Afternoon Tea at a top London hotel was mighty fine, but my main reason for going up to our bustling capital was to learn more about using glass for food presentation. Friends of Glass is committed to promoting awareness of the benefits of using glass over plastic. As we know, plastic is the scourge of the environment and particles of it can now be found in every part of the globe, even Antarctica. Glass on the other hand, is reusable and 100% recyclable. Glass is also a healthier option. It is the most inert packaging material we have and thus highly impermeable making it far less likely to taint any food stored in it. I’ve long been passionate about using glass for storage rather than plastic and I have collected a lot of glass jars and containers over the years. Bring back the milk bottle and deposits for glass bottles I say.
Last Thursday evening, a bunch of bloggers and journalists turned up at Cactus Studios, Michel Roux Jr’s cookery school, where incidentally, Saturday Kitchen is filmed. We were there to brush up our Christmas creativity using glass. What a delight to come in from the cold and dark to be greeted with a glass of warm mulled cider and a room glowing with candlelight and glass. As we chatted, we were served shot glasses of red pepper soup with pesto. The colours were fantastic and immediately I started to see the point of serving food in glasses. The colours and textures of the food really shine through and can make your dish look even more enticing. Not long after the soup, we were served cranberries and melted brie in the most adorable little glass jars that I coveted immediately. Bread sticks were cunningly placed in the metal clips. Here already, were two fabulous ideas for Christmas canapés, starters or pre-dinner nibbles.
We were soon shepherded upstairs to the teaching kitchen to watch chef Bridget Colvin and BBC TV presenter Cherry Healey demo some further ideas. I really enjoyed this part; not only was Bridget knowledgable and competent, but the two made for a good double act. Spiced parsnip soup served in little glass jars with parsnip crisps was a winner which I will be replicating at some point during this festive season. Much ribald hilarity ensued whilst Cherry whizzed up some delicious pesto.
The piece de resistance, however, was a pie in a jar. I’d not come across this concept before. The beauty of making individual pies this way, is not only do they look enticing, but they can be tailor made to suit individual tastes and tolerances. The demo was for a ham hock pie, but vegetarian ones had been made for Nayna of Simply Food and I and very delicious they were too. Layers of butternut squash, spinach, potatoes, shallots and peas with cheese sauce and a puff pastry crust all cooked and served in a clip top jar. What a fantabulous idea. A glass of wine made for a very welcome accompaniement.
Feeling somewhat full, we were called over for the final demo: brandied clementines in a jar. This time we had to pay attention as this was the dish we were going to make. We were shown how to prepare clementines and I now know how to remove most of the pith easily. It’s the sort of thing that looks pretty and makes for a lovely gift, but not something I’d ever thought of doing. The vanilla brandy syrup we made tasted heady and decadent and would work well with most fruits I reckon – so that’s one of my Christmas presents sorted.
Then it was back downstairs for mince pies and the final activity of the evening. An array of enticing edible delights were laid out in various bowls and jars and at last chocolate made an entrance. We were going to make up our own hot chocolate gift in a jar – what fun. We started with a layer of drinking chocolate and then it was a free for all. I added a layer of white chocolate buttons, followed by little fudge pieces. Milk chocolate buttons went next, then marshmallows and finally a layer of milk chocolate buttons. The part I really loved about this was tying on extras around the outside of the jar: a stick of cinnamon, a candy cane and my absolute favourite, a miniature bottle of Amaretto Disaronno found there way onto my jar. Finished off with a tag which I’d stamped with gold stars, this was the gift I was most pleased with. It came in very handy as a thank you to my friend for putting me up for the night. I have to say she was very impressed with it and thought it a lovely gift to suit both her and the children.
Many thanks to Friends of Glass for a fun, friendly, entertaining evening, plus the bonus of leaving with some really nice Christmas gifts, including a jar of Rubies in the Rubble red onion & chilli chutney. I had a splendid time and would be very happy to do this all over again. You can see some far better pictures of the event than mine over at the Friends of Glass Facebook page.
