put it on them—I still have two more hours before I have to leave.  I think the walnuts might be okay.

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