Sunday, February 28, 2010

Neglectful me.

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

Assignment 2 of 5: Shell-molded ganache

Today I tackled Piece 2 out of the 5 included in my final assignment. I decided to make a ganache and pipe it into a chocolate-lined polycarbonate mold. One of the requirements of my assignment is to use the shell-molding technique, and to decorate the bonbon using at least two colors of chocolate or cocoa butter. I started my recipe design by thinking about the ganache. Bob requested something with coffee, and I adore coffee brewed with cardamom so I landed on that flavor combination for my filling.

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.
Next I dipped the edge of a stiff brush into the green cocoa butter and flicked it against my nail to spatter droplets into the mold cavities. Fetching. Finally, I picked up the lustre dust with a smaller brush and blew it into each depression so it landed in a fine, sparkly mist. The cocoa butter dried quickly as I tempered the semisweet chocolate. I ladled the chocolate into the mold, careful not to fill it too much, then rattled it on the counter vigorously to remove air bubbles. Next I quickly inverted the mold and let the chocolate pour back out into the tempering bowl. It's a pretty fluid chocolate so it poured out easily. Once the shell had set up, I piped the cooled ganache in, banged the mold on the counter again to get out the air bubbles (good thing these molds are made of thick polycarbonate!) and set the whole shebang aside so the ganche could set up a bit. A mistake: Not scraping the top of the mold enough. See the dried chocolate between the depressions? It ended up haunting me later. With chocolate set aside for the moment, Bob and I teamed up to make fresh fettuccine (Bob's first attempt!) and my late mother's Bolognese sauce, something I'd been craving. This gave us an excuse to open a lovely pinot, which I sipped (Julia Child style) while I finished my chocolate making.
With the piped ganache set sufficiently, I used my marble slab to re-temper the semisweet chocolate and ladled that over the mold, filling over each square of ganache and then tapping (again) to remove air bubbles. It's not that I have a compulsion about this: It's that air is the enemy of shelf life on the inside of molded chocolates, and on the outside it makes unsightly holes in the surface of the candy. Check out the finished product at left -- all that banging away paid off. Anyway, after scraping down the mold I let it sit for 15 minutes to crystallize the chocolate, then stashed it in the refrigerator for another 20 minutes. This contracts the chocolate and makes it easy to unmold. I turned the candies out onto the cutting board, and here is where my untidy mold cleaning, which I mentioned above, told its tale: My chocolates all had skirts on them. Most of them easily chipped off and left clean edges, but it was a far cry from the neat turnouts the pros routinely get. I'm giving these bonbons a B for the following reasons: The chocolate tempered well and came out with a shine, and the ganache is  flavorful and beautifully textured. However, it's a tad runny for comfortable eating, and the decoration of the chocolate is not compelling. Execution of the shell mold was too sloppy, and I could have left the pieces for a little while longer for a smoother turnout. Not a terrible result for an afternoon's effort. And my official taste tester keeps making off with these. He's quite a food critic, so if these candies weren't tasty I wouldn't have to be sneaking aside the ones I promised to mail to a couple of people...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Caramel: Sweet, sticky success.

I've been wrestling with caramel recipes lately, throwing out one batch (that one hurt; the raspberry puree wasn't cheap) before studying up and coming out with an acceptable offering. My passionfruit caramel was quickly munched up by my husband, his colleagues, and my work buddies as well. The key to caramels: lack of humidity and abundant patience. This batch was a standard soft-caramel recipe using sweetened condensed milk. I like this type because it reminds me of being a kid. But I decided to zing it up a bit, so when the cooking temperature reached 240 F, I added 250 grams of passionfruit concentrate. Note for next time: Heat the concentrate to boiling so it won't slack back the batch quite so much. Caramels take a lot of stirring to prevent scorching the pan, and a lot of doctoring so the stirring won't crystallize the mass. I doctored with corn syrup (standard, not high-fructose). Next time I'll go with straight glucose, which is the supercharged variety of good ol' Karo, and see how things go. Anyway, once the caramel set up I had the devils time cutting it. I need to find a trick for that. But the enrobing went easily and I used cocoa-butter transfer sheets to put on the design. Next up: shell-molded fondants, perhaps cherry cordials.