Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Chocolate Academy - Chicago

There I was, in November, sitting at my desk at my office job, bored, surfing the net and lo and behold there it was, EXACTLY what I have been looking Artistic Showpiece Course in chocolate in Chicago.  I have wanted to learn how to make a showpiece out of chocolate for years, now was my chance.  A few financial calculations, some surfing for hotels, clear off the credit card, book the flight on Porter Airlines and I was going to Chicago in February!  

Speed ahead 3 months and I'm sitting in the lounge in the Island Airport, shitting bricks wondering what the hell I was doing going to a prestigious chocolate academy in Chicago.  A course taught by the head technical advisor of Barry Callebaut (world chocolate supplier) stomach turning, and not from the turbulence of the flight to Chicago.

We checked into our hotel around dinner time Sunday night and headed out to find some grub.  Chicago is a wonderful city as far as cities go and the choice of restaurants is amazing!

Monday morning came way too fast.  Paul walked me to school and there it was...The Academy on the 8th floor, my name on the wall welcoming me and 6 other students to the Artistic Showpiece class with Chef Jerome.  After putting on my chef uniform I sat in the kitchen tightly holding my morning coffee, scarfing down a croissant and hearing how the others were shitting bricks too!

The first day was all about introductions, the equipment in the lab we would be using and engineering a showpiece so it wouldn't fall over and keeping your work station and your nice, new white apron gleaming white for the next four days...

5 minutes into pouring chocolate into a mold, my apron came undone and the ends, well they were in the mold that I had just filled with dark much for my gleaming white apron...

The first day was spent making support structures, talking about techniques and building the body of a crane that would tower up to 4 feet high when completed.

Day 2 was spent finishing the structure of the crane's body, making the base for the showpiece and adding the wings and feathers - all chocolate!

Day 3, we built the base up to place a large chocolate sphere in the middle where the crane was going to stand.  A hole had to be melted into the top of the sphere, a cylinder of chocolate 'glued' into the sphere then the bird body balanced on top.  One of the students, while sweating profusely  and said "Day 3 - spinchter factor was at an all time high".  Chef Jerome helped me 'glue' my crane onto the sphere but said it need some support as a lot of  the weight was on one front support - I quickly went to work.

Day 4 - the crane was still standing the next morning.  I went to work, we had 2 hours to finish the crane's feathers, head and beak!  I was putting on the top combing of the crane, up on a ladder, ready to put on my piece of chocolate, cold spray it into place and then there was no artistic showpiece left - it had crumbled to the floor beneath me.  Note to self: read some engineering/gravity books...  yes, it was in pieces on the floor - 30 hours of work back in the melter...

All was not lost, one of the students was ill so I was able to use his partially finished piece.  I still had only 1 hour to finish the head, beak and feathers, I missed coffee break that morning.  The rest of that day was spent making flowers, making beautiful long tendrils of chocolate that snaked around the piece.  Then we went to work spraying the bird with chocolate, added the beautiful flower. 

Chef Jerome finished his bird by spraying the flower with coloured cocoa butter and highlighting parts of the crane with some beautiful oranges and dark blue cocoa butter.  We had a plane to catch and were already into the champagne so I didn't have time to finish with the colouring...but I did get my certificate and the t-shirt.

Chef Jerome's finished piece!

Me and Chef Jerome!  YEAH!  (Yes I have chef hat head...after 40 hours...)

I had a few embarrassing moments like a piping bag full of chocolate exploding on my nice white apron and the cup off the air brush, that was filled with cocoa butter and dark chocolate, spill down into the sleeve of my chef jacket - but all in all I learned an amazing amount and had an amazing time.  I can hardly wait to go back to The Chocolate Academy and do it all over again!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

For the Love of Cake - Part 2

Cake, cake, CAKE, CaKe, C.A.K.E., cake....cake.  I'm trying to figure out an interesting recipe to post that's not too hard, not too easy, doesn't give away any of my secret recipes and something I have a picture of...ahhhh - did I say CAKE.

Chocolate cake.  The recipes are many.  You can use melted chocolate in your chocolate cake or cocoa powder.  Coffee, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon all go amazing with chocolate.  Why am I focusing on chocolate cake?  Well, I am a chocolatier and I have a lot of chocolate cake recipes and not many people hate chocolate.  My first day in chocolate school we made chocolate cake covered in chocolate ganache - I'm in heaven.  

