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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.

 

 

 

Sleepless And Going Bananas

November 3rd, 2012 by Cocolat

My pal Rick Rodgers www.rickrodgers.com, author of Thanksgiving 101 and too many other cookbooks to count, was in town just in time to escape the devastation back home in New Jersey.  We went to Bar César for lunch yesterday and, since November is still rosé weather in globally-warmer-than-ever Northern California, we each had a glass with our charcuterie and cheese… and then shared a second. We walked around the neighborhood afterwards, checking out the offerings at the Cheeseboard, the menu at Chez Panisse, and the chocolate chip cookies made with lard at the 1-year-old Local Butcher Shop. (The cookies were interesting but we really did miss the flavor and carmelization that comes with butter). We parted around 3:00, after tasting Hungarian tortes and sipping espresso at Crixa Cakes.  Such fun! But yikes!
 
To counter the buzz of alcohol, sugar, and caffeine (and lard?), I decided to walk the 2 miles home.
 
I was in bed but still awake at 2 AM, 3 AM, and 4 AM… then I gave up and played Words with Friends on my Iphone and exchanged silliness with David Lebovitz www.davidlebovitz.comon twitter for a while. I got up and cleaned out a drawer.  Back in bed, I worried about the election, wondered if the Buckwheat Walnut Crackers were baked at the right temperature, and finally started counting good things to do with bananas—instead of sheep.
 
I got this far: 
 
1. Grilled Sandwich: filled with sliced bananas, peanut butter and honey.
 
2. Bananas and Cream: slice bananas into a bowl with heavy cream and garnish with a couple thin orange slices, and perhaps a drop of orange flour water.
 
3. Bananas and Yogurt:  slice bananas into a bowl with plain yogurt, honey, and pistachios, walnuts, or peanuts.
 
4. Creamy Banana Yogurt “Pudding”: mash banana with an equal amount of plain yogurt. Sweeten and seasoned to taste with a bit of honey or brown sugar and pinches of cinnamon or cardamom. Top with chopped walnuts or pistachios. Top with extra pinches of spice.
 
5. Exotic Chocolate-Dipped Popsicles: mash bananas and season to taste with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Freeze in popsicle molds, unmold and dip in chocolate (see below), and shower with optional chopped walnuts or sprinkles.
 
6. Chocolate Banana Blintzes:  fold three slices of banana and a spoonful of thick ganache into each crepe, as for blintzes. Keep refrigerated until ready to sauté (very briefly) in butter. Serve immediately.  Full recipe in Chocolate Holidays (Artisan, 2001) 
 
7. Ice Cream Sandwiches:  free banana slices until hard. Process them in a food processor until thick and creamy with a texture like soft serve ice cream. Return the mixture to the freezer to firm up.  Scoop and press between thin crunchy oatmeal cookies.  Serve immediately or store in a covered container in the freezer.
 
8.  Chocolate Dipped Bananas: impale bananas on sticks and freeze solid.  Dip frozen bananas in warm chocolate dip (see recipe below), and sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if desired.
 
9. Butterscotch Bananas Foster: Cut bananas in half crosswise and cut each piece in half lengthwise. Make Butterscotch Sauce from Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan, 2012)using Bourbon or Scotch, or warm purchased sauce in a skillet. Heat bananas in the sauce and serve with vanilla ice cream.
 
10.  Chocolate Banana Waffles: Sauté banana slices in a little butter. Serve on chocolate waffles. Top with crème frâiche. Full recipe in Chocolate Holidays (Artisan, 2001)

11. Salted-Caramel Banana Bread Pudding: recipe in Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan, 2012)

 
I could have gone on, but blessedly fell asleep around 6 AM.
 
 
CHOCOLATE DIP FOR FROZEN BANANAS OR POPSICLES 
Bananas are so long and curved that you would have to triple the recipe to fill a container large enough to submerge a whole banana!  The solution is to make a banana shaped trough out of heavy-duty foil (as described in the recipe) so you can submerge the banana horizontally (in a custom shaped container) without needing too much extra chocolate.  A little clarified butter added to the chocolate prevents a super thick coating and produces a pleasingly crisp coating that is not too hard to bite. 
 

Makes about 1 1/3 cups, enough for a dozen or more popsicles or 6 to 8 medium bananas, frozen on sticks.

Ingredients:
10 ounces dark chocolate (I use Scharffen Berger 70% Bittersweet)
1/4 cup clarified butter (or ghee)
2 pinches of salt, more to taste
1 cup chopped nuts or chocolate sprinkles, optional
 
Put the chocolate, clarified butter, and salt in a stainless steel bowl set in a wider skillet with less than an inch of not quite simmering water.  Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Taste and adjust the salt if necessary, just to brighten the flavor of the chocolate, without making it salty.  Remove the bowl and let the chocolate cool to lukewarm. Line a tray with wax paper and set nuts or sprinkles close at hand, if using.
 
For popsicles: pour the chocolate into a narrow container deep enough to dip the entire popsicle.
 
For bananas: Place a large piece of heavy-duty foil loosely over a bread pan that is longer than a banana.  Using the pan for support, mold the foil into a narrow trough— slightly wider and longer than a banana and deep enough to submerge the whole fruit, held by the stick, and lowered with the curved side down.  Fill the trough with chocolate; refill the trough as necessary with the remaining chocolate.
 
Dip each popsicles or frozen banana into the chocolate and sprinkle immediately with nuts or sprinkles, if using.  Set dipped items on the lined tray.  Put the tray in the freezer until the chocolate is completely hardened. Transfer treats to a container or zipper lock bag and keep frozen until serving.  Excess dip can be kept in the fridge or freezer and used again.