Pressed for a last-minute sweet for dinner guests, after my macarons failed miserably, I turned to my copy of "Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian kitchen." Penned by food blogger extraordinaire Clotilde Dusoulier, I read this book cover-to-cover on a train ride from Paris to Amsterdam. It holds a special place in my heart for several reasons: Clotilde's was the first food blog I ever read and bookmarked; I bought this book at Paris' legendary Shakespeare and Company bookstore; and finally, all the recipes I've tried, so far, are divine.
To find some inspiration for my after-dinner sweets, I turned to the chapter entitled Mignardises, French for the "sweet bites" that you get with your coffee at a high-end restaurant. Clotilde says in her blog that the word comes from mignard, "an old-fashioned word which, as a noun, means a small child, and as an adjective means delicate, graceful and pretty."
I happened to have all the necessary ingredients to make the Chocolate-Dipped Hazelnut Marbles, or Billes de Noisettes au Chocolat in French, so I happily set forth.
The end result was these elegant bites of hazelnut heaven that like miniature candied apples and taste like the Ferrero Rocher. The list of ingredients is short and to the point: 1 cup of shelled hazelnuts, 3/4 cup of confectioners' sugar; fine sea salt; 2 teaspoons honey; and 3 ounces of good-quality bittersweet chocolate.
In short, you husk the toasted hazelnuts and pulse them with the sugar and salt in a food processor. Then you add the honey with a tablespoon of hot water, and stir the mixture. After leaving the bowl in the refrigerator, you shape the paste into marble-sized balls and plant toothpicks in each one.
After melting the chocolate, and this is the tricky part, you dip the marbles in the chocolate. Rather than try to twirl the marble in the melted chocolate, use a small spatula to spread the chocolate around the hazelnut paste.
Leave the top uncoated so that the paste peeks through. Let the excess chocolate drip off and then let rest somewhere for a couple of hours in a cool place.
My substitutions: I used dark chocolate rather than bittersweet chocolate. Also, despite the directions, I grew impatient and threw the tray in the fridge, despite the recipe warning against this tactic. I wish I had Clotilde's foresight because my husband opened the fridge door and the whole tray went tumbling down. Luckily for me, and him, I had tried them before they had set completely. The recipe also suggests making the marbles with almonds or pecans.
Grade: Four stars out of five. While I will make these chic mignardises again, happily, they were tricky to make and time-consuming too. Set a couple of leisurely hours aside to make these from start to finish, turn on the Carla Bruni tunes and have a glass of wine. Otherwise you'll be sweating when you're in a rush to shape these tiny marbles and dip them carefully in the chocolate. And you might be tempted to, like I did, put them in the refrigerator.