Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Prayer and Farming in the Kitchen

Another week has passed without any particularly extraordinary or significant personal contribution to the various causes of the world. I realize that a certain patience is required; that I cannot individually change the present condition of humanity. Instead, I must do what I can, when I can. By starting small and starting local, I can offer personal aid and assistance, little by little, to those around me. And so, today's prayer is for serenity, courage, and wisdom:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference." ~Reinhold Niebuhr

Still, in a place far, far away from Illinois, somewhere close to the equator, there is a small family-owned cocoa farm, where the harvest remains shade grown and its crop is used to make rich, delicious chocolate bars. Shade grown farms promote a harmonious balance within the sustainable forest environment, where plants and animals indigenous to this natural habitat remain supported and protected. Despite the trend toward mass production of cocoa beans in larger, open sun grown farms, there are some smaller farms that still practice shade grown cocoa harvesting. Endangered Species Chocolate concerns itself with organic, fair traded products, supporting global efforts to ensure environmental protection, enable sustainable natural habitats, and empower the farming populations of these habitats. And somewhere else far, far away, on another small self-sufficient farm, fair wages are being paid for a modest coffee bean harvest, because of the efforts of Seattle's Best Coffee.

Having chocolate and coffee, I decided to bake. To bake and offer help globally, in a very, very, very small way, by incorporating ingredients which support the labors of small, self-reliant family owned farms and promote fair wages paid, in places far, far away from Illinois. And so I baked a batch of mocha tartlets, using an Endangered Species Dark Chocolate Bar with Espresso Beans. This chocolate is especially rich and creamy, making the tartlets that much more delicious than ordinary baking chocolate. And instead of using the liqueur included in the recipe ingredients, I chose to use Seattle's Best Fair-Trade Certified Organic French Roast. Since the chocolate bar already contained espresso beans, this rich coffee was the perfect complement and worked beautifully for these tartlets.

More small steps...

(recipe courtesy

For mocha custard:
2 large egg yolks
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup whole milk
2 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon Tía Maria or other coffee liqueur
(I used brewed Seattle's Best Fair Trade Organic French Roast Coffee, instead of a liqueur)
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder
(omitted since chocolate bar was heavy with espresso beans)

For butter cookie dough:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Make custard: Beat together yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt in a bowl with an electric mixer until thick and pale, about 1 minute. Heat milk in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not boiling. Add one third of hot milk to yolk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour remainder of milk into yolk mixture, whisking, then transfer to saucepan. Simmer, whisking constantly, until very thick, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add chocolate, liqueur, butter, and espresso powder. Let stand until chocolate is melted, about 1 minute, then whisk until smooth. Force custard through a fine sieve into a bowl. Cover surface of custard with wax paper and chill until cold, at least 4 hours.
Make tartlet shells while custard chills: Pulse together flour, sugar, salt, butter, egg, and vanilla in a food processor until dough is smooth and begins to form a ball (it will be soft, like cookie dough). Turn out dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and gather into a ball. Flatten dough into a disk and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours (overnight).
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Break off 1-teaspoon pieces of dough and press evenly into molds with floured fingers to form shells about 1/16 inch thick, pinching off excess from rim and making bottoms slightly thinner than sides. Arrange molds 1 inch apart in a shallow baking pan and chill until dough is firm again, about 30 minutes.
Bake in middle of oven, rotating pan halfway through baking, until pale golden, 12 to 15 minutes total. Transfer molds to a rack to cool, then carefully remove shells from molds. Make more tartlet shells in same manner if desired.
Assemble tartlets: Fill pastry bag with custard and pipe decoratively into shells. Makes 24 tartlets.

Until we meet for coffee,

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