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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.

 

 

 

I know. No one really needs a recipe for serving ripe strawberries topped with whipped cream, right? But I thought I would start with my basics (Alice’s Rules, so to speak) and let everyone take it (or not) from there.   

The strawberries:Start with great tasting berries. Don’t assume that the biggest strawberries are the best; the big guys are often the least tasty and odd shaped and odd sized small ones are sometimes spectacular. Great strawberries don’t need to be sugared, and unless you prefer otherwise, and you needn’t sweeten the cream either! If you don’t shop at a market (or farmers' market) where tasting is assumed, ask for a taste before you buy. You will be surprised at how often you will get a “yes”. Make friends with that farmer or produce person, you are going to need him/her (and a knife) later, when melons are in season!
 
Here’s how to keep ripe strawberries in good condition for several days: when you get home from the market pick through and discard any berries with a moldy or otherwise rotten spot. Spread berries (without rinsing them) in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels in a shallow container. Cover the berries with another paper towel. Cover and refrigerate the container. They should last for several days this way. Rinse and hull berries as you need them
 
 
The cream: Use great cream. Look for only one ingredient on the carton or bottle: cream. Don’t buy pre-sweetened cream or dairy topping or cream in an aerosol can (yes, I know how much fun that can be…but save it). The best tasting cream is not ultra-pasteurized nor is it stabilized with carrageenan (or anything else). Ultra-pasteurized cream has the faint flavor of canned milk and carrageenan produces a silky texture at the cost of flavor…
 
If you add vanilla extract to your cream, use pure (not artificial) extract. Don’t believe anyone who says no one can taste (or smell) the difference. Vanilla is nice, but not essential to good whipped cream. 
 
If you sweeten your whipped cream, use granulated rather than powdered sugar. Powdered sugar tastes faintly of the starch that is added to keep the sugar from clumping. Adjust the sugar towards the end of beating; sweetened cream tastes less sweet when it is fluffy than when it is fluid.
 
Reminder: Cream must be very cold or it will not whip properly: it will either refuse to thicken or it will curdle. If you are just back from the store and the cream has been in your shopping basket and car for a while, refrigerate it again before you try to whip it. Start with a chilled bowl and beaters for a little extra whipped cream insurance!
 
Whipping the cream: Using chilled beaters (or a hand held whisk), beat 1 cup of cream with ½ teaspoon or more vanilla (if using), in a chilled bowl until it holds a soft shape. Gradually add 2-3 teaspoons sugar (to taste), and beat until it holds a good shape but is not too stiff.

 

 

 

 

 

 
For more things to do with strawberries, see upcoming posts. And see my new book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts(Artisan 2012) for more strawberry ideas and ten ways to flavor whipped cream!