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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
I started my meltaway batch by chopping 12 ounces of milk chocolate. Then I measured out 4 ounces of coconut oil and melted it. Next I melted the chocolate to 120 degrees F, let the coconut oil cool to 120 degrees, combined them and added an eighth of a teaspoon of mint oil. Then I added the prepackaged nibs (I did it old-school, judging by sight and feel the correct ratio of nibs to meltaway base). I mixed it all thoroughly, then turned it out onto my slab. Chocolate mixed with coconut oil is extremely fluid. I could barely keep this batch from running off the slab, and I had to table it very quickly and deftly to temper the mass so it would set up properly. Once I got the mass in temper, I scraped it off the slab and into a bowl, then poured it into a frame set up on a silicone mat on my other slab. I cleaned everything up and started another batch of passionfruit caramels, and after an hour had gone by I checked the meltaway to see if it was setting. No dice. After another hour had passed without sign of much crystallization, I picked up the whole setup, slab frame and all, and took it downstairs. Our basement is wine-cellar cool -- an ideal spot for candy setting and storage. Soon the batch had set up nice and firm. It was easy to cut, and then I got to practice my dipping technique. I feel much more comfortable now with my pieces. I'm able to set them onto parchment, move them slightly forward to prevent a foot from forming, then swipe the fork out without leaving behind the dreaded vampire-fang points of chocolate to mar the smooth base. I needed to pause every few pieces to drop a few nibs onto each before the chocolate set up. The big bonus for today is that there was very little humidity, which meant my chocolate was very easy to work with, not sludgy at all. It's been a wonderful chocolatiering weekend.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Gianduja is tricky business for gianduja beginners. It lures you in with "I'm so easy" and then makes you work for it. Work for it I did, and after some struggle I met with success: cashew giandjua (a combination of cashew butter and milk chocolate) covered in perfectly tempered semisweet chocolate (it looks a bit matte here but that's just the lighting. Honest.) and topped with little moon-shaped handmade white chocolate placements.
The next morning I melted it down with 100 grams more cashew butter, tempered it again on the slab, put it back into the rulers, and let it set while I worked. The result: Perfectly smooth gianduja that was also firm enough to cut, enrobe, and then top with my little moons and discs (see previous post). The third out of five efforts for my final assignment can now be marked as satisfied. Additional note: I topped a finished gianduja with some cinnamon and tried it out. Tasty! I'll add this variation to my next recipe.
For this exercise, I decided I'd better thin out the couverture a bit. White chocolate can be vexingly thick and difficult to work with. So I fished out a few ounces of cocoa butter and nuked away until it was liquid. Then I melted the white chocolate and mixed in the heated cocoa butter until the chocolate was the consistency I wanted. I set the cocoa butter aside to be re-tempered and stored, and then I tempered the white chocolate on my slab.
spread it evenly, tapped out the bubbles, and waited for it to set up enough to scrape down. Learning the proper timing on this takes practice, as evidenced by the fact that I didn't do it quite right this first time. I scraped, and some of the chocolate came away from the circles I was trying to create. I'm not sure if this is because I hadn't let the couverture set up enough, or because I let it set up too much. I'll need to investigate. At any rate, I peeled off the stencil and after the chocolate had set, I saw that many of the little discs came out well enough to use for my assignment. Some were raggedy-edged, and I cut them down into sickle moons. If I want to do this on purpose next time, I'll remember to use my circle cutter when the chocolate hasn't fully set. Otherwise, it cracks and you lose most of your hard work.
