Chinese Five-Spice Chocolate Truffles with Crystallized Ginger

I came across a recipe for an Asian 5-spice chocolate cake the other day and was intrigued by the idea. The author, chef Christian Thornton, suggests to serve the cake with ginger whipped cream and I took those concepts and applied them to the chocolate truffles here.

Chinese Five Spice Chocolate Truffles

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

The crystallized ginger bits give you something to bite into and the 5-spice powder (cinnamon, fennel, clove, star anise and white pepper) adds a very, I would say, sophisticated flavor. The anise comes through quite strongly so if you’re not a fan of its licorice-like taste, then I predict you won’t like these truffles. If you do, I think you’ll love them. It’s something special and out of the ordinary and at the same time very easy to make. Enjoy!

Chinese 5-Spice Chocolate Truffles with Crystallized Ginger
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients:
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate baking bars)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • unsweetened cocoa powder to roll the truffles in
Instructions:
  1. Add cream, butter, spice and salt to a saucepan, bring to a boil and stir until you have a homogeneous mix.
  2. Pour the hot cream mix over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute.
  3. Stir together until everything is well combined and no large chocolate clumps remain. (You may need to heat the mixture over a pot of simmering water to get rid of the last clumps).
  4. Stir in the crystallized ginger.
  5. Cover and put in the fridge for 3 hours.
  6. With a melon baller or a scoop or spoon, scoop out the chocolate and quickly roll into balls with your hands.
  7. Roll each ball in the cocoa powder.
  8. Keep the truffles in the fridge until you serve them and don't inhale when you bite into them (seriously!).

Food Photography and Styling: I wanted an elegant and sophisticated set for these truffles and went with white crockery and placemats. Both the “floor” and the “wall” are sheets of beadboard that I got from the hardware store some time ago. For some contrast to all the elegance I used my beat-up, antique milk crate upside down as the “table” and I think this mismatch worked well in this particular case here.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Farro with Mushrooms and Marjoram

Farro! A new trendy grain that (for once) actually deserves the accolades (at least in my opinion). If you’re looking for an easy, healthy, tasty (and vegan) side dish, this one’s for you.

Farro with Roasted Mushrooms and Marjoram Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Farro is my new favorite grain. If you’ve never had it, I would describe it as similar to brown rice but without ANY of the mushi- and stickiness. That is a huge plus in my book because the weak texture is what really turns me off about brown rice. Farro apparently also has higher nutritional value than brown rice and contains less arsenic. Arsenic? Yes, according to Consumer Reports arsenic can be a problem in brown rice. Well, good thing I never liked it then. :)

Farro is easy and quick to cook, you submerge it in cold water, simmer it for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on how you like it) and then drain it. Done. By itself it is, of course, extremely boring (it is a grain after all) but once you flavor it up with other stuff it becomes quite tasty. What I did here was toss the cooked farro with garlic and mushrooms, seasoned the mix with salt and pepper and roasted it in the oven under a drizzle of olive oil. I mixed some chopped marjoram in to add a fresh spring vibe and then served the dish with a roasted Cornish game hen. It was absolutely delicious and when I say that about a grain, trust me that really means something!

Grain

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Farro

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Farro with Mushrooms and Marjoram
 
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Author:
Serves: 2
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup farro
  • 4 ounces beech mushrooms
  • 8 ounces oyster mushrooms
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • a little bit of olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoons fresh, chopped marjoram
Instructions:
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Add farro and 3 cups of cold water to a saucepan.
  3. Bring to a low boil and cook to desired doneness (15 to 20 minutes).
  4. Drain the farro and set aside.
  5. Carefully toss the mushrooms in a bowl with the garlic and the farro.
  6. Spread the mix out on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. Sprinkle evenly with the salt and the pepper.
  8. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil evenly over the mix, then roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
  9. Sprinkle evenly with the marjoram and serve as a side dish with poultry.

