As far as I’m concerned chocolate is an essential food group – in fact, I’ve can even say that someone of the medical profession has conceded that chocolate is a vegetable (I’m choosing to deliberately ignore the indulgent expression as said medico agreed with my ‘cocoa is a plant’ argument), so we can eat as much of it as we like! Perhaps part of this addiction to chocolate stems from the illicit underground chocolate-supply-ring in high-school. You could virtually see the ripple of whispers across the playground “fundraising chocolate for sale – locker 124” and the not-so-inconspicious casual stroll over to said locker, ever watchful for authoritative persons (aka teachers). Forbidding something can make it far more tempting – and perhaps the taste of chocolate is linked to being a little bit naughty…
When the ‘Princess of Pasacaglia’ (henceforth P of P) asked me to attend a chocolate class there was very little – let’s be honest – no hesitation. So on a cold, wet Saturday we headed over to Coco Chocolate school in Mosman to join our class of ten. Our teacher Rebecca, a chocolatier who studied at the Valrhona school in Lyon, was to teach us the dying art of tempering chocolate by hand (most places use machines).
Rebecca’s passion for chocolate-making came across she talked us through the steps from growing the cocoa beans to creating the bars that we buy in the shops while we melted 12kg of chocolate (we got to eat as much chocolate as we wanted). The things that differentiate ‘good’ and ‘bad’ quality chocolate were interesting. Rebecca described how the cocoa beans grow in a fleshy and sweet coating which is often just rinsed off, however, steeping the beans in this ‘flesh’ infuses the flavour, making it sweeter. Also, she described the conching process which determines the smoothness of the chocolate – cheaper chocolate is only conched for five hours whereas better quality chocolate is conched for five days.
Tempering – to give the chocolate shine and a ‘snap’
We started by melting the chocolate in the microwave. This did not shock me as it did others as I have been melting chocolate in the microwave for years (an activity borne from sheer laziness). The rationale behind melting in using a microwave is that it reduces the chance of water getting into the chocolate which would cause it to seize. It also allows for greater control over the temperature. For today’s class, we were melting 4kg of chocolate at a time – done in 60 second bursts in the microwave, with a big stir in between each to distribute the heat. Once the chocolate had melted we began to measure the temperature after each stir with a super cool infrared temperature gun (guess who came home with one of these?). When the temperature gets close to what is desired (you may need shorter bursts in the microwave) we used a heat gun, aka a tool that looks like a drill but emits hot air to about 200 degrees Celsius (a hairdryer should have a similar effect), to continue to heat the chocolate. This is to again allow for greater control as burning the chocolate will ruin it. As said above, the temperature was continually measured – that said Rebecca told us that the trick to knowing that the temperature is correct is to drizzle the chocolate and if it sits atop and doesn’t sink into the rest of the melted chocolate its about right. Once the chocolate is heated to the desired temperature (you have a one degree leeway – i.e. for white chocolate the ideal is 40 degrees Celsius but 39-41 degrees is okay) it’s time to start cooling it.
The next stage is the fun bit! We poured the chocolate onto the marble bench (no need to scrape the bowl as the remaining heated chocolate will help with the reheating process later). With a long palate knife and chocolate scraper/ spatula we spread the chocolate across the bench in a figure of eight pattern. We then ‘pushed’ the chocolate back into the centre using the scraper – this was done repeatedly until the chocolate cooled to one degree above what is desired (e.g. 26 degrees for white chocolate). We then scraped the chocolate back into the bowl, gave it a big stir and started to reheat with the heat gun (continually stirring) until the white chocolate reached the desired temperature of 27 degrees.
The next steps varied depending on what is being made.
We started with easy white chocolate slabs with cranberries, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir through flavours and some cranberries into melted white chocolate, spread onto baking paper and sprinkle with extra chopped cranberries. When set, snap into pieces and serve. I did say it was easy!
With the tempered milk chocolate we made salted caramel filled bars. We started by ladling the chocolate into the polycarbonate moulds, rapping the moulds on the bench to ensure that the chocolate had no bubbles. To ‘create’ the hollow for the filling we tipped the moulds over (a top the chocolate bowl of course) tapping the side gently to empty out the excess chocolate and scraping off the excess with the long palate knife while the mould was still upside down. This left a thin layer of chocolate in the mould that would later form the top of the bar. Once set (it may need to sit in the fridge), we piped the salted caramel into the mould, then ladled chocolate to fill the mould. The spatula was used to gently scrape of excess chocolate off (trying not to gouge holes in the bars) – working at diagonals across the moulds. The moulds were rapped on the bench again for even distribution and removal of bubbles. Allow to set. You know they are ready when, from the underside of the mould, the chocolate looks like it is no longer sticking to the mould – at which point the chocolate bars will fall out with a light tap.
With the dark chocolate, we made hot chocolate curls. The glossy chocolate was poured onto the bench, spread out, and allowed to cool on the marble. Before the chocolate had completely set everyone grabbed a scraper and, holding it at a 45 degree angle, scraped the dark chocolate into curls and flakes. These were put into a container with pure cocoa and shaken. To make into hot chocolate this was melted in milk.
Key things to remember:
- You need couverture chocolate (can’t use those chocolate bits that you buy in the supermarket). Here at Coco they use single origin chocolate and all ingredients are organic.
- You can temper chocolate on any surface ONCE – otherwise you need a marble bench top as it retains it cool temperature whereas other surfaces absorb the heat (the art of tempering is essentially about controlling the temperature of the chocolate to manipulate the crystallisation).
- The same process is done for all three types of chocolate (white, milk and dark) – but the temperatures that you are heating, cooling, and reheating to are different. You have a one degree leeway on each side of the perfect temperature – if the temperature of the chocolate falls above or below this it temper there is the potential for the chocolate to bloom (i.e. have white bits when the fat and sugar separates) – not to worry though, you can reuse this chocolate (after it has solidified) by mixing it with equal parts of ‘fresh’ chocolate and temper again. The photo below has the desired temperatures for white, milk and dark chocolate.
- Dark chocolate loses heat most quickly – so work quickly.
- Do not wash polycarbonate molds with detergent, only hot water. Wipe them with cotton balls to remove chocolate residue.
Coco Chocolate Studio & Sydney Chocolate School
Building 21, 1110 Middle Head Rd Mosman 2088
Tel: +61 (02) 9960 6540