This summer, between my thriving garden and regular CSA deliveries, I’ve been eating plenty of healthy, fresh food. I’m experimenting with recipes for things that turn up in the CSA box — like shishito peppers — and ways to preserve what I’m growing. I have bright-red ancho chili peppers drying on the windowsill, a freezer full of strawberries and apricots, sweet herbs in glasses of water, and recipe notes scattered from my kitchen to my office.
And yet, sometimes you just gotta go off the reservation and indulge in something sweet, rich, and dare I say it (yes, I do): boozy. Notice I said indulge — not overindulge. Allowing yourself the enjoyment of something rich or sweet (or both) without guilt is part of a healthy lifestyle, in my opinion. A few bites of a small, well-made treat can be more enjoyable and satisfying than overindulging until you’re ready to pop. A recently published Stanford study backs up this idea. The Stanford researchers learned that tasty, smaller portions enjoyed mindfully and just to the point of satisfaction brought greater pleasure to the eating experience. (Want to know more? Read about the study on the Stanford site.)
So if you’re going to indulge, make it good! Choose quality ingredients and make something at home. Don’t be afraid to experiment or try out new recipes. Or, if you prefer to buy your treats, support a local chocolatier, confectioner, or dessert business, rather than buying drugstore candy or pre-packaged desserts full of additives and preservatives.
Inspired by a recent trio of food/drink holidays — National Hot Fudge Day (July 25), National Scotch Day (July 27), and National Milk Chocolate Day (July 28) — I came up with Single Malt Milk Chocolate Sauce. Scotch whisky and milk chocolate? Yes. Absolutely, yes. This sauce is a soft ganache — an emulsification of cream and chocolate — that is liquid at room temperature and fudgy when cold. It’s two, TWO, TWO! treats in one. (Need a quick tutorial on ganache? Check out this post.)
If the words “milk chocolate” immediately make you think “Hershey’s” or “ewww” or both, I am here expand your milk chocolate horizons. Unfortunately, what has passed for milk chocolate in the US for so many years has left a bad taste in chocolate lovers’ mouths. The confection known as “milk chocolate” has typically consisted of more sugar and non-cocoa fats and additives than actual chocolate.
Thanks to an influx of European chocolates and the rise of regional craft chocolate-making throughout the US during the past decade or so, there’s a whole new generation of milk chocolates that could become your new favorite treat. With higher percentages of cacao (usually 39 – 53%), a creamy mouthfeel, along with fudgy and caramel flavors, premium milk chocolates are worth a taste. (Two to try: Valrhona’s Jivara Lactée and TCHO’s SeriousMilk™.) Flavorful and rich, these chocolates are delicious eaten right out of the package or as the star ingredient in chocolate desserts and sauces. Give ’em a try; they’ll change the way you think about milk chocolate.
And indulge yourself a little. Try this decadent sauce with ice cream, or cake, or just a spoon.
Recipe: Single Malt Milk Chocolate Sauce
Yield: About 7 ounces
The kick in this sauce comes from Speyside single malt Scotch whisky. Speyside single malt whiskies tend be sweeter, more delicate, and less peaty than their Highland counterparts and are a complementary pairing to the fudgy, caramel notes of higher-cacao milk chocolate.
Serve this sauce warm or enjoy it cold. Warm or at room temperature, it’s perfect for drizzling (or pouring) over ice cream or chocolate cake. For a fudgy treat that stands on its own, chill the sauce in the refrigerator until firm, then dig in with a spoon.
Medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl
Small saucepan (1 quart)
Instant-read thermometer (recommended, but not required)
Note: I strongly recommend using a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients, rather than relying on volume measurements. Choose a milk chocolate containing at least 40% cacao.
3.6 ounces finely chopped milk chocolate or chocolate feves (disks)
3 ounces heavy cream
1.1 ounces sugar
3/4 ounce single malt Speyside Scotch whisky (such as The Macallan or Cardhu)
I don’t advocate running out and buying a full bottle of single malt whisky for this recipe (unless you really want to, of course). Many liquor stores sell the “airplane bottles,” which contain about 2 ounces, for a reasonable price.
- Place chopped chocolate (or feves) in a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave on 50% power for 20-second increments, stirring each time, until chocolate has melted. Set aside briefly while you prepare the cream.
You want the chocolate to be completely melted, but not too hot. If you have an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature. Ideally it should be no higher than 110°F.
- Combine cream and sugar in a small saucepan and heat until just starting to boil, stirring so that the sugar dissolves.
Keep a close eye on your pot, as cream can boil over in a flash. (Trust me, it’s a lesson that I’ve learned more than once, the hard way.)
- Remove pot from heat and allow the cream to cool for a minute or two.
If you have an instant-read thermometer, your cream is ready to use between 150°F and 160°F.
- Test the temperature of the chocolate either by dipping your pinky finger in it (the chocolate should feel as warm as, or just slightly warmer than, body temperature) or using an instant-read thermometer.
If you’re using a thermometer, your chocolate should be in the 98°F to 104°F range.
- Slowly and continuously pour a thin stream of cream into the center of the chocolate while stirring the chocolate continuously (stir faster than you pour). Make sure that you’re stirring in the center of the bowl, not around the edges.
This is the part where you create that emulsification of chocolate and cream! Imagine that you’re creating a vortex in the middle of the chocolate, and that vortex is pulling in the cream.
- Keep stirring until all cream has been incorporated with the chocolate. If there’s a small amount of cream around the edge of the bowl, expand your stirring radius to incorporate any remaining cream.
It’s likely still too warm to work with yet, so you’ll need to let it cool down.
- You want the chocolate and cream mixture to be about body temperature before you add the whisky. Cool the chocolate mixture at room temperature or by placing it in the refrigerator for 3 – 5 minutes.
If you put the chocolate mixture in the refrigerator, stir it every time you check on it. Again, if you have an instant-read thermometer, you’ll want to cool the ganache to 98-99°F before you add the whisky.
- Slowly and continuously pour a thin stream of whisky into the center of the chocolate mixture while stirring the chocolate continuously (stir faster than you pour). Make sure that you’re stirring in the center of the bowl, not around the edges.
You want to keep the emulsification you created with the chocolate and cream. Pouring all of the alcohol in at once can break that emulsification, resulting in a grainy sauce.
- Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator in a covered container for up to two weeks.
- To reheat, place the sauce in a microwave-safe dish and warm in the microwave on 50% power for 20-second increments, stirring each time, until the sauce has softened.