Well, let’s see:
I dipped all the caramels on Saturday and made toffee on Sunday. Two kinds of toffee, one with almond meal sprinkled on tops (to add a trace of nuttiness), the other with plain chocolate and the words “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” printed all over it. For the last one, I used an acetate sheet with the printing already on it – you lay it on the melted chocolate, and it transfers the printing to your chocolate. I do it every year with toffee – the holiday touch.
I am, however, still behind on chocolatemaking despite skipping my long ride yesterday – I still need to pour the chocolate molds. I’m planning to do that tonight – Mike is interested in the chocolate-tempering process, so I’ll get to show him on the marble slab.
Tempering chocolate isn’t difficult, but it is tricky. The secret of chocolate’s glossiness has to do with cacao butter crystal formation. Essentially, you want a lot of small cacao butter crystals in the finished product, not big ones (they produce a cloudy, streaked, whitish appearance). The catch is that cocoa butter has five crystal forms, only 1 of which is stable at room temperature. If you have the other forms, they re-melt and slowly metamorphosize into the stable form, forming large crystals, which make your chocolate streaky.
So the art of tempering chocolate is to make sure that you get lots of small, stable crystals.
The secret to this is to heat the chocolate up high, so you dissolve all the crystals, then quickly drop the temperature, so lots of small crystals (stable and unstable) rapidly form. Then you heat it up to “working temperature”, whereupon all the unstable crystals melt and you’re left with just small, stable crystals.
This sounds complicated, but in reality it consists of dumping a bunch of hot, melted chocolate onto a marble slab, swooshing it around with a pair of paint scrapers until it reaches the right temperature, then dropping it into a bowl with a little bit of hot chocolate left in the bottom, then mixing it all together. The tricky part is figuring out when you’ve got the right temperature.
I used to use a chocolate thermometer (and had many initial failures), but then Richard Donnelly of Donnelly Chocolates showed me the “chocolatier’s way” of testing temperature. You dab a small amount on your upper lip, which is extremely temperature-sensitive. It should feel just cool to the touch – if it feels warm, it’s too hot. Using this, and experimenting once the chocolate is “in temper”, has served me well, and these days I find that I get the tempering process right pretty much all the time.
Of course, I’ve also had fifteen years of practice, and much swearing along the way. But I do think I’ve more or less got it down now.
The other secret to tempering is that, if the chocolate is just a little bit too warm, you can get it into temper just by waiting for it to cool. I test the temper by dipping a knife into the melted chocolate, scraping off one side of the blade, and waiting for the chocolate to harden. If it’s not in temper, then there’ll be a hint of streakiness as it cools.
Hmm. All that sounds pretty tricky. I guess it is complicated and difficult, it just doesn’t seem that way because I’ve been doing it so long.
While waiting for my marble slab to cool in between batches of toffee, 6-lb batches of melted chocolate, etc., I also wove about 2/3 of the magenta-black silk scarf. Now I have to think about my next project…which is an incredibly complex twill pattern (someone’s rendition of a Schubert serenade in woven cloth) that is supposed to be in cotton and silk/wool…I think I will do it in silk and cashmere, mostly because that’s what I have on hand.
I could use cotton, but I don’t have much experience in dyeing cotton, and I don’t have the space to keep leftover dyed yarns around. That’s one of the reasons I buy white yarns exclusively – it takes less storage space, and I get a wider range of colors by dyeing it than I would by ordering yarns.
Anyway, I am still meditating on the current project, will probably not do anything about it until after Thanksgiving. We’re into the final stages of the chocolate free-for-all, and it will be all-consuming from now until D-day.
I bought 1 gallon of manufacturing cream and 4 pounds of Plugra (European-style, cultured butter) yesterday. Life is good.