Food Memory: State Fair Togetherness

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It isn’t always better because it’s deep-fried, but the state fair in a Southern state is always going to try to deep-fry whatever you throw at them. I don’t actually enjoy these foods objectively (that day, we ate the fried nutella, which was just a warm version of a chocolate croissant in the end), not more than other foods or the foods themselves minus the puffy brown batter, but I feel like there is something unique to Southern families, a kind of anticipation. This anticipation has us buy lumps of indiscriminate dough and look at each other, forks poised. We think that someone will back out, will say “this is going to kill our arteries.” But this game of chicken ends and we try the food, and our mouths are full of richness so thorough that you should never eat it, but if you are going to eat it, you should definitely share it with someone else whose eyes are just as full of glee and rebellion as yours are.

My Grandmother’s Cocoa Fudge

My grandmother made the same cake for my grandfather’s birthday for most of his adult life – when they married around the time they each turned 20, my grandmother learned the recipe for the yellow cake with fudge icing that he loved so much. “The hard part,” my grandmother always said. “was getting the icing onto the cake while it was hardening, because it hardens quickly and is brittle and crumbling.”

I thought this particular recipe (similar ones are found lots of places, including this one from Just a Pinch!) was so magical when I first tried cooking as a teenager: start with cocoa powder, sugar, and milk and all of a sudden, you have candy! It was pretty high-intensity, trying to make sure I got to exactly the right level of boil so that the candy turned out soft and crumbling. There are moments when you need to stir a ton, and moments when you need to avoid stirring at all, and what results can either frost a cake with sweet, sugary fudge or just be served in a little block… or four.

Fudge is certainly not a health food, but on this sweet, cool Autumn afternoon, I was more than happy to add a few extra chores to my schedule when I had a sliver of sugary chocolate motivating me. The key is to keep your hands off the next pieces! I will have to eat my salad and the rest of my dinner before I can partake in more of my grandmother’s traditional birthday treat, the one she’s been making for 67 years of marriage to my grandfather.

Fillo Dough Days: Chocolate fillo pastry!

So, a delightful blogger sent me this beautiful recipe, which is simple, elegant, and by all accounts perfect. She said her husband, who doesn’t even like desserts, liked this one. So what did I do? I took some similar component parts and cooked something… weird.

I have a talent for baklava, so I got overconfident and thought “I’ll make a chocolate treat out of flat sheets of fillo dough!” Note to self forever: if the recipe calls for little fillo cups, use those! It’s a tart, not a flat dish.

So I mixed up a similar mixture to the one in her recipe (I used coconut milk, which maybe was my downfall? I’m still unsure). What came out was not firm like the pretty mousse she created, but instead a semi-viscous liquid… it tasted great, but it would not hold up like a normal pudding.

Undaunted, I used the mixture and butter and huge sheets of fillo dough and constructed a… something. I cooked it (not part of her recipe, but definitely a must for my thin gooey sheets of dough), and in the end, I had something chewy on the edges and soft in the middle. It was definitely chocolate-flavored, and like the spanakopita I made recently, the middle sheets of dough became somewhat like pasta, which gave the whole thing a bit more body than it had otherwise. I have no idea what to compare it to besides jello, but it was like very thin, chocolate flavored jello.

All this to say: don’t try to mess with desserts! They are so much more calibrated than, like, a recipe for stir-fry. Instead, I recommend you follow this recipe to the letter, and enjoy the adorable little fillo cups she created. They look like they’d be epic for a party, bite-sized!

Salted Caramel Liquid Truffle

We’ve been a little tired lately, with work and many trips and visitors – all of this good stress, but Husband is a little under the weather now and I needed something that would make him smile and (maybe) make his throat not hurt. He and I both have positive associations with a little chocolate shop in Western North Carolina, and they have a recipe for their signature dish, so I made it for him yesterday: try it out here, very simple, and basically the most fancy hot chocolate you’ll ever try: https://frenchbroadchocolates.com/liquid-truffle-recipe/

1 – 20 years old

K and I walk in the door but the line is almost all the way there, happy people chattering and other people bustling by with plates of decadent desserts and glasses of wine. K, one of my close college friends, told me that this place was the best dessert bar, and that the best thing to get here was called “liquid truffle” – a tiny cup of thick hot chocolate that tasted like someone boiled out the ganache center of a truffle. I order it, salted caramel flavor, and when it comes, I sip in smaller, slower sips than I ever have – it has tiny crunchy salt crystals, and the thickness of the chocolate coats my throat. I feel the way that wine enthusiasts do, like there are so many more flavors for me to fill my mouth with.

 

2 – 23 years old

Husband is not Husband, he is not even boyfriend; he’s just a co-worker but we’re in the neighborhood and he says I’ve got to try this one chocolate shop. I smile when I recognize it, and I drink another tiny cup of chocolate, this one 3 years later, after I’ve tasted chocolate and decadence in many places in Europe, and it still feels like the most elongated experience – like the chocolate in a tiny cup could last forever. I’m pretty sure it’s the chocolate warming my tummy, not just my feelings for my co-worker.

3 – Now

Husband is not a baby about illness, but he mentions being “achy” and having a sore throat, which is basically his version of saying he’s sick. I know he loved those liquid truffles, so I idly google to see if I could make one myself – the original chocolate shop released a recipe! I have the simple ingredients from a recent shopping trip and I make the ganache, whisk it into the half and half, and pour small servings that I sprinkle with crunchy salt. I make a cloud of whipped cream in the stand mixer to grace the tops, and we sit quietly with the chocolate, which makes our simple afternoon a bit more magical.

If you have tried the original liquid truffles, this recipe produces, in my opinion, something thinner but with the same flavor; if I do it again, I’ll use 7 or 8 ounces of half and half instead of 10.