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This is what happens when I get really ambitious on a Sunday.Posted by Picasa

Inspired by one of my favorite food blogs, which recently featured homemade brazil nut cups, I decided to finally get around to using the heart-shaped molds I’d bought ages ago with the intention of using them for chocolates and other molded treats. I thought about using a plain ganache filling, but since I’ve been big on all kinds of nuts and seeds lately, I decided to go with a nut butter filling instead. I had tried a cashew butter recipe from Alton Brown last year and liked it quite a lot, so I decided to start with that, supplementing the cashews with macadamias and the macadamia nut oil I’ve been putting into a lot of baked goods lately. (It’s really lovely stuff and works miracles on vanilla cupcakes.) The results are fragrant and tropical and a million times better than plain old peanut butter.

Making chocolates isn’t really that hard. It’s just a bit time-consuming, and the only tricky step is tempering the chocolate properly, so that it stays shiny and crisp when you bite it, instead of developing a waxy “bloom” or turning brittle. I researched several methods of tempering and decided to start with the “seeding” approach, melting most of it while reserving some for addition off the heat, to bring down the temperature and encourage stable crystals. Unfortunately, I didn’t do it well enough, and the chocolate was a bit distempered, so they did develop a whitish bloom, but I can’t complain too much, because these do taste wonderful, especially at room temperature, when the filling is creamy and smooth and melds perfectly with the yielding chocolate coating. I cheated a bit for presentation purposes by painting them with additional macadamia oil to make them glisten (a trick I picked up from Jacques Torres, another celebrity chef I decidedly don’t hate) and dusting the tops with cocoa.

I’ll work on my tempering techniques and see if I can’t do even better next time by monitoring the temperature instead of using the less precise seeding method, but for now, I’m quite pleased, and I didn’t hear any complaints at work this morning, either.

Cashew-Macadamia Hearts
Makes approx. 32 bonbons

1 cup cashew-macadamia butter (see below)
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 lb bittersweet chocolate
Cocoa for dusting

Equipment: Clean, scrupulously dry candy molds
Double boiler
A cooling rack set on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper

In a food processor, blend the nut butter and powdered sugar until a firm paste forms. Taste and add additional salt if necessary to balance the sweetness. Set aside while tempering the chocolate.

Chop the chocolate very finely, setting aside 1/3 for later addition. Place the remaining 2/3 in the top half of a double boiler over simmering water and allow to melt, stirring gently. When the chocolate is just melted, remove from the heat and add the reserved third, stirring until the entire batch is melted together.

Fill the chocolate molds with chocolate, swirling and shaking to cover all surfaces, then set upside-down on the rack over the cookie sheet to let the excess run out. Set in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to set up. When the chocolate is firm, invert the molds and fill each chocolate-lined cavity with enough nut filling to reach about three-quarters to the top, pushing into the crevices to be sure that there are no air pockets. Seal the bonbons with the remaining chocolate, scraping the tops of the molds to remove extra chocolate and ensure clean unmolding. Return the molds, right-side up, to the refrigerator to set.

When the chocolates have firmed, carefully unmold them. If desired, brush with additional macadamia oil, and dust the tops with excellent-quality cocoa powder sifted through a fine mesh sieve.

Notes: Chocolate will “seize” or turn clumpy and grainy if it comes into contact with water, so be careful not to let steam from the double boiler condense into the melted chocolate, and be sure that the molds and all work surfaces and tools are very dry. Supposedly the best way to keep chocolate at a workable temperature and maintain the temper is to keep it on a low-temp heating pad while you’re waiting for the first set, but I didn’t have one, so I left it over the still-warm water in the double boiler, off the heat, which kept it warm enough to spread over the filled bonbons and also, oddly, resulted in slightly shinier bottoms on the candies.

Cashew-Macadamia Butter
Makes approx. 1 1/2 cups

8 oz raw cashews
2 oz macadamia nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons macadamia oil (or other nut oil)
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or canola, or other very mild-flavored oil)

Preheat oven to 350. Toast the cashews in a single layer on a baking sheet until golden, approximately 12-15 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Let cool.

Heat the honey in a small container in the microwave until slightly runny, about 15 seconds. Combine with the oils in a liquid measuring cup.

Pulse the cashews, macadamia nuts and salt in a food processor until nearly pulverized, about 5 seconds. With the processor running, slowly add the oil and honey mixture through the feed tube and continue processing until a smooth paste forms. Taste and correct seasonings as necessary.

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