A post on chocolate just in time for Easter 🙂
After two chocolate cooking classes in one week, I had one killer of a chocolate hangover.
The first class I attended was on raw chocolate making, run by food-coach Marion Egger in her home on 20 March; the second was a chocolate cooking class by renowned pastry chef Rochelle Adonis, held in the working kitchen of her Brisbane Street studio on 25 March. I thoroughly enjoyed both classes, which were incredibly different and special in their own ways.
My close friends will be able to tell you that I don’t generally follow recipes when I cook — except when it comes to desserts. I am scared of them; any deviation from quantity or method can result in massive failure. So I decided that I needed to learn direct from the experts in order to get over my fears.
At the outset I will tell you that there are no recipes here, out of respect to the artistes. I would encourage you to attend Marion and Rochelle’s classes if you would like to know specific quantities and methods. That said, I will post my own recipes as I build the confidence to experiment with sweet things.
Marion and her raw chocolate. Thank to Marion, I can now say that I have made chocolate from scratch — though it isn’t exactly as I had originally envisaged. Her class opened my eyes to the health benefits of raw cacao, which I began investigating in a very basic way within my post of 17 April 2009 [I can’t believe it has taken me nearly a year to write the sequel to this post!].
The health benefits of raw cacao include:
- it is a source of polyphenols and antioxidants;
- it can help you to think clearer; and
- it may enhance cardiovascular health.
In attempting to write a balanced post, I should also recognise that raw cacao has its detractors, who purport that cacao is a harmful and even toxic substance. I am finding that there are arguments mounting against many compelling superfood claims, and also that there are pluses and minuses for many of the compounds in our foods. Most substances seem to have a point at which they are beneficial for the body and a point at which they become toxic. This is true of even of carrots, which proves that you can indeed have too much of a good thing.
I encourage you to do your own research and make up your own mind.
Anyways, back to the hands-on raw chocolate making.
Our base comprised cocoa butter, coconut oil, a little salt & soy lecithin, and vanilla scraped from the pod. All of this was melted over a double-boiler on low heat.
Then the raw cacao powder was slowly stirred in.
Next, we sweetened the chocolate liqueur with unprocessed honey and agave syrup [unrelated fact: agave is the base ingredient for tequila]. I actually like the taste of the nibs by themselves and thought the chocolate was divine without the sweeteners…
We poured the finished chocolate into little patty pans over various goodies, including crushed macadamia nuts, almonds, bee pollen, cacao nibs, and rehydrated goji berries mixed with spirulina powder.
The chocolates were set in the freezer within an hour (ie. ready to eat — though they are best eaten the next day), after which point they were transferred to the refrigerator. Their low melting point means they must be stored in the fridge.
Goji coconutty delicious!
If you would like more information on this or other cooking classes run by Marion, contact her directly via: www.foodcoaching.com.au.
Chocolate cooking with Rochelle Adonis. This class was intimate (12 participants) and great fun as well as a valuable learning experience. It is just as well this was an observational class — I took so many notes that I wouldn’t have had time to cook!
Warning: you will have a chocolate hangover the next day if you eat everything on the night. Aside from the treats created from the recipe sheets, you may even end up with a couple of other experimental goodies…
Creations from the night:
- milk chocolate icecream – this was moulded and dipped in Rochelle’s own version of Ice Magic to create a Magnum-like treat (only much, much better!). Look out for these in the studio soon – they are absolute bliss;
- white chocolate cherry slice – a cherry version of the ‘blondie’ slice from the studio;
- Valrhona chocolate mousse – this rich mousse was my favourite creation of the night;
- liqueur chocolate truffles – the best I have tasted. So worth the effort; and
- dark chocolate macarons.
I was so inspired by the ease and simplicity with which Rochelle, Rix (Head Chef) and Jade made the macarons that I knew I had to try them for myself.
My first attempt was abysmal:
After discovering the perils of macaron feet first-hand [tip: you should aim for a slight rise, known as the ‘skirt’. Skirts that spread are known as ‘feet’ — and feet are very, very bad. Apparently], I decided that further research was needed, and this extra work made all the difference.
These are the sites that helped me on my way to better quality macarons:
- Serious Eats – for a history and deconstruction of the perfect macaron;
- My Food Geek – including a recipe for ‘almost foolproof macarons’ that results in a very fabulous-looking end product;
- David Lebovitz – hints from a talented Parisian pastry chef; and
- Tasty Trifles – for a fuller description of a ‘foot fail’ and more excellent links to helpful sites.
Still using Rochelle’s recipe, my second batch was far more successful, but I have much to learn before I have a result of which I am truly proud.
I glued similarly-sized cookies together with a fine chocolate ganache that included a little unsalted butter for added fun.
The delicious result ended up on my sister’s dining table as an offering toward her Easter brunch.
- If you’re purchasing pre-ground almond meal, regrind it in a food processor to make sure it’s superfine. Do you see the tiny bumps on the surface of my second batch of macarons? They are there because I didn’t get the almond meal fine enough.
- Don’t over-grind the almond meal — it turns into paste. And if you do overgrind the almond meal, don’t use it in the macarons; start with a fresh batch of blanched almonds or meal [see photo from my first batch of macarons if you need a reason as to why…].
- Strain all the dry ingredients through a fine chinois. It really does make a difference to the texture of the finished product.
- Pipe with a large, round nozzle. The nozzle I used was too small, resulting in the Hershey Kiss finish you see in the photos.
- Know your oven. I needed to cook my macarons for close to 15 minutes, rather than the 10-12 minutes indicated in the recipe, and I also had to turn my tray half way through the baking process.
Rochelle’s cooking classes extend far beyond chocolate. Check out her website for contact details: www.rochelleadonis.com.
I hope my experience has inspired you to research and cook more chocolate for yourself — and, if you have your own tips for awesome macarons, I would love to hear about them!
Wishing you a safe and happy Easter break,
PS. Oh, and here is a picture of one of the gluten-free chocolate fondant puddings I baked on 26 March [base recipe from Pease Pudding]:
They were scrumplicious.
PPS. As a completely random aside, I found that taste.com.au details a handy grams-to-cups conversion table for Australian recipes. Beware of the fact that most other online conversion tools are for US measures and won’t be accurate for Australian recipes.
> US cup=236.6mL; Aust cup= 250mL
Addendum of 16 April 2010: Before I forget, