These are I think the most beautiful things I have ever made, and would make an excellent gift for Christmas or Chanukah. Apart from my love of Hundertwasser (backgrounds here and on Twitter), my favourite form of visual art is Japanese landscapes paintings, especially Edo Period. I actually own an original Hiroshige print, probably my most prized possession. I can (and do) stare at it for hours feeling all happy and serene. These little chocolates look just like Japanese Cherry Blossom paintings, and as soon as I saw a photo of them I completely fell in love – the way you would if you saw your favourite kind of art reproduced in chocolate (unless you are a big fan of Damien Hirst, or potentially any of the YBAs actually).
Every so often, although not often enough, T.O.M and I get together and have a chocolate baking day. And we are getting pretty good at it. We always buy twice as much chocolate as we need, but nowadays we don’t seize any, we just eat all the leftovers. For the past few months I had been incubating in my brain some sort of thing involving pink peppercorns and white chocolate. I couldn’t quite work it out, but I knew that it had to be something spectacular. Conveniently I had given T.O.M a bag of pink peppercorns recently and so everything just fell into place. I found this recipe via Google, and as soon as I saw this one, I knew I had to make it. It is an El Bulli recipe, and I found it here.
Mendiants isn’t exactly the right kind of name for these, but I needed to find something better to call them other than ‘thingies’. (From Wikipedia) A Mendiant is a traditional French confection composed of a chocolate disk studded with nuts and dried fruits, representing the four monastic orders of Dominicans (raisins), Augustinians (hazelnut), Franciscans (fig) and Carmelites (almonds). Not really the most interesting thing I have ever written on here – but I’m sure it will come up in a pub quiz or on University Challenge or something. Answers on a postcard, or comment below, about what Saint, or saintly figure these could represent.
You will need some fennel fronds from the top of a fennel bulb. We had to go through an entire box of them in Sainsburys to find one which hadn’t been completely trimmed, and then ended up cheekily picking leaves off other ones and putting them in the same bag.
With the peppercorns, they need to be lose and not in a grinder – you only want the pink outer layer – the centre is black and not as pretty.
With regards to the white chocolate, the Green and Blacks one is very good as it has tiny flecks of black vanilla running all the way through it. It is pretty pricey though – we used a third Green and Blacks and two thirds Sainsburys own brand, and it seemed to work very well.
You will need lots of greaseproof or baking paper, a chopping board or other flat thing, and a flat bottomed glass.
In order to make these beauties, first carefully clean and check the fennel fronds – be careful as they are really delicate. Carefully remove any squashed leaves, dirt and caterpillars. Once dry, pick off miniature tree-shaped fronds and arrange them on a sheet of greaseproof paper that has been wrapped around a chopping board or something. Leave quite a lot of space between them. This is a fiddly job, but the whole point of these is how they look, so do take the time to do it carefully. Its pretty therapeutic actually.
Once the fennel leaves are in place, arrange a few flakes of pink peppercorn over each one, trying if possible to get them in the ‘branches’.
Carefully melt the chocolate using a bain-marie or microwave of you are feeling confident, and using a spoon put a blob over each fennel leaf-peppercorn arrangement. Take care when doing this, and don’t do it from a height – you need to make sure that the arrangement doesn’t get distorted or crushed by the chocolate.
Once this is done, place a second sheet of paper over the chocolates, and use the glass to gently press each one into a flat circular disk, encasing the fennel-leaf and pepper flakes into the chocolate ‘like a fossil’. Leave to set, using the fridge only if you have to.
And there you have it. So easy and so beautiful. I’m thinking of other variations of this – potentially with tarragon. Or maybe in keeping with the colour theme, some flakes of pink Himalayan salt.
With much love and thanks to T.O.M, and to Steven for being completely lovely whilst being thrown out of his own kitchen, and taking these incredible photos.
|this photo taken by Claudie|