Chocolate Rattlesnake Dragon
by Barbara Jo
This was made as a Christmas present for Barbara May and her husband, Large Bear. The body is made of forty-seven chocolate cups with eleven different fillings, arranged randomly, so biting into each segment is an adventure, since there's no way of knowing what flavor it will be. Maybe there's some sort of gambling to be done here. Someone call Vegas. Speaking of which, I have a great idea for a restaurant in Vegas in which, for a fixed price, you get a pull on a slot machine to determine what you're going to get for dinner. The first reel could be the drink, then the appetizer, the side dish, the main course, and dessert. You might end up with lobster; you might end up with a BLT. Wouldn't that be fun?
Getting back to the dragon, the eleven filling flavors were golden sesame, ginger, citrus zest, green tea, red wine, wasabi, peanut butter, peppermint, coffee, orange, and cherry.
Why a dragon, you ask? Well, I reply, because that's what occurred to me. I had another idea first, involving a demonic Santa Claus playing God, holding up a DNA strand covered with the screaming heads of tormented elves, but I didn't think I'd have the time to do it right. It's too bad, because that would have been more Christmas themed. Maybe next year.
Initially, I was planning to make the body out of candies made in several sizes of peanut butter cup molds. This fell through because the peanut butter cup molds I ordered over the internet didn't arrive at my apartment in New York until after I left to spend Christmas at Barbara May's house in California. I therefore had to run around to candy supply stores looking for usable molds. What I found (at Michael's) were molds for those little chocolate cups that you're supposed to fill with mousse or raspberries. It was actually a blessing in disguise, as these worked better than the peanut butter cup molds ever would have. They're big enough to fit a good amount of filling and they're proportioned really well for snake segments. Peanut butter cup molds would have resulted in much squatter, less graceful snake. Of course, I now have a bunch of peanut butter cup molds and nothing to do with them.
The first step was to make all the fillings, except peanut butter, which comes ready made in a convenient jar. I recommend using some kind of natural peanut butter. I used Trader Joe's.
The peppermint, coffee, orange and cherry centers were made of center fondant, which I've made many times before. My recipe comes from The Practical Candymaking Cookbook, which I highly recommend, though I believe it is now out of print. The fondant is basically sugar, milk, and butter, cooked, then worked on a marble slab to get the right texture. I then flavored it with candy oils (except for the coffee, for which I used instant coffee as flavoring) and colored it with paste food colors.
The golden sesame, ginger, red wine, wasabi, citrus zest, and green tea were much more of an adventure, because instead of a recipe, all I had was a brochure from a high end New York candy store, which I got at the New York Chocolate Show. It had descriptions of the candies, but it wasn't like a real recipe. For instance, all the instruction I had for the ginger candy was, "Milk chocolate blended with gin-flavored ganache and ginger."
The golden sesame and ginger have a milk chocolate ganache base, which is made by boiling cream, pouring it over chopped milk chocolate, and whisking them together. For the golden sesame I added finely ground golden sesame seeds and a splash of brandy and for the ginger, finely chopped ginger root and a little gin. I determined the proportions by taste and then wasn't smart enough to write them down, so I won't know any more the next time I make them than I did this time.
The red wine and wasabi start with a dark chocolate ganache base, made the same way as the ganache with milk chocolate. I then added red wine and wasabi powder (because I couldn't find fresh wasabi root) to taste.
Finally, the citrus zest and green tea are based on white chocolate ganache, flavored with orange zest (from Barbara May's own orange tree) and gin and with ground up green tea.
They all wound up tasting very good. I was particularly pleased with the ginger, red wine, and citrus zest. The only major problem I had was that the white chocolate-based flavors and, to a lesser extent, the milk chocolate-based flavors, were more liquid than is ideal for rolling truffle centers. This actually was no problem at all for this project, as I could just pour the liquid into the mold, but I was also using these ganaches to make rolled truffle centers, both for standard truffles and for the shrunken head truffles that I made Mom and Dad for Christmas. I think I could solve this problem next time by using less cream to make the initial ganache out of milk chocolate and white chocolate. See, I did learn something by making these, even if I didn't have the sense to write down my recipes.
With the fillings done, I was ready to make the chocolate cups themselves. The first step was to fill the mold with dark chocolate, and then set it in the fridge for one minute, so a thin, hard shell formed. Then I poured out the excess chocolate and set the molds back in the fridge to harden.
Once the chocolate shells had solidified, it was a simple matter to pour the fillings in and then pour another thin layer of chocolate on to seal off the top of the cup. Shaking the mold a bit helps to settle the chocolate on top into a flat surface. Then, back in the fridge they went to harden.
Now the fun part begins! It was time to begin adding the artistic details. For this, I found it best to use melted dark chocolate mixed with just a smidge of corn syrup. This gives the chocolate just a little more solidity so it holds its shape better. It also imparts to the chocolate a lovely dark sheen. The only drawback is that too much corn syrup will cause the whole batch of chocolate to seize up and become totally useless. I'll only admit to that happing to me twice.
I put a batch of this dark chocolate / corn syrup combo into a pastry bag with a #4 round tip and piped little dots of chocolate around the top and bottom of each cup. These made a nice visual division between the segments of the snake and also kept the cups from touching each other except around the perimeter, making it possible to break off a cup to eat without extensive damage to the neighboring cup.
Once those dots were dry (Another advantage to the corn syrup addition is that it makes the chocolate set up much more quickly.) I joined forty-six of the cups into twenty-three pairs, by sticking the wide ends of the two cups together. The remaining single cup was for the back of the head.
I was finally ready to arrange the snake on the gold foil covered cardboard cake circle I had designated as the snake's home. I chose to arrange the snake in a spiral, with the tail to be placed on the outside of the spiral and the head rising up from the center. This part went quickly, as it was a simple matter to stick the segments to each other and to the base with a little chocolate. I had to prop the head up on a few containers of luster dust until the chocolate that was holding it in place dried.
Next, the hard parts - the face and the tail. Actually, the tail wasn't all that hard. I made all of components of the head and tail on a piece of parchment paper, and then stuck them to the snake with a little more chocolate / corn syrup. The tail consisted simply of a series of rings of decreasing size. I believe I piped them with a #6 round tip. Once these dried, I stuck them together to form the rattle, and then stuck the whole thing onto the last segment of the body.
The head was more complicated. The basis was the same as the tail - a series of consecutively smaller rings, though these shrank in diameter more rapidly than those that formed the tail, resulting in a squat, round head. The holes in the center of the rings formed a mouth. I also made many whiskers of various sizes and shapes - some s-shapes, some curlicues, some simple swooshes.
Once all the components dried, I was ready to decorate the head. I started with the larger whiskers and worked my way down to the smaller details, basically making it up as I went. I was very happy with the result. While I was at it, I also reinforced many of the connections between the segments to make sure nothing came apart.
I applied the finishing touches with white chocolate - teeth, eyeballs, accents on the tips of the hair and beard, and little spikes on the rattle.
Once it was wrapped I was a little nervous about the head collapsing, but there was nothing I could do at that point (except unwrap it to double check, then rewrap it, which I only did once) but I was worried for nothing. In fact, it was quite sturdy. Unfortunately, Barbara May and Large Bear were leaving for Hawaii in two days, so they couldn't eat the dragon right away. We stuck him in fridge to await their return.