I’ve had a summer of learning. My 10-week Science & Cooking course is coming to an end, the three-day forensic psychology course is but a memory. Learning is fun and I was wondering what to do next when I was invited to a one-day chocolate masterclass with Charlotte Flowers at Edinburgh New Town Cookery School. It was as part of a six-month programme that teaches students a wealth of skills, sees them do short placements in prestigious kitchens (Castle Terrace, Martin Wishart) before testing them thoroughly and sending them out in the world equipped to start a career in a kitchen.
You could tell who was on the professional course: us day-trippers didn’t have whites or caps, the professionals wore both.
I was really excited to be invited not just because I like chocolate but because I’ve read about the other transitions of cocoa butter and was curious to see tempering in action. Tempering is all about getting the cocoa butter crystals to stack in the optimal way for gloss and snap. (That’d be triple chain packing, created with Beta crystals, something you get, according to Harvard, at phase five of cocoa butter’s six phases. Too much detail? Noted.) If the wrong type of crystals form, ones that don’t pack as neatly as the ones we want, the chocolate takes ages to set and is too soft. If it packs too tightly, it’s gritty.
But I get ahead of myself.
Bright and early, we arrived for the introductory session, in our whites or civvies, had coffee and met Charlotte Flowers, chocolatier. Charlotte structured the day in four sections: ganache, chocolate tasting, tempering, and finally dipping/decoration. Charlotte is engaging, experienced and passionate which makes her class interesting as well as fun.
Making ganache takes a little care but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Heat your cream, infuse any flavours you want for a couple of hours, heat again then the cream go down to about 90. Poor cream over the chocolate. Stir gently to let the heat of the cream melt the chocolate. You can use any liquid to make ganache: Charlotte recommended water for a lovely sauce or very special truffle. I’m thinking of trying red wine.
The exact proportions of chocolate and cream depends on the type of chocolate – dark, milk, white – and the individual chocolate’s behaviour. Find one you like the flavour of and experiment. Typically, you’re looking at 1:1.5-2 cream to chocolate.
When the ganache is smooth and luxurious, you can add nuts, liqueur or essential oils for flavour. Then let cool.
And keep cool. Chocolate doesn’t like heat. A hot, humid kitchen won’t give good results.
We were treated to a description of the chocolate making process, from pod to bar. Cocoa trees are interesting: they like to grow in the shade, under other trees, and for this, and other reasons, every aspect of their care and harvest is manual. By the time the bean gets to the chocolatier it has been fermented, roasted and sometimes also ground.
The chocolate maker then adds sugar and, to make milk or white, milk solids. Interestingly, the definition of chocolate as a product includes sugar which means that, strictly speaking, 100% cocoa mass chocolate isn’t chocolate. It’s cocoa mass. Not a distinction we worry about but a fun fact.
We tried several 100% chocolates and the range of flavours and mouth feels were impressive, from Hotel Chocolate’s dry, almost umami tasting Nicaraguan, to Robert’s Madagascan with its light colour and strong berry flavours. We also tried a range of dark chocolates, one milk and one white (the best white in the world. It was a privilege). The range of flavours and textures that chocolate can have is amazing. Like cheese, chocolate a products that I eat less of but spend more on than once I did. It’s worth getting something that’s really good. Charlotte had also brought beans for us to try. They were a revelation. They smell earthy from fermentation and are, before roasting, full of berry notes and an almost coco oil fatty coolness. Very interesting if not something you want to eat masses of.
Once the chocolate maker has created a chocolate, it has to be tempered. This is a tricky process since it’s all about getting the chocolate to crystallize in the correct, tight, formation. We used the seeding process, which is when you heat the chocolate up to 45°C, add already tempered chocolate, and stir until everything’s melted and at about 32°C. The already tempered chocolate creates nucleation sites which encourages the rest of the chocolate to follow suit and form the same crystal shape. The trick now is to keep the chocolate between 30 and 32 °C so that it is ready to work with. A hair dryer is a wonderful to for this purpose. (My hair dryer now has a use. Hurrah!)
Dipping and decorating
You have ganache, and have formed it into reasonable sized balls. The next step is to cover and decorate. Dipping is a surprisingly tricky business: chuck the ganache ball in, cover it, fish it out with your trusty dipping fork – not a fork but a loop of small basket made from wire – and gently drain the excess before tumbling the truffle out onto a waxed sheet. Decorate! Or wait, if you want to add things later, drizzles, for example, or, say, flakes of almond dipped in white chocolate and immaculately decorated with three grains of freeze-dried raspberry. That wasn’t me. I didn’t get the tweezers out. Instead, I covered my entire lot in dark chocolate, two or three at a time, drizzled a tiny bit of chopped almond on top and put a sliver of candied orange peel on top. This was to go with my cardamon and orange flavoured 56% dark truffles.
They look fabulous packed in ballotines or cellophane bags. I got 50 truffles out of 300 grams of chocolate.
I learned so much from this class and have a new excitement about chocolate. The truffles I made have a shelf life of about two weeks (not that they’ll last) and the class gave me all kinds of ideas for flavours and decorations. In the past, I’ve made truffles but not covered them, which, I learned, shortens their shelf life. Now I’m unafraid of tempering and know that any excess tempered chocolate can be kept, broken up and used in coming, of broken up and tempered again so future truffles will be covered.
Edinburgh New Town Cookery School runs a number of short and long courses. Check them out. The quality of the teaching was excellent, lunch was fabulous, the staff – and the students too – were helpful and friendly. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed my day. And my truffles. Very clever things, truffles.
7 Queen Street
Edinburgh EH2 1JE
Telephone: 0131 226 4314
Charlotte makes chocolates with wild and foraged flavours, elegant chocolates with simple flavours. She has a range of bars, thins and filled chocolates, and you’ll occasionally find her at markets. If you are interested in hands-on chocolate experiences, I’d recommend one of her workshops.
The Old Schoolhouse
Telephone: 01887 830307