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What to Expect When You Finish Writing A Book

September 19th, 2014 by Cocolat

My publisher (Artisan Books) is an imprint of Workman Publishing, the folks that brought us What to Expect When You Are Expecting.  Now that’s a book that will never go out of style, right?  The reader hangs on every word for 9 months:  month-by-month it tells the pregnant one what she may or may not be feeling. Way to hedge a bet!  Yet, somehow I never felt like throwing that book out the window, rather than just throwing up.  I kept reading and feeling “normal” and even slightly reassured.  The whole point, yes?

Because my ninth book, Flavor Flours, is finally about to come out, and because I’m bound to get swept up into the excitement of the blessed event, I thought that new cookbook writers might like to know what it may or may not feel like to finish a book for the first time—or the ninth.

When you send back (what you hope are) your final page corrections, you may or may not feel all of the adrenalin rush out of your body.

You may or may not know if what you are feeling is elated or shitty.

You may or may not feel the exact same things when you finish answering all the copy editor questions that come up after you send in your final page corrections.

Even after the book is en route to the printer, you may or may not continue to wake up at night thinking of cool things to add, things you wish you’d thought of earlier.

You may or may not want to publish ever again. 

You may or may not want to prove it by throwing out all of your backup notes, versions, and passes: instead you box them up and put them in the basement for when you die and the Schlesinger Library inquires after your remains.  Yeah, right.

You may or may not have a thousand new book ideas (I know exactly one person who felt that way, once)

You may or may not feel depressed (crabby, angry, frustrated, tired…). A pox on all their houses is exactly what you may or may not feel like saying.

You may or may not continue to create and test new recipes that could have, should have, and would have, gone into the book (because in spite all of the above, you know you still care)

You may or may not have the urge to clean, purge, and organize every nook and cranny of your office, kitchen, fridge, freezer, and pantry.  Don’t worry, even if you do have this urge, you may or may not ever actually act on it.

You may or may not dread the upcoming (and very exciting) book tour that is planned for you—the one that you are so very grateful to have because so few publishers provide such a thing anymore.

You may or may not believe your book is fantastic, even when your co-author, editor, publisher, and publicist know that it is.

You may or may not think you should finally return to blogging because, after all, it’s been soooo darn long, and what would you even write about?

You are certain to forget almost everything I just wrote the moment you see your advance copy—with all of its fingers and toes in place. 

Mine came an hour ago and already I remember (almost) nothing.

 

 

 

What I Learned From My Mother

May 1st, 2014 by Cocolat

Some people were taught to cook by their mothers.  I was not. My mother was not sure enough of herself in the kitchen to preach or teach, per se.  You just had to hand around.  She cooked simple food but was never adamant about her methods, although she was and is adamant about what she likes and doesn’t like.  She doesn’t like foods that are sauced to death or fussed with.  She doesn’t like mayonnaise on anything. She likes food to taste like what it is.  She wants her green veggies bright green, al dente, as we all learned to say a few decades ago.  Don’t give her any long-cooked southern veggies with pot licker; these would not be her style.  She probably sounds unsophisticated and unadventuresome.  She isn’t.  She knows good food when she tastes it, and though she was brought up in New York, she has the palate of a Californian. When I’d come home from college in the 1970’s, there would always be a perfect ripe avocado.  My dad thought avocados were for girls, and my brothers were not interested (!), so she didn’t buy any unless I was around to enjoy them with her.  We’d catch up at lunch: the avocado would be sliced and fanned on toast, sprinkled with salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon. I recently saw a “recipe” for “avocado toasts” that involve mashing an avocado with mayo and this and that.  My mother and I just don’t get that: how to ruin an avocado, we would have said.

