Filed under: best of the week, chocolate, classes, cookery classes, cookery lessons, food, top-feature, valentine's day
After I posted up my Valentine’s Day patisserie and chocolate ideas, Rococo Chocolates very kindly invited me to try one of the chocolate making classes that I’d featured. I arrived with some trepidation – I made truffles last Christmas for my partner’s family, and I know though they were quite edible, they wouldn’t pass muster in professional chocolate making circles!
My collywobbles got worse when I realised one of my classmates was a professional chef. She’d already done the class on tempering chocolate in the morning, and was back for more – in fact, she’ll be doing two more classes in a couple of weeks. And then I looked at the selection of chocolates in the shop. It was obvious that Laurent, the ‘Prof du Choc’, was not going to be an easy teacher to please.
Here in the photo are the students – Gemma, Heather and Abigail, with Laurent who teaches the class. Only four of us – the kitchen is just the right size for four so the tuition is up close and personal, not blackboard style ’show and tell’. (This is the ‘real’ kitchen, not just a teaching facility – 40-50 kilos of chocolate a week are made here, and the tempering machine was running in the corner all the while we were working, the chocolate oozing and gleaming like liquid temptation.)
We kicked off by considering the ingredients for the ganache. Now I thought that’s easy – chocolate, butter, sweetener, cream. Not that easy at all, though, as it turned out.
For instance which chocolate should you use, and what percentage? There’s a formula for a ganache, which aims to get the right amount of fat and water – it depends on the kind of chocolate you use, and it’s quite scientific. (One of the surprises, for me, was just how much science there is behind it – Rococo regularly sends its chocolates off to a lab for testing – though in terms of day to day chocolate making, you can rely on a tried and tested recipe.) We talked about blended chocolate, like the Valrhona ‘extra bitter’ that we tasted; single-origin chocolate, from Brazil for instance; and even single-plantation chocolate -”Though we wouldn’t make ganache with that,” Laurent said, “It would be a waste.”
Then we talked about what kind of cream to use – and here again it’s not just ‘cream’, it needs to be a whipping cream at 35% fat. If it’s got higher fat content then you need to cut that down by adding some single cream. If you use double cream, you get too much fat.
And sweetener. We could use honey – but it needs to be a strong honey, like chestnut or acacia, with a good strong taste – or glucose. (That was fun – the transparent glucose gloops and drips and sticks to your hands as you roll up a ball of it to drop into the cream.)
We talked about flavourings, too. Laurent has been working with the big fragrance company IFF on some special chocolates, so he really knows his stuff here. Essential oils are good to use, for instance. You could use lemon, orange, lavender, ginger… “Who wants to have a ganache with some flavouring?” he asked.
Immediately, four hands went up!
Laurent demonstrated how to make the ganache – and then it was time for us to get started on our own work.
“Then afterwards,” Laurent said, “we will have a tasting.” Abigail’s eyebrows shot right up as she grinned. There’s a girl who likes her chocolate, I thought!
To my great surprise we all managed pretty well. There were no accidents to report. Laurent having already demonstrated the process, we all knew how it was supposed to work. First warm up your cream and glucose together in the pan, and melt your chocolate gently (in fact our chocolate had already been melted for us by a friendly kitchen elf).
Then very gently and gradually incorporate your cream mixture into the chocolate. You have to stir it well with the spatula, but you mustn’t get air bubbles into it.
We also used an electric hand blender, and there’s a particular knack here – listen to it. Suddenly, when you’ve got your ganache just the right consistency, the noise of the blender changes – it purrs on a different note. (If it starts growling, on the other hand, you’ve got air bubbles.)
But the way you really tell whether the ganache is ready is simple – you look at it. Is it nice and shiny? Lift it up – does it drop off the spatula in a nice steady stream, with no jagged edges or rough bits? Is it gloopy and beautiful? Here you can see Laurent demonstrating exactly how it should flow.
Gemma was having fun. “My mother said you should never stir chocolate, it makes it lumpy,” she said, and laughed. “Just imagine, all this stuff that I’ve believed for years!” (And her mum was a professional cook, too – but not a chocolatier, obviously.)
Now at this point I learned the single thing that probably has made the most different to my life with chocolate. You need to take the chocolate’s temperature. “Most important!” Laurent said. “You need a thermometer! When you work with chocolate, a thermometer is compulsory!”
(I know there are a lot of exclamation marks in there. Laurent does all his punctuation with his hands – very expressive hands, even when they’re holding a piping bag.)
Only once we’d all made sure our chocolate was exactly the right temperature – and warmed it up a little in the microwave if it was too cool – could we add the butter. It’s the butter that gives you the sensation of ‘melting in your mouth’ when you eat a good truffle – and it’s the butter that keeps the flavour. At this point we began to learn a little about the part that personal taste plays in the business of being a chocolatier. While you can use just 12% butter, Laurent said, “I like my ganache rich in butter, so I like to go closer to 15% rather than 12 – I like ganache to be tender and soft. That’s what butter does.”
We all ended up with a huge tub of ganache to take home and finish our truffles. But we could, at that point, also use the ganache to make a chocolate souffle, hot chocolate, chocolate sauce, chocolate cake – what we’d learned could be adapted to almost any recipe involving chocolate.
And finally, at the end of the session, we just had some silly fun, learning to use the piping bag to make truffles, and dipping truffles Laurent had already made into tempered chocolate, then rolling them in cocoa powder to finish them. Up till then, the kitchen had been pristine – suddenly, it was a glorified mess, and we were enjoying a laugh together as well as getting our truffles nicely coated in cocoa.
Now, I had got round to thinking what went wrong with my Christmas chocolates. First, my butter was not room temperature – it was straight out of the fridge. Second, I used baking chocolate, not great quality. Third, I put the butter into the saucepan with the chocolate and the cream, so it melted. Fourth, my ganache was full of air bubbles. Fifth, I’d used double cream. Sixth, I’d used ordinary sugar. Nul points! If I’ve learned one thing from my afternoon at Rococo, it’s that the recipe books don’t tell you anything worth knowing.
Yes, we did have a tasting afterwards. I have to tell you that Laurent is not afraid of flavour – that’s putting it mildly. Some of his combinations actually sound worryingly adventurous, and in some cases just plain wrong. I didn’t like the sound of the first one at all – I very rarely like lemon based chocolates- but I must admit, when I actually bit into it and started to experience the wild mix of tastes, I was deeply impressed. It was a white chocolate and lemon puree mix – a zingy explosion of citrus taste, like walking through a lemon orchard in summer. We had a truffle made with mango, passion fruit and orange ganache – using fruit puree instead of the cream; it had masses of taste, and was quickly everyone’s favourite… until we tried the next one, a dark chocolate truffle with lychee, raspberry and rose. Really, these are amazing chocolates!
Rococo has been running a chocolate school since September 2008. Some of the people who go along are professionals, like Abigail. Others are learning for their own enjoyment. And while today we had all girls together, quite a few chaps go along too.
I was amazed when we came to the end of the afternoon just how much I’d learned. Laurent is a great teacher – he not only knows everything about his trade but he also has a great enthusiasm that communicates itself to all his students. He knows all the little tips – like putting your hands in cold water before you handle the glucose, so it doesn’t stick, and keeping the piping bag vertical and not slanted, so that the chocolate builds a little ball instead of running out sideways.
And I also had a whale of a time. (I actually felt quite sad when our class ended.) If you have three good friends who like chocolate, and a birthday coming up, I can’t think of a better way of treating yourself than taking a day out at Rococo and learning how to make your own birthday present.
I have to report some side benefits too. Apparently, Laurent says, with my experience of making a perfect ganache, I should now be able to better my 50% success rate with mayonnaise – the process of making an emulsion is exactly the same whether it’s chocolate and cream, or egg and olive oil. And Heather, who takes her GCSEs this year, has fixed up her work experience – in the kitchen at Rococo. I can’t think of a better place to work.