Monday, November 07, 2005
Chocoholic Stupor of a Different Sort
When I was a kid, chocolate was not one of my favorite sweets. Caramel, marshmallow and sugar plums: that's what my dreams were made of. I learned to really taste chocolate only a few years ago when I met my husband who was (and still is) one of the biggest chocolate fiends I've seen.
Since the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, of course it became my goal to learn how to handle chocolate. To bake with it, to melt it and roll it into truffles, to dip strawberries in it.
Three years ago I attempted my first truffles. I carefully followed the recipe for the gorgeous chocolate dipped beauties in the cookbook except, I didn't own a double boiler (still don't) so I improvised. Not with two cooking pots as I had seen my mother do a thousand times, no. I wanted to be stingy with the chocolate... hey, chocolate is expensive, right? My bright idea was to put a ceramic plate holding the chopped chocolate over a pot of boiling water. Can you guess what happened? I know you pastry chefs out there cringed, I heard you. The chocolate got runny, then it got hard, then it turned white as a sheet. In pastry circles we call that white stuff bloom. Bloom is what happens when the chocolate is heated incorrectly; the cocoa butter separates out from the cocoa solids and lays nicely on the top for the whole world to look at.
To avoid bloom and stay at a workable consistency, chocolate must be tempered (my mother always told me I had no temper... HA!). Tempering is holding the chocolate at a specific temperature for a specific amount of time. Kids, this should only be attempted by professionals, really. It took hearing this and tempting fate many times before I actually believed it.
So, now I believe it, now what? Do I convince my dear husband to fork out hundreds of dollars for a chocolate tempering machine? (I WISH!) Am I banished from baking with, truffling or dipping with chocolate? No, not quite. You see, there are chocolate tricks (not the kind found in Baltimore City). Tricks that professional chocolatiers don't want the average Jo to know about and rightly so. Let's face it, if You can make truffles any old time then Godiva and Chocolate Garden are out of business.
When I started at my current job I saw some of the other cake decorators doing amazing things with chocolate. Things I didn't think were possible, certainly not by me. Here were ladies dipping strawberries, drizzling chocolate on cakes with abandon, drenching full cakes in liquid chocolate and writing on cakes with chocolate in a bag!
These ladies showed me how easy it was to simply pour the chocolate nuggets out of the box, pop the disposable cup into the microwave and zap! it was ready.
Not possible. Not possible. Not possible my brain said.
It looks like real chocolate... my eyes told my brain.
It tastes like real chocolate... my tongue told my brain.
My hands agree, this is not the chocolate that ended in fiasco so many times before. This chocolate is pre-tempered (kinda like me in a napping state). How is this possible? I have no idea. Where can you get this chocolate? Ahhh... there's a question worthy of many hours of searching our dear friend, Internet.
Pre-tempered chocolate is not indestructible, however. It will still bloom if heated too long or too quickly (though it's not as finicky as the regular stuff). The oddest thing about pre-t is, if it blooms one time, it can actually be salvaged by heating slowly and adding new, unmelted chocolate.
Just for the sake of argument, let's say I got cocky working with this beautiful pre-tempered chocolate found in my workplace. And let's pretend I decided to dip strawberries and truffles at home, with my regular old chocolate, forgetting all of the previous disasters. Would my chocolate miraculously behave simply because I have been working with melted chocolate for a year without many problems? Let's just say... the chocolate wasn't the only one losing its temper over the weekend.
I am more determined to conquer the chocolate animal now than I had been previously. If I get a few more big jobs before the end of the year, maybe I'll just get me one of those fancy schmancy tempering machines. In the meantime, I have to find someone who will sell pre-tempered chocolate in the United States! sheesh... Canadians. Belgians. You're all out to get me.
But guess what? MrG is a chocolate purist. No fruit, no nuts, no caramel, no luscious nugat... nothing to muddy up his milk chocolate experience. So, any chocolatting I do from here on is all for me... and my pride. And my waist. And my booty.