Food Photography and Styling: I played around with my camera and a bag of raw farro one night, ended up taking the two pictures of the grain and thought they actually would look nice in a blog post. So when I photographed the dish I made sure that its photo fit in its overall style and feel with the grain photos. I stayed with brown tones and used my clay bowl that I got from Etsy years ago and set it on the same brown burlap bag that I used in the grain photos. The marjoram is an important ingredient so I made sure to draw proper attention to it by sprinkling a few leaves around the set. The light came straight from the left, as in the grain photos, and as usual I used my strobe.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Farro with Mushrooms and Marjoram

Bourbon Milk Punch

If you’ve never had a milk punch I urge you to make one, it’s an absolutely awesome dessert cocktail made with Bourbon or brandy, milk and/or cream, vanilla extract, sugar and a smidgen of nutmeg. It may look like a winter drink but it’s actually great any time of the year!

Bourbon Milk Punch

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Apparently the milk punch has been around for centuries but it is new to me, I came across it for the first time a few weeks ago. Being a big cream and (more recently) also Bourbon fan I had to try it and, unsurprisingly, I loved it. It’s creamy (yeah), sweet (yeah), boozy (yeah) and thanks to the ice it’s quite refreshing at the same time.

Bourbon Milk Punch
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Drinks
Serves: 1
Ingredients:
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ tablespoons simple syrup
  • 2½ tablespoons Bourbon
  • pinch of grated nutmeg
Instructions:
  1. Mix milk, cream, vanilla and syrup together.
  2. Mix in the Bourbon, then pour into a glass, sprinkle with nutmeg and serve with 2 ice cubes.

Food Photography and Styling: I went to Floor & Decor the other day and got myself a second marble tile so now I can use one as a surface and the other as the backdrop at the same time and that’s what I did here. The marble cream colors and overall elegance worked well in combination with this drink (in my opinion). I thought about how to convey through the photo what the main ingredients of this recipe are. The dairy is clearly visible in the drink, the nutmeg I placed in the composition (both whole and a few sprinkles of grated nutmeg as well) but the Bourbon was very tricky. I tried to set a decanter filled with Bourbon in the background but its color drew too much attention away from the drink so I resorted to plan b, which was to simply write the recipe name on the photo.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

This entry was posted in Drinks.

Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Curry

Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Curry Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I love to eat Indian curries but I’m not always in the mood to cook them because they usually require a lot of time standing at the stovetop. Not this one! This slow cooker chicken curry needs just a little bit of prep and once that’s done it’s “set it and forget it” – my favorite way of cooking. You start by briefly searing boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a Dutch oven, then fry spice seeds, pureed onion, carrot and a simple mix of a few ground spices. Next you add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and chicken broth, bring everything to a boil and then transfer it to the slow cooker. Three hours later you open the lid, stir in sour cream and you’re ready to go! You can serve the curry with rice but I personally prefer naan for this one.

Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Curry
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 2-3
Ingredients:
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 teaspoons powdered ginger
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 4 teaspoons curry powder (see notes)
  • 4 teaspoons chili powder (if you don't have store-bought at hand, I have a homemade chili powder recipe)
  • vegetable oil
  • 4 – 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • ¼ teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon whole coriander seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon whole black, brown or yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 whole star anise
  • ½ carrot, sliced
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • ⅔ cup sour cream (or more, if desired)
  • cilantro (for garnish)
Instructions:
  1. Peel the onion and chop into ~ 1-inch chunks.
  2. Put onion into a pot along with 1 cup of water and boil without a lid until almost all water has evaporated. Let cool for a bit.
  3. Put ginger, garlic, turmeric, curry powder and chili powder together in a small bowl, add 3 tablespoons of water and mix with a spoon to make a paste. Set aside.
  4. Transfer the boiled onion (along with any water there may be) into a food processor and process into a puree.
  5. Heat a little bit of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven until shimmering.
  6. Lightly season the chicken thighs with salt, then sear them on both sides in the hot oil.
  7. Turn the heat down.
  8. Move the chicken thighs over to one side of the Dutch oven and add fenugreek, cumin, coriander and mustard seeds to the other side. Fry the seeds for 4 - 5 minutes (the seeds need to sizzle but be careful not to burn them).
  9. Carefully add the onion puree (be careful, this will splatter!).
  10. Add the star anise and the carrot.
  11. Turn the heat back up and fry onion and carrot for 10 minutes.
  12. Remove the star anise.
  13. Add the spice paste and stir until you have a homogeneous mix.
  14. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and chicken broth and mix well. Let the mix come to a boil, then transfer to the slow cooker and cook on low for 3 hours.
  15. Stir in the sour cream.
  16. Serve the curry with naan or rice and sprinkle with cilantro.
Notes:
I used medium yellow curry powder from the Savory Spice Shop.

