I feel kind of like I am playing with mud pies or clay, this week.
And it is great fun.
There is still so much material I have to explore in the Ecole Chocolat curriculum, it is a bit like returning to my favourite section of the big downtown library, where the scripts are kept.
A mug of coffee, a quiet corner, some peace and quiet, and my fingers get itchy as I suddenly find another technique I need to try.
This week, with spring showers keeping the weather cool, it seems like the perfect opportunity to try out some chocolate sculptures.
But first, a warning:
Warning: Latex allergies can be potentially life-threatening. Please ensure that anyone who will be or could ingest these, knows they were in direct contact with latex.
I’ve been watching the videos of Joseph Schmidt, former owner and head chocolatier of San Fransisco’s Joseph Schmidt Confections.
I remember first seeing Joseph Schmidt’s famous dome shaped truffles on a trip to San Fransisco in 1988, and wondered how anyone could possibly eat a truffle that big (they were the size of half a hen’s egg).
His chocolates looked like little works of art, glazed and beautifully molded, like marble. In the video he mentions they made an average of 35,000 truffles during an average Christmas season.
Mr. Schmidt cleverly creates multi-coloured, marbled chocolate bowls and long-stemmed tulips, and his secret molding tool hearkens comfortingly back to elementary school papiere mache projects: balloons.
Long slender “balloon animal” balloons for the tulips, plain old birthday party balloons for the bowls.
We happen to have a supply of balloon animal balloons and a hand pump.
We had the good fortune to learn balloon twisting from one of the teachers at the elementary school, several years ago (got pretty good at it, I have to say). A quick trip to the local party supply store (“Luxury! We dreamed of a party supply store when I were young!”), and I have a decent cache of bright pink balloons, blown up and ready to go.
I am actually very grateful for the pump, for several reasons. I don’t like the idea of my mouth germs getting anywhere near the chocolate, but also, I notice the balloons have a very odd smell – not the rubbery smell I was fully expecting – but a strange, umm, meaty smell. So, they all get a gentle but thorough scrubbing in a sink of soapy water, are rinsed and dried, and finally they are ready to go.
I temper a pound of white couverture, and a third of a pound of bittersweet, perhaps not wanting to sacrifice my favourite (the bittersweet), in case I make an awful mess of it all. In the video, he does it the other way around, and it looks fabulous.
With a glass bowl of white couverture at the ready, I become very nervous, as the next step requires me to make three concentric circles of contrasting bittersweet, on the surface of the white.
I have one chance to do this correctly. Much harder to blend dark into the white chocolate if my hand isn’t steady. Parchment piping bag of dark chocolate at the ready, I take a big breath and on go the circles. Not too bad. Next, I drag a wooden skewer through the contrast chocolate from the outside circle inward, in eight even spaces. Pretty! Then, eight outward drags, to make the design more elaborate. Beautiful! I now have a flower/starburst design in bittersweet, on the surface of the white chocolate.
And now, I grab a balloon and plunge the bottom down, into the centre of the design, and pull it back up, bouncing it a couple of times, by the tied-off end, to shake off excess chocolate.
It goes onto a square of parchment, to sit up straight to dry, and I take a breath and look at my creation. Cool. I manage to get two more bowls, out of the same batch, before the design becomes too muddied.
Onto the tulip shaped bowls. This requires a slightly different technique, with a rectangle of dark chocolate poured onto the white, in one corner of the bowl, drizzled white chocolate lines on top of the dark, and pulling/coaxing this whole contrast colour into the centre of the bowl, where it tapers off at the bottom.
I then roll the bottom of a balloon into this mixture, and tilt it onto one side. Pull up, do the other side, pull up, do the two remaining sides. Hmm. My “tulip sides” are not even, but they are holding to the balloon, so they will have to do.
Next, I blow up some “clown” or “balloon animal” balloons, so that they are about four inches long, leaving a long tail, which will form the stem.
I use the same technique as the tulip bowl for them, then submerge the balloon tail into the bowl of chocolate, then hang the whole thing on a skewer, and hang them off the edge of a table, held in place by a heavy marble slab.
My cat is far too interested in the gently waving tails of chocolate, and I am very happy when she becomes distracted by her nemesis – the crow outside on the lawn. I quickly slip a Silpat mat onto the floor to catch the drips – yes, yes, it is NOT very hygienic, but I am going to wash it afterward, and will the tails to stop moving and solidify.
The whole kitchen is taken up by drying balloon bowls and tulips, and the teenage boys who come to our house for lunch are mightily impressed. One even sweetly volunteers to “take one of them off my hands, when needed”.
I look around in satisfaction. It all looks a bit like a pottery studio. The teenagers are very careful, and we make it through lunch in a small kitchen with nary a mishap.
A couple of hours later, I feel my creations are ready for unmolding. This requires me to make a small incision in the balloon, and let the air out in a slow, controlled release. Here goes. I make a tiny slash in the top of the balloon, and gently let the air escape … and it works!
I am elated. That was so much fun, I do most of the other bowls and all of the tulips. They make a fantastic, loud bang, as you must stretch the tail out very thin, in order to pull it from the chocolate. When it finally comes away, the noise is like a Christmas cracker! They all release, and although there are some minor flaws or tiny holes in the bottoms of a couple, they look bee-ootiful, and the designs are so clear! Works of art – veritable Grecian urns! Thank you Chef Schmidt!
And then, as the Ancient Greeks would say, my own hubris caught up with me. I kept a couple of the bowls aside, so that we could video the unmolding process, when my wonderful videographer partner got home. He got his camera set up, I grabbed my scissors, gaily slashed the top of the balloon and – EPIC FAIL! The force of the suddenly collapsing air imploded the whole thing and the bowl crumbled, spectacularly … as did the one following.
And those are the ones we caught on video:
So, you will just have to believe that it worked, and that as long as you have a thick and well tempered coating of chocolate, they WILL unmold properly, and you will have beautiful works of chocolate art, suitable for filling with treats, or giving away to deserving teenagers, willing to “take ‘em off your hands”.
I hope you all try this one. It is just so much fun!