When I say Yo! Sushi, who thinks about chocolate? No-one. Fair enough. If chocolate is what you’re after, for once you’ve come to the wrong place. I really meant to take some chocolate along with me for some fusion food chocolate sushi, but rather stupidly I forgot. I can’t say as I was disappointed or that it was missed; I had a fabulous time and ate far more sushi than was good for me.
A bunch of South West bloggers (glam fashion bloggers as well as the foodie crowd) met up early one evening last month at Yo! Sushi in Plymouth. Situated at the main entrance to Drake’s Circus, it’s hard to miss, but I’d never stopped there before. Our mission was to learn how to make sushi – obviously. We had our very own Sushi Master to guide us, the most marvellous Mazz. Our session was jam packed with plenty to eat along the way. We got to take a tray of sushi home with us too, along with the recipes, a bamboo rolling mat, a certificate and a few other bits and pieces. It’s a great activity to do with a bunch of friends, but it’s fine to go alone too. At £30 a person or £50 for two, I thought this was good value for money.
Sushi has a rather special place in my life. It was the first meal CT ever made me and I was mighty impressed, both with the sushi that I’d never eaten before and with CT’s skill in preparing it. Like the rest of the British nation, I took to it with enthusiasm. I even had a go at making it myself once, but was singularly inept. So I was really looking forward to learning a few tips and tricks.
The staff were particularly friendly and helpful and we were offered a drink as soon as we arrived. I opted for a mug of Japanese Green Tea that was no sooner finished before another one turned up in its place. It was quite delicious and just what was needed to keep us hydrated with all the hard work – oh wait a minute, did I say work? I meant fun.
Mazz made it all look astonishingly easy, but he was a great teacher and had plenty of the looked for tips and tricks to pass on. He started off with preparing a massive salmon thus proving he was a Master knife wielder as well as sushi maker. I tuned out at this point, but he went into a lot of detail and the others all seemed to get a lot out of it. Being a vegetarian was not a problem at all however; I was well catered for. Some of the sushi we were making was vegetarian anyway and when there was fish to be eaten, Mazz made me my own super delicious vegetarian versions with egg, avocado, tofu or all three. After an initial demo, we all had a go at making maki, which has a filling of cucumber and sesame seeds. We’d been taught well and all managed to produce some reasonably good looking sushi.
Watching Mazz make mini ISO, or inside out sushi as it’s known, was quite something and the results were spectacular I thought. I’d not come across this technique before, but the rice is on the outside and the nori (seaweed) on the inside. With a filling of tofu, omelette and cucumber and a dusting of Japanese chilli powder on the outside, these were absolutely scrumptious.
Hand rolls, ISOs, Gunkan and Nigiri all flew from Mazz’s hand and were subsequently demolished by us. My favourite was Futomaki which was a standard sushi roll with a filling of avocado, cucumber, omelette, radish pickle, carrots and mayonnaise. In truth, everything I tasted was delicious and it all looked stylish, neat and attractive, the way so many Japanese creations do. I took some of the fishy ones home in my bento box for CT who was very glad that I did.
The most useful tips I took away with me were:
- Cover the rolling mat with cling film to prevent sticking.
- Coat hands in a little oil to prevent sticking.
- Roll the sushi very tightly, so everything holds together.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the sushi and be firm when doing so.
Many thanks to Jane of The Hedge Combers for organising the event, to Yo! Sushi for making it happen and to Mazz for his showmanship and good nature.
Do check out the other write-ups over at:
One sunny morning last month I set off on a little adventure. As regular readers will know, prizing me out of my home county and over the border is no mean achievement (Plymouth doesn’t count). River Cottage made me an offer I couldn’t refuse however. I got an invite to attend a Preserves course at River Cottage HQ on the Devon / Dorset border with none other than Pam the Jam. I was not going to let that opportunity pass me by. I have been a fan of Pam Corbin ever since I acquired her books Cakes and Preserves, numbers 8 and 2 respectively in the River Cottage handbook series. Her recipe for apple lemon curd was a revelation and one that nicely uses up some of the windfalls I get each year from my mother’s trees.