Food Photography and Styling: I chose my blue metal tray as the surface for this shot because I thought it contrasted nicely with the color of the curry. Initially I only had the napkin and the plate with the naan in the background but together with the curry pan those items formed a straight line that lead the eye out of the frame and to remedy that I added the little pewter tray with coriander seeds opposite the bread. I observed the rule of thirds and placed the horizon line on a dividing line and the sprig of cilantro on an intersection point.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Pumpkin Spice White Chocolate Mousse Hazelnut Mini Cakes

That’s right, I use pumpkin (pie) spice year–round. It’s one of the best spice blends ever created in my opinion and I think it would be a shame to restrict it to fall season, I love it any time of the year. It’s definitely a winner in these hazelnut mini cakes.

Pumpkin Spice White Chocolate Mousse Hazelnut Mini Cakes Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

A few months ago I posted my recipe for pumpkin spice white chocolate mousse and I knew that it would be a smasher as a frosting on a cake but it took me a while to find the perfect cake for it. This here is it. It’s a hazelnut butter cake (hazelnut and pumpkin spice are a beautiful combination) and I adapted the cake batter recipe from Bon Appetit.

I started with a full-size cake but that didn’t work for the frosting. The mousse is not as firm as, say, a buttercream and just wasn’t able to stand up to all that cake. But mini cakes were a completely different story. I baked them in 4-ounce ramekins, topped them with a few dollops of the mousse and that worked out beautifully. The mousse is similar to whipped cream in texture, complements the cake wonderfully and the proportions are absolutely perfect.

Pumpkin Spice White Chocolate Mousse Hazelnut Mini Cakes
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 8
Ingredients:
For the frosting:
  • 4 ounces white chocolate (I recommend Baker's Premium White Chocolate Baking Chocolate Bar)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon pumpkin spice
For the cakes:
  • ½ cup raw hazelnuts (more for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
Instructions:
For the frosting:
  1. Cut the chocolate into small chunks, then put it in a saucepan along with the cream and the pumpkin spice.
  2. Turn on the heat and slowly dissolve the chocolate. Don't let the cream get too hot, it shouldn't simmer, it should just be hot enough to melt the chocolate.
  3. Transfer the mix into a bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
  4. Beat the mix with an electric mixer until firm.
For the cakes:
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease eight 4-ounce ramekins and dust with flour.
  3. Process hazelnuts and granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground.
  4. Whisk the ground nuts with the flour, spice, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
  5. Beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
  6. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.
  7. Beat in the dry ingredients.
  8. Fill batter into the ramekins and bake until a toothpick comes out clean (20 to 25 minutes).
  9. Let cool, then turn out.
  10. Pipe the frosting onto the cakes and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts.
Notes:
The cake batter recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit.

Food Photography and Styling: I vaguely remembered having these hazelnut-shaped and -colored dried flowers around in a rarely–opened drawer (I got them from Michael’s or Hobby Lobby years ago) and thought they would go well with the actual hazelnuts here. The “tablecloth” is a large linen napkin and the backdrop is the backside of a white marble tile and I think it fit perfectly here. I paid close attention to the rule of thirds and placed the cake topping and the flowers in the little vase on intersection points. The fork was very attention-grabbing when it was closer to the cake so I ended up partially hiding it behind it.

For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Slow Cooker Beef Back Ribs

Fall-off-the-bone beef ribs in a rich, slightly spicy red wine sauce make for a great, fancy dinner that requires time but minimal work (thanks to the good old slow cooker).

