Sunday, May 04, 2008

Adventures in Dessert Salsa

(first comes the blabber, so if you just want the recipes, scroll down a bit)

At work each year, we have several competitions. In October, we have the pumpkin-carving contest. In January, we have a chili cook-off. The pie-bake-off is always for the 4th of July (or rather, since we're in Columbus, the Red White & Boom event). But now it's early May, meaning Cinco de Mayo, meaning the SALSA CONTEST. The only problem w/ that is--I'm not a huge salsa connoisseur. Sure, I'll eat it, but i'm not CRAZY about it. I'm not huge on super spicy foods either--i'm kind of a wimp, unfortunately.

In the past I've been totally happy to not participate in the salsa contest--i just eat the stuff and vote. It's less stressful that way. Salsa making isn't my thing--whatevs. BUT THIS YEAR I had an epiphany... WHAT IF I MADE A DESSERT SALSA?!?! Dessert IS my thing....sort of. I'm not a pro, for sure, but i bake a hell of a lot (mostly cupcakes and french macarons) and i watch enough of the food network to believe that i have a decent understanding of the "dessert" concept. I thought "I'll give this a whirl. Why the hell not? What better time to try this out??"

I just had to decide on what I actually wanted to do! Chocolate? Fruit? This is gonna be on a tortilla chip after all. I couldn't make up my mind and I had two ideas. One w/ a spicy chocolate base, and one w/ a fruit base.

If you're familiar w/ Vosges Haut Chocolat (I'm obsessed) then you might know that they have chocolate covered tortilla chips. This made me pretty confident that a spicy chocolate "salsa" would work. However, salsa's got some chunk to it, so I needed some texture. That, however, wouldn't be hard to figure out.

The fruit one was a bit more of an experiment. I found this recipe from to get an idea of a fruit base. I decided to go w/ strawberries instead of raspberries though--cheaper and less seedy. I'm not into mass amounts of seeds. But besides the fruit I wanted a sauce to kind of "adhere" it. I figured I'd give it a go w/ a caramel glaze. So after a trip to kroger, it was time to get to work!!! Here we go.

1. Spicy Chocolate Dessert Salsa.
I wanted a chocolate sauce consistency, not just melted chocolate that'll harden a few minutes later. I used this
  • 6 ounces water
  • 4 1/4 ounces sugar
  • 2 1/4 ounces corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounces cocoa powder
  • 4 ounces milk chocolate chips (the recipe calls for dark chocolate, but i think milk chocolate goes better w/ the salty-factor. i'm trusting Vosges on this one!)
First, heat the water. Add in the sugar and corn syrup and stir until the sugar's dissolved. Then add the cocoa powder and chocolate. I stirred it pretty constantly. After it's all combined, it's time to add the fun part.

• Heath Toffee Bits (not more chocolate--just the toffee)

• chopped/ground peanuts (whatever will come out of your food processor)

• zest of 1 orange

• lime juice
• cinnamon. LOTS

• hungarian paprika. LOTS

• chili powder. SERIOUSLY A LOT

• sea salt. not quite lots.

Adding the spices to the chocolate was surprising. Unfortunately, I didn't measure exactly. I'd sprinkle some in, taste it, then sprinkle some more, taste it again, and just keep dumping stuff in from there. It took a couple tablespoons, I'm willing to bet, but it also depends on the flavor you're going for. You can definitely detect the flavor of cinnamon and chili powder, but it's not overpowering. It may not hit you in the back of the throat, but it has a wonderful smokey flavor and hint of spice. It's quite good. I thought I added enough chili powder to give you a small hit of spice in the back of your throat, but after actually eating the salsa the next day, it wasn't very strong. That could be a good thing though--you can eat more of it before the spice builds up!

The citrus from the orange zest and lime juice added a nice tang. I probably added about a tablespoon of lime juice or just a little more. (again, i just squeezed straight out of my little lime-shaped thingy--no real measuring.) I also added some salt--everyone love the salty chocolate combo. I added probably a teaspoon's worth? I didn't want it to be too overpowering, just more of a hint.

