Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chocolats Part Deux: truffles of mass destruction

On the whole, things kept getting better on the chocolate making front. First, discovering how much easier it is to work with dark vs. milk chocolate, and also having Chef Walther attend the dark chocolate practical. His calming nature always makes any practical better, but I was especially happy as I knew we would undoubtedly pick up some of his wonderful expertise in chocolate-making during the process.

Indeed this was the case. In this lesson we were scheduled to make 2 types of dipped chocolates: truffles & coffee chocolates. After taking us through a much simplified tempering process, he gave us some useful advice on achieving a smooth ganache. He also let us deviate from the filling recipe for coffee chocolates (which is basically a mixture of marzipan and coffee extract), allowing us to substitute Cointreau for that nasty coffee extract. It had been my idea and when Chelf Walther agreed, it quickly proved popular with my fellow classmates and I soon saw the Cointreau bottle being passed around the workbench. I think all of us were relieved to avoid using that suspicious brown liquid that most certainly must kill small laboratory mammals. (Seriously though, slap a Kiwi brand label on that extract bottle and the shoe shine guy would never be the wiser!!)

The marzipan filling tasted great with the Cointreau, but without the color of the coffee extract I quickly realized it would all look a bit anemic against the color of the chocolate. Still, I was glad I could direct my own choice and create something which met the more important criteria (at least for me) which was taste. I suppose I could have asked to tint it some other more descriptive color (like orange) but let’s face it… one artificial ingredient saved was probably adding to my longevity and that of my loved ones. So with the option of being dull or potentially damned, I opted for dull.

Once again, Chef Walther encouraged us to go larger on the size of the truffles to accelerate the dipping process. Recalling his legendary comments during the Petit-Fours practical in Basic about ‘small being best’ (for both the taster and the shop owner), I felt a twinge of disappointment because I was hoping this would be his mantra today as well. I tried to play the deaf rebel as long as I could, exercising quiet resistance against largeness by quickly piping out as many small ganache balls as possible before he got to my end of the workbench…but then at his gentle insistence, I enlarged the remaining portions of ganache to his specifications (which were much more than a mouthful). So rather than smallish marbles, these would be like eating a golf ball…definitely a two-mouthful effort, possibly requiring hot beverages on standby in case of involuntary gagging (unless of course you have jaws like a python...frankly even if you can open this wide, you probably shouldn’t as it isn’t the comfy default mode for mandibles. How many pythons do you see slithering around in ‘full gaping jaw’ mode on a daily basis?).

But in the end, everything came out well enough. I had evenly shaped truffles and Cointreau squares, and each morsel offered that delightful snapping sensation when the chocolate was bitten into, which is good evidence of correct tempering. Chef Walther praised me on the shape, ganache consistency and tempering result I’d achieved for my truffles, offering only some pointers for the Cointreau squares. While I’d successfully avoided over-coating these with powdered sugar (which is needed for the rolling/shaping process but, in excess, can inhibit the dipping process) it seems I’d been just a bit too Spartan on my dipping. I explained this had been to avoid the dreaded ‘puddling’ effect of excess chocolate around each square, and he nodded in full comprehension, kindly suggesting that it would just require a second dipping to get these in an optimal state. If only we’d had more time…oh well!

At that point, I rushed off to Gare de Lyon so as not to miss my train…so unfortunately there are no pictures of this work. If I could have photographed them, I suppose it would have been helpful to place a penny (ok, half dollar) in the photo to communicate the size context…not unlike those NASA meteorite photos from the 1960’s, or Associated Press photos reporting massive hail damage in Texas. Reflecting on the portion sizes, there was a certain similitude with this type of footage. Just one size larger and falling from space might catalyse the start of the next ice age…ha ha!

Still, I was proud to share them. When I got home, I packed up an assortment of the various milk & dark chocolates I’d made into Valentine-themed goodie bags and gave them out to some of my favorite people. I learned about 1 week later that one of these portions traveled all the way to Africa before being eaten. This little bit of trivia tickled me, not only to admire the willpower of the recipient but also that the chocolate itself had effectively returned to its continent of origin. As far as I know, no pythons were inured in the degustation process…but my friend is happily undergoing treatment for TMJ while she awaits a goodie bag refill. Ohhh, life is bittersweet indeed!! :-)

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