Thursday, January 20, 2011

History of Chocolate, Truffles, and Ornaments

My failure to post any updates in over a week is an indication of my general lack of enthusiasm and motivation as it relates to the past two weeks of my life. After some reflection, all I can come to determine is that I have too much free time on my hands, and rather than take advantage of the free time, I've become lazy. That may sound a bit backwards, but it's really a fairly common occurrence I've been conscious of since working professionally. Think of it this way: when you have a full day of things to do, you do them, moving from one task to the next without thinking too much about it - you just go, go, go, until the to-do list is accomplished. Days that are open and free require a much more conscious effort to stay busy (if that's your goal), or it's quite easy to fall into a trap of laziness. Now I'm not saying free days can't be spent vegging out in front of the television watching an entire season of a show on DVD. Some times, these days are much needed and much appreciated. My problem is, since school started, I've been wasting too much time in front of the television and not enough time on my baking. I'm hoping that sharing this with you - and recognizing that I'm not really happy with myself - will be the final push I need to snap myself out of this funk. Onward.

The real reason for this post is to tell you about my first two days in my "Candies and Confectionaries" class, which meets on Tuesdays from 7:30am-2:00pm. As I mentioned last week, my first day of class only met from 11:00am-2:00pm due to the winter weather conditions. As anticipated, we had an abbreviated lecture on the History of Chocolate, and I was definitely glad it was abbreviated. Don't get me wrong - the history of chocolate is actually quite fascinating - but it is extremely hard to listen to a lecture for more than 20 minutes at a time. Here are some highlights, if you're interested:

*Chocolate can be traced to the Amazon, 2000 BC.
*Chocolate was used by the Mayans, dating back to 600 AD.
*Chocolate had two main uses back in the day. Cocoa beans were used in a cold, bitter drink, and the nibs from the cocoa beans were used as a form of payment.
*Cocoa nibs were used as currency, so when a Spaniard named Cortez conquered part of Mexico, he realized if he could grow more cocoa trees, he would have more cocoa beans, and therefore more cocoa nibs, and this "currency" could be used for Spain to continue to build wealth and power. Money did grow on trees.
*Cortez brought cocoa beans to Spain in 1528, thus beginning the spread of cocoa through parts of Europe and other parts of the world.
*Cocoa spread to France, England, Italy, Philippines, Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland in the 1600s and 1700s. Americans didn't discover chocolate until 1755. In the early 1800s, cocoa spread into Venezuela and Africa.
*In 1875, Peter of Switzerland figured out how to make milk chocolate.
*In 1879, Lindt of Switzerland figured out the process called "conching" which allows for chocolate to melt on your tongue.
*Since this time, Switzerland remains the leader of chocolate production and consumption. European chocolate tends to be of higher quality than American chocolate, due to the time spent in the "conching" part of the production process.
*Today, cocoa trees are found in locations 20 degrees above and below the Equator, ideal climates for growth. Climate affects the beans, which results in different flavor profiles for different types of beans.

Posting all of that was more helpful for me than probably for you, because I'm sure I'll be quizzed on this at some point, and typing it helps me remember the highlights. If you're more curious, here's a website where I'm pretty sure some of Chef's information actually comes from.

In our second class meeting, we talked more about the properties of chocolate and we learned our first lesson in tempering chocolate. The tempering process is perhaps the most important process when working with chocolate. Classically, it is a method of warming the chocolate, cooling it down, and warming it again to proper temperatures - this ensures a proper gloss and the necessary snap in the finished product. It's quite easy to ruin chocolate during this process, so it's a bit stressful to learn. The hardest part for me is trying to learn how to gauge temperatures by feel; by using the space right below one's lower lip, you can determine the temperature of chocolate. It sounds crazy, I know, but this part of our bodies remains regulated and because chocolate melts around body temperature, you can use your lower lip to determine the temperature. We practiced this in class, and I spent much of the process feeling like it was a total crapshoot. Hopefully with more practice I'll start to figure it out.

As a class we had the task of producing 2400 truffles for an event on campus on Friday. We worked in three groups of four to make three different types of truffles - dark chocolate with Kahlua, milk chocolate with Frangelico, and white chocolate with Gran Marnier. My group worked on the dark chocolate truffles. We began by making the filling, which was piped into dark chocolate shells. After tempering the dark chocolate, we piped it to seal the truffles, and finally, we rolled the truffles in dark chocolate and set them to dry. I didn't have time to take any photos so I will try to on Friday night at the event if possible. It was a good lesson in terms of chocolate production, and also a good experience to practice working quickly and efficiently.

I've spent part of the morning working on my homework assignment for this class, which involves drawing ornaments on paper. On the first day of class, Chef gave us an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with 8 ornament designs on the left. Our assignment is to draw each ornament in pencil six times. In this picture is a sample of the sheet he gave us and one of my attempts at drawing these ornaments:

I promise you, it's much harder than it looks. I used my copier/printer to make different copies of this to practice, and I've spent much of the morning (and a few other moments during the week) just tracing the shapes, to try to get the form as close to perfect as possible. This is where baking and pastry school reminds me of that saying "Everything I needed to know I learned in Kindergarten." Drawing straight lines and tracing these reminds me of trying to learn to write letters initially and then the incessant learning of cursive writing from Catholic school (which I also need to relearn at some point). And I repeat, it's much harder than it looks. This is the only "take home" assignment in this class, so I know I need to try to earn the highest grade possible, because I can practice as much as I feel I need to in order to turn in the best assignment. Later in the semester, I'll be making these ornaments by piping royal icing for my practical exam, so the use of these (and the stress in doing this well) is already evident. Like I said earlier, onward.

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