Beef Ribs

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I know it’s been around for a long time but I have only recently started to truly appreciate the beauty of the slow cooker. You add a bunch of ingredients with very little prep, turn the cooker on, go about your business, come back and everything is almost ready with minimal cleanup. It’s wonderful and it doesn’t even matter how long the cooking takes because it is so completely hands-off.

These delicious beef ribs were in the cooker for six hours in a mix of red wine, chicken broth, vegetables and a few chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for a bit of heat. I bought them with the bone for extra flavor, seared them in a Dutch oven before transferring them to the slow cooker and by the time they were done the meat literally slid of the bone and tasted incredibly rich and flavorful. I cooked the braising liquid down into a spectacular sauce (no additional ingredients required) and then served the ribs over egg noodles but mashed potatoes work equally well.

Slow Cooker Beef Back Ribs
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 2
Ingredients:
  • about 2 pounds beef back ribs, bone in
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into 6 pieces
  • 1 large carrot, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 celery ribs, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ cups dry red wine
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • cooked egg noodles
  • sour cream (optional)
Instructions:
  1. Cut the rib rack into individual ribs, season with salt and pepper, then set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a cast iron pan or a Dutch oven until shimmering.
  3. Sear the ribs on all sides until browned, then transfer to a slow cooker.
  4. Add onion, carrot and celery to the pan or Dutch oven you seared the meat in and cook for about 10 minutes until starting to brown. Be careful not to burn the browned bits from the ribs that are in the pan, turn the heat down if you need to.
  5. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
  6. Stir in wine, chicken broth and water, bring to a boil, then transfer to the slow cooker.
  7. Add the chipotle peppers and the thyme to the slow cooker, then cook on low for six hours.
  8. Transfer the liquid to a pot and cook on medium heat until reduced to a syrupy consistency.
  9. Shred the meat and serve with the sauce on egg noodles or mashed potatoes.
  10. Add a dollop of sour cream (optional).

Food Photography and Styling: I always like to light my food such that it looks like it’s sitting next to a window but this time I wanted to go a step further and show parts of the window sill and window side wall too. Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know that I mostly don’t actually use window light so what you see in this photo is actually not a window sill and a wall but a few strategically placed pieces of styrofoam, paper and the rim of a tray. I found it pretty convincing and was rather happy with it. The other thing I was happy with in this photo is the pretty wine glass in the back, I found two of these beauties in an antique store the other day and loved their pretty shape and shortness (tough to find a wine glass short enough to fit comfortably into a food photo). I liked how the color of the red wine complemented the dark beef and since red wine is an important ingredient in this recipe it fit with the story as well.

For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Allspice Apple and Sausage Roast Pan with Croutons and Sage

Roast pans are my favorite this time of the year, easy to prepare and so comforting. This one is a perfect mix of sweet and savory.

Allspice Apple and Sausage Roast Pan with Croutons and Sage Recipe

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Allspice and sage are my new favorite flavor combo, they go together like tomato and basil. Well, maybe not quite as perfectly as that but almost. What I did here was toss juicy apple wedges and pork sausages with allspice and a bit of olive oil and then roast them in the oven along with some sourdough bread cubes and fresh sage leaves. I had meant for this to be a side but it’s so substantial and well-rounded that I ended up calling it a main dish. Either way, it’s perfect comfort food for a cold winter evening.

Allspice Apple and Sausage Roast Pan with Croutons and Sage
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
Ingredients:
  • 4 pork sausages
  • 1 apple, cored and cut into wedges (Honeycrisp work very well here)
  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup bread cubes (cut from a high-quality sourdough bread)
  • ~ 12 sage leaves, roughly chopped
Instructions:
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss the sausages and the apple wedges with the olive oil and the allspice.
  3. Transfer to a baking pan and roast in the oven for 30 minutes.
  4. Add the sage leaves and the bread cubes to the pan, sprinkle with a little bit of salt and pepper and stir well.
  5. Return the pan to the oven and roast for another 15 minutes, until everything is nicely browned and the sausages are fully cooked.
  6. Slice the sausages into bite-sized pieces and serve.