All in all, the chocolate salsa had a very nice complexity to it!!! You could taste the chocolate and experience the crunch of the toffee and peanuts (which actually mystified many people, surprisingly), then you sensed the lime, then the spices. I was very happy w/ the way it turned out. The response was very good too--everyone seemed to really enjoy it. It didn't win or even place, but the positive response was enough. I had a lot of people say that they "just kept eating it and then had to stop themselves," which to me was just as good as winning. Mission #1 accomplished! I have some left, which means it'll be recycled into a lovely topping for cupcakes or brownies!!! Oh man that's gonna be GOOD.

2. Whiskey Caramel Fruit Salsa
• strawberries
• kiwi (peeled)
• peaches (peeled, or use frozen)
• pears (peeled)

For the strawberries and kiwi, I bought one of those larger-sized pre-cut/pre-peeled containers from Kroger, plus 2 or 3 extra kiwis. I used some frozen peaches I had in my freezer, probably the equivalent of 1 large peach to 1.5 peaches (it depends on your preference). Later in the process, I added 1/2 pear (add this right before it will be consumed, so the pear doesn't oxidize to brown yuck). Slice all that fruity goodness to small bits. Mix it all up in a bowl. Voila. Part 1 done. On to the glaze.

Whiskey Caramel Glaze
• 1 container caramel apple dip (I had this left from a party and I was dying to get rid of it)
• heavy cream (you'll only use a few ounces)
• corn syrup (again, a few ounces)
• Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey (approx 1/2 cup)
• Heath Toffee Bits (no chocolate--just the toffee. approx 3/4-1 cup)

Just like the chocolate salsa, this was a total experiment... meaning no actual measuring was done. I put the caramel glaze in a double-boiler--i figured this would heat it more evenly and i wouldn't have to worry about sugar burning, working quickly, etc.

First, I heated the caramel and added a little corn syrup. The corn syrup was to help thin it out, but maintain a sugary-glaze quality. Perhaps I didn't even need the corn syrup--i have no clue. It seemed like a good idea. But anyway, I probably added about 2 ounces. Then I added 3-4 ounces of heavy cream, also to help thin it out and make it a creamier caramel than what already existed. After that was all mixed together, I added Jack Daniels. You need to stir constantly (i found using a whisk most helpful instead of a spoon), b/c the cream tends to separate a bit when adding the Jack. I added enough Jack to taste, which probably was around 1/2 cup. You can add as much as you like--I find that the flavor of Whiskey is a nice addition to the creamy, sugary caramel. It adds a unique punch, especially when mixed with the fruit. Overall, you want to add enough corn syrup, heavy cream, and Jack Daniels to turn the caramel to a medium-thick liquid consistency so it doesn't congeal to a big nasty glob, especially when added to the fruit.

Add this mixture to the fruit slowly--perhaps a few tablespoons at a time--so you get the salsa-consistency you want. You may want lots of caramel, you may just want a little bit. I personally like more caramel b/c the fruit flavors are pretty strong. After you mix the caramel and fruit together, you need one more addition--THE HEATH TOFFEE BITS. They get lost easily, so I added somewhere between 3/4-1 cup. Seriously--the Heath adds great texture and flavor to each bite. However, that was when I was eating it straight up w/ a fork. It's a little different when eating it w/ tortilla chips.

The response to the caramel salsa was pretty good as well, but I think the chocolate went over better. When eating the caramel fruit salsa w/ tortilla chips, the Heath bits unfortunately weren't very noticeable--probs due to the crunchiness of the chip. However, the caramel fruit salsa (with the heath!) would be AWESOME with lots of other things... shortbread cookies? Ice cream?? Cheesecake?? Some sort of pudding pie??

So that was my adventure in Dessert Salsa creation. Sounds exciting, no? The overall process went pretty quickly so if time is a concern, I'd say 1 recipe will take you around an hour or less--it all depends on your kitchen skills.

If you're making these recipes ahead of time, I recommend keeping the caramel glaze separate from the fruit until the very last minute. B/c of refrigeration, the caramel will congeal so you'll have to heat it for a little bit to get it to thin back out. Can you imagine how gross that would be if the fruit were mixed in?? Heating the fruit w/ the caramel mixture??? Igh. I imagine it'd be kind of gross. Once the caramel is thinned out and added to the fruit though, it won't re-glob-ify as long as it doesn't experience any super cold temperatures.

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