A Hard Year

Caramelized Milk Chocolate Magic Shell (plus ice cream with duck eggs)

pouring chocolate
I’m having a bit of a hard time letting go of chocolate this year. Every year, around this time (well, actually a bit sooner), I post a recipe with chocolate to get it out of my system as, with the change in seasons, my days turn from brown to color.

I’ve described myself as a chocolate lover but not a chocoholic; the ingredient doesn’t fuel my creativity as much as dough, spices, herbs, and produce do. But this winter—the harshest I’ve experienced—may have turned a friend into a lover. I didn’t post more recipes that included chocolate than normal, just three: Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies with Aleppo Pepper, Individual Sesame-Chocolate Ice Cream Cakes, and Miso S’more Bars. But the ones I did post may have been some of my best and boldest.

I really turned into a lush. I found myself craving warm, fudgy-crumbed brownies, irresponsibly sliced into while they’re just baked and still gooey; the darkest and densest of flourless chocolate cakes, so overwhelming that it needs to be sliced into pencil-thin slivers; and rich ganaches coating just about everything.

jar chocolate
I didn’t give in to all of these cravings, but I did find myself upping my nightly ration of my favorite snacking dark chocolate and buying other chocolates to accompany it—dangerous ones like this. This was a good thing, though: The combination of fast-melting chocolate, warm tea, and good comedies seemed to be my evening cure-all after long days of walking everywhere in trenches of boot-high white and over slick, reflective grey.

Those days are gone, but they’ve left the Northeast a bit confused. The perennials we have in our yard sprouted and died in a flash. Few vegetables have appeared at the indoor markets, as winter storage supplies ran out before spring produce popped up, and the whole fruit and vegetable calendar is behind.

magic shell
But this post comes because I see the first flecks of light. The outdoor summer farmers’ markets are open for business downtown and my neighborhood one will be opening soon. Folks had allegedly spotted local asparagus—something other regions have had for a long time, as I know, unfortunately, from Instagram—a week or so ago, and I finally scored my first bunch this past weekend. I grasped the spears in my hand and held my nose close to the regal foliage—it had been so long that I forgot that just one modest bunch smells like a whole field of greenery and flowers. The bunch was perfect, too. Sure, a few of the tops were softer than I’d like but the stems were of my favorite size—thin but not too thin—and vibrant green. I’ve spotted some rhubarb, too. After heartbreakingly purchasing Oregon (yes, 3000-miles-away Oregon) rhubarb for a project, I was delighted to see ruby local stalks peeking out from the veg case at Formaggio Kitchen the weekend before. A coworker recently traveled to Virginia and filled up on strawberries and even cherry tomatoes. They must be coming!

chocolate sundae
While we wait for our veggies, this is the perfect spring-summer “bye-bye, chocolate” transition dish, because it involves ice cream, and ice cream, whether it has chocolate in it or not, is prime summer food. This essentially “sweet cream–flavored” ice cream is particularly seasonal because it’s made with some beautiful local duck eggs, the window on which is about to close. They’re much richer than chicken eggs and they lend a beautiful, different flavor to custards without making them taste funky. If chicken eggs taste a bit chicken-y, duck eggs, predictably, taste a bit, well, ducky, and their yolks are big and especially unctuous.

But I’m not here to talk about the ice cream. I’m here to talk about something I’ve wanted to do ever since I first caramelized white chocolate: caramelize milk chocolate, of course. I’ve bought caramelized milk chocolate before, and it’s usually milk chocolate infused with caramelized sugar. But I reasoned that a standard milk chocolate contained enough milk solids and sugar to deepen in flavor and not enough cocoa solids to burn during low-temperature roasting.

sea salt chocolate
Almost five years (!!!) after learning about caramelized white chocolate and after two caramelized white chocolate posts (this and this), I finally roasted milk chocolate, and I am thrilled with the results. The transformation doesn’t hit you over the head like it does with white chocolate, which goes from being cloying and uninteresting to nutty and warm, but it is a worthwhile process nonetheless. Plain Jane milk chocolate becomes deep, complex, and very toasty—it doesn’t taste of dark chocolate, but rather of a more mature version of its former self. And its nuttiness could make me, a dark chocolate devotee, a milk chocolate lover.

banana split
I didn’t want to fuss with this creation, so I made it into a magic shell so its pure flavor, only lightened mildly by the added fat needed to create the shell, could shine. A pinch of sea salt always helps to make flavors pop, too. Have fun with the shell, but may I suggest a banana split with salty peanuts? It’s oh-my-god good. I can’t wait to do more experimenting with caramelized milk chocolate to see if its flavor remains distinct in baked goods when flour’s in play or in custards when dairy’s in play (caramelized milk chocolate ice cream, anyone?). But at the rate I went through this treat, I’m thinking that moderation is important.