Several months ago, we had a late lunch at Mani Nial’s Sweet Bar Cafe in Oakland after a doctor’s appointment.  She wanted to share the turkey sandwich with avo and cheddar. I thought that sounded boring, but I agreed anyway.  It turned out to be a great sandwich. We fell silent for a while, just chewing and enjoying.  When she emerged from her reverie, she sighed,  “now I’m thinking about what (insert name of retirement community where she lives) would have done to these same ingredients”!  At times like that I realize two things:  first, my appreciation for good things to eat did not come out of nowhere, and second, we had better do something fast about institutional food, before we all go to live in (otherwise splendid) retirement communities!

My mother turned 91 recently.  She is still big on vegetables and salads, and fresh fish.  She and my father “discovered” Sushi 30 or 40 years ago, when you had to go to a Japanese community to get it.

Up until several months ago when my mother decided to stop drinking even the smallest glass of wine or beer, her “happy meal” might have been have been boiled edamame, a few pieces of super fresh sushi, and plenty of hot saki.  Gelato for dessert, if possible. She doesn’t care that sophisticated people drink chilled sake of better quality than the type that is served hot or warm.  She likes what she likes. If she weren’t my own mother, I would probably think she was the coolest sort of character.  Instead I roll my eyes sometimes.  I wish she were still drinking a little, because we tend to get along especially well over a glass of wine.  At least we are still eating sushi and avocadoes. And rolling out eyes together over what other people do with food…

Eye rolls aside, I am who I am because of her.  I don’t necessarily accept anyone’s rules about anything (especially food) unless I’ve proven them for myself.  Of course I have my own rules, but those usually come after I’ve thoroughly (but privately) discredited someone else’s. I am more rigorous in my process and more adamant about my food rules than she was or is, but she was a home cook, not a professional, so she gets a pass there.  Like her, I also have distinct preferences for good ingredients very simply prepared, I rarely eat a dish (other than dessert) with loads of creamy stuff in it or on it, and I like my food to taste like its ingredients.    

PS.  Since I wrote this post my mother has gone back to drinking a little wine.  This makes us both happy. 

Temper Tantrum Part Two

April 27th, 2014 by Cocolat

As I said in Temper Tantrum Part One (below), instructions for tempering chocolate are usually brief and deceptively easy looking.  As a result, many people find tempering to be completely frustrating.  I hope the following not-so-brief notes and instructions adapted from my book, Seriously Bittersweet (Artisan, 20130) will help.  Even if you prefer to use a tempering method other than The Chunk Method described, the information that follows it—The Test For Temper, Keeping Tempered Chocolate in Working Condition, and How To Fix Over Tempered/Over Seeded Chocolateis essential if you want order to avoid the heartbreak of grey or streaky confections, after all of your time and effort! 

Just A Few More Things to Keep in Mind before you jump in

A piece of tempered chocolate has a shiny reflective surface (unless it has been scuffed or jumbled with other pieces of chocolate) and an even interior color and texture. It is brittle enough to snap audibly when broken or bitten.  Melted chocolate that has been tempered shrinks slightly as it cools and so it releases perfectly from molds, and mirrors any surface with which it has been in contact: tempered chocolate poured into a mold with a shiny surface will emerge shiny.  Any bar or piece of chocolate that you buy was tempered at the factory and, unless it has been damaged by heat in transit or in storage, and will still be tempered when you unwrap it to eat or cook with.

Heat-damaged chocolate or chocolate that has melted and cooled at room temperature without being tempered again looks dull and gray, perhaps mottled or streaky.  It may be soft and cakey at first, but it will eventually become dry and gritty with a stratified interior texture. When that happens the chocolate actually tastes less flavorful and melts less smoothly in your mouth.

Whether in perfect temper or out of temper to start with, each time chocolate is melted, it must be tempered in order for it to cool and set at room temperature with a glossy surface and crisp texture. Chocolate can be melted and tempered over and over again.  

