Wednesday, October 21, 2009

O-Block: Chocolates and Confections

Wow! Finally it is HERE! I have been waiting a long, long time to take this class!!! And so far it has proven to be just AWESOME!!!

One of my favorite things about culinary school is learning the science of baking. As of now, I'm finding chocolate to be the most complex scientific thing!!! It is just incredible, and there will be a lot to wrap my head around in the coming weeks.

Chef G is a self-described "confectionary geek", who reminds me of the weirdest cross between Mr. Rogers and John Malkovich - sarcastic, distinct in his speech, and you just never know when he is being funny. The man knows his stuff! Our textbook for the course is evidence for certain - he wrote it! He will teach us a lot in the next three weeks and I am looking forward to soaking it up!

The general feeling of the class is like a 180 from last block - totally relaxed. It's not a production class; if we didn't make chocolates all week, no one would notice! So the pressure to finish on a schedule is off, which is really really nice. We were also allowed to choose our partners (finally!), so my roommate and I are working together since we've never had the opportunity. It's nice to be with someone who works well and doesn't have a lot of attitude, and we have fun!

We also get a morning break - 15 minutes! We can run down to Club Farq and grab some coffee, tea, or a breakfast pastry and shoot the breeze for a little bit. It's nice!

Day One was full of lecture and then we got to work making ganache, a chocolate fundamental. There are two ways to use ganache when doing chocolate work: the piped method and the slabbed method (there are other ways to use ganache, like as a glaze or as a filling, it's all in the ratio of ingredients!).

We were to focus on the piped technique for Day One. The truffles pictured above were made this way. These will be what we make for our 5th term practical. Cream and glucose syrup are heated and poured over unmelted, tempered chocolate. It sits like this for a minute or so, then is vigorously stirred together to create a stable emulsion. An emulsion is two things that don't normally combine: fat and water.

After our ganache was assembled, we tabled it on the marble slab at our station. Tempering ganache?! Weird! I'd never heard of such a thing. It was necessary to do in order set the crystals in the chocolate so that the ganache would set quickly. Then we got it all into a piping bag and piped away! After the truffles had set, I rolled mine round, then put a precoat of tempered chocolate on each one by hand. The precoat is a thin layer than protects the truffle from moisture migration (moisture leaving or entering the center), exposure to oxygen and makes the centers easier to handle. Day Two we put a thicker outer coat for a crunch effect and to make them look nice and shiny! Pretty easy, and rustic-looking. Hand rolled truffles will never look perfect, but that's not the point.

Today we learned how to do the slabbed technique. This is the process of creating a center of consistent thickness. We do this on a plexiglass with zinc-coated bars on top. The bars can be moved and make a frame setup in which we pour the ganache. It sets and then can be cut, glazed, etc. to create chocolates! Pretty ingenious.

We also learned how to fix ganaches that "break" or separate. This is an important skill to know, because it's more cost-efficient and saves time for pastry chefs to fix mistakes or problems than to throw them away and start over. Ganache is a fat-in-water emulsion. Chocolate contains cocoa butter (fat) and heavy cream also contains fat, as well as water. Usually there is a liquid flavoring as well, which adds more water to the emulsion. Ganache can break when there is too much fat. This can be fixed by adding some liquid, slowly. It can also break from over agitation when it is not at the correct temperature. That can be fixed by slowly heating it up, but keeping it under 94F so the cocoa butter doesn't melt. Scientific stuff!

Our slabbed ganache ("Dark and Stormy" - ginger and rum) totally broke, as we figured it would. It looked sooo ugly, but putting it over the fire (aka gas stove) and vigorously stirring it *magically* brought it back together! So cool! My partner and I also made another piped ganache (Anise sticks). This took a little more finagling since the ganache was made with milk chocolate (which has much less cocoa butter than dark chocolate). We piped it in long strands across the back of a sheet tray, then precoated them. Tomorrow we will cut them into 2" sticks and do the final coating/dipping. Fun!

Every day for homework, we not only have reading and reviewing, but we also have to cost out a recipe each day. This is educational and not too hard, but is just another thing to add to my list of things to do! Those truffles cost about 5 cents each to make! And we'd probably sell them around a quarter each.

Another fun thing about class is that Chef G wants us to be eating chocolates for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I'm not sure I can follow through on that assignment, but I agree that it's a good idea to expand my palate and try what I can! Wish I could send some of these goodies home!

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