|Pam the Jam & Liz the Pickle|
The course was actually being led by Pam Corbin together with Liz Neville, otherwise known as Liz the Pickle. This dynamic duo have been running courses together for many years and are both old hands when it comes to preserving. For some reason, this was the first Preserves course they had run at River Cottage for a couple of years. The kitchen facilities were brand spanking new as was the equipment. A massive glass window took up the whole of the back of the kitchen and looked out over the fields and up to the hills and woods. This created a very pleasant working environment.
|Massive window running along the back of the kitchen|
Due to a holdup on the A30, I missed the introductory talk with Pam, Liz and the other attendees, which was a bit of a shame. I just managed to grab a glass of elderflower pressé and an egg and asparagus bruschetta before we were all called to gather round and watch, listen and learn.
|Sweet & herb jellies in the making|
|Pam & Liz getting stuck into bread & butter pickles|
The course was a well-balanced mixture of watching demonstrations and hands on do-it-yourself. The demonstrations were interactive and we were all encouraged to ask questions, peer into pots and have a stir. This was where I picked up a number of useful tips. I am no stranger to preserving, but I have never been taught by an expert – let alone two at the same time. Granulated sugar is the one of choice for jam making as the crystals of caster sugar are very fine and thus more likely to burn. I was already aware that to be legally called jam, the sugar content should be 60%, but I didn’t know that for keeping quality the sugar level should be at least 63%. I’d never heard of a refractometer, but we all had a go at using one to measure the sugar content. Weighing down the contents of a jelly bag with a heavy object, such as a jar filled with water and placed on a saucer, was such a simple idea, but not one I’d ever thought of. I’d also not considered making my own pectin before – simply simmer apples, strain and then freeze in small batches. Another of the many tips we were given was to macerate strawberries in sugar overnight before turning them into jam. I was reminded that when making jam, it’s best to poach skinned fruit such as plums, gooseberries and blackcurrants before adding the sugar to prevent tough skins. This was something I’d once known but had been filtered out of my brain in the mists of time.
|Steam contraption for extracting fruit juice|
The day was a long one, starting at 10:00 and finishing at 17:00, but the time flew by. In addition to the preserves we made ourselves, we watched Pam and Liz make mint jelly (with gooseberries), lavender jelly (with apples) and elderflower cordial. Pam also had a rather interesting steam juice extractor that she demonstrated. The course information stated that fruit leathers would be included. I was looking forward to learning about this as it’s something I’ve never done. I was somewhat disappointed that this wasn’t in fact covered, but the day was so “jam” packed, I can’t see how it could have been squeezed in.
|Busy making lemon curd|
|Strawberries and gooseberries awaiting our attention|
|My bread & butter pickles|
There were twelve of us on the course, which with twelve workstations was the perfect number; we could have one each, work at our own pace and not get in each other’s way. In between the demonstrations, we made strawberry & gooseberry jam, lemon curd and bread & butter pickles. All three were new to me. I have made any number of fruit curds and been pleased with all of them, but for some reason I’ve never made the classic lemon curd. When I got home, I topped these chocolate waffles with the curd and combined with strawberries, it made for a heavenly repast. Strawberry jam is a tricky one to make as it has very little pectin content and although I helped my mother make it as a teenager, I’ve never tried going it alone. Gooseberries on the other hand are high in pectin. They both fruit at the same time of year, so combining the two is a fabulous idea; the jam sets easily, but has the colour and taste of strawberries. Bread and butter pickles is an American sweet cucumber and onion pickle which was traditionally served with bread and butter. I have subsequently found that it’s addictive and I’ve been using it in my sandwiches, to accompany salads and with new potatoes. We got to take home everything we made, plus one of the jars of jelly that Liz had made. It was a tough choice, but in the end I went for the mint and gooseberry.
|Chef enthusing about our upcoming meal|
|Strawberry, gooseberry & elderflower crumble|
We were well looked after throughout the day. All of the weighing of ingredients and washing up was done for us. We made things dirty and they kept coming back clean. What a wonder that was. It was very hot, but the jugs of cool drinks were continuously topped up to help keep us refreshed and hydrated. Lunch was an experience in itself. As the day was so glorious, we ate outside. We were greeted with more jugs of cool elderflower and the Chef, who informed us with great gusto of the delights awaiting our table. The main dish was homegrown River Cottage lamb, but thankfully the vegetarians (and there were two of us) were very well catered for. I had a mushroom ragout, roasted asparagus and barley risotto topped off with a poached duck egg. To follow we had a strawberry, gooseberry and elderflower crumble which was just delicious. Sadly, not a single bit of chocolate passed my lips the entire day!
