Sunday, September 26, 2010

Janky Korean Food

Since arriving in Korea, I have learned to really, really enjoy Korean food. Kimbap, Bibimbap, Samgipsal, Galbi, Kimchi, I love it all. But, there are days I just crave American foods I'm used to making easily at home. Which presents a problem...

Finding certain American food essentials is sometimes really tough here. Unfortunately, these usually happen to be foods I hold very near and dear to my heart, aka ranch dressing, mushroom soup, cheese, and dark chocolate. Do you know how sad it is to come home from a long day of work knowing there isn't a bottle of ranch dressing anywhere in your city of over a million people? Or a chocolate with over 55% cocoa anywhere in the vicinity of Seoul? Essentially, my life is in shambles!

But enough with the dramatics. I entitled this post "Janky Korean Food", because you have to get creative here in the kitchen to make quintessentially American foods with strictly Korean ingredients. So janky versions of American foods. It's sometimes tricky, always inconvenient, and sometimes turns out completely wrong. But, over the weekend I had a major success with one of my janky Korean food projects...

Chocolate truffles!

Anyone who knows me knows that dessert is my favorite meal of the day, so it should be no surprise that I've been trying to find ways of bringing American dessert foods to Korea. Korea as it stands is pretty lacking in the dessert department. Ice cream has been fairly easy to find, and those pricey little cake shops make finding cake a cinch (although the whipped frosting is not my favorite). But not having an oven at my disposal has really put a damper on my dessert making repertoire. No cakes shaped like inanimate objects, rhubarb pies, cookies, brownies, kolacki, nothing. Add to this the problem with chocolate in Korea, namely, that a) they don't believe in dark chocolate, and b) it's all just plain not good, and i'm left with quite a problem on my hands.

Nevertheless, I decided to have a go at chocolate truffles over the weekend. It was definitely a project, but ohmygoodness they turned out delicious!!!

Let's begin. I started out with this recipe, which I've used time and time again in the states making family presents around Christmastime. Works like a charm and always comes out fantastic. My mouth waters just thinking about how tasty they are!

If you click on the link, you'll notice the first two ingredients are bittersweet Lindt chocolates and semisweet Ghiradelli chocolates to make the base of my truffles. Finding these particular products in Korea, yeah, no. I ended up prowling the local E-Mart for a good ten minutes looking for anything I could possibly substitute for dark chocolate. The milk chocolate here is just plain terrible, and there was nothing even remotely close to bittersweet chocolate anywhere to be found. I picked up two bags of individually wrapped (debatably) dark chocolates. So, instead of just opening up a package of chocolate and chopping, I got to unwrap at least 60 little ones before I could even begin my truffle-making adventure. Awesome.

Next ingredient, heavy creme. I can read Korean well enough to get by and sound out the Konglish words I encounter in my everyday life, but I don't know what most words here mean, much less the Korean word for "heavy creme." Finding it was a challenge, and I had given up to just using regular milk and hoping it would work when I stumbled upon it, lodged in the middle of the yogurt section of E-Mart. Win!

Next ingredients, Grand Mariner, prepared coffee, and vanilla extract. Ha. Grand Mariner, obviously nowhere to be found in my E-Mart, so I substituted Kahlua which was surprisingly easy to find tucked on the bottom shelf next to the whiskey and soju. Coffee flavor instead of orange flavor, totally fine. Prepared coffee, the closest thing you can find is called Americano, and is a slightly wimpier version of regular coffee in the states. Doable. Vanilla extract, nowhere to be found. Nothing even close. I can't even find a single extract of anything in my dear E-Mart, and eventually just decided to skip the vanilla flavor entirely. Sad day. Side note, if anyone in the states is feeling generous and wants to send me a gallon, I'd appreciate it ;)

So I've obtained a reasonable assortment of passable ingredients. Next problem, I need to boil the milk and then pour it over the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. Silly Korea, why would my apartment filled with a smattering of cheaply acquired kitchen products like a Winnie the Pooh bowl and single Hello Kitty fork have a heat-proof bowl present? Luckily I had a wok-like frying pan sitting around that fit the bill perfectly. Back on track, the next few steps went smoothly. The chocolate melted as planned, and after refrigerating for a couple hours the mixture was solid enough to roll in to balls. On to my next dilemma. Truffles need to be rolled in some kind of powder to bind the ganache filling and keep them from sticking to your hands as you eat them, right? Usually cocoa is my go to product, although powdered sugar could have been a viable option had the filling not already been sweeter than normal because of the lack of bittersweet chocolate in this country. Of course my trusty E-Mart didn't have regular old cocoa powder available, which led me to make my final substitution of the day: Hot chocolate mix.

Sounds terrible, right? So wrong! They turned out delicious, and even though they taste nothing like the truffles I've made a hundred times in the states, I'm in love! I'm thinking if I can find a way to infuse some mint flavoring and temper some kind of chocolate coating for them, I could have a really fantastic french mint recipe on my hands. Or a janky version at least. Either way, it was a very successful and verrrrrrrrrry yummy weekend :)

- Christine -

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