There was an…incident…with the oven. Let’s just say that something that shouldn’t have been volcanic, was.
But back to the beginning of the week.
Who knew something so small and innocent looking could be so messy and complicated?!
Let me start off by saying I love chocolate. I really do. I even enjoy making it.
But, oh dear god is it hard to make properly!
Monday was the first time I had ever attempted to temper chocolate. I thought the day was going well because we started by making a praline—roasting almonds in a pan with sugar and a variety of other ingredients, going through various stages of melting sugar, crystalizing the sugar onto the almonds, and then remelting the sugar while it was still coating the almonds before pouring it out onto some silpat.
It smelled great, looked great, and unfortunately had to be put onto a rack to be stored and used the next day.
We moved on to a caramel spread of some sort—and since you probably know how I feel about caramel, you will know that this was a moment of bliss. I don’t have a ton of experience with caramel, but everything about it is my happy place. With all of us making caramel, burning sugar, boiling our sugar with our cream, adding salt and vanilla…the entire kitchen (actually the entire school) smelled amazing for the rest of the day.
Then, because we happened to be working well and quickly, Chef decided we would get a “bonus” recipe—blonde chocolate bars with toasted seeds. Blonde chocolate is like a sixth sense as far as I can tell—it is its own category of chocolate that some people believe to be a real thing and other people think is just white chocolate.
So on top of the fact that it was my first time tempering chocolate, we had no recipe to go off of and I was also not mentally prepared. As Chef demonstrated and I scrambled to write down pertinent information on the back of one of my other recipes, I thought “this can’t be so bad! There are basically two ingredients!”
I don’t know how Chef makes it look so easy and I ESPECIALLY don’t know how he manages to keep his table so clean! There was barely a drop of chocolate on his work surface even though he had spread the gooey mess over half of it.
I guess that is why he is the Chef and I am the Student >_<
Tuesday we started by finishing our praline from the day before by taking the caramelized almonds and pulverizing them in a food processor with some olive oil. Between the sugar and the fat from the almonds and additionally from the oil, you get a nice smooth paste that looks a bit like homemade peanut butter but tastes more like heaven. You don’t actually have to add olive oil, but it adds not only a smoothness but also a fruity, full bodied flavor that helps develop the other flavors in your mouth when you eat it.
We then made Rocher/Chocolate Rock Praline, utilizing the praline and also some nutella and toasted almonds for the main flavors. The recipe was actually quite simple now that I look back on it, but this topic is so new to me that I feel a bit like a fish swimming upstream during class.
The little, innocent looking praline balls are indescribably good. Seriously. It is crunchy from the coating of almonds, the layer of tempered chocolate and from the almonds inside the dessert, but there is also creaminess from the praline paste and the nutella.
The second dessert we worked on today was Muscadine, which is basically a log of chocolate. Again, its a great recipe and it actually wasn’t that hard and didn’t have too many steps, but for some reason it still seemed like a challenge in the moment.
Chef even asked me if I was doing alright as I was piping the chocolate onto my mat, and even though I said I was okay he assured me that he knew I wasn’t. I think he might have a sixth sense to know when I am nervous (-_-;;)
Though my piping skills (and lets be honest, all chocolate related skills in general) need some serious practice, I am so excited about this recipe because once you master the technique the variations are endless. You could add so many different flavors, shapes and decorations to this little creation…. I’m already excited to make it again!
Wednesday was an exciting day, because after a fairly normal class I had the opportunity to work with/observe chef in the kitchen one-on-one.
First off, in class we finished off our pralines and dipped our Muscadine logs from the day before (and we now know for without a doubt that I need like 1000 more hours of studying chocolate tempering, because wow, serious fail). The long logs needed to be taken off the plastic sheets, trimmed, and cut to size, before being frozen and then quickly dipped in tempered chocolate.
I don’t know that I would call it a complete failure, but chocolate does not come naturally to me. The potentially beautiful little diamonds of chocolate ganache turned into lumpy blobs of awkwardly shaped chocolate.
Tastes great. Looks….like something I would not sell in a store. 😛
When the Muscadine was finished, we worked completely through our Mendiants recipe—which should also be simple. It turned out okay, but sadly my chocolates didn’t have the correct shine that adequate tempering will give your chocolates and because I wasn’t working fast enough only about half of the delicious additions stuck to the top of my little chocolate rings.
After class was when things really got interesting though. Chef was practicing some recipes and allowed some of the students to assist him after school hours—and on Wednesday I was allowed the privilege to participate.
