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Mendiant is French for a beggar of alms, and refers to the four orders of mendicant monks. The chocolates known as mendiants are thin rounds of crisp perfectly tempered chocolate. The classic garnish is elegant and restrained—an artistically arranged blanched almond, a raisin or two, a hazelnut, and piece of dried fig; their colors represent the white, gray, brown, and purple robes of the Dominican, Franciscan, Carmelite, and Augustinian friars. When I was 20 and living in Paris, I felt the amount of toppings on mendiants were truly beggarly. I’ve come to appreciate the restrained aesthetic and I enjoy the focus on the chocolate instead of the toppings.
Whatever your aesthetic, the fun of mendiants—the chocolate kind—is getting to pair your favorite chocolate with creative combinations of any dried or candied fruits, nuts, seeds, even flaky salt or spices! (If you want candied bacon or toasted crickets, go for it.) Whether you are generous or refined in your approach to toppings, no recipe is necessary for making mendiants. Simply temper and spoon small or large puddles of chocolate onto a parchment-lined tray, slam the tray to spread the puddles and decorate with your chosen toppings. Kids are perfect, and very willing helpers, for decorating, by the way.
Yes, I did say temper the chocolate. Some readers know that I often give people a pass on tempering chocolate by suggesting a workaround or hack that involves melting but not tempering chocolate, and then refrigerating the finished confection as soon as possible so that the chocolate sets before it has a chance to bloom or streak. I can even make the case that not tempering is sometimes better than tempering—for certain projects! But mendiants are not one of them. I’m going traditional on this one. Mendiants really do deserve to be tempered. You want them crisp at room temperature, you want the chocolate to have a satiny gloss, and you do not want to keep or eat mendiants cold—lest the fruits harden and the nuts (or crickets!) get damp.
If learning to temper chocolate has been on your to-do list for a while, mendiants might be a perfect raison d’être for making 2018 the year you checked that item off. Tempering takes practice, so you might as well lay in a supply of toppings and celebrate each successful batch of tempered chocolate with a batch of mendiants. Why not? You can’t make too many mendiants. They keep for weeks at room temperature so you can pack them in cellophane bags or clear topped boxes for spur-of-the-moment hostess gifts, and keep a stash to serve with coffee and tea—or tequila, for that matter!
Here’s what you need:
A tasty combination of raw or toasted nuts and/or seeds, dried fruits, seeds, candied or glacéed fruits or peels, candied ginger, flaky salt, a cinnamon stick or whole nutmeg for grating, or ground spices.
1-2 sheet pans lined with parchment paper
A portable fan (optional)
8-16 ounces dark, milk, or white chocolate, but not chocolate chips. Each ounce of chocolate will make 2 or 3 mendiants.
Gather, and prepare (chop, dice or slice to the desired size) toppings and get out your equipment first: Once the chocolate is tempered, you want to use it right away, rather than let it cool while you get your game together.
If using a fan, set it up, in a cool place away from your workspace, with enough room to set a couple trays of mendiants in front of it. Line the trays with parchment and tape the corners to the tray (if using the fan).
Melt and temper the chocolate and test it to be sure that it is tempered before you use it. Test it by drizzling a bit of the chocolate onto piece of parchment paper and setting it aside in a cool place, as described in this post, or do it my way: Drizzle some chocolate onto a knife blade and set it in front of a portable fan. Either way, the chocolate is tempered if it begins to set, without streaks, within about 3 minutes.
Drop a dozen or so spoonfuls of tempered chocolate, at least 2 inches apart (to allow for spreading), on a parchment-lined tray. Lift and rap the bottom of the tray sharply on the counter to spread the puddles of chocolate into thin disks. A teaspoon of chocolate will spread to a dainty two-bite mendiant about 1 1/2-inch in diameter; a tablespoonful will produce a 2 1/2-inch confection. Place or sprinkle garnishes attractively on top before the chocolate sets.
If you have a helper for decorating, you can spoon out more puddles of chocolate at a time, otherwise, do not exceed the number you can decorate before the chocolate sets (which takes only 3-5 minutes). Use restraint if finishing with flaky salt or ground spice, or freshly grated cinnamon or nutmeg. Set trays in a cool place, preferably in front of the fan, for at least an hour (longer is better), or until mendiants are completely set and crisp to the bite. Pack in a covered container with wax paper between the layers. Store in a cool dry place.
Don’t hesitate to temper more chocolate than you think you need—it’s easier to handle the greater mass, and it will stay warmer longer. Leftover chocolate can be saved and used another time.
Chocolate chips do not melt well and will not spread thin when you rap the tray; a bar of chocolate or pistols, wafers, or callets will look and taste better.
How would you decorate your mendiants? Let us know in the comments!