You know that kind of overdimensional lightbulb, that pops above your head without introductions, zapping a long forgotten memory back to life in your headspace? Well, I’ve recently had one of those lightbulb-moments, a particularly irritating one, that is. You see, I’ve been making these little sweets for many years now, tucking a load of them into almost every batch of my summer chocolate boxes and, as the years went by, I had forgotten all about the reason why I had experimented them up in the first place…
A single, small slice of cake in a Pâtisserie’s window display lit that lightbulb again and left me standing, struck stupid, in front of the window like a little kid pressing its nose up against the candy shop’s display.
When I was at the terror-of-the-candy-shop age, there were two cakes I really liked – my grandma’s apricot cheesecake and a poppy seed cake that was only available in a small family-run mini-chain of bakeries in the area. It consisted of a roundabout 3cm thick, blue-black layer of poppy seeds, barely held together by a hint of something I didn’t have a name for at the time, and a very thin layer of sugar-glazed puff pastry on the top and bottom, qualifying the whole deal as “cake”. When a large chain took over their business, the poppy seed cake vanished from the displays, never to be seen again. A couple of years later, when I was old enough to enter a kitchen with a specific purpose, I had a sit-down with my grand aunt and we tried to recreate that cake. We quickly found out that the “binding agent” for the seeds hadn’t been the disgusting, cheap custard other bakeries used to drown a couple of poppy seeds in to sell it as “poppy seed” cake – even her delicious homemade vanilla custard and a lot of seeds didn’t do the trick. A couple of small test-cakes later, she placed a bar of the dreaded marzipan – like most kids I used to hate marzipan, so my enthusiasm was uh… limited, to say the least – on the table for one last attempt and we went to work again. And it turned out perfect, even better than the original cake we tried to recreate! I’m pretty sure, one of her iron kitchen rules: “When it comes to sweet things, read the recipe, cut the amounts of sugar by at least a third, then proceed” was responsible for the extraordinarily poppy-seedy result… anyways, we succeeded and she still makes it that way from time to time~
When I started to delve deeper into the subject of chocolates a few years after that, I remembered our cake-experiment and decided to turn the essence of our work into delicious little chocolatey bites. Interestingly enough, this very easy-to-make bite has turned into a real crowd pleaser, earning a lot of comments along the lines of “Oh! There used to be a cake in my childhood…” Seems like bakeries around the world have some recipe-digging to do in the past! But until then, here’s the recipe for my Lemony Poppy Seed Chocolates~
The Lemony Poppy Seed Chocolates
200g Raw High-Quality Marzipan – make sure you get the best raw marzipan containing the highest percentage of almonds available to get the wonderful almond flavor without an oversugared, cottony, grainy texture
50g Poppy Seeds
1 Tsp Lemon Zest
10g Icing Sugar
3 Drops Vanilla Extract
150g White Chocolate, roughly chopped
Fleur de Sel or Vanilla-Infused Fleur de Sel
1) Much like any other type of seed, poppy seeds need a bit of a toast to release their essential oils and with them, their characteristic flavors. So, place the poppy seeds in a wide, heavy-based pan and set them onto medium-low heat to toast them.
2) They’ll take some time to get to “the point”, but once they do, they’ll burn quickly, so keep an eye and an ear on the pan while the heat works its magic. As soon as the occasional pops in the pan become more frequent and the distinct aroma of roasting poppy seeds starts wafting up to you, take the pan off the heat and set it aside, leaving the seeds to cool down in the pan.
3) In case you took them a bit too far – a note of “burned” mixing in with the “toasted” aroma – tip the seeds out into a cold, wide bowl instead. A couple of slightly over-toasted seeds won’t hurt much, if you burned the whole batch however, start over.
4) In the meantime, rip the bar of raw marzipan into thumnail-sized bits and place them in a large mixing bowl.
5) Sift in the icing sugar, add the vanilla extract and evenly sprinkle the lot with the lemon zest.
6) Once the seeds are back at room temperature, add them to the marzipan bowl and get ready for a bit of a kitchen workout.
7) Thoroughly knead the mixture until none of the seeds are running free inside your bowl anymore and the marzipan dough takes on an almost even blue-black hue.
8) At that point, tip the “dough” out onto your work surface and keep kneading the mixture for about 5 minutes. Friction between the seeds and the temperature of your hands will help the poppy seeds and lemony bits to infuse the marzipan with their yumtastic flavors during this process – the prolonged kneading-action will also make sure all of the ingredients are evenly distributed in the end.
9) Roll the dough into a firmly packed log of roughly the diameter you’d like your bites to have in the end once you’re done. I usually aim for bites the size of the tip of my thumb, but that’s something for you to decide yourself~
10) With a sharp knife, slice the log into evenly-sized pieces – again, aim for pieces the size of your soon-to-be chocolates to make the rolling-bit easier. If the ordeal you’ve just put the marzipan through has left it a bit too warm and sticky, set it aside and give it about 15 mins of R&R to make it easier to handle.
11) Pop the chocolate chunks into a heat-resistant bowl and place it on top of a pot of water simmering gently on medium heat.
12) While stirring, melt the chocolate bits into a smooth and glossy liquid.
13) Once each and every bit of chocolate has melted obligingly, set the bowl aside and allow the chocolate to cool down to room temperature.
14) Meanwhile, line a large tray or platter with a sheet of baking parchment and evenly sprinkle it with the salt flakes.
15) Just on a side-note, the vanilla-infused Fleur de Sel I listed above is something you don’t need to pay an arm and a leg for – simply stick a de-seeded vanilla pod into a phial of Fleur de Sel and leave it in there for… well until you need the salt and can refill the phial, really.
16) Roll your ready-cut dough bits into firm spheres or into egg-shaped easter-goodies between the palms of your hands.
17) Carefully dip them into the chocolate with the help of a fork, shake off the excess chocolate and gently set the coated globes down onto your salted parchment.
18) You could also use a toothpick, poked halfway through the marzipan ball, to drag them through the chocolate-bath, but make sure you have some sort of decorations to hide the poke-hole on top later~ Candied lemon zest curls come to mind…
19) Set the tray aside and allow the chocolate coat to set and firm up at its own pace.
20) Once the chocolate has turned into a pretty-in-white shell around the filling, move the chocolates into an airtight container and pop it into the fridge.
21) Take the amount you’d like to serve up out of the box about 10 mins before serving for a maximum of chocolatey, poppy seedy and lemony bursts for dessert~
22) If stored correctly – locked airtight, in the fridge and far away from snooping chocoholics – these summery bites will keep fresh for up to 4 weeks.