I was at George Brown College, a decent 20 minute walk from school to the GO Train at 10:30 at night in downtown Toronto.  There I was, in my droopy chef pants, steel toed butcher boots, chocolate covered chef jacket, chef hat head, large red down-filled winter coat, huge bag full of knives, spoons and stuff, my purse and one box with an 8" ganache covered chocolate cake to carry to the GO Train.  I got 2 offers on my way to the train but I politely declined, after all, it's chocolate and I can be selfish.  Made it to the train station without a mishap, waited for my train without a mishap, up the stairs, got on the train, sat down - no mishaps.  This could work out I sheepishly said to myself, knowing Paul would be waiting for me at Mimico station to pick me up and drive me home.

Made it to my stop, made it out the door, down the stairs, under the tracks, back up to the parking lot, in the car, steel toed boots, droopy drawers, big red scary coat, bag of knives, purse, cake and all!  I'm sooo great I thought, I'm a freakin' genius!  Paul helped me out of the car, I egotistically carried my masterpiece up the front steps through the door, being held open by my oh-so-lucky husband.  Proceeded to then drop my bag of knives and purse on the floor, and put the cake on the kitchen table, I shamelessly will never forget watching (what seemed like slo-mo) that pretty boxed, chocolate ganache covered, perfect chocolate  cake (which snagged me an A+) slide across the table, and teeter on the edge, for what seemed like an hour, only to have it tip off and land upside down...yes, my ego trip was over.  I stood there like a dejected puppy looking for a new home.

As I scooped ganache and cake off the floor and tried to smush it back into something that looked like cake the cat decided it was a good time to help wash the floor...sigh.

After all that, I have to say the cake recipe was not only awesome but lower in fat then a lot of cake recipes, although high in the sugar department, but, half the sugar can be substituted with Splenda.  Here's that ill fated recipe that I still use to this day!

100g   flour
50g     cocoa
225g   sugar
1 tsp   baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg
120 ml milk mixed with 1/2 tsp vinegar
60 ml oil
120 ml hot, freshly brewed strong coffee
1 / 2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Mix the milk with vinegar and allow to curdle.  Line an 8" spring form pan with parchment and spray with oil or grease with butter.  In a bowl sift flour and cocoa, add baking soda, salt, baking powder and sugar and mix well. Mix the egg with a fork, add oil, milk and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients to dry and mix.  Add hot coffee and stir until combined.
Pour into prepared cake form and bake until ready, about 25-30 minutes. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

We Should All Eat Cake - Part 1

I love cake, and not just a vanilla cake with chocolate icing or a chocolate cake with fudge icing, all kinds of cake.  The majority of North Americans have no idea what is out there!  Beyond our coasts, all the way across the pond in Europe.  The art of the Viennese treat is still alive and well in Europe.  There are so many days I wish to sneak away from my desk at work, order a double espresso and a nice opera cake.  But alas, what do we have to choose from, cupcakes with shortening icing (no butter), biscotti full of preservatives wrapped in noisy plastic, cookies with no butter and poor quality chocolate....sigh.

So what do the Europeans know that we don't?  Surely they can't make much money using real butter, fresh ingredients, employing pastry chefs with knowledge and skills.  In fact, a pastry with your espresso in the afternoon will run you the cost of lunch at McDonald's here at home.  Or you can get a nice coffee or Latte with a cute little French Macaron or two (about half the cost of a McDonald's lunch).  The thing is, you aren't eating that little pastry or drinking that espresso because you are hungry.  You need a break, need to slow down, do some people watching.  So maybe that little cuppa Joe and pastry will take you 30 to 45 minutes to enjoy.  Bet you your 1/4 pounder and fries are scarfed down in 10 minutes...

European style pastries are my favourite.  The Jaconde, Japonaise, Opera Cake, Bombe, torte, tarte, macaron, Berlin Air cake, Tiramisu, Biscotti, Gianduja, terrines, verrines, etc., etc.  The Jaconde is a vanilla sponge made with nuts, pistachio, walnut, hazelnut etc, the Japonaise, a meringue made with nuts, a Bombe is a heap of mousse, the Berlin Air cake is a light sponge with layers of cream and fresh fruit and it goes on.  We miss out on so much here in North America with the typical birthday cake, the humdrum wedding cake flavours the McCain cakes of the world.

