It really is fall. I’m cold. I feel the chill between my shoulder blades, which are almost permanently up around my ears, these days. I have had to consign my cute, polka-dotted summer ankle socks to the back of the drawer and pull out my serious grey “sock monkey” wooly socks. Yesterday, I put on the raincoat I swore I would replace this year, because it makes me look like a wrinkly pre-schooler, but haven’t because it still has “lots of good wear in it”.
I stare gloomily out the window at the socked-in-for-the-season grey sky and wonder at the summer that was oh so fleetingly ours and is now definitely over.
Everything is damp.
I am crabby.
I need a cup of tea. I go to my cupboard and sigh, morosely, as I stare up into it. On one overly dramatic inhale, my nostrils are awakened by a clean, hopeful scent – peppermint. I pull down the bright, candy-striped box of tea and inhale again, deeply. Peppermint tea is … nice, good for you. But chocolate peppermints. Now, there’s a tonic. I am salivating. I take that as a good sign.
I turn around and head for the “chocolate cupboard”, where I keep my stash of Ecole Chocolat supplies. Following my nose, I come up with the bottle of organic peppermint oil I opened to test sniff before purchasing, but have not tried out in a recipe. Until now.
What a perfect opportunity also, to try out my newly acquired, slender chocolate bar mold. I tried out its deeper fellow molds last week, when I made bar shaped mendiants, but this mold seems to me much more suited to a chocolate covered peppermint fondant bar. The challenge will be to not overfill the cavities, but still ensure the filling is completely covered.
Ah, good. A reason to temper some chocolate!
But first, I make the batch of fondant, which will be flavoured with the peppermint oil, to become the centres of the bars.
Kneading fondant is always a contemplative for me at the beginning of the process: the simple ingredients (sugar, water and lemon juice) coming together with the alchemy of heat, and no stirring, the careful watching and waiting for just the right temperature to be reached, pouring the bubbling mass onto the marble slab, where it slowly flows almost to the edge before magically halting its own progress, the back and forth swirling motion, pushing and pulling the mass, until it starts to pull together under my hands, and goes from hot, clear liquid, to opalescent mass.
It makes me think of my mother-in-law and how I wish she was here with me now. She is an energetic dynamo in the kitchen. She had that first batch of fondant we made together, kneaded and set in short order – a much shorter time than it is taking me today, as I scrape and push the mass around the marble slab, muttering and cursing at it, convinced it has a mind of its own.
Hah! Contemplative, indeed!
My shoulders are aching and I loathe the very thought of fondant by the time the much reduced (because much of it has ended up on my hands and utensils, this time) white mass is left to rest. The tea would have been easier. Why didn’t I just make that, and dunk some really good chocolate in the cup?
But, no. I am committed to learning and I cannot let down my Ecole Chocolat fellows. Other students are bravely soldiering on, dealing with working with chocolate at high altitudes and hot weather. I cannot allow a mere change in the humidity (read: rain storm) allow me to quail and give up. I must learn as much as I can about chocolate and all of its companions.
And it is sort of wonderful that this week, the chocolate and I are in harmony. The aroma of peppermint oil lingers in the air as I temper. I’m using the seeding method, as I definitely feel it was a success last week, and I am in the mood for chopping things with my serrated knife.
And that’s another reason to practice, practice, practice. After months of chopping chocolate with a straight edged knife, I went back to the Ecole Chocolat course material, re-watched some of the techniques of the skilled instructors and realized that by simply swapping knives I could chop up the large quantity of chocolate I needed far more efficiently with the serrated knife. And far more safely too, I suspect.
Just another of those “learn the basics, do it, realize how much you don’t know, go back, re-read, practice, learn a bit more, repeat” moments.
And once the chocolate is tempered, I am in a great mood. I fill the molds, chanting the “Under-fill, don’t over-fill” mantra. I let the chocolate sit for a moment, as I retrieve the fondant.
I have forgiven it for its sticky, contrary nature and for its part, it has matured into a workable, smooth mass. It smells heavenly and when I break off, roll a piece of it under my fingers, then squash it flat and slide it into the chocolate in the mold, it seems to be holding in place, suspended in the tempered, cooling chocolate.
I consign the molds to a safe, flat, cat free space – no need for the “cool room” today – every room in the house fits the criteria.
I look out the kitchen window and notice the sun has broken through the clouds. I am not cold any more, as I have worked up a sweat with the fondant.
And I know exactly what I need. I seize the moment, grab my raincoat and very colourful rubber boots (you have to indulge in “happy” boots when you live in a rain forest), and head out into the rain soaked afternoon. The air smells good – full of ozone, moisture, earth. I breathe deeply and lengthen my stride.
This is after all, perfect weather – for working up an appetite for chocolate peppermint bars.