Saturday, February 17, 2007

Concord Grape Jellies and Peanut Butter Truffles

I fully expected to post this on Valentine's Day because that's when I STARTED this candy combo (and I had even planned to cut the jellies into mini-hearts instead of squares because I was feeling all sentimental), but it's now Saturday night (cue Bay City Rollers) and here we are.

I guess the best explanation for the delay is that I experienced technical difficulties and unexplainable user error in making the Concord Grape Jellies. The Peanut Butter Truffles were as easy as they are delicious. Did I mention easy? 'Cause they were. And also, delicious. That cannot be said enough. Knowing that there are some sitting in my fridge right now is going to make for a very difficult week at the gym, I can assure you. The Jellies can SUCK IT because they didn't work the first two times I made them; and even on the third and final try, they didn't turn out the way they're supposed to. Yeah, I know... way to get mad at the stupid CANDY when clearly I should be mad at myself. I'm so mature.

I think the culprit of the first two failures could be one of two things: the fact that I was using kosher unsweetened juice instead of regular unsweetened juice, or else it was the type of apple pectin I was using. Because I was blinding myself with some serious f-ing SCIENCE trying to figure this out, after the second failed attempt I went out and bought a different brand of grape juice and had a different kind of apple pectin FedExed from L'Epicerie (have I mentioned yet that I took on a new monthly-retainer client through the end of the year just to bring in some extra cashola to fund this project, 'cause I did). But all this talk about failed jelly candy is bringin' me down, man, so since the truffles worked out so well, let's talk about those first.

It's no secret among those who know me well that I'm a big fan of peanut butter and chocolate together, and these truffles fit the bill and then some. My Aunt Barbara is famous is our family (and in my hometown) for her amazing chocolate peanut butter fudge (as well as for her plain old peanut butter fudge), so I thought of her when I started these. You know how sometimes when you eat something peanut buttery and chocolatey that you just want the salt and the sweet to hit the right notes and not overwhelm one another (like Aunt Barbara's fudge does; and if you're reading this Aunt Barbara, I would not object to eating some of that fudge the next time I'm in PA... ahem.)? That's what I hoped would happen with these truffles, and they FAR exceeded my expectations. I'll definitely make them again and again... they'd make a great hostess gift for a dinner party. Or as a candy exchange with Aunt B, should she decide to take me up on my offer. But enough about that....

Here's what goes into the truffles:

Obviously, the calculator doesn't go in there. Dur. That's in the photo to depict the fact that I had to use MATH to calculate the correct number of ounces of chocolate since it's not packaged in the exact ounceage I needed. First science, now math. Numbers are hard, yo. (not really)

You mix all the ingredients in the food processor for three whole minutes, which made the kitchen smell like the inside of a warm peanut butter sandwich (which in second grade was my vision of heaven):

After everything is mixed, you put it into a bowl and let it set up in the fridge overnight. Then, you use a small (2 tsp.) ice cream scoop to make little truffle balls (is that word ever not funny? I'm 12, I know). However, my mini ice cream scoop broke at the outset of this, so I had to get my melon-baller out of storage (10 pts. if you can cite this reference) and scoop them that way, which meant also rolling them in between my hands to smooth them out. That was some oily deliciousness:

After all the balls (>snerk<) were made, I dipped them twice in melted bittersweet chocolate and let them set, then refrigerated them. Before serving them, you can dust them with unsweetened cocoa powder, or serve them plain.

Thankfully, they could go for a few days in the fridge while I figured out what the hell I was doing wrong with the grape jelly candy. Let's dive into that debacle, shall we? I'm still pissed off about it, can you tell?

The ingredients are simple:

Or so I thought.

Anyhoo, you bring the grape juice, sugar and corn syrup (diabetes, anyone?) to a simmer and continually skim off the foam and other stuff that rises to the top. Then, you pour half of the liquid mixture into a separate bowl with the apple pectin powder and more sugar, whisk the crap out of it, and then pour that mixture back into the saucepan so that it can be whisked again and come back up to a simmer and the whole shebang can thicken. Once it hits 219 degrees and has simmered for 5-10 minutes and has started to thicken, you pour it into a plasticwrap-lined 9x13" baking dish. It's supposed to take a few hours to set into jelly candy. Supposed to. Stupid candy.