I hope you can all think about what kind of cake you want next time you go looking to buy one.  Think outside the big box store, look in your neighbourhood for a little mom and pop bakery (or call me...hehe).  So instead of a recipe today - here are bunch of pictures to drool over and think of me when you need a cake for a special occasion and I promise they aren't the same price as gold they are affordable little goodies!  Part 2 - there will be a recipe so you don't have to call me!

White Chocolate Cherry Cake

White Chocolate Chestnut Mousse Cake

Almond, Chocolate Caramel Dobro

Peanut Butter Chocolate Tarte

 Pistachio 6 Layer Cake

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chocolate - Part 2

Qualities of chocolate.  It's a lot like fine wine or the subtleties of coffee and tea.  Each plantation has a different characteristic, each species of tree has a different flavour.  Each manufacturer conches a different way, has different milk product sources, uses different sugars.  They all make a difference.  How would one choose a superior chocolate just by looking at the package ingredients?  Let's start with that.

The amount of Cocoa Liquor and Cocoa butter make a difference, they should be the first on the ingredient list.  Also the better chocolate contains no artificial flavourings or fillers such as palm or coconut oil.  It's the same old story, you get what you pay for.  The process to get the cocoa pod into a chocolate bar is expensive and the more filler, the less chocolate used, the cheaper the product.  Also there's what's called "mouth feel".  If you take a bar of Hershey's chocolate or Cadbury and then have a bar from Lindt, you will notice the cheaper chocolates are gritty and the Lindt is like silk.  Why?  The time the raw chocolate spends in the conch, the longer the chocolate spends in the conch the smoother it will become, however this also costs more in equipment and labour to product the silky smoothness.

So one day, when you have nothing to do, go buy a bar of Hershey's, Cadburys and Lindt and have a taste test and you will notice a difference in quality.

What is the big deal between the percentages of chocolate on the label.  The higher percentage the more chocolate and less sugar.  Lindt even makes a 95% chocolate that is very nutty, a tad bitter, and has the mouth feel of peanut butter.  The average is abut 53% and each 'grade' percentage tastes different.

However, where the chocolate originates makes a big difference.  Chocolate trees grow in amongst other crops, in Madagascar the vanilla orchid grows on the trees, the chocolate from Madagascar has a beautiful hint of vanilla.  Chocolate grown in amongst coffee plants in Cuba - well has a very smooth hint of coffee.  I like to research where the chocolate I eat and use come from and match the characteristics of that chocolate with the food I'm eating or the application I'm using it in.

White, Milk, Dark.  A lot of chocolate snobs say that white or milk chocolates don't count.  I disagree.  

Although white chocolate doesn't contain any chocolate solids (Liquor) it does contain cocoa butter.  A good white chocolate contains no preservatives or fillers, it will have a lot of sugar but will have a high quality vanilla and lots of milk solids.  I like white chocolate.

Milk Chocolate is a North American favourite - I love it.  However, the brand does make a difference and I do have a preference, you should try different Milk Chocolates, read the ingredients, the first ingredient should be chocolate solids, not sugar.  If sugar is the first ingredient, put it down and slowly back away!

Dark Chocolate is self explanatory and the qualities are referenced above and is a personal preference.

This is only a small history and discussion about chocolate.  So try different kinds, don't worry about the price!  It's a gift from the Gods.  Now, since it's -20 outside, here's one of my favourite chocolate recipes:


You can either use steamed milk or heat on the stove top.

Stove Top:  Place milk in sauce pan with a handful of your choice of chocolate.  Stir with a whisk until milk is warm (not boiling) over medium heat and all chocolate has melted and enjoy.

With steam:  Get your milk steamer up to pressure.  Put your milk in lettiere with your desired chocolate, about a handful.  Steam away until all chocolate has melted, stir and pour into your favourite mug. 

Wrap your hands around that hot cup of chocolate, put your feet up and relish the food of the Gods!