Thursday, April 29, 2010

More fun with molten sugar

Today I took the day off because I was exhausted. Too much stress. I napped a while, drank some coffee, lazed around, and then... the kitchen started calling me. So I threw some butter, sugar, water and salt into a kettle and put the heat under it.  Soon the mixture started to bubble and foam up. I moderated the flame, clipped a candy thermometer into the pot, and posted myself there, pizza slice in one hand and silicone spatula in the other, stirring and munching. Sugar work requires patience. For me to be patient with pot stirring, I need distraction.
 The solution started out quite blond, but as the water cooked out and the temperature started to rise, it assumed a nice golden color. Still, it took quite a bit of time. I got through at least three games of solitaire on my phone, plus one slice of pizza and one lager before the boiling candy got up to 298 F. I took the pan off the stove, stirred in some vanilla, and threw the batch onto a couple of silicone sheets. A great thing about toffee is that it's so full of butter it doesn't stick to a darn thing. But I love the silicone mats so I used them out of habit. I left the toffee to cool and started chopping some almonds I'd toasted earlier. There's something meditative about hand-chopping nuts, so I seldom use a food processor. If I ever go commercial, of course I'll have to revise this approach, but for now I use my trusty chef knife and enjoy the rhythmic work. Then cleaned up the work space.
Years ago, when I first started working with chocolate at home, I'd get chocolate all over everything and leave cleanup for when I was done. These days, I keep a very clean, very organized work space. Chocolate goes where I mean for it to; if it strays, I immediately clean it up. I work more efficiently this way, and cleanup at the very end is much reduced.
Once the toffee was cool, I dusted it with cocoa to matte the oily surface, then tempered some chocolate and spread that over the surface. A generous layer of chopped almonds followed this, and a dusting of sea salt. Once the chocolate had set, I flipped the slab and coated the other side in the same manner, then set both slabs aside on a large cutting board and cleaned up the silicone mats and the chocolate-processing equipment. Then I broke the slabs up and sampled the finished product. Taste was exactly what I'd hoped for. Nice balance of sweet and salty. Texture was good, but could be improved. It was a tad shardy, when it should have been crumbly. Next time I'll add a little baking soda to the batch. Not enough to make it a brittle, but just enough to make the batch a little more tender.   
Now the toffee is portioned into two batches -- one for me to take to work, and one for my husband to take to his. Our coworkers are the main recipients of all my work. It's how we keep from gaining major pounds from my chocolatiering obsession.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Three Days With Guittard Guest Chef Andrew Shotts

We made more than 20 different kinds of bonbons and confections during the three days of E. Guittard's "Artisan Chocolates and Confections" course, taught by chef Andrew Shotts. One of the most important things I learned was something that wasn't on the formal curriculum: how to align artisan chocolate making with the making of money. This is so valuable to someone like me, who right now has no way to make an income from chocolate work, but who will want to in the future. Now is the time for me to take a business approach to my chocolatiering: I need to calculate the cost of making each piece of candy I create, the cost of each piece of packaging I use, and think about how I would price the finished and packaged products if I were a shop owner or wholesaler. Later, when I set up a business, this way of thinking will be natural to me.

The space we worked in was everything a small-time chocolatier could want - The Chocolate Studio, run by Donald Wressell, who I think is executive chef for Guittard. He hosts the Guest Chef series there in Culver City, and the kitchen is set up for baking as well with a multilevel commercial oven, a proof box, a convection oven, and a bunch of other baking equipment. Chocolate equipment abounds as well: there's a temperer-enrober, a few Chocovision machines, a bunch of MoldArt melters, an industrial four-burner stove, an induction burner (want! want!), dozens of molds, and much more. There's a walk-in chiller, a huge freezer (essential. I suffer from lack of freezer space), and more counter and slab space than I have ever experienced. There's an upstairs office area as well. I'm still writhing with envy over that space. The days consisted of both lesson time and work time. We broke into three teams of four people and each had several recipes to set up in mise en place for the chef. Then, by turn, he went through each recipe, demonstrating how to successfully complete each step and ways to achieve efficiencies in the work. Day 1 was all about making slabs of ganache. Day 2 was pates de fruits, rochers, and marshmallows. Day 3 was popcorn confections, enrobing,  decorating and packaging. On each of those days, chef Wressell cooked while we worked, and served us the most delicious gourmet lunches.