The first time I made it, it never thickened even in the saucepan let alone once it was poured into the baking dish. Rassin'-frassin' candy. I chalked up the failure to my maybe not whisking the pectin liquid enough before pouring it back into the saucepan, because I was thinking about getting a haircut later in the week and was squinting at my reflection in the kitchen window to try and picture different hairstyles. Shut UP.

The second time, the liquid mixture was a little thicker and got a skin on the top of the jelly when it was in the baking dish, but that's about it. All I could think of at this point was "Harley David... son of a bitch!"

The third time (tonight, merely an hour or so after the FedEx guy dropped off the new apple pectin powder), I held my breath. The mixture was definitely thicker in the saucepan and was thicker when I poured it into the pan to set. Things were looking up. However, the book mentions that you should have an offset spatula ready to smooth out the top after you pour it into the baking dish before it sets, but I didn't need the spatula. It was at this point that I found myself channeling Mr. Garrison doing Mr. Hat on South Park when he says, "You go to hell! You go to hell and you die!" to Kyle or Stan or whoever it was that wanted to be excused from school? Classy, I know.

I don't even have a photo of what the final jellies looked like, but if you've ever seen the movie The Blob, well then, there you go.

Not exactly the cute little square rolled in superfine sugar, eh? I don't mean to whine (much), it's just that these Concord Grape Jellies aren't supposed to be that difficult to make. Really, they're not. This seems like it should be a no-brainer, and for someone who grew up in the semi-Amish country in PA in a family full of people who used pectin on a regular basis in canning and other candy-making activities, I'm feeling especially stupid right now.

If you're out there reading this and you've made these successfully, please please please send me an email or post a comment and let me know what I'm doing wrong.

But let me end on a good note: those Peanut Butter Truffles might win a candy smackdown between me and my Aunt Barbara... I'm just sayin'...

Up Next: Gruyère Cheese Gougères

Brands Used:
All-Clad CopperCore cookware
Pyrex bakeware
Cuisinart food processor
R.W. Knudsen organic concord grape juice
Fresh-ground organic peanut butter from Whole Foods
Scharffen Berger chocolate products

Music to Cook By: Journey, Greatest Hits (peanut butter truffles); Daniel Lanois, Shine (Jellies Attempt #1); The Ditty Bops (Jellies Attempt #2); Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses (Jellies Attempt #3).


Anonymous said...

I tried to make the Yuzu jellies once and I had the same problem. IF you want to try the jellies again (and I'm not saying you have to), you might want to keep it simmering until it's really thickened (which might take longer than 10 minutes) but without scorching or burning it. Just keep it at 219 degrees and keep whisking it until you really feel resistance from the jelly in the saucepan. Then, pour it into the baking dish and let it set. If it doesn't work then, then I don't know what to tell you. I don't think you have to crush your own grapes to make homemade grape juice for this to work.

Anonymous said...

Mmm, truffles.

MMMM, peanut butter and chocolate truffles! Those look delicious.

I'm sorry the candy did not work out. Stupid candy. Yes, I am blaming it and not you.

Anonymous said...

Oh DG--you took the melon baller out of storage AND let the peanut butter SET UP in the fridge!!! I'm calling a SLoP Intervention, stat. Hee! ;)

In other news, the truffles sound way better than the lame stale tasting Buckeyes that are made around here. Have you been eating Buckeye Blitz again??

Carol Blymire said...

Oh, Spoonie... you win! And a big ole WHOOT to you! And now you've got me thinking about Graeter's ice cream, which I am begging my local co-op to "import" for summer... not gonna happen.

Catherine, thanks for jumping on the blame-the-candy bandwagon. You are the best.

And FjordEvryStream (do I know you?) -- good advice on the candy. Not sure if I'll try them again or not. I do have leftover grape juice, but...... the jury's out on this one.

Anonymous said...

You know you can have that stuff shipped right to your door, right?

Anonymous said...

I tried to make a large batch of the jellies one time to and had the same problem. I think some of Kellers recipes are a little bunk...One thing that did work for me with the jellies. After they cooled and were still liquid, I scraped them back into a saucepan and re-boiled. They worked after that, not sure why??