Notes for next time: Thin the white chocolate more; figure out the correct timing for scraping down the stencil.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
I broke a promise a couple of posts ago: I did not post the results of my butter ganache experiment. The reason I didn't do this is because the experiment tanked. Why I tried making a white chocolate ganache I can't tell you. I hate white chocolate and so does Bob. But all my chocolate-making reading got me fired up and I was convinced I could make an intense, fruity, zingy butter ganache out of white chocolate. I ended up garbage-disposalling a good pound and a half of white-peach and sweet basil butter ganache, which made my sink smell all fruity and delicious. I was black-hearted and mean-spirited over this development for a good half a day. Then I decided to try the same flavor idea but with a sugar system (fondant) as the base rather than a fat system (ganache). So I tried making peach-basil fondant using reduced peach puree infused with fresh basil. I got something that tasted very sweet but not so peachy. More candy down the garbage disposal. More mopey fuming. I'm now officially determined to create a peach-and-basil-centered chocolate of an intensity that will make people weep with gustatory joy. You watch me. I'll post about it when it happens.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
I started by heating up some heavy cream and stirring in coffee beans and split cardamom pods. I let that steep for about an hour and a half. While that was happening, I chopped milk chocolate (Peter's) for the ganache and semisweet chocolate (Callabaut) for the shell. Once the cream had infused long enough, I put it through a strainer and added enough whole milk to get it back up to the correct volume. I added a little glucose to inhibit excessive crystallization of the finished ganache, then heated the mixture to boiling, and poured it over the chopped milk chocolate, mixed until everything was nice and smooth, and poured it out into a hotel pan to cool. Next I lined up my decorative supplies: colored cocoa butter (green, black), lustre dust (mahogany), paint brushes. I chose the colors of the cocoa butter and lustre dust because I was hoping for a stone-like appearance for my chocolates. Not that stone has anything to do with coffee or with cardamom, but I'm supposed to be honing my coloring skills so what the hell. I heated up the cocoa butter colors in their squeeze containers, using small heat bursts in the microwave. Once it was just heated enough to be liquid I shook it well. Then I squirted some of the black onto a paper towel, seeing how narrow a line I could make. Argh. The line was more like a series of blobs. I tried again and got a very thick line. Not what I was looking for. I thought "Hm. If I squeeze firmly and move quickly, this might work," so I tried drawing a thin black line down the center of each depression in the mold. Gah! The result was far less than elegant. But it would have to do because I didn't have time to experiment with the air brush system I bought a couple of days ago.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Sunday, January 31, 2010
I'm studying the formula for butter ganache, a less-popular ganache than the cream variety. I suspect the reason butter ganaches aren't made as often in current American chocolatiering circles is that more care is needed in its preparation. The formula is easy: 2 parts chocolate to 1 part liquefier (butter plus any liquid flavoring). Sweeteners are not considered liquefiers, which is something I need to remember, as it's counterintuitive: For butter ganaches, only liquid sweeteners may be used. I'm tinkering with the idea of using fruit powders along with concentrated fruit purees in my butter ganaches, which leads me to wondering if I should make my own purees or buy them. I'll probably buy them for consistency's sake. I realize this is chocolate-geek noodling at its worst. I'll make the next post a bit more exciting by showing the results of my butter ganache experiments.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
There are some things that chocolate should never be paired with, and chief among them is bacon. Bacon is the darling of the foodie world right now. Artisan bacon made from locally raised, free-range, heritage-breed pigs. Bakers have jumped on the bandwagon with bacon-topped maple bars, bacon-bit-dusted cupcakes, and more. Inevitably, the chocolate world followed suit. Ignoring the maxim that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should, one world-known chocolate maker has put out a bittersweet-bacon bar, and at least two respectable chocolatiers I know of have developed a recipe for bacon ganache. Bacon ganache. It's enough to make me reach for my smelling salts.
Monday, January 11, 2010
I'm learning to temper chocolate all over again, after more than 20 years of streak-free candy making hobbyist bliss. I'll step back a bit: Just after New Year's Day, I decided to sign up for an online course in professional chocolatiering, offered through Ecole Chocolat. At first thought, "online" and "chocolatiering course" do not seem to fit well together. Yet, they do. I've been conducting assigned research, reading lectures, completing exercises, and finding resources (equipment, packaging, ingredients, supplies) that it would have taken me forever to locate on my own. And, I'm getting my hands into chocolate a lot. I first learn to temper chocolate in the 1980s when I worked at The Chocolate Gallery in Santa Barbara. The owners taught me to temper chocolate using the seed method: You melt the chocolate to a certain temperature to destroy all crystal formations. Then you cool it while agitating and slowly introducing solid ("seed") chocolate. This reintroduces a stable, crystalline structure, so once you've shaped the chocolate or draped it over a delicious filling, it will set up firm, shiny, and with a distinctive snap when it's bitten into.
I've known all along that the purist's way of tempering is without using seed chocolate, but simply melting the chocolate, pouring it onto a marble slab to cool, and working it with a spatula until it becomes stable enough to crystallize. That's what I practiced tonight, with various degrees of success. The first time, I managed to overheat the chocolate after the initial cool-down period. That destroyed the stable crystal formations and the result was spotty chocolate with no snap. Boo. But the second time I got it just right. Then, according to the assignment, I was supposed to scrape the correctly tempered chocolate onto a piece of parchment to let it set. But I couldn't help myself -- I had two pounds of perfectly tempered semisweet chocolate sitting in front of me, so I stuffed a dozen or so dates with marzipan, then dipped them and set them on some parchment to firm up. They were tasty. But the presentation needs work. They look like something a small animal left behind.