I have been watching and re-watching the video on the Ecole Chocolate website, detailing how to create hand-made transfer sheets, which are used to decorate the tops of chocolates.
It looks fascinating and fun and I can’t wait to try it out. The beautiful sheets of coloured, tempered cocoa butter, flecked with gold lustre dust, shown at the end of the video will, I am sure make the perfectly enrobed chocolates, which I am determined to master, become small pieces of modern art.
Except that I am a long way from that steady hand and expert flick of the wrist which is absolutely necessary to make these lovely decorations, without wasting some very expensive ingredients.
So perhaps I need to go back a step, and regain the respect and reverence for that valuable commodity with which I am ( some day) to make these transfer sheets – cocoa butter.
Last week, I waxed poetic about the “virtuous” half of chocolate – the cocoa powder – but this week, it is all about the other half – that magical fat.
Cocoa butter is a pale-yellow (never white) pure edible vegetable fat extracted from the cocoa bean. It has a melting point of 89° F (32° C) – 95° F (35° C). This “body heat” melting point is what makes chocolate melt in the mouth so satisfyingly. This quality also makes cocoa butter ideal for use in cosmetics, soaps, lotions, and even medicinal suppositories!
According to Wikipedia:
“Cocoa butter is one of the most stable fats known, a quality that coupled with natural antioxidants that prevent rancidity, grants it a storage life of two to five years.”
And, according to thenibble.com:
“The geography of the cacao beans from which the cocoa butter is derived may influence the texture of white chocolate. As different geographical regions produce beans with different flavors and aromas, they produce cocoa butters of differing hardness levels:
- South America: softest cocoa butter
- Central America and Africa: intermediate hardness
- Asia and Oceania: hardest cocoa butter
What difference does the hardness make? The soft South American cocoa butters are better suited for the cosmetic industry, whereas the hard Asian cocoa butters are probably more beneficial for couverture, the large blocks of chocolate from which candy, fine baked goods and ice cream are made.”
What a wondrous substance cocoa butter is! You can eat it. You can smear it on your skin. It reminds me of the Saturday Night Live sketch: “It’s a Dessert Topping! It’s a Floor Wax!”
And I happen to have a small sealed bag of it, in my chocolate making supplies. I bought it the last time I visited my local gourmet food supply store, and I have peeked at it, touched it through the packaging, and been sorely tempted to open it and taste it, but have resisted, so far.
Now seems an ideal time.
After all, I am experimenting.
I am one of those people who adore white chocolate, and since cocoa butter is one of the few ingredients which define white chocolate, I am curious to see what this tastes like. Cocoa butter is usually deodorized, before it is added to couverture chocolate (to increase its smoothness, mouth feel, meltiness), so as not to add an unwanted strong and different taste to the chocolate (although one of my absolute favourite white chocolates is made by Askinosie – using undeodorized white chocolate and goat’s milk powder – and it is heavenly), so I am fairly certain my sample will be quite innocuous.
I open the bag and take a sniff. Hmm. Not really what I was expecting – it doesn’t smell in the least of chocolate. It is quite grainy, grates up very easily into small chunks and tastes much like a vegetable shortening. Its texture in my mouth however, is absolutely velvety, soft and melts almost instantly on my tongue. Ah, now I get it.
And my fingers are twitching to use it.
Although I know it’s not really the same thing as using professional coloured cocoa butter – I have two tiny samples of that, which I am saving until I am proficient enough to attempt the transfer sheets – I carefully melt a chunk of grated cocoa butter together with a violet tinted oil-based food colour, just to see what will happen.
I put the cocoa butter in my microwave oven on 30% power. It ends up as a liquid, transparent magenta pool (the violet has diffused).
Oh well, now that I have gone this far, I might as well “have a go”, as my Dad used to say.
I get out my favourite dark green marble slab (which makes just about any food item look good, when placed on it), put a little bit of canola oil on it, and slap down an acetate sheet, as they do (with much more care) in the video.
I feel remarkably relaxed, because I keep telling myself, I am not really trying to create anything, I am just mucking about.
I spread the liquid tinted cocoa butter thinly on the acetate sheet, with a paintbrush, and notice how quickly it wants to set on the cool surface. This is like painting with watercolours as a kid, and it feels wonderful. The cocoa butter goes quickly from transparent to opalescent to opaque.
My technique is terrible, and I am grateful no-one is watching, except my cat. A mad thought trips through my head as I look at her.
“Hmm- cocoa butter contains no theobromine (the component of chocolate that is deadly to animals). I could get the cat to step through the liquid cocoa butter, then on to the acetate sheet, to create whimsical, original, cat-paw transfer sheets!”
Our eyes meet, my cat nonchalantly begins pulling on her toenails with her teeth, and I give my head a shake. Ewww.
Instead, I leave the cocoa butter sheet to set, use the excess to polish the insides of a set of poly-carbonate molds (which will aid in un-molding my next batch of chocolates).
It sets much faster than chocolate, but is also much more fragile, and I realize after carefully poking the surface. I wince, as I have left a clear fingerprint. But I do have a rudimentary transfer sheet before me.
However terrible my technique has been on this, my first sneaky attempt at transfer sheet crafting, it has given me a taste of something to look forward to. And this may just be the incentive I need to improve my enrobing.
And as a bonus, my hands actually feel soft and smooth.