Two weeks ago, I was working “in the lab” (my kitchen) on an experiment to find the perfect balance of flavour intensity between a dark chocolate ganache and a very good Jamaican rum, to make a centre for a truffle.
This is a basic experiment, to help the novice chocolatier determine quantities needed for consistency of good flavour, without sacrificing a whole batch, if mistakes occur.
I confess to being overwhelmed and tired of rum by the end of it (I’m not a big drinker), but I have since recovered, have my basic formula (5 grams of ganache to 1/8 teaspoon rum).
I am eager to experiment with more layers of different flavours, and have once again, turned to the venerable Philippe Conticini, pastry chef extraordinaire and owner of Paris’ Patisserie des Reves (Pastry Shop of Dreams)
I make a batch of ganache, and measure a dollop each (Much smaller than 5 grams, this time), onto a set of demi-tasse spoons. In the original experiment, M. Conticini puts a dab of chocolate mousse on a piece of brioche or angel food cake, paired with the different flavourings, but for the Ecole Chocolat, Pam has tweaked the experiment, so we are using only ganache – much more suitable for a student chocolatier.
I have put together a sample assortment of flavours which include:
- Sel marin de guerande, ground in a mortar and pestle
- Level Ground natural whole cane sugar
- Australian organic candied ginger, in small dice
- Freshly grated cinnamon stick
- Organic lavender buds, from our garden
- Grapefruit zest, organic
- Orange zest, organic
- Lemon zest, organic
- Crofter’s Organic black currant spread
- Crofter’s Organic apricot spread
- creamy organic peanut butter
Before I undertake this marathon of tasting, my son suggests we play a round of badminton, and when the birdie flies into the strawberry patch, we notice our first berries are ripe.
Yes, it is July. We have had rotten weather. We pick those, and add them to the samples, even though it would be impossible to replicate that fresh strawberry flavour exactly, in a chocolate. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity! We hollow out the strawberry cores and scoop ganache into the centres. Absolute bliss, as the sun-ripened berry juice squirts into the creamy chocolate. I may just have to make a batch of these for dessert. But, I digress.
I am a fiend for anything ginger, so I begin there. I sprinkle a generous helping of finely chopped candied ginger on the ganache filled spoon. I have been working on my “in-the-mouth-blending” technique, and am very pleased with the result of this. My verdict: absolutely delicious. Small bits of crunch in the velvety smoothness of the ganache. Rich, but clean tasting. I could eat a vat of this. But I am wiser now, and know I must pace myself.
Over the next hour, I slave away with various combinations, interspersed with sips of tea or soda water, to cleanse my over-wrought palate. And here are the combinations, with my favourites bolded:
- sea salt/natural cane sugar – oh, nasty! Too salty and “raw” tasting – the word I wrote down first was “Blech!”
- apricot spread – tangy, quite mild, actually tasted better with a small addition of sea salt. I am talking about 1 or 2 grains, no more
- black currant spread – too mild on its own, helped to add 1-2 grains of salt
- orange zest/ginger – Yes! Yes! Yes! Really perky and fresh
- cinnamon/natural cane sugar – warm, homey, like exotic cinnamon toast
- lavender buds – I know it’s not everyone’s taste but I LOVE this combination – mmmm! However, the two components needed to be very well blended, as I was left chewing buds after I swallowed the chocolate, which produced a very strange after-taste and texture – I would use a little less next time, and crush them slightly, to release the oils
- lemon zest/cane sugar – nice flavour, which surprised me!
- grapefruit zest – just okay – even though I love grapefruit – just didn’t seem to come together
- grapefruit zest/ginger – this was MUCH better than plain grapefruit – perhaps it needed the candied bits to perk up the zest
- peanut butter – the old classic, and quite delicious
- peanut butter/cinnamon – even better, spicier, warmer version of a classic. I would like a whole dessert made of this flavour
- peanut butter/black currant spread – could not really taste the black currant – flavour got lost
- peanut butter/apricot spread – could not really taste the apricot – flavour got lost
- peanut butter/lemon zest – Nope, just nope!
For this experiment, it is really important to have the ganache at room temperature, and the ingredients as fresh as possible. This made a huge difference in taste, especially for the cinnamon, lavender and citrus zests.
It was also important, for me, to use very small amounts of ganache, in order to properly, ah, mix all the flavourings together in my mouth. And I didn’t want to feel absolutely overwhelmed and stuffed by the end, which would not have given the later flavour combinations a fair and accurate trial.
This was a really valuable exercise for determining just how much of a good thing is enough or too much … or simply not strong enough to stand up to the chocolate.
I am, once again, feeling slightly in awe of those master chocolatiers who manage to come up with wonderful combinations of flavours in just the right amount to marry the flavours, without burying them.
A bit like composing a symphony, where sometimes one instrument takes the lead, followed by notes from another.
Okay, I’m being really self indulgent and whimsical, here: I might say that in one of my favourite combinations from this test, the citrus zest is the airy flute, accompanied by the dancing piano notes of cinnamon, anchored by the warmth of the deep chocolate cello. No, I am no Mozart, but for the moment, I am content to hum a little tune, and perhaps bring a smile and a well tuned “Mmmmm! Ahhhhhh!” to the lips of those good enough to sample my chocolate.