Carol Blymire said...

Spoonie -- yes I do. It's become somewhat of a tradition every summer with certain friends of mine. At their beach house, they order it by the case and on the day it arrives it's like a chorus of angels singing on high. I order it once a year because more than that would render me single forever.

Anonymous said...

[rubbingitin]I just go down the street to Kroger's and pick up whatever flavor I want.;)[rubbingitin]

Oh, and I'll take a seat next to catherine on the blame-the-candy train. Bad, bad candy!

Anonymous said...

Best. Blog. Evar.

pdxblogmommy said...

Perhaps the Concord Grape Jellies didn't work out because you blamed the KOSHER grape Juice. And that got the Big Man Upstairs mad at you. I'd think that the Kedem is far superior to Knudsen's or whatever. Direct to your table from G-d.

Nevertheless, gelatinous squares of jelled grape juice dusted in sugar seem like the kind of thing I'd feed to people I dislike. Or people who dislike me would (to torture me) suck that shit through their teeth because they know how that skeeves me.

HOWEVER, having HAD Aunt B's fudge, I am aching now to try the balls >heh<. I might have to borrow that recipe. I thank you and my ass thanks you.

Carol Blymire said...

pdxblogmommy -- yes, I'm sure god is smiting me as we speak for blaming kosher grape juice. Just for that, I'm going to videotape myself sucking the grape gel through my teeth while singing "Singe Sur Baton... Pardon" and email it to you. p.s. Rodger Berman loves you.

Anonymous said...

I had the same problem with the jellies as well. On the second attempt, after buying apple pectin from an online professional chef source, I still had to boil the crap out of it to get it to thicken. The end result, though set enough to cut and roll in sugar, looked nothing like the picture. All the more disappointing for being one of the first FL recipes that I tried because it looked so simple. I still can't make a FL or Bouchon dish without being reminded of the jellies failure.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous idea to cook through the entire French Laundry Cookbook. Looking forward to reading about it.

These truffles sound very tasty and I'm sorry the jellies didn't work because that's what really intrigues me about this. But I have no useful information to offer. I've never used pectin and the whole making things jell thing sort of intimidates me.

snekse said...

It's got to be a bunk recipe. We ran into the same issues.

Anonymous said...

A little late, but from a scientific standpoint, you're basically trying to form a supersaturated solution. So when it cools it ends up hardening, from all the solute (like the pectin and sugar)...more solute than liquid. Probably why the reboiling thing works...

Unknown said...

i just made some carrot jellies/gum drops from a different recipe. it uses mostly the same ingredients, but asks you to cook the sugar/corn syrup to 280, then add it to your boiling pectin/juice mix. they turned out, although they taste a lot more like corn syrup than carrots.

Unknown said...

I think your jellies didn't work out because the temperature of 219 seems way too low. I make jam at home and cook to 220, if I'm remembering correctly. But with grapes, you have to really be careful with burning them (I made concord grape jelly-jam in the fall, without a recipe and let me tell you how delicious that was!) Okay, so, I boiled it just until it thickened, and it did take longer than I had initially thought. Once it started to thicken, I tasted it, then did a cold plate test and immediately put it into the canning jars. BUT, you were not trying to make jam you were trying for jelly candies... My bet is that your sugar/pectin/water ratios were off and that's what made everything so blobular. If you do try it again, I'd try cold plating the jelly to see what's going on before you do the whole plastic wrapped pan she-bang.

If I decide to try them, I'll let you know what happens!

Anonymous said...

Pectin's highly dependent on the acidity of a solution/jam/jelly. It should be around 3.5 (or rather, at least 3.5) or it will not set. Grape juice, especially concord, is less acidic, and probably adding lemon juice would have fixed up the setting issue.

(Too much acid and the jelly sets but then falls apart some later on).

- Andrea

Pam Priest said...

Hi, I'm just now finding your blog. I had the same reaction to the French Laundry cookbook - I knew it would change the way I cook, and it has. I've made many recipes in the book, all of which have turned out well except these stupid jellies!!!!! I tried a second time and had essentially the same results you did. So thank you for making me feel better and I'm sorry yours did not turn out.

By the way - I love your writing and I love it that you wrote this blog on TFL - I can't wait to read the rest of it!