After a gruesomely frustrating day of trying to get a very complicated task done while being interrupted and/or ranted at by several people and at frequent intervals, I was staring morosely at the computer screen wanting to pull my hair out and scream at the world to go away. Yeah, cranky. Also trying to come up with something productive to do, and failing.
Normally I just shrug that sort of thing off – having spent twenty years with a screwed-up neurochemistry dragging my mood this way and that, I’m pretty good at managing my mood and knowing when to let go. But every once in awhile, things get so out of whack that, like everyone else in the world, I get cranky too. It was fixing up to be a really vile evening.
Then I remembered that tonight was the night when I was going to meet Michael, my fellow-chocolatier, and take a look at the commercial kitchen he’s renting. So I hopped in the car and drove off to Oakland, where he met me and showed me the kitchen. I didn’t think it was particularly impressive, but it does feature more counter space than my apartment, plus a lot of potentially useful tools, so I think I’m going to go ahead and rent it.
But oh, the chocolate geekery! We spent the next hour talking chocolate nonstop – flavorings, formulas, brands of chocolate, techniques, molding equipment – everything! Michael’s been studying with the aim of becoming a chocolatier someday, and while I’m twenty years ahead of him in experimenting with flavorants, he knows as much or more about chocolate theory than I do.
And he’s “unvented” (like knitting, there is very little in chocolatiering that is new under the sun) some great ideas, like rolling dipped chocolates in espresso powder and coarsely granulated sugar. I think he did it with kirsch, which was of course a mistake – kirsch is a relatively subtle flavor and by the time you douse it in chocolate and espresso powder, it’s completely invisible. But oh! make that center a nice strong whisky and you have a GREAT Irish whisky truffle – crunchy, coffee, creamy, chocolatey, and with the aroma of good whiskey – mmm. I think that’s definitely getting a place in the selection this year.
He had some goat butter there, and gave me a taste. It’s wonderful stuff! It’s like a good European cultured butter, except without the slightly rancid taste that sometimes gets into cow’s milk, and with just a hint of goat-cheese flavor. Pure white, too, not colored with annatto. I will have to go to Whole Foods and get some, to try putting in chocolate and comparing it to conventional butter.
He also showed me two books which I have promptly ordered from Amazon: Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner, by Peter Greweling of the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America, not the sinister arm of the U.S. government!), and Fine Chocolates – Great Experience by Jean-Pierre Wybauw. They have some very useful information, like tables on shelf life and at what percentage of water pathogens start growing – no more guesswork and rushing things out the door! I will definitely have to pore over them once they arrive.
I gave him some of my tips, and we’re going to exchange caramel recipes – my jasmine tea caramels for his goat milk – butter caramels. I’m going to try to write down my fudge recipes this year and work out the exact numbers so I can reproduce and refine them in subsequent years. I tasted his saffron and rosewater truffles – I will have to think about those some more – and a few other flavors which I’ve now forgotten. The “genius” one, though, was the espresso and sugar crystal one – a great combination of textures and flavors. If he’d been using better chocolate and a good whisky instead of kirsch, I bet it would have been pure heaven. I’m looking forward to trying it.
Anyway, I got back from our meeting feeling much more enthusiastic and energized about the world. Let’s hear it for chocolate! And creativity! Between the two of them, they really turned around my day.