A major advantage of this class over the online one I took was the chance to meet other chocolatiers from all over the country and even the world. We had two participants who came from Mexico, two from Washington State, one from Utah, and the rest were from California. Some were hobbyists, some hope to open their own operations very soon, others have had new or longstanding family businesses. It was wonderful to hear their perspectives, learn from their experiences, and make new friends. Another wonderful thing was the chance to work once again with industrial chocolate making equipment. Even small-sized enrobing equipment makes a huge difference in the amount of product a person can turn out in comparison to hand-dipping each individual piece. In the photo above at left, the a 40-piece rank of enrobed centers have come down the enrobing belt and have just been covered with a transfer sheet patterned with colored cocoa butter. Chef Shotts smooths the sheet down over the wet chocolate that covers the bonbons. The chocolates will be transferred to a countertop to cool, and later the sheet will be removed and will leave the edible design behind. I also drooled over all the guitar cutter, which in a trice cuts a slab of ganache into 120 uniform pieces. It's a huge labor saver, and makes bonbons look a lot cleaner and more professionally made. I could go on for hours about this class, but I think what I'll do instead is post a bunch of photos and let you browse at your leisure. My summation is that I couldn't recommend any more highly the Guest Chef series from E. Guittard.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A big switch

I'm sold on Guittard chocolate now, so it's time to make a big change in my chocolate work. Having received a sample of every couverture Guittard makes, I am in the process of deciding which to incorporate into my recipes. I've used Peter's exclusively for the last 20 years, and recently made a switch to Callebaut for semisweet. I liked the depth and complexity of the Callebaut over the highly vanilla, almost marshmallowy taste of the Peter's (which I kept for use in some of my ganaches). But after using Guittard for three days I'm a convert. Now it's just a matter of selecting the chocolates I'll shell-mold with, which I'll enrobe with, and the ones I'll use in my recipes, and then going out and getting a few boxes of each. I have to start thinking about what I'll be making everyone for Christmas. I haven't forgotten to post about my class. It's just that I took more than 200 photos and need to sort through them and figure out which ones to share with you here. Look for an update this weekend.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Packed and ready to go

I haven't posted in a while because I've been too busy working to make candy. Feh! Not good. But tomorrow afternoon I fly to L.A. for three full days of chocolate classes. My chef coats are packed, along with my favorite candymaking shoes, Dansko clogs. Good for long hours on my feet working with my favorite medium. I'll report back on what I learned and how it inspires me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Chocolate Class in L.A.!!

Two weekends from now I'll be attending a class called "Artisan Chocolates and Confections," which Andrew Garrison Shotts will be teaching for E. Guittard. See details. I'm so excited. Not only is it a 3-day, hands-on class, but it'll be located just blocks from where I used to live in Culver City. I loved that neighborhood; it was the best thing about living in L.A. The class will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday, and Guittard is hosting a dinner on one of the nights. I can't wait to be there learning new things about working with my favorite medium, chocolate.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Your Basic Peanut Brittle

With things getting increasingly depressing in my day-to-day (work) life, I needed a little hobby action to take the edge off the fact that tomorrow is Monday. So I ventured into sugar work. I had some choices: Hard candy? Taffy? Brittle? Toffee? I had a bunch of nuts in the pantry, so decided to make peanut brittle for the first time. The recipe was pretty basic: mix sugar, water and glucose syrup in a pan and boil the heck out of it. At soft ball, add peanuts and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture is a nice golden-brown color (at around 320 degrees F), then add salt, butter, vanilla, and baking soda. Watch the hot bubbly action! Pour onto an oiled surface, allow to cool, and stretch thin. Remember to use clean gardening gloves or two forks, because this stuff remains hot for a while.
Learnings: If you pour the brittle onto a marble slab, get to stretchin' right away. The slab cools down the mass very quickly (relatively speaking), and if you don't stretch it almost immediately after pouring, it'll set up and you won't be able to work with it. Also, I finally learned that with sugar work, the long boring part is waiting for the water to cook out of the solution. Once that happens, the mercury goes north very quickly and boredom is no longer a concern. Lastly: mise en place MUST include a bowl of ice water in case molten sugar solution splashes onto vulnerable skin.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Coming Attractions

I've finished the Professional Chocolatier course I took through Ecole Chocolat, and now I have to keep up the momentum by refining my recipes and learning others. Only problem is that I also have to prepare for a job interview on Monday and do my best to get more interviews into the pipeline. Searching for work sure puts a crimp in my candy making time. I do wish I had a bunch of spare money lying around so I could open a little shop. Le sigh. Anyway, after my Monday interview it'll be time to dive back into the sugar bag and come up with a new challenge: Seafoam. I do not have the natural affinity for sugar work that I do for chocolate making. It will likely take all my self-discipline to avoid cursing from frustration and teaching my parrots dirty words. But I'll keep at the seafoam challenge until I come out victorious. Then it's on to brickles and taffies and toffees. Some of which I'll have to cover in chocolate, of course. I'll keep you posted.