It’s once again the season for pink hearts, chocolate, flowers and anything else that signifies undying eternal love in the commercial world that supposedly says “love” like nothing else does! I’m not a Valentine’s Day celebrant and pink is definitely not one of my favourite colours though I do confess to a fondness for chocolate and flowers.
However all that chocolate-y somethings I’ve been seeing everywhere was too tempting to resist and I decided to dig out my stash of chocolate and make something I’d discovered some time back – Mendiants.
Mendiants au Chocolat are a Christmas time tradition in the Provence region of France. There they have a tradition of ending the celebratory Christmas eve dinner with 13 different desserts (les treize desserts de Noël)! Before you start thinking that this must be the ultimate ritualistic sugar high, these 13 desserts are very simple ones and they represent Jesus and his 12 apostles at the Last Supper.
Each family has its own 13 desserts traditionally served after this dinner and some of the “desserts” include Mendiants made of almonds, hazelnuts, dried figs and dates, black and white nougat, Calissons d’Aix (candied melon), a thin waffle called Oreillettes, and a sweet olive oil bread called La Pompe a l’Huile. Mendiants are also given away as Christmas gifts.
Mendiants are one of these 13 desserts, and they’re nothing but small chocolate discs/ rounds encrusted with a variety of dried fruit and nuts. Mendiants are typically made into large slabs and then broken into smaller pieces like chocolate bark, but they’re also made as small discs which looks quite pretty.
The word “Mendiant” means “mendicant/ beggar” and represent four of the Roman Catholic monastic/ mendicant orders from the Middle Ages, which took a vow of poverty and had to rely on begging for charity. So Mendiants were made using fruit and nuts which resembled the colours of the robes/ habits worn by them – hazelnuts for the Augustinians, almonds for the Carmelites, raisins for the Dominicans, and dried fig for the Franciscans.
Of course, today Mendiants are made with any fruit, nuts or other toppings one chooses. Tempering the chocolate is not necessary if the Mendiants will be eaten within a few days, so all you have to do is melt some chocolate (white, milk or dark), make small circles with it and then press your choice of topping on the circles. Let them set till they’re hard and you have your Mendiants!
However if you would like to temper your chocolate this is one way to do it, And I would recommend you do it, this is the method I use. Tempering chocolate gives the chocolate a smooth and shiny finish and that “snap” when it is broken, whereas just melting chocolate results in dull finish, and it tends to set a little soft and malleable, and may bloom (develop white streaks or splotches). What tempering does is that it ensures proper crystallisation of the cocoa butter by stabilizing it. Tempered chocolate cools fast and also shrinks when it cools which is a good thing if you’re trying to unmould chocolate.
To temper chocolate, put 2/3rds of your finely chopped chocolate in bowl and set it over a pot of simmering (not boiling) water (double boiler method) such that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water below it. Using a spatula, keep stirring the chocolate as it melts.
As soon as it has melted take it off the stove (wipe the bottom and sides to ensure no water gets into the bowl). The temperature should be between 46 and 49C (115 and 120F) for dark chocolate.
Add the remaining 1/3rd chopped chocolate to the melted chocolate. Stir and make sure the added chocolate melts and becomes smooth. This addition of the chocolate will also bring down the temperature of the melted chocolate in the bowl. The final temperature of the chocolate should be about 31 to 32C (88 to 91F.) If you don’t have a thermometer, spread a little chocolate thinly on a cold dish. If it sets immediately and is shiny, it’s been tempered properly.
Use this tempered chocolate immediately to make the Mendiants. The tempering temperatures for milk chocolate is about 30 to 31C (86 to 88F) and 27 to 28C (80 to 82F) for white chocolate.
To make my Mendiants, I used a combination of dark chocolate and milk chocolate, since just dark chocolate would have proved to be not sweet enough for children or younger adults. You can also make them with only milk chocolate if you prefer that. If using white chocolate, do look for one which has cocoa butter in it as anything else will not melt well.