It’s hard to let a lover go, but he went out with a bang (or a crack, in this case). See you when the chill returns, my love.

crack shell

Caramelized Milk Chocolate Magic Shell

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Just like there are rules for caramelized white chocolate, there are rules for the milk variety, too. Do not caramelize less than 12 ounces of chocolate. Do not choose a chocolate that has a cocoa content higher than 36 or 38% (more cocoa solids = more of a chance of scorching, plus we want enough sugar and milk for caramelization to be noticeable). Make sure cocoa butter is high on the ingredient list. I used both Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate Baking Bar and Callebaut Chocolate (from Whole Foods), with great success. I never use refined coconut oil, but I had to admit that when testing this recipe, the unrefined that I usually buy made the shell taste fake and, well, too coconutty. It obscured the caramelized flavor, but you can use it if you like an almost tropical flavor or are opposed to using refined. The magic shell will stay liquid if your kitchen is 74 degrees or higher (it’s summer, so it’s possible). If your kitchen is cooler and the shell solidifies simply reheat it over a double boiler or in the microwave until it’s pourable.

12 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Pinch kosher salt
78 grams (about 51/2 tablespoons) refined coconut oil

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees F.
2. Spread chocolate evenly over rimmed baking sheet. Bake in oven for 10 minutes until melted. Scrape chocolate from pan with spatula and respread into even layer. Repeat this process, scraping and spreading every 10 minutes for 11/2 hours. Chocolate will be thick and smell incredibly fragrant but not burnt. (Don’t worry if it looks lumpy and unpleasant midway through the process; it will smooth out.) Strain milk chocolate through fine-mesh strainer into medium bowl if needed to remove any remaining little lumps. Whisk in salt and coconut oil until coconut oil is melted and fully blended with chocolate. Use right away or let cool if pouring over ice cream.

Sweet Cream Ice Cream (with duck eggs!)

Makes 1 quart

I use less egg yolks than in my usual recipe, yet the total yolk weight is greater (because duck eggs are much bigger than chicken eggs). I swap half of the cream for milk because I want the richness to come from these gorgeous yolks, not from cream, and I want their flavor to come through. For the same reason, I do not add vanilla, hence the sweet cream title. However, a tablespoon of bourbon adds sweet complexity. You can substitute flavorless vodka for the bourbon if you like, but do not omit the alcohol. This ice cream is just as creamy as my cream-dominant ice cream and not at all icy.

460 grams (2 cups) whole milk
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
130 grams (about 4) duck egg yolks
1 cup (230 grams) heavy cream, chilled
1 tablespoon bourbon

1. Bring milk, sugar, and salt just to boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally to dissolve sugar.
2. Meanwhile, pour heavy cream into large bowl with strainer set on top. Place bowl and strainer over ice bath. Thoroughly whisk together egg yolks in medium bowl.
3. Pour small amount of just-boiling milk mixture into egg yolks, whisking constantly, to temper, then whisk in remaining milk mixture in slow,steady stream. Transfer milk-egg mixture to large saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, over medium heat until line drawn down custard-coated spoon holds and custard registers 170-175 degrees. Pour custard through fine-mesh strainer into heavy cream. Stir custard over ice bath occasionally until it cools. Cover bowl tightly (or transfer custard to airtight container) and refrigerate for 8 hours.
4. Whisk bourbon into custard and churn according to your machine’s directions. Transfer ice cream to container and freeze for at least 3 hours before serving.

13 responses

  1. Fabulous, as always. May the coming days bring you lots more asparagus. And peas. And scallions. And spinach. And… (Yes, we’re awakening just a bit ahead of you. Happily.)

  2. Emma from Poires au Chocolat caramelized some milk chocolate in a post and since then I’ve been intrigued…still not tried it yet but this simple magic shell recipe looks and sounds like the perfect vehicle. It’s finally beautifully sunny here in London – bring on the summer!

    • Thanks for letting me know. I just checked out her post (I must have missed that one). I can’t wait to actually bake with it. I’m not actually sure if its flavor will hold up, but it will be a happy experiment. To summer!

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