|Part of the Kitchen Garden|
|Oxford Sandy & Black Pig|
CT decided to accompany me as he was interested in looking around the horticultural part of the farm. Not only did I welcome his company on the rather long drive to and from River Cottage, but as the evening was a fine one, we explored the nearby nature reserve and had a good walk around. Both of us were a little surprised at the scale of the horticultural operation – it was much smaller than we had expected. When I asked if all of the produce we were using was grown on site, I was told they only grew enough here to supply the kitchen. I had naively assumed that all of the produce used for cooking schools and in the various outlets were home grown. However, the walled kitchen garden was lovely – an edible landscape laid out in a most attractive manner. I couldn’t help but be envious of the abundant strawberries. Pigs sheep and cattle roamed the surrounding pasture land adding to the bucolic charm. On arrival, my breath was quite taken away, the view from the car park at the top of the hill is outstanding. It is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty after all. Looking out over the valley and onto the adjoining hills , a pastural scene of beauty and tranquility met our eyes: a landscape of hills, trees and green fields interspersed with rough grazing. As I was late, I missed the tractor ride down to HQ but one of the River Cottage team was waiting to greet us and walk us down the hill. The walk was just what we needed after the long hot drive and it meant we got to see more of the lovely scenery.
|One of the many lovely views|
Everyone on the course seemed to get a lot out of it and I had a fantastic, if full on, day. Pam and Liz were on hand to help us and answer any questions throughout the day. It’s always fun cooking with others and being able to talk enthusiastically about one of my favourite subjects – food! Going home loaded with delicious preserves was a bonus. There are two more preserving courses with Pam & Liz scheduled for this year at River Cottage HQ both costing £185.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural Baking Matters bread making class. I regularly bake my own bread, but I am by no means an expert. There is always plenty more to learn. My regular bake is a rye sourdough. I am happy with this: I’ve kept the culture alive for nearly five years now and it suits us very well. However, it’s always good to have a repertoire and try new breads and baking methods. I have little experience of baking with white flour so I was particularly looking forward to this Basic Yeast Baking course where we were going to make oven bottom bread, soft dinner rolls and Chelsea buns.
Founded by John Royce in 2001, Baking Matters has recently branched out from advising commercial bakers into giving practical help and advice to potential and actual home bakers. The online website is a free resource for all and offers much in the way of guidance and expertise. John is the teacher in this new venture and on our course was ably assisted by his daughter. Learning from him was a complete delight. He is a traditional British master baker; with his many years experience of running a bakery as well as teaching, he has a lot of knowledge to pass on. His passion for real bread is infectious and it made the whole experience entertaining as well as educational. Other courses offered by Baking Matters include pastry making and cake baking.
This was a small class of seven home bakers selected to trial the first bread making course. This was very much a practical hands-on workshop. Three bakes in one day was a tall order and we were certainly put through our paces. I think we all learnt a lot – I certainly picked up a few tips. I was interested to see that the way I was taught to knead bread in home economics, way back when, was the method that John recommended (pushing the dough out with the heel of your hand then rolling it back up again). To watch John do it so quickly and so expertly was an education in itself. After weighing the ingredients, we all had a go at mixing the flour and water directly on the bench. This was done by making a bay with the dry ingredients then pouring in the water and working it gradually into the flour with our fingers. This was quite a nerve-wracking experience and I was convinced we would have flour and water all over the floor, but we all successfully managed to keep everything together on the bench and create a working bread dough – very satisfying. I was particularly thrilled to learn how to roll Chelsea buns correctly – pulling back on the dough as you roll to stretch it and make it tight. Learning some new ways of shaping rolls was an added bonus.
