To Temper or Not to Temper

December 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

You always hear that chocolate can be very  temperamental. One of the reasons I’ve avoided doing much with chocolate up until now has to do with tempering. Tempering reorganizes the crystal structure in the chocolate to give it the stability to be formed into shapes and hold that form. It’s one of those things that has always seemed complicated and not worth the effort or potential failure of the finished product. I was also not willing to sink $300 into a good machine. Now I know I don’t have to. It’s not as hard as it might seem. Or I had beginner’s luck.
I was working with semi-sweet dark chocolate. In a double boiler, I brought the water to 140 degrees and then turned down the heat and added the chocolate on top. You melt the chocolate and since it is dark, you want the chocolate at 120 degrees. I then transferred the chocolate to a heating pad with a towel on it on the counter.

Once it is melted you take 2/3 and pour it onto a marble slab. I used my chessboard above since it’s the closest thing I have. I knew it would one day be useful when I lugged it back from a trip to Mexico! Using two metal spatulas you spread the chocolate out and then scrape and fold it back in until it seizes up a bit like a paste. Then you pour it back in with the other chocolate. You then want the temperature of the chocolate at 90 degrees (this varies with type of chocolate).
You then do a test to see if the chocolate is tempered. Using a knife you dip it in the chocolate and set it aside. I put mine in the refrigerator as it’s faster and then you don’t have to worry about your chocolate sitting around for 5 minutes. It came out smooth and slightly glossy which means it was tempered correctly.
I then transferred the chocolate to a pastry bag to pipe into some little holiday moulds I bought. DO NOT BUY CHEAP MOULDS. These, while cute were a huge pain to deal with and didn’t pop out well on the back end. I would avoid metal completely and only work with plastic or silicone in the future.
Since I was just playing around with tempering it wasn’t too big a deal. As you can see these turned out nice and shiny, so the experiment worked.

Now I have a week of chocolate making behind me, I’m ready to tackle some more advanced stuff. I definitely want to try to learn to make my favorite chocolates of all, chocolate covered salted caramels. I just have to learn how to make caramel first which is even more temperamental than chocolate.

Sometimes Simple is Best

December 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Truffles have to be one of my favorite chocolates. This weekend I found out how simple they are to make. It just takes really good chocolate and cream (and whatever you want to top them with). I did a bit of searching and found this recipe from Martha Stewart’s site (they do their homework).
It literally only takes a couple of minutes to heat the cream and then melt the chocolate with it. Then it needs to cool in the refrigerator so you can shape it. I would suggest putting it in a square pan so it can cool evenly. The bowl I used was not ideal.

Then it’s time to shape the truffles. I would recommend using a 1″ melon ball spoon to get the shape going when you scrape the mixture out. As you can see your hands melt the chocolate as you’re forming the ball, so mine were pretty misshapen. I rolled the truffles in unsweetened cocoa powder and also did some with salted cashews.

As you get into making chocolate you find it can often be a tricky endeavor but making these truffles was really simple.  No tempering of chocolate, no moulds to contend with or fillings. Just delicious round chocolates that melt in your mouth (and on your hands).

Making Your Own Chocolate

December 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chocolate can come in many forms but at a basic level it comes down to cacao and how much of it you like vs sugar. If you like 75% chocolate, then you’re 75% cacao, 25% sugar. In my research this week I found a simple how to video on making your own chocolate from scratch so I thought it would be fun to make my own chocolate and test out what percentage I like best.

When I started this week I hadn’t planned on actually making chocolate from scratch but it’s really easy and worth a weekend experiment. It only takes about 10 minutes all in. You start with cacao nibs which I found in the bulk section at Whole Foods. They also suggest using Dagoba Nibs. They are about $13/lb.

The only other ingredient is sugar.

You’ll also need:
small coffee grinder –  I used my small Cuisinart, but they recommend a simple burr coffee grinder. You want a grinder that keeps the nibs contained as it’s grinding rather than pushing it through to a compartment below because it has to grind for about 5 minutes.
mortar and pestle
small spoon

Start by adding the ratio of cacao nibs to sugar into the grinder. I started with 80%, so 8 teaspoons of cacao and 2 teaspoons of sugar.

You’ll have to wipe down the sides as you go along since it will start to form a paste and stick to the sides.

After your 5 minutes it will be a paste that has some shine to it almost as though you’ve added a little liquid. (Similar to peanut butter in texture). You transfer it to a mortar and pestle and continue grinding and folding the chocolate for another couple minutes. You have to put some muscle into it.

I made 3 different batches to try out from 80% down to 60%. I was partial to 70% and even could have gone a bit sweeter.

It was a little grainy still but that probably had to do with not using a fine grinder. I ended up mixing some 70% with some 60% to make some hot chocolate and strained it through a fine mesh strainer.  It tasted much fresher in a way, similar to how good a freshly ground cup of coffee tastes compared with already ground beans.

People always ask me what my favorite weeks of the year have been. Hands down roasting my own coffee has been one of them that I’ve continued doing and will continue doing. After this little experiment in making my own chocolate I’m now curious about taking a step further even and seeing about roasting my own cacao beans. I came across a site called  Chocolate Alchemy which is the equivalent to chocolate what Sweet Marias is to coffee.

I may have to give it a shot!

