Chocolate Fun
Diet tip: Eat a chocolate bar before each meal. It'll take the edge off your appetite and you'll eat less.

Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Praline Mice
by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty
Authors of Chocolate Passion
Yield: about 60 mice

A heavenly hazelnut praline ganache is piped into teardrop shapes, with round milk chocolate bases. Coated in a thin sheath of tempered milk chocolate, the candy centers are transformed into whimsical creatures with sliced almonds for ears and piped dark chocolate forming the eyes, noses, and coiled tails.

Preparation: 4 hours, plus infusing, freezing, chilling, and setting times
Special Equipment: Flat metal cake spatula, closed star decorating tip (such as Ateco #2), 5/8-inch plain decorating tip (such as Ateco #8), disposable pastry bags, digital thermometer, 2 silicone baking mats, 3-pronged chocolate dipping fork, heating pad with temperature control dial (such as the type used for backaches); cotton gloves.

Hazelnut Praline Mousse Ganache
Vegetable oil, for oiling baking sheet
1/2 cup sifted granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup roasted and skinned hazelnuts
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
12 ounces Swiss dark chocolate, such as Lindt*
2 teaspoons invert sugar, such as Nulomoline**
2  tablespoons cognac
1/8 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia***

Round Chocolate Bases
6 ounces milk chocolate couverture, such as Valrhona Lactee

Sliced almonds, for mouse ears
4 ounces dark chocolate couverture, such as Valrhona Caraque

* Note: Use 3-ounce Lindt Swiss dark chocolate bars for preparing the ganache. This particular chocolate contains just the right proportion of cocoa solids and cocoa butter to enable the whipped hazelnut praline ganache to set up properly. The piped center will be just firm enough to be coated in a thin, crisp shell of tempered milk chocolate. Yet when the chocolate-coated mouse is bitten into, it will yield a soft and creamy filling.
** Note: Invert sugar acts as a softener and helps to prolong the freshness of the ganache filling. 
*** Note: Fiori di Sicilia is an oil-based flavoring that exudes the aromas of vanilla, fresh citrus, and flowers. A tinny bit of this flavoring adds a lovely nuance to the hazelnut praline ganache.

Make the hazelnut praline ganache
  1. Lightly oil a heavy baking sheet and a flat metal cake spatula.
  2. In a small, nonstick saucepan or skillet, combine the sugar and lemon juice. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is evenly moistened. Cook over medium heat, swirling the pan frequently, until the mixture liquefies and turns to an amber-colored caramel. Gently stir in the hazelnuts. Continue to cook until the mixture is fluid again and the hazelnuts are evenly coated with the caramel
  3. Pour the hot hazelnut praline onto the prepared baking sheet. Set the baking sheet on a cooling rack and allow the praline to cool for 3 minutes.
  4. Using the oiled cake spatula, carefully loosen the undersides of the caramel to prevent it form sticking to the baking sheet. Let the caramel cool until it hardens completely.
  5. Coarsely chop the praline and put it into a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade. Process for 15 to 20 seconds, until it is finely ground. Continue to process for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture forms a crumbly paste. Scrape the praline paste into a small, heavy saucepan. (Do not clean the work bowl or metal blade, as you will be using it again to chop the chocolate.)
  6. Using the tip of a small knife, remove the paste of tiny black seeds from the inside the split vanilla bean. Add the scraped vanilla pod and seeds to the saucepan. Add the heavy cream and stir with a wooden spoon until blended. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the praline paste is completely dissolved and the mixture is scalding hot. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to infuse for 30 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the dark chocolate. Put the chocolate in the food processor with the metal chopping blade. Process for 15 to 20 seconds, until finely chopped. Remove the lid of the food processor and leave the chocolate in the work bowl.
  8. Add the invert sugar to the praline-cream mixture and reheat, stirring frequently until the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Using tongs, remove the vanilla bean pod and discard. Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate in the food processor work bowl. With a rubber spatula, press down on the chocolate so that is is almost completely submerged in the hot cream. Let the mixture stand for 1 minute. Replace the lid of the food processor and pulse 6 to 8 times, until the mixture is creamy. Scrape down the sides of the work bowl, and add the cognac and Fiori di Sicilia. Pulse 4 to 6 more times, until smooth. Scrape the ganache onto a baking sheet, letting it spread into a thin layer. Cover the surface with plastic wrap and freeze for at least one hour, until firm.

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