There is no need to temper melted chocolate used as an ingredient in a batter or dessert, sauce, or glaze.  However, if you want to dip cookies in chocolate that will dry hard and glossy, or if you want to make a molded chocolate rabbit, or if you want dipped chocolates (or pretzels) to dry beautifully and keep at room temperature, you must temper the chocolate.

Melted chocolate solidifies as it cools because the fat molecules link together and form crystals that connect to form a sturdy network. Cocoa butter is a complex fat capable of taken different crystal forms, but only one of the forms is stable and will cause the chocolate to contract and harden with the desired shiny surface and brittle snap.  This stable form is called beta. It takes only a small percentage of beta crystals in melted chocolate, to ensure that subsequent crystals will also take the beta form as the chocolate cools. The process of tempering involves a sequence of heating, cooling, and stirring steps designed to produce just enough beta crystals to set the pattern for the rest of the crystals that will form as the chocolate cools.

Under the right conditions, beta crystals form and survive at temperatures between 82°F and 91°F; they melt and are destroyed at higher temperatures.  Most tempering methods involve heating the chocolate well above 91°F so that all crystals (stable and unstable) are melted and destroyed so that you start with a kind of crystal-free blank slate.  Then, as the chocolate cools, you create brand-new beta crystals.  Once there are enough beta crystals, the chocolate is tempered.  Since you cannot see the crystals (alas), you can use a simple test to determine whether enough crystals have formed, thus whether the chocolate is in temper. 

And A Few Tips Before You Start

Keep this mantra in mind: Tempering is not simply a matter of taking chocolate from one prescribed temperature to another, even though most instruction focuses mostly on that activity. Tempering is a function of three interrelated factors: time, temperature, and agitation (stirring). This means that your chocolate may not be in temper the moment you have completed the steps to get your chocolate to the “correct” temperature. Often, the chocolate just needs a few more minutes of stirring.  Do not get so involved with temperature that you forget the necessity for time and stirring.  Use the test for temper as feedback as you work, and be prepared to practice, go slow, observe, and adjust (Zen and the art of chocolate tempering).

It’s best to temper more chocolate than you need for a recipe or dipping project.  A large bowl of tempered chocolate is easier to keep warm and in good working condition than a small one and any chocolate left over can be saved for reuse. I like to work with at least 1 ¼ pounds (565 grams) of chocolate, but you can temper any amount you like using the following guidelines:

-Use real chocolate (not compound coatings) but not chocolate chips

-Do not work in a hot room

-Don’t allow moisture to come in direct contact with the chocolate: make sure that the knife, cutting board, bowl, spatula, and thermometer stem are all clean and dry.  If you are dipping fruit, the fruit should be dry as well.

-Before tempering, prepare whatever is to be dipped and/or measure out any other ingredients needed (and have them at room temperature because cool or cold centers will cause the chocolate to crack when it cools) so that your tempered chocolate can be used immediately.

-Have a cool place to set trays of dipped items:  I set mine in front of a portable table fan (after anchoring the corners of the parchment or wax paper liners with tape).

-Last but not least, no one said tempering doesn’t take practice!

FINALLY: THE CHUNK METHOD FOR TEMPERING CHOCOLATE  

This method requires that 20% (one fifth) of the chocolate you start with be solid chocolate that is already in temper —and in one or two large chunks instead of chopped.  The remaining chocolate may be in temper or not.

You will need an instant read thermometer, or a chocolate thermometer

1. Set aside 20% of your chocolate for “seed”: the seed should be one or two large chunks and already in temper.

2. Chop the remaining chocolate into small pieces and place them in a stainless steel bowl large enough for thorough stirring. Set the bowl in a wider skillet of almost simmering water and stir frequently at first, and then constantly until about three-quarters of the chocolate is melted.  Remove the bowl from the water and stir for a minute or two to melt the remaining chocolate.  If the chocolate is not entirely melted put it back in the water and continue to stir briefly.  The goal is completely melted chocolate at about 100°F (if it was in temper to start with) or at 120°F (if it was not in temper).  If the chocolate exceeds these temperatures, don’t worry; just let it cool to 100° before proceeding.