Food of the Gods

December 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chocolate comes from a giant alien-like pod fruit. Theobroma cacao. “Food of the Gods”. There is a divine quality associated with chocolate and an almost a religious devotion among chocolate eaters. However, like many other religions, it’s a religion blindly followed. For one of the most popular foods in the world, people know surprisingly little about it. I knew chocolate was made from cacao (not the magical Hershey factory I thought as a child). I did not, however, have a clue what cacao looked like. I now know it grows on a cacao tree which produces fruit/pods the size of footballs (above). Inside holding the seeds together is a white membrane that purportedly tastes like Sour Patch Kids.  The seeds are then fermented, dried and roasted to become the cacao we eventually turn into chocolate.

Chocolate was money. Chocolate was almost as good as gold throughout history. Cacao beans levied as a tax by the Aztec & Mayan cultures and as currency to buy goods. That value extended to other cultures and eras. During the Revolutionary War, American soldiers had chocolate included as part of rations and were sometimes paid in chocolate in lieu of wages. It’s hard to imagine getting paid in chocolate but I might be tempted to consider it.

Sugary chocolate resulted from the Spaniards. Untainted and intact for centuries, chocolate began its transformation when the Spanish conquistador Cortes entered the picture. It went from being bitter to sweet to suit the Spanish palate. And it only got sweeter and sweeter over the centuries. I imagine the Aztecs would lose their shit at the blasphemy that has been created from their “god food” over the years. They would conversely nod in approval at the move to get back to the central flavor of cacao in the last decade or so, stripping away the sweetness to let cacao’s bitterness to come through. It’s hard to eat a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar for me now that I’ve gotten used to more bitter chocolate.

For most of its history chocolate was just a drink. Chocolate started being made in solid form in the early 1800’s and the first chocolate bar was invented by Joseph Fry in 1847. By 1868 a small company called Cadbury was manufacturing and selling chocolate in  England. Nestle soon entered the fray.

Chocolate will make you smarter. and is also linked to lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. A number of studies have shown chocolate enhances cognitive ability. It’s also believed to cause the release of serotonin making us feel relaxed while simultaneously increasing your heart rate to a level much greater than kissing. It is a relaxed thrill. My chocolate addiction is my brain trying to make me smarter and happier.

On that note…must. eat. chocolate. now.

Cacahuatl, Xocolātl, Chocolatl (or What I Like to Call Hot Chocolate)

December 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

You can’t begin exploring the world of chocolate without starting chocolate as a drink. It’s been used that way throughout it’s history.  It’s where it all started with its earliest documented use around 1100 BC in Mesoamerica where it dominated for centuries. The Aztecs liked their “bitter water” cold, the Mayans hot. It’s origin is not unlike coffee starting out as a bean, being dried then roasted into a highly addictive beverage.

I’m a hot chocolate girl and last night it was needed with our -2 degree temperatures in Boulder. Instead of regular old cocoa, I decided to make a cardamom and orange cup of chocolate with cardamom whipped cream to enjoy with friends. A little fancier than the Aztecs would have done it but they didn’t have Cuisinarts and Kitchen Aid mixers.

It was rather simple to make:
(3 servings)
4 cups milk
1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder (i used Ghiradelli)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seeds
1 orange zested or peeled

First I prepped the cardamom which were in pods by slicing them and getting the seeds out. Then they were ground in my small cuisinart. In a medium saucepan I added 1 tsp of the cardamom with all of the remaining ingredients and brought it to a slow boil, making sure to stir so as n

ot to burn the milk. I simmered it for a few more minutes and then poured the chocolate milk through a strainer into the mugs awaiting.

As the chocolate was coming to a boil I also made whipped cream:
1 pint hea

vy cream
1/4 cup sugar (or however much you like depending on your level of sweetness)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom

In a KitchenAid mixer whip cream until it starts to thicken almost into desired consistency, slowly add sugar and remaining ingredients. Continue whipping until it’s the consistency you want.

Each mug of fragrant hot chocolate received a dollop of cream.

Chocolate goes well with so many different things and it will be a fun experiment this winter to come up with my favorite hot chocolate concoction. If you have your own you love, please pass it along!

A Passion for Chocolate

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was having a conversation the other day with my husband about what my passion was. He has known since graduating college that he loved design and has happily devoted himself to making great design. I did not feel that way about my work in advertising, even though I was good at what I did. I suppose both of us hoped in doing this blog over the past year I would find something that I might enjoy better (that also translated into a real job).

For a second I felt stripped bare in my passionlessness, but then I recovered myself with the thought I have not one, but a multitude of passions. I am a passion mutt. Those who are passionate about dogs will tell you mutts still have a lot to offer this world. They’re versatile.

One of my passions in life has definitively been chocolate. If I were a character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I sadly would have been Augustus Gloop. I’d have taken one look at that chocolate waterfall and found myself getting sucked up into the filtration system before I knew what hit me.  If a doctor were ever to tell me I had developed a chocolate allergy I would resign myself to death by chocolate on the spot.

While chocolate has been a definitive passion of mine over my whole solid food lifetime, I couldn’t answer the question why really. I don’t know that much about chocolate, like where it comes from or what it does to you that is so magnetic (I prefer not to use the word addictive). I also realized this week I have really never delved into the world of making it myself.

I’m glad this whole passion conversation came up because I realize I might have closed out this year of 52 things to do without covering one of my nearest and dearest passions of them all. We’ll see if I enjoy making chocolate goods as much as I love eating it.

It has a reputation for being high maintenance.

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