Special equipment: a digital or chocolate tempering thermometer, a 24-cavity half-sphere polycarbonate chocolate mold, 2 bench scrapers, a nonstick silicone mat, a 1-inch round cookie cutter and 2 disposable pastry bags
For the apricot jam: In a medium saucepan, soak the apricots in the Sauternes until softened, about 30 minutes.
Add the granulated sugar, the vanilla bean seeds, the scraped vanilla bean pod and 2 1/2 cups of water to the saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower to a simmer and continue to cook slowly until the apricots are very soft and the mixture is slightly caramelized, 1 hour or more.
Add the lemon juice and lemon zest and simmer for 10 minutes more. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool.
When cool, remove the vanilla bean pod and place the apricot mixture in a food processor and pulse until slightly chunky. Drain off the excess liquid, if there is any. Refrigerate the apricot jam in a covered container until ready to use.
For the chocolate shells: Melt 24 ounces of the chocolate in a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water fitted with a digital or chocolate tempering thermometer. Heat to 115 to 120 degrees F.
Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and add the remaining 8 ounces of chocolate. Stir until all the added chocolate has melted. The temperature of the chocolate should be below 86 degrees F. If not, allow the chocolate to continue to cool, stirring frequently, until it reaches 85 to 86 degrees F.
Place the bowl of chocolate over the simmering water again and reheat for a few seconds at a time, stirring well, until the temperature has risen to 87 to 91 degrees F. (Do not allow the temperature of the chocolate to exceed 91 degrees F, or you will have to repeat the procedure from the beginning.) Wipe any moisture from the underside of the bowl before proceeding.
Ladle the tempered chocolate into a 24-cavity half-sphere polycarbonate chocolate mold, filling the cavities completely. Tap the mold on the table or countertop several times to release air bubbles in the chocolate. Invert the mold over a large, clean bowl and allow the excess chocolate to drip out. Scrape the drips with a large thin spatula or blade and then invert the mold again. Scrape once more, making sure to leave clean edges around each cavity in the mold.
Scrape any leftover chocolate into one bowl. Reheat and maintain the temperature between 87 to 91 degrees F.
Leave the shells to set at cool room temperature, or place the mold in the refrigerator for no more than 5 minutes to help the chocolate begin to set. Reserve the remaining tempered chocolate for the spider legs.
For the chocolate almond croquant: In a small bowl, mix the almond butter with the dark chocolate. Set aside and keep warm.
Place a small saucepan over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Allow the sugar to melt without stirring. Tilt the pan if necessary to help the sugar melt evenly. Add 2 or 3 additional tablespoons of sugar and allow it to melt. The sugar may begin to caramelize at this point. Raise or lower the heat as needed to control the melting and prevent the sugar from burning. Continue to add the sugar in increasing increments until it has all been incorporated. Make sure all the sugar has melted (you may stir gently at this point) and continue to heat until a slight smoking of the caramelized sugar occurs.
Immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the butter. Stir the mixture until the caramel absorbs most of the butter. Reheat the caramel, if necessary, to keep it fluid.
Reheat the almond butter and chocolate mixture if necessary. It should feel warm to the touch. Scrape the mixture onto a nonstick silicone mat and spread to a thickness of about 1/4-inch.
Have ready 2 bench scrapers. Pour the caramelized sugar and butter mixture onto the top of the almond butter and chocolate mixture. Using the bench scrapers, fold the mixture over itself repeatedly. The more you mix, the smoother the texture will become. As you continue to fold, the mixture will begin to cool and will absorb any butter or chocolate that has leaked out.
Quickly shape the croquant mixture evenly, cover it with another silicone baking mat and use a rolling pin to roll the croquant to 3/8-inch-thickness. Remove the mixture from the silicone mats and cut it into disks slightly smaller than your hollow chocolate shells.
To assemble: Transfer the apricot jam to a disposable pastry bag and snip a small opening. Pipe the jam into the prepared chocolate shells, filling about halfway. Press a croquant disk into the mold, making sure to leave a slight headspace.
Ladle the remaining tempered chocolate onto the top of the mold, filling in the headspace of each chocolate shell. Tap the mold a few times on the table to release air bubbles. Use a spatula or blade to scrape the excess chocolate from the top of the mold. Let set at cool room temperature for a minimum of 2 hours, or preferably overnight.
Before unmolding the filled chocolate shells, place the mold in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes. Well-tempered chocolate will contract as it sets and release cleanly. Remove from the refrigerator, flex the mold slightly, and carefully invert to release the chocolates. These will be your spider bodies.
Arrange the spider bodies on a clean piece of parchment or wax paper. Transfer some of the remaining tempered chocolate to a small pastry bag and pipe a small mound of chocolate that touches each spider body. This will be the spider¿s head. Allow these to set until firm.
Pipe spider legs onto a separate piece of parchment or waxed paper. When the legs are set, carefully remove them from the parchment paper and use the reserved tempered chocolate to attach the legs to the bodies.
This recipe was created by a contestant during a cooking competition. It has not been tested for home use.
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