John is very keen on using fresh yeast which he says is now widely available and keeps for a long time in the fridge if properly stored. As a fan of fresh yeast myself, I was really pleased to find we were using it on the day. If you are unable to get your hands on fresh yeast, he reckons dried active yeast is fine, but advises steering clear of instant yeast, which contains all sorts of unwholesome additives. I was less keen about the use of Trex as I like my fats to be as natural as possible. If I wasn’t vegetarian I would use lard, which is what John suggests as an alternative. However, it did give the bread a lovely soft consistency. The bread rolls were things of beauty, the bread was light but substantial and the buns were possibly the best Chelsea buns I’ve ever eaten.
So where is the chocolate you are probably wandering? Well! I had meant to take along some dark chocolate to chop up and add to the Chelsea buns BUT I had to leave so early in the morning and was in such a rush I totally forgot it. AND I didn’t even have a hot chocolate at lunch time. I may be losing my touch!
The course was held at Occombe Farm near Paignton, a 700 acre organic farm run by the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust and certified by the Soil Association. It was a first visit for me and I was really pleased to discover it. Not only does it have a visitor centre with lots of family events, but it aims to help connect and reconnect people to the food that they eat. It has a farm shop, an on-site cafe and a permanent cookery school offering a wide range of courses suitable for all. With eleven work stations, there was plenty of space. The school was well equipped and we each had our own workspace and oven. All the ingredients and equipment needed were provided including some lovely orange Baking Matters aprons. There was a steady flow of tea and coffee throughout the day to keep us hydrated and socialised. Conveniently, lunch could be bought from the nearby cafe or deli. As it was a nice day, most of us bought pasties and sat outside in the sunshine. Organic free ranging hens were some of the animals to be seen on the farm and I was ridiculously excited to be able to buy a dozen of their eggs for £1.20 – what a bargain.
We came away with a pack containing detailed instructions of the recipes we’d created along with accompanying illustrations. This was just as well as I couldn’t remember all of the roll formations nor how to fold the oven bottom bread. We also came away with a big smile on our faces and an impressive array of bread and buns. The car journey home was an olfactory event in itself.
With thanks to the John Royce for the above mentioned course and to Janie of The Hedge Combers for giving me the opportunity of attending it. I was not required to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.
Living down in the far South West, it can often be difficult to get to some of the big baking events held around the rest of the country. I have not yet managed to attend one. However, this year, everything has changed. Amidst a fanfare of excitement and incredulity, the very first Big Cake Show came to Exeter last weekend: a three day extravaganza of baking demos, workshops, competitions, book signing and shopping.
Do you love real food? If so, why not put forward your food herbs for the BBC Food and Farming Awards ? Nominations close at midnight on Monday 27th January. If you haven’t already done so, time is of the essence, so please do hurry to nominate your food heros or you’ll have to wait for another year.
If you’re obsessed with chocolate, you might just like the idea of a six course chocolate themed dinner party. Here you’ll find a Middle Eastern inspired meal for six people with chocolate making an appearance in every course, at least once.
It was my lovely cousin’s wedding last weekend and as she was getting married to a Welshman, the wedding took place in Wales. Now this was not your average wedding but a rather grand affair lasting three days; due to work commitments, there was no time for a honeymoon. This gave the bride and groom a chance to spend time with their family and friends and likewise gave me an opportunity to have a proper catch up with my family. Day one was a spa day for some, with others such as myself, meeting the bride to be in the evening for a glass of champagne. I wanted to make her something as a pre-wedding soother – chocolate seemed the appropriate choice. I wasn’t sure what her preferences for chocolate were, but guessed she might be a milk chocolate sort of girl. I decided to make a bar of salted milk chocolate and also some plain milk chocolate spoons in case she didn’t like the salted option. Luckily, this turned out to be a favourite of hers. I also used a Good Luck label mould that I bought from Sew White just before Christmas along with the chocolate spoon moulds. So, it was time to put some of the tips I’d learnt from the chocolate course to good use and try my hand at chocolate tempering once again.
|Milk Chocolate Spoons|
This is how I made:
Salted Chocolate and Chocolate Spoons
- Melted 150g milk chocolate (G&B 38%) in a bowl over a pan of hot water.
- Removed from the heat and added a further 50g of chocolate, stirring until all of the chocolate had melted and the temperature had cooled to 29C.