I really didn’t do anything much to help, but it was the perfect opportunity to ask as many questions as I wanted, get chefs opinion on various techniques and ingredients, and be able to work more comfortably in the kitchen. It was a fantastic experience and I only hope that my brain doesn’t have to push out things I’ve already learned in order to properly soak up all of the things that Chef has already taught me!
Thursday we worked on three recipes: Walnut Paste, Mango Marshmallows, and Coconut Preserves.
I have never really considered myself to be a nut person, but I think the past two weeks have changed my mind. All things should have caramelized, toasted nuts involved.
If I’m being honest, I was highly skeptical of the Walnut Paste before making it. It isn’t often that I go out of my way to consume walnuts, and I thought it would end up being a spread that would be interesting from a cuisine perspective but not something I would love eating.
Walnut Paste is amazing. The recipe has very few other ingredients and flavors—mostly just almonds, sugar and some kirch—but between the technique of the recipe and paying attention to developing the flavor at each step in the process, the end result is something that I could eat with a spoon. No bread or chocolate necessary.
The Marshmallow, or Guimarre, turned out more or less how I expected (finally we were doing something I had at least minimal experience with!) The mango pulp added a great flavor, and I enjoyed the process of the marshmallows, but I sort of wish we had taken it a step further. Maybe we could have dipped them in chocolate and/or toasted coconut or added something to the batter before piping it to add some extra texture.
The last thing we worked on that day was a Coconut Preserve. Now, I’m really not sure if this is the right thing to call it, especially since I don’t have a proper recipe for it—this was another bonus recipe.
Every time we make a new recipe I end up learning things I didn’t expect to learn. Chef is basically a fountain of knowledge for all things food, ingredient, cuisine and pastry related. It is honestly baffling. Maybe if I tried really, really hard I could someday possess even half of the knowledge he has >_< With this recipe we talked a lot about the percentage of sugar content in different kinds of preserves and the various amounts of pectin residing in different fruits and the amounts of pectin that need to be added to compensate for the differences. I probably would have had to research this for several days and then make a nice, organized table of all the different stats, but Chef very calmly pulled this information from thin air as we stood around his table, trying to scribble down everything.
The Coconut Preserves were piped into silicon molds, which were then placed in the freezer for Friday.
Friday was a fantastic day in the kitchen, and now I can finally return to telling you the story of the exploding chocolate cakes!
This entire week we have had a visiting chef in the kitchen with us, and on Friday he was in charge of teaching us two recipes; one chocolate cake called the 4/4 and a Whipped Ganache.
The Chef was new to the kitchen and new to all of us students, so some things were inevitably choppy, but in general the Whipped Ganache recipe went off fairly smoothly. We made a ganache featuring lapsang souchang tea and red pepper flakes to make things interesting. This lovely mixture eventually got piped into little chocolate shells along with some of the Walnut Paste from the other day, and then topped off with some kumquat slices. Delicious. And adorable.
And then, we moved on to the 4/4 Cake. It really was not a complicated recipe.
We gathered and weighed our ingredients. We stood and watched the visiting chef prepare the dish. We went back to our tables and copied everything he did. We put our pans of cake on a tray and put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before it went in the oven. We put the cake in the oven. And then we started to clean up.
Chef Vincent (our regular teacher) came back into the kitchen, walked over to the oven, and started smiling.
Oh no. I knew it was bad. Had we over cooked it?! I frantically checked my phone, but no, it had only been 15 minutes and the cakes needed 30 minutes in the oven. It couldn’t be that. Why was Chef smiling?!
We all went over to the oven, and surprise! The cakes had imploded.
There was more cake coating the outside of the pans and the tray in the oven than there was remaining in the pans!
There was really nothing left to do besides let the cakes finish baking, attempt to salvage some of the cake that had remained in the pans, and then dump everything into the sink for a long soak in boiling water.
As we finished dipping our Coconut Preserves into tempered chocolate—the last food related task for the week—there was a definite hum of amusement in the air. At least if we were going to fail so epically it was good to fail as a team, and to such a point that it was humorous and exasperating!
And speaking of humor and exasperation….While the visiting chef was teaching—recipes that we didn’t have physical recipes for mind you—Chef Vincent caught a glimpse of my notes….. Which I think are a fairly accurate representation of what goes on inside my brain while I am in the kitchen. But apparently it is one of the many things that is not normal about me 😛
Week Three at Gastronomicom and my first Chocolate Week is officially done! I can’t believe how quickly the time is going! :O
We already have our one week break so I am on my way to London for a week—so expect posts about travel and food adventures from England before I return to Agde for Plated Dessert Week!
Thanks for reading!