The tragedy in Brussels hit me hard. Just as Parisians insist “Je suis en Terrasse” to assert the cultural values of their county, in Brussels, I am in the chocolate shop. Belgium’s strength at colonial extractions in the 18th & 19th centuries produced a pipeline of cacao from Africa, and soon a gourmet chocolate industry developed in Brussels. Despite the ethical struggles waged over the resources, those early chocolatiers brought us the ballotin box and chocolates fit for royalty – specifically, filled chocolates with artistry that exceeded that of all other countries. If this sounds like a history lesson, it did to me too, and like a schoolgirl on a field trip, I made my way to the capital last summer. Brussels is still the European city with the most chocolate shops per capita. They are everywhere between pubs and sandwich signs for moules & frites, Belgian waffles, and storefronts full of faded lace. But something was off. Why so many tourists in the market square with nothing to do but blast-barf and brawl into the night? Why so many shady characters in the doorways? Why the chilly response as we wandered through off-beat neighborhoods looking for bargains,
flea markets, trinkets, and pastries? Sounds like I’m winding up for a Trump-worthy diatribe on anti-Americanism, Muslims and terrorists but, people, please. I’m from Los Angeles and I work in the arts. Gangsters, man-buns, headscarves, tatoos, people who ignore me or try to con me or really anyone who flies a freak flag is part of my tableau. But you can see in people’s eyes when the danger is from some wilder place, or hatred roils inside, or drugs are in control. Desperation has an essence all its own. As travelers, we have to recognize harm’s way. But why Belgium? Why now? Here’s what The New York Review of Books has to say about … why?
This recipe (also below) is for molded pralines – relentlessly exacting, complex and resplendent – like the history of Belgium. I plan to carefully disregard my own country’s travel warning to stay away from Europe this summer in an exercise of freedom. I want to participate in the best of Europe. I will be en terrasse & dans les shoppes and however you say “at the market” in Italian and “in the pastry shop” in Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian.
This blogpost is dedicated to the fallen, whose obituaries have been slow to surface because the people were so violently destroyed.
From Neuhaus, one of Belgium’s finest
Because the word “praline” means different things in different countries in confectionery, this recipe relies on every possible interpretation of the word. (Please imagine correctly placed accents.) In Belgium, you might call these “praline” because the are produced in molds and filled with a mix of milk chocolate and caramelized nuts (also known as “praline” from the French). With a nod to the favorite New Orleans confection, of course called “praline”, I’ve included brown sugar and pecans, although most any sugar or nut will work. You’ll need a professional polycarbonate mold to do it right, but you can always use a small ice cube tray. The technique of tempering chocolate then lining the mold/tray with it, dumping most of it out, allowing what’s left to harden, then putting the filling in, then closing the whole thing up with another layer of (what you hope is still) tempered chocolate drives some people absolutely mad with frustration and makes others fall madly in love.
For the Tempered Dark Chocolate
3 cups ice in a large bowl
3 cups chopped high-quality dark chocolate
Put the ice in the bowl and set aside. Reserve a handful of the chopped chocolate , and melt the rest gently in a stainless steel bowl set over simmering water until it reaches 115 degrees F on a digital thermometer. Remove the bowl from the heat. Wipe the bottom of the bowl with a dry cloth to prevent water from splashing onto the work surface. Sprinkle the reserved chocolate into the melted chocolate by placing over the bowl of ice for a few seconds at a time, removing it, stirring until smooth, and repeating until the temperature drops to 82 degrees F. Heat the chocolate again by placing the chocolate bowl back over the simmering water for 30 seconds to 1 minute at a time. Once its temperature rises to 90 degrees F, the chocolate is ready to use. Careful not to go over 92 degrees, because then you have to start all over. Pour it into the chocolate mold, making sure each cavity is filled. Invert the mold and allow the chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Invert the mold again, and allow the thin coating of chocolate to harden. Try to keep the remaining chocolate at 90 degrees. Prepare the filling, and fill each cavity up not quite to the rim. Then top with the remaining tempered chocolate and allow to set.
For the Praline Filling
2 cups chopped milk chocolate
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 Tablespoon corn syrup
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
Place the pecans on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and set aside. Melt the milk chocolate slowly in a medium stainless steel bowl set over simmering water (OK to carefully microwave chocolate in 1 minute increments to melt.) In a small saucepan or skillet, melt the sugars and corn syrup together, then let them cook (without stirring) until the mixture begins to caramelize, turning light brown at the edges. It will move quickly, so watch for a light honey color, then remove it from the heat. Allow it to cool for a few minutes, then pour it over the pecans and allow it to harden. Then add all the ingredients into a food processor (an electric mixer here works almost as well) and puree until smooth with crunchy bits of nut and sugar. Adjust thickness as desired.
And from the NYT in August 2017.