- Carefully spooned into six spoon moulds and one label mould.
- Added a pinch of fleur de sel to the remaining chocolate, stirred then poured into my Golden Ticket mould, sent over from the chocolate queen herself Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.
- Left to set then turned the chocolates out of the moulds, managing to break one of the spoons as I did so.
|Congratulatory salted milk chocolate bar|
The Wedding Day itself dawned bright and fair, but there was still a decided nip in the air. Caerphilly Castle proved to be a rather impressive setting for the wedding. It was built in the 13th Century by an English baron at the time of Henry III in a successful bid to keep the Welsh at bay. Surrounded by a moat and lakes, this is the second biggest mediaeval castle in Britain, Windsor being the first. It is particularly famous now for its leaning tower, damaged during the Civil War, which, whilst not quite as tall as the leaning tower of Pisa, inclines at a steeper angle. We had plenty of opportunities to explore the castle thoroughly.
|Leaning Tower of Caerphilly|
Impressive the castle may have been, but warm it was not – there was many a goose pimple to be seen throughout the day and evening as we all shivered in our wedding finery. Stiletto heels were in abundance, how they coped with the terrain I do not know, but thankfully no injuries occurred. The bride looked absolutely stunning and the wedding breakfast (at 16:30) was impressive. The waiting staff were excellent – friendly, but professional, managing to serve the food so it arrived hot and more importantly was delivered to the right people. My vegetarian options were scrumptious. I had a saffron, pea and asparagus risotto to start with and a tomato polenta stack for my main course. The pudding was a chocolate fondant which was appreciated by all. We’d previously enjoyed canapés along with champagne up in one of the towers – how those stilettos made it up and down the ancient spiral staircase, I’ll never know. The canapés were also served warm and were particularly welcome. Speeches and dancing followed with the bride and groom doing an impressive first dance inspired by Dirty Dancing – they must have been practising for quite some time.
|No stilettos here|
|White Hydrangeas everywhere|
|The Bride & Groom|
Day three was another gathering of family and friends, this time for a hefty lunchtime meal in a nearby inn, with lashings of punch for those not driving. Many were staying the night, along with the bride and groom, but not us. With heavy stomachs but cheery hearts, CT, my mother and I wended our way back home to Cornwall.
|Last of the Cupcakes|
A not quite classic Victoria sponge cake. but a most delicious one. This hot chocolate Victoria sandwich is made with drinking chocolate, so it’s lightly chocolatey, but not dominant. It’s filled with vanilla apricot jam and whipped cream.
|Picture courtesy of Sadie Phillips|
Have you ever wanted to do a chocolate course? Wondered what tempering chocolate was all about or how to make ganache or truffles? As some of you may know, I have been struggling with tempering chocolate for a long time now. Occasionally it’s worked, but more often than not it hasn’t and the chocolates I’ve made with love just don’t look very good. Not only that, they don’t last very long and I don’t mean because I have scoffed them all. The chocolate is dull and often produces a white bloom after a couple of days. This not only looks unappealing, but just doesn’t taste right. So when given the opportunity to attend a morning’s chocolate session with Cornwall’s top chocolatier, Nicky Grant, I was determined to attend.
|Picture courtesy of Sadie Phillips|
Nicky Grant, patissiere and chocolatier, has won several awards for her delectable fresh handmade chocolates; I’ve tasted them on a number of occasions and reviewed them here on my blog. Flavours I haven’t tried yet but am particularly keen to include, cardamom & pistachio, lime & chilli, honey & cinnamon and Cornish Blue & port. Nicky’s fennel & ginger won an Academy of Chocolate Gold in 2011 and her Cornish seasalted caramel, which is to die for, won a Gold Great Taste Award. Behind every great woman there is a great man and husband Tom is sous chef and business manager. The couple have recently branched out into hosting bespoke chocolate courses. If you want to learn a specific aspect of chocolate making, cake making or decorating, give them a call. For those unable to attend a course in a remote (but very lovely) part of the country, there are plans afoot to run various courses online.