Food Photography and Styling: The allspice and the sage are important parts of this recipe and to show that I sprinkled a few allspice berries and some fresh sage leaves on the set. (Sage leaves in a vase sitting in the background of a photo tend to look like a miniature palm tree so I stayed away from doing that). Since I happened to have perfectly sage-colored packing paper around I cut out a square of that and put it under the pan. (The paper came as the padding in a package we got a few weeks ago and of course I immediately thought “prop!” and kept it). The green also provided nice contrast to the red of the apple wedges in the dish. A beer was a great visual match for this rustic dish so I poured one and added a bottle opener and cap as well.

For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

 

Chai-Spiced Custard Pear Tart with Toasted Almonds and Salted Caramel

Custard Pear Tart with Salted Caramel

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

I was sipping a chai latte while wandering through the produce section at the grocery store a few weeks ago and the idea for this tart popped into my head when I walked past the pears. Ah, pears. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them actually. They look beautiful and taste fantastic when they are ripe but have you ever found a ripe pear in the store? Me neither. They are always hard as a rock and give me no indication whatsoever as to how long they might take to become edible. These pears here took nearly two weeks but I admit it was worth the wait, the tart turned out really wonderful.

Here’s how it goes: you start with a regular pie crust and while that’s pre-baking you infuse a cream/milk/sugar mix with my standard chai spices: fresh ginger, cardamom, cloves, a cinnamon stick and black peppercorns. Once that’s done you turn it into a custard by mixing in a few eggs, pour it into the tart shell and then simply lay the sliced pears into it. Slide the tart back in the oven and whip up a caramel sauce to drizzle over it. Chill the tart, then add a few toasted sliced almonds for a bit of crunch and a sprinkle of fleur de sel and voila, that’s it!

Pears

To license this image please contact me at nicole@thespicetrain.com.

Chai Spiced Custard Pear Tart with Toasted Almonds and Salted Caramel
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients:
For the crust:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons shortening
  • 3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons ice water (more if needed)
For the filling:
  • ¾ cups heavy cream
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 half-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper corns
  • 3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 2 ripe Bosc pears
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • toasted sliced almonds
  • caramel sauce (I have a recipe here, just leave out the pumpkin spice)
  • fleur de sel
Instructions:
For the crust:
  1. Whisk flour and salt together in a bowl.
  2. Add the shortening and the butter and cut them in with a pastry cutter until you have the consistency of a meal.
  3. Sprinkle the water over the fat/flour mix and bring the dough together with your hands. (If the dough doesn't come together, add a little more water, 1 teaspoon at a time).
  4. Form the dough into a disc, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
  5. Roll out the dough and fit into an 8-inch greased tart pan.
  6. Put back in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  7. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  8. Line the dough with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes.
  10. Remove the weights and the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. While the crust bakes, make the custard.
For the custard:
  1. Add cream, milk, sugar and spices to a sauce pan and bring to a boil.
  2. Turn the heat off, cover and let the mix steep for about 30 minutes.
  3. Peel, core and slice the pears. Set aside.
  4. Strain the spices out of the cream mix.
  5. Whisk the egg and the yolks in a bowl, then whisk the cream/spice mix into them.
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees F.
  7. Fill the custard into the pie shell, lay the pear slices into it and bake until the custard is set (50 minutes or more).
  8. Let the tart cool to room temperature, then drizzle with caramel sauce and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
  9. Add the sliced almonds on top and sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Food Photography and Styling: I was actually going for elegant with this tart but it ended up looking a little more, err, rough around the edges so I went with a dark, rustic scene instead. Since the fruit is completely hidden in this tart I set two raw pears in the back to tell the viewer that this is a pear tart (and I posted a still life of pears as well for good measure). The sauce server and the little salt dish fit with the salted caramel topping and the knife implies that someone is there, about to slice a piece.
For info on what type of camera and lighting equipment I used head on over to my FAQ page.

Chai-Spiced Custard Pear Tart with Salted Caramel