Reflections on Chocolate

Once upon a time, as a teenager I made chocolates, bonbons and Easter eggs and sold them to my classmates at school. At that time the only instructions I was given was to add a third of chopped chocolate into a bowl of melted chocolate and stir it until fully melted, in order to have the chocolate ready to fill the molds. I was not told however what would happen if such procedure was not followed, nor the terms tempering, fat and sugar bloom, good snap, and shine were ever mentioned let alone the concepts behind those words ever explained.

Not until after I had started my career in cake making I started looking into chocolate making and them came across all of could happen when using a not properly tempered chocolate. And while the explanations of how to successfully temper chocolate were available, for some reason I got stuck with all the bad possible outcome and started to fear using chocolate as a medium. ??Fast forward to 2013 when the chocolate portion of my pastry program was schedule to start and I notices I was having mixed feelings about it. At one hand I was really excited to finally learn the dos and don’ts I was also hesitant about my chocolate making abilities. I got so tied up on how bad things could go, that it was not even funny. Three weeks have passed and I can see clearly how my hesitance made things so much more complicate for me in class.

Luckily for me this course’s instructor has a very interesting teaching approach. While teaching the whole class all things about chocolate, she assisted everyone individually, in an way she could detect my concerns and hesitance right in the beginning of the course, guiding me through these three weeks we started covering theory from the farming, harvesting, processing of cocoa, reminding me again of my teen years, more specifically of a soup opera called Renascer aired in Brasil back in 1993. Over 200 episodes with cacao farming in the northeast of Brasil as a background for the drama.

Then we spent time in the lab, starting with chocolate tempering. Tempering is the process of preparing couverture chocolate for dipping, coating, molding, etc, by manipulating temperature (melting-cooling- re-warming) with the purpose of creating a very fine fat-crystal structure in the chocolate. When properly tempered, chocolate sets quickly, has a good texture and shine and a crisp, clean snap when you break it into pieces. The methods of tempering include tablage also known as marbling, where the melted chocolate is quickly cooled by being spread and moved around a clean slate of marble or granite.

tablage or marbling method

tablage or marbling method

Seeding or injection where finely chopped chocolate put added into a bowl of melted chocolate (remember what I used to do in my early years of chocolate making?). Using a tempering machine or even simply using the direct method where one only melts the chocolate, either over bain-marie or in the microwave, to its working temperature and never allow it to come out of temper.

To my surprise we were taught how to temper chocolate, despite the method, without using a thermometer. By taking samples of the chocolate along the way and visually determining when the proper tempérage is achieved.

Another important aspect of chocolate making to understand is called chocolate bloom. There are two types of chocolate bloom, sugar bloom and fat bloom. Sugar bloom is normally a result of moisture, which causes the sugar in the chocolate to dissolve and once the moisture evaporates, sugar crystals remain on the surface. Sugar bloom is most often the result of improper storage in places with high humidity. We tried to produce the bloom in class by placing a sample in the fridge sooner and for longer time than it should be, but we could not get a visual bloom, noticeable only by touch. Fat bloom is similar to sugar bloom, except that it is the cocoa butter that is separating from the chocolate and is commonly a result of quick temperature changes and improper storage in warm temperature. Luckily both blooms can be fixed by re-tempering the chocolate, however as sugar and fat bloom only appear some time the chocolate is set, the chocolate may be already in store, properly manipulating chocolate and storage are crucial for a quality product.

We also made several types of ganaches. We had covered ganaches earlier in the course, so we knew ganache is an fat (of the chocolate) in water (of the cream) emulsion, but in the current course we learned there are other types of ganache, besides the most known chocolate and cream, the butter-based and the egg-based ganaches.

While different recipes will call for ingredients different ratios and require different methods of preparation, temperature is crucial for a proper emulsified, smooth and shiny ganache. When heating cream, at least 64°C should be achieved to kill harmful bacteria, but one could bring cream to a boil. Before pouring it over the chocolate it is important to let cream cool to 70°C- 80°C (depending on the type of chocolate). Once chocolate starts to softened the mixture is then stirred gently until it becomes homogeneous and without lumps, taking care to not over mix or mix it within the danger zone of 23° – 29·.  When filling molds or truffles ganache should be at a maximum of 33°C.

truffle making

truffle making

In several moments during this course I got to understand the reasons of success or failure in my current cake making business, especially with ganache making. But my a-ha moment was during tempering a bowl of chocolate, that despite proceeding as I should, I still didn’t have enough of the good crystals. Then instead of feeling that I had failed, I was oriented to create more of the good crystals but placing a little of the chocolate on the marble, in a small version of the tablage method.

partial chocolate production

partial chocolate production

After the initial hesitation, I quite enjoyed the course. The topic of chocolate is so vast that I wished we this part of the program were longer. And since I enjoy so much the science behind baking, the specifics of crystal forming and how chocolate behaves depending on temperature, mixing methods, storage, among other particularities made me enjoy researching and understanding more about it.