We all know that Cornwall is God’s own country, but it was a thoroughly awful day weatherise. The cold driving rain, made for an unpleasant journey, but the allure and aroma of melted chocolate soon eliminated all other thoughts. A select band of Cornish bloggers along with a journalist and photographer gathered in the Grants’ farmhouse kitchen and dried out in front of the Aga. Nat of the HungryHinny I knew, but the others I was meeting for the first time: Rachel of Saffron Bunny, Sadie Phillips from Cornwall Food and Drink, Jessica of FishWifey and journalist Eleanor Gaskarth.
Tom is knowledgeable and quite passionate about the science behind chocolate. Nicky is the artist and creator of flavours and is highly adept at her chocolate craft. Both were very keen to impart their knowledge and expertise. In the short time we were with them, I learnt loads and now have a much clearer understanding about how chocolate works. We listened, asked questions, watched, tasted and then got to play with chocolate. The session was divided into three main parts. I am not going to include everything that was imparted to us as that would be a book in itself, but I’ve noted one particularly useful tip for each part.
Tempering – The transformation of chocolate from molten goo to a stable, shiny substance, that has a good snap to it. This is very temperature dependent and if you don’t get it right, your finished chocolate is likely to develop a white bloom, look dull and have a rubbery consistency. It’s all to do with polymorphism, Tom’s favourite word. What this means is that chocolate can take many forms depending on how it is treated.
Top Tip – Test the chocolate before using. Dip a piece of greasproof paper in the chocolate and leave it for a few minutes. If it is tempered you will soon start to see the chocolate crystallising and in about three minutes it should be set and shiny. The chocolate will continue to crystallise for the next 48 hours. What you’re after is Beta 5, apparently, chocolate in its perfect state. Untempered chocolate will take ages to set, we did two strips and compared them; it was easy to see which one was tempered and which wasn’t.
Tasting – We, er, did get to try some chocolate whilst we were there. A high cocoa content milk chocolate is my favourite so I was delighted to be trying a Venezuelan 44% milk – it was truly good. A dark 73% was also rather good and not particularly bitter.
Top Tip – 11:00 is apparently the best time of day to taste test as that is when our tastebuds should be at their optimum.
Making Chocolates – We left the cosy kitchen and headed for Nicky’s chocolate studio. There we saw how to make ganache and how to pipe it, including how to fill a piping bag which is something I always struggle with. Nicky did a demo of how to make a piping bag out of paper – she made it look very easy, but I suspect I’ve already forgotten what to fold and where. At this point we were allowed to get our hands dirty and we all had a go at rolling the dark tear drop ganache shapes in cocoa powder (Red, Extra brute). We then dipped the milk chocolate ganache forms in tempered milk chocolate and rolled them in milk chocolate shavings – what a pleasure.
Top Tip – Making ganache seems to be a hit and miss affair with me, my ganache splits as often as it doesn’t. I learnt that the varying temperatures of ingredients and implements might be one of the causes. This could explain why it happens so often to me; it goes back to my kitchen again where the cold implements probably give the ganache an unwelcome shock. We were told there are two ways of rescuing split ganache: 1) cool the mixture and whisk with a balloon whisk, 2) add a little additional hot cream to the mixture and whisk with a balloon whisk. As it happened, the ganache Tom was making split and he was then able to demonstrate the first method – to my amazement, it worked.
I have yet to put the tips I learnt into practice, but I’m actually looking forward to my next tempering experience. As I suspected, my kitchen makes working with chocolate particularly difficult as it is usually too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer; the ideal working conditions are a temperature between 18C and 20C and a humidity of less than 70%.
Working in the studio was a feast for the eye, beautifully crafted chocolates, Easter eggs, and decorated cakes covered virtually every surface. The massive tray of melted chocolate was so inviting I just wanted to dive straight in. How Nicky and Tom remain slim is a mystery, although they did say something about intensive workouts. I must try this myself.
Thanks to Nat for organising the course. Getting five busy bloggers and a journalist to agree on a date which would fit in with Nicky and Tom was quite a feat in itself. Thanks also to Sadie who kindly allowed me to use some of her photographs – she’s a much better photographer than me. And of course thanks to Nicky and Tom who generously gave of their time, expertise and chocolate.