Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kitchen Diary #8 My Home Made Christmas Chocolates

For the last week and a bit I have been making quite a few of my Christmas chocolates.  I have been dabbling for quite a few years now at making my own chocolates and have bought some toys over the years to try and make production a little easier and more reliable. Notably the chocolate melters that hold the chocolate at the right temperature and a range of polycarbonate moulds to make all those pretty shapes you see in the chocolate shops.
When I started out making chocolates the moulds were not available in shops but recently I have seen some in Lakeland and even Ikea now has a few for sale. Most of mine came second hand from ebay or from chocolate wholesalers.
If you are thinking of getting into chocolate making seriously then a good starting place for supplies in the UK is the home chocolate factory website. They sell equipment and a basic range of chocolate couvertures to work with. If you want to purchase some of the higher quality chocolate makes then take a look at the chocolate trading company. There are some quite technical books available by skilled chocolatiers such as Peter Grewelling from the US and William Curley and Paul A Young, from the UK.

There is nothing like watching a technique being done and you can find numerous YouTube clips by professional chocolatiers that are really useful.  In the early stages I learnt a huge amount following the chocolate making threads on the US website egullet. The members of the egullet community are incredibly supportive and very quick to answer any questions, and to share recipes.  Here is a link to the pastry & baking forum. To post you have to be signed up but I really think it is worth it. There are numerous courses to be found and I started out at a one day taster course at my local technical college. If you are going to spend a lot of money on a course try to find one where the group size is small and where you will have plenty of time to get help from the tutor.
To get professional results with chocolate you have to learn to 'temper' the chocolate. If you just quickly melt and use chocolate, much of the cocoa butter contained in the chocolate will set into a form that produces a cloudy bloom on the surface and the chocolate will not have a nice snap to it when set. It may even feel grainy or fudge like when you eat it. To get the chocolate to set with a nice snap and a good silky finish you have to control the temperatures that you melt and then hold the chocolate at while you are working with it. I use the seeding method of tempering chocolate as I am way too messy and clumsy to work with the traditional 'tabling' of pools of chocolate on a marble slab. The seeding method lets you heat the main portion of chocolate to a temperature high enough to melt all of the cocoa butter, and then you cool it rapidly by adding in enough already tempered chocolate and stirring slowly until the pot reaches the desired temperature (dark 31-32C/milk 30C/white 29C). There is a fairly humorous description of the different methods of tempering chocolate in this Hope & Greenwood extract published by the Guardian.
You will need a thermometre that is graduated in 1 degree C intervals and that is accurate in the 25-50C temperature range. Once the chocolate is at the right temperature it needs to be held there, which is where a melter is really useful. You must keep stirring the chocolate and testing the temperature, nudging the heat up or down as needed. Well tempered chocolate shrinks slightly when it sets which is how you get the chocolates out of the moulds (or not!). If it does not shrink enough you can find yourself banging the moulds quite physically to get them out. I am not very good at moulding figures; so often they crack or get huge air bubbles on their noses but I do like this snowman so I like to make a few of these.

Working with chocolate can be messy so make sure there is nothing near by that cannot be wiped clean. When you are tapping moulds to remove air bubbles or drain out excess chocolate it is surprising how far little splashes of melted chocolate can fly around your kitchen.

For piping the fillings into the chocolate shells I use those plastic disposable piping bags. In an emergency I have used a plastic bag with one corner cut off but that is much harder to control.  Most of the fillings I make are based on a truffle mix of chocolate, cream, flavouring/alcohol and glucose/invert sugar. I also really like flavoured caramel centres. Once the fillings are piped into the moulds they have to be left to set and form a dry surface, usually overnight. The next day you temper some more chocolate and then pour a backing layer over the fillings. Once this has set properly you can turn out your chocolates.
Buying packaging in small quantities is very expensive so I usually just present chocolates in cellophane bags but boxes can display them much better.
I have tried some new recipes this year a couple of which are off the internet. From Paul A Young this Prune & Porter truffle was really quite unusual. Here is a link to a clip of Paul A Young doing a Prune and Porter promotional truffle demo during which he shows all the stages including table top tempering. It really is a joy to watch someone so skilled handling chocolate so effortlessly though he does talk rather a lot about prunes to start with! The second recipe was for a sichuan pepper and orange truffle that had a really spicy kick and would suit those fans of chilli and chocolate.
Soft Caramel Milk Chocolate Lanterns
Hand chocolate making is time consuming but at Christmas it always seems worth it and packages of home made chocolates make perfect gifts.