Handmade Holidays: Trufflemaking at Chocolate Tales

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Ever since I tried handmaking chocolate a year or so ago with the kids, my eyes (and tastebuds) have been more alert to the possibilities of creating with chocolate. So when the opportunity to try a different route to making chocolate treats crossed my bath through the blog, I knew I was in.  Chocolate Tales and I booked a date for a trufflemaking workshop midtown at The Mad Bean, and we were off to the chocolate races.

Our workshop began with a history of chocolate, which for hundreds of years was consumed as a beverage.  The Aztecs ground the beans and drank a really strong, unsweetened version of chocolate – apparently Montezuma drank 10 cups of this a day.  It was also given to human victims before they were sacrificed, supposedly for the calming effects of serotonin and theobromine.  Personally I find it hard to believe that this could have had much effect but maybe that’s just me.

This grisly historical lesson out of the way, we could start focusing on the here and now (thank goodness).  We were working with high quality couverture chocolate, which gets all its fat from cocoa butter.  This is contrasted with compound chocolate, where the fat comes from fat substitutes – usually oils – and it’s difficult to temper because different oils have different burn points – this chocolate sometimes shows a white film which indicates it’s not properly tempered.  It can still be tasty – which is why most of us enjoy a good Kit Kat every now and then – but it’s more a candy than chocolate.

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At the Chocolate Tales workshop, we were messing around with the real thing, ie. the couverture chocolate.  Our stations were laid out tidily with rows of hollow chocolate spheres, and the various tools we’d be using to fill these into Belgian truffles, as well as to make French truffles out of slabs of ganache.  There was a giant bowl of melted chocolate on a double boiler at the front, which was ladled into plastic bags that we used as icing tubes.  With tips on how to best fill our chocolate spheres (try to fill it without air gaps, which reduce shelf life, for eg.), we set to work.

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I couldn’t take pics of us messing around with chocolate, but mess is the operative word here… we were given aprons and gloves for a reason.  Melted chocolate gushed out of bags and outside of our little chocolate receptables and into our trays (and up into our mouths).  After letting our filled chocolates cool, we set about enrobing them.  The technique for this is to paint your hand with chocolate, and then roll the truffle into our palms to cover it with melted chocolate, then repeat.  The gloves came in handy here to keep the mess at bay, but I wanted to feel this experience all the way so I removed my gloves (I was the only one).  There’s something luscious and decadent and playful about doing this with your bare hands, and although I spent a spell in the bathroom trying to get all the chocolate off afterwards, it was worth it.

photo 2photo 3We all left satisfied, and possibly a little dizzy from eating chocolate spills and leftovers, with a stack of Belgian and French truffles to go, packaged prettily in decorative bags and a gift box.  It was a friendly group, led by a friendly facilitator, creating a perfectly pleasant way to spend a Tuesday night.

Trufflemaking is just one of a range of workshops offered by Chocolate Tales – there’s something for the sweet tooth in all of us.  One thing I’d mention… when I arrived at the workshop I thought we would be making chocolate from scratch, but the facilitator explained this process and it’s not at all workable for the end result sought – the process takes too long, is too complicated, and too mechanized.  It’s possible to make a simple handmade chocolate as I did, but it won’t have the professional and consistent qualities that you and I normally associate with a truffle.  The workshops are about working with the basic components of chocolate and putting them together in personalized and delicious ways.

I knew I would enjoy this DIY workshop but hadn’t thought of what a nice experiential gift this could make until I saw the friends and couples there, and sat down next to a mother who gifted this workshop to her teenage daughter.  They were completely engaged with each other and the activity, and the daughter may have had just a bit of a glow when she left.  I thought of my 13 year old niece, and I come December 25, she and I may be poised for more chocolate love.

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The Pleasures of Handmade Chocolate

050I didn’t clue in on the second or third or fourth readings why my son was so fascinated with Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Apart from the fact that it’s a timeless, fabulous read that’s entertaining for both children and adults.  We were also loving the edition illustrated by Quentin Blake, whose whimsical drawings seem to perfectly complement Dahl’s outlandish tale.

But there was another reason, and that’s because my boy really wanted to make chocolate.  I was ever so slow to catch on to this.  When he first talked about being a chocolate maker and a chocolate inventor, I said sure, and got on with whatever critical task I was doing.

When he kept talking about making chocolate, I clued in that he actually wanted to try and I told him one of two things:  a) I didn’t know how or b) you can’t make chocolate.  I’d like to think I made the former claim, but I’m pretty sure I said the dumber latter thing.

At last, when the poor child was blue in the face with asking, I had a glittering eureka moment.  Why don’t I just look into it, I thought?  And promptly discovered that it is not only possible to make chocolate at home, but not difficult at all (unless you are starting truly from scratch with cocoa beans, which we weren’t).  Snapping out of my no-can-do trance, I remembered that I love making things in the kitchen at home with my boys and at last we got to work.

We did some research, read a bit, watched a few youtube videos.  There are lots of different recipes out there, but I wanted to make one with cocoa butter, because this seemed the most delicious and pure way.

The recipe I used (and I cannot for the life of me find the source, sorry) contained exactly four ingredients.

250 grams of cocoa butter (edible, some kinds are intended for body care)

8 Tbs of powdered milk

12 Tbs of cocoa

250 grams of icing sugar

(pinch of salt, optional)

The most difficult part of making the chocolate was getting some really good ingredients, and even that was just a run to the natural food store.  I splurged on raw organic cocoa butter and got some good cocoa powder, because with a recipe with four ingredients, the quality of these would seem to really matter.

We melted the cocoa butter in a makeshift double boiler, and blended it with the mixed dry ingredients.  And, um, that’s it.

Then we poured our chocolate mixture into a variety of silicone molds (maybe some chocolate bar molds should go on my son’s gift wishlist?  If you don’t have these, you could line a loaf pan or baking tray with a lip with parchment paper and break the chocolate into bark.  Spooning out the liquid chocolate was messy so we poured it first into a little milk jug which made pouring into the molds much easier.

We chilled them, popped them out of the molds and wrapped them in mason jars as we had a bunch of May birthdays to celebrate.  I read somewhere that handmade chocolates melt more easily than storebought, so we kept the presents refrigerated until time to give them.

The outcome?  It’s a lovely chocolate.  Not a true dark chocolate, but more dark than milk chocolate, partly because of the milk powder but especially because it was just sweet enough and no more.  It was strikingly similar to some very nice, very expensive handmade chocolate I sampled at a high end farmer’s market.  The texture of ours was a little grainy, which I can only attribute to the milk powder as the other dry ingredients are so fine.  There are lots of other recipes out there, and since it’s so easy and pleasurable and great for gift-giving, I can’t see why we won’t be doing this more and more.

It should come as no surprise that I was enamoured with the process entire.  With reading to my son a wonderful story and having it make a deep enough impression on both his imagination and sense of possibility that he’s spurred to try new things.  And that his energy moves me to try new things.  That I have the opportunity to stretch a little more a mind that I thought was already open to adventures in the kitchen with my kids.  That we get to create and taste and share really decadent and quite healthful treats.  I still can’t explain the blinders that delayed this handmade foray, but thank goodness for the persistent child who helped knock them away; it’s reason enough for me to love these chocolates completely.

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