Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chocolate bliss--Sformato di Ciccolato

For me the essence of the enjoyment of good food and cooking is sharing that food with people that you care about. I suppose this has its origins in my southern roots. I grew up in an environment where food was the sincerest form of hospitality. In my grandmother's house you were never there more than 5 minutes without the issue of food being introduced. Actually this was true of both of my grandmothers. Whenever you arrived at their houses you could count on the fact that you would be well fed despite their protestations that they "simply had nothing in the house to prepare". What usually followed was, by any standard, a veritable feast. The dishes might be simple by modern gourmet standards--but the taste was anything but simple. Each dish would have been prepared using available ingredients, without the use of a written recipe, and with flavor that left an indelible imprint in my memory. Many of the ingredients were grown by the cook and served either at their peak, or had been preserved by the same hands for later use. My own pursuit of cooking has largely been shaped by these strong women and the memories of the food of my childhood. Attempting to recreate the "remembered" flavor has been a joyous pursuit that lies at the root of my enjoyment of cooking.

The recipe that I am inspired to write about really is related to the concept of sharing food with people you care about. I have a dear friend that I consider to be more of a sister than "just" a friend. Because of some health issues, she has been trying a gluten-free approach to eating. Understand that she and her husband are willing/or graciously unwilling recipients of some of my food experimentation--so it has been difficult for me to be respectful of her dietary approach and yet share the food that I want to prepare. The whole area of desserts have been especially difficult. I like to think of myself as a want-to-be pastry chef . We have gone the route of rice pudding, fruit desserts and ice cream treats, but on a recent COLD and snowy evening that we shared, I was in the mood for creating something CHOCOLATE. Those of you who share the love of good chocolate will understand that there is nothing that will fill this spot if you are truly craving the decadence of a chocolate dessert. I found inspiration in an unlikely place! While sweating away on an elliptical machine at my gym, I watched a TV Chef prepare an "old Italian" favorite----Sformato. The core of this version is chocolate. It is NOT a cake, nor is it a brownie, nor is it a mousse. It is closely related to a pudding--but definitely not your grandmother's warm, silky comfort pudding. It is hardcore chocolate. AND it was apparent to me that I could adapt this recipe to be gluten-free. According to an Italian food dictionary--sformato is similar to a souffle, though not as airy. It will always involve beaten eggs and will be baked in a bain marie (water bath). Other than those requirements the rest of the sformato is up to the chef to create. Sformoti are most commonly savory and often used as a conveyance for whatever fresh vegetable is available. They can also be sweet, and as in this case, a conveyance for a chocolate indulgence. So with that--I was off on a mission to try this dessert. The results of that effort are detailed in the following recipe. A cautionary note: Be sure to read the whole recipe prior to starting and get all ingredients prepared and pre-measured (mise en place) before you start. While not complicated, there are steps to this recipe that need to be coordinated. Happy baking.

Sformato di Ciccolato Caldo

2 Cups Whole Milk (for divided use)
1 Cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 packet gelatin
4 whole eggs, beaten lightly
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 Cup Toasted sliced almonds
1 Cup heavy whipping cream
1 Tablespoon powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon Amaretto

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 2 quart flat casserole dish and a roasting pan that will allow the casserole to fit inside with a 1-2 inch margin all around the dish. this will be used for the water bath to bake the sformato.

In a medium saucepan combine 1 1/2 cups of the milk with sugar and bring to a simmer and cook until sugar is dissolved. Add the espresso powder and stir to dissolve. (You will not taste the espresso--but this is a terrific chocolate enhancer). Remove from the heat and add the vanilla. Meanwhile sprinkle the packet of gelatin over the remaining 1/2 cup of cold milk and let it "bloom" or dissolve for 2 minutes. Combine the gelatin and milk with the hot milk and sugar. Stir until dissolved. If the gelatin does not seem to be adequately dissolving, gently heat the mixture until smooth. When the gelatin and milk mixture is smooth combine with the lightly beaten eggs by using the tempering method of whisking in small amounts of the hot mixture to slowly warm the eggs--thus avoiding scrambling the eggs! Be sure to whisk the mixture constantly when the two are combined. Pour this mixture through a fine sieve to remove any undissolved particles or egg that has not combined.

Meanwhile melt the chocolate in a double boiler (use a bowl over simmering water--being sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water). When the chocolate is melted, gradually combine the milk and egg mixture with the melted chocolate--stirring well with each addition to create a smooth chocolate mixture. ( you may still be able to see flecks of chocolate--but mixture should be as smooth as you can get it). Pour this mixture into the buttered 2 quart casserole dish. Sprinkle the top with toasted almond slices. Place the casserole dish in the roasting pan. Add hot water to a level halfway up the side of the casserole dish. Bake for approximately 1 hour until the sides are firm and center still jiggles slightly. Important--let the sformato cool at least 30 minutes prior to serving.

Just before serving, whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the powdered sugar and amaretto and whip to desired stiffness. (be careful to not over-whip)
Spoon the sformato into individual serving dishes top with the amaretto cream and sprinkle with additional toasted almond slices.


A note about the texture: if you serve this immediately after the 30 minute rest, the texture seems a little bit grainy--but this does not interfere with the warm chocolate goodness. After an overnight rest in the refrigerator, the chocolate taste was more intense and mellow and the texture was silkier. I see advantages to both the warm dessert and the leftover texture----your choice--but I dare you to resist the warm chocolate goodness while waiting for the smoother texture!!!

As for the results, my generous friends gave it a glowing review as did my omnivorous husband! My friend's husband announced that the only thing that would improve this dessert----was NOTHING! This comment was made with much flair--as if he were about to give me the "missing link" to make this dessert perfect. Everyone who knows him--knows that he likes nothing better than his own brand of wry(lovably corny) humor.
So if you want a good chocolate dessert that is decadent and delicious try this one. If you happen to need a gluten free dessert also--this is for you.

1 comment:

  1. THAT LOOKS SO GOOD!! The gluten-free people of the world will thank you!