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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.

 

 

 

Where Ideas Come From

January 27th, 2012 by Cocolat

I love cooking from other chefs’ recipes. I follow a recipe closely the first time because I want to taste what the chef was thinking and tasting.  I’m also curious about the recipe writing (this is an occupational hazard).   If there is something unusual about the technique or use of ingredients, I want to learn from it rather than assuming that my usual way of doing something will be better or just as good. I think cooks who pride themselves on never following a recipe exactly sometimes miss out on some spectacular outcomes and amazing nuances, but that’s another post for another day. 
Once I taste a dish, ideas come even (especially?) if the dish is fantastic.   It’s not always about improving a recipe, but about using something learned from it to do something else. Sometimes a recipe creates a spark that flies pretty far from the original fire. 
When I made carrot soup from Mourad Lahlou’s Mourad: New Moroccan, I was intrigued that the carrots were cooked in carrot juice instead of stock and each serving was garnished with fresh citrus.
The soup waslovely.  I started to imagine a new carrot soup with raw carrot juice added at the very end to capture both the bright flavor of raw and the lower and mellower notes from the cooked carrots.  Then I drifted to carrot sorbet made from a combination of cooked carrots and raw juice.  And now I thinking about a carrot duet: a smooth creamy carrot ice cream to serve next to a scoop of icy carrot sorbet.  Wait for it…
Meanwhile, a salad from Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco inspired this  seductive dessert, which will appear in my own upcoming book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (coming May 2012 from Artisan Books).
FRAGRANT ORANGES WITH ICE CREAM, ALMONDS, AND DATES
From Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012)
Scoops of creamy vanilla ice cream and icy mango sorbet in a pool of juicy scented orange segments with sticky dates, toasted almonds, and a fragrant top note of cinnamon. Serves 6

Ingredients:
8 oranges

1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water, or to taste

6 small scoops vanilla ice cream

6 small scoops mango or orange sorbet

12 plump dates, pitted and quartered

1/3 cup (1.5 ounces) chopped toasted almonds or toasted slivered almonds

A cinnamon stick (optional)

Equipment:

Microplane zester (optional)

Up to 1 day before serving, prepare the oranges: Suprime 6 of the oranges or simply peel and slice them, reserving the juices. Pick out any seeds and collect all of the juices and the segments or slices in a bowl.

To serve, taste the juice and adjust the orange flower water if necessary. Divide the oranges and juices evenly among six serving bowls. Nestle a small scoop of ice cream and a small scoop of sorbet in the center of each bowl. Distribute the quartered dates around the ice cream and sprinkle each dessert with the chopped almonds. Grate a little bit of the cinnamon stick over each bowl with a microplane zester, if desired, and serve immediately.