3. When the chocolate is at 100°F, drop the reserved chunk(s) of tempered chocolate into the bowl and stir constantly, pushing the chunks around the bowl and scraping the sides of the bowl regularly, until the chocolate registers 90°F for dark chocolate or 88°F for white or milk chocolate. As you stir, you are simultaneously cooling the chocolate and melting the surface of the tempered chunks. As the temperature of the melted chocolate approaches 90°F, stable beta crystals from the surface of the chunks start to mingle with the melted chocolate and form the “seed” to create more beta crystals.  When there are enough beta crystals in the bowl, the chocolate is tempered. The object is not to melt the chunks entirely, but to use them to provide the beta “seed” to produce more beta crystals, and then fish out and save the chunks for another project.  In fact, if your chunks are completely melted by the time the chocolate reaches 90°F, the necessary beta crystals are likely to have been destroyed; you may have to add another chunk and continue to stir.

When the chocolate is at the desired temperature (90°F or 88°F), it may or may not yet contain enough beta crystals to be tempered.  Use the Test for Temper (see below) to be sure. If the chocolate is not in temper, continue to stir for a minute or two longer then test again.  As soon as the chocolate is in temper, remove the unmelted chunk(s) and chill them in the fridge for 10 minutes then store at room temperature to be used again. Use the tempered chocolate immediately.

THE TEST FOR TEMPER

Never assume your chocolate is in temper, or use it,  without testing it:  Drizzle a little of the chocolate onto a knife blade or a piece of wax paper. Set the test in front of a fan (preferably) or in a cool place. If the chocolate is beginning to set within 3 minutes and it has a nice sheen, it is tempered. If it is still completely melted and wet looking after 3 minutes, it is not yet tempered. (If it has begun to set but looks dull, it may be over tempered, see How To Fix Over Tempered/Over Seeded Chocolate, below).

KEEPING TEMPERED CHOCOLATE IN WORKING CONDITION

If you are using the tempered chocolate for dipping, stir it from time to time and scrape down the bowl to prevent chocolate from building up around the sides. The chocolate will cool and thicken as you work.  You can rewarm the chocolate in a pan of warm water for a few seconds at a time, or warm the sides of the bowl with a hair dryer, and stir until the chocolate regains fluidity as long as you do not let it exceed a maximum temperature of 90°F or 91°F for dark chocolate or 88°F to 89°F for milk and white chocolate.  Or, to keep the chocolate warm longer, you can keep the bowl of chocolate in a container of warm water just 2 degrees warmer than the maximum temperature for the type of chocolate you are using. Or set the bowl on a heating pad covered with several layers of two so that it is barely warm.

But tempered chocolate will thicken over tine as you work with it, even if it is kept at or reheated to its maximum temperature.  This means that too many beta crystals have developed: the chocolate is over seeded or over tempered

HOW TO FIX OVER TEMPERED/OVER SEEDED CHOCOLATE

Tempered chocolate thickens as you work with it.  Intuitively, it would seem that the thickening is due to cooling, but that is only partially true.  In the course of dipping centers (or whatever), re stirring the chocolate and scraping the bowl from time to time, tempered chocolate will thicken even if it is kept at its warmest “ceiling temperature”.  Why? Remember that the formation of beta crystals necessary for tempering the chocolate required time and agitation in addition to the right temperature.  Once the chocolate is in temper, time and agitation (that is, dipping and scraping the bowl and restirring the chocolate) continues to create more beta crystals, whether or not you want them.  More beta crystals make the chocolate thicker and harder to work with.  The chocolate is still in temper but it is overtempered or over seeded:  it will set even faster than before and with a duller finish.

The fix? If the chocolate is at or close to its ceiling temperature, but still too thick, you must melt and destroy some of the excess beta crystals by allowing some of the chocolate to exceed the maximum temperature.  Set the bowl in the water bath for a few seconds as before, but without stirring so that the chocolate around the sides of the bowl gets warmer than the rest. Then remove the bowl from the water and stir the chocolate thoroughly to mix in the warmer chocolate.  This should return your chocolate to a more fluid and, with luck, still tempered state. If it’s not fluid enough, set it in the water for a few more seconds, then remove and stir well.  After this maneuver, always test for temper again to make sure that you haven’t melted too many of the beta crystals and lost the temper of your whole batch.

Anther way to fix over seeded chocolate is to add a little “virgin” chocolate* to the thick chocolate and stir it in thoroughly.  This re-warms the chocolate, reduces the ratio of tempered crystals and puts you back in business

*Virgin chocolate=chocolate that has been heated to 125°F and then cooled to 92°F to 90°F without tempering.

 

Temper Tantrum Part One

April 11th, 2014 by Cocolat

I started my career making chocolate truffles without ever having tempered chocolate. I did not even know how to temper. I’m not bragging about my ignorance, but my rule breaking turned into revelation: a national obsession for chocolate truffles was launched from my Berkeley kitchen in the early 1970’s. Those truffles—first made in my home kitchen and sold at the Pig By The Tail charcuterie and later made and sold in my own shop, Cocolat—were as good as they were because I was doing a whole lot of things “wrong” which somehow added up to something spectacularly right. Somehow.

I have become adept at tempering since those early days, although I still use tempering avoidance tricks and “cheats” strategically when I think they are a quicker and smarter way to get certain kinds of results. Knowing the right way to do things wrong—when and how to not temper—remains a valuable part of my skill set!

You can read more about this and the story of Cocolat, and get recipes for those Cocolat truffles, in Seriously Bittersweet (Artisan 2013).

But I have a tantrum to finish.

When tempering is really necessary, I want to get it right. And I want others to be able to get it right as well. There are several methods to get chocolate in temper, so that it sets with an even sheen (and without streaks or white pockmarks), breaks with a snap, and remains stable at room temperature. But where are the good instructions (regardless of method) for making this happen?

The problem is that no one who publishes for the home cook wants to hint that tempering is tricky; much less that it requires knowledge and practice. Is it a conspiracy? Tempering instructions—on TV, in magazines and cookbooks, and even in cooking classes—are deceptively brief, almost breezy. They focus on melting the chocolate to a precise temperature and then cooling it down to another precise temperature with some chopped chocolate “seed” stirred in. It's as if all you have to do is get a thermometer and follow the steps and your chocolate will be in temper. 

This drives me absolutely crazy.

Once in a while, you can get lucky following simple rote steps and end up with tempered chocolate. But beginner’s luck is just that.Tempering chocolate requires three things: enough time, enough stirring, and the right temperatures. This means that it is entirely possible to heat and cool the chocolate, hitting all of the right temperatures, just as directed, and then dip your bonbons but find them dull, streaky, and mottled hours later. This happens to people all of the time. Sure, those ugly bonbons are still edible, but after spending time and the effort to temper the chocolate, “edible” hardly cuts it.  

Consider a driving manual that just tells you how to turn on the ignition, step on the gas, and turn the steering wheel…

Good tempering instructions should explain that hitting the right temperature marks without adequate time and agitation (stirring) will not result in tempered chocolate.  Good instructions should tell you how to test for temper to confirm that the chocolate that you think you tempered, really is in temper— before you dip those bonbons—and what to do when it isn’t. Good instructions should tell you how to keep tempered chocolate in temper while you work with it, and how to reheat it, if necessary, without breaking the temper. (Really good instructions should tell you what  “over tempered” chocolate looks like, and how to fix that as well!)

I’m sorry I’ve made tempering sound more complicated than any of us want it to be.  But knowledge is power, right?

Temper Tantrum (part two) coming up, with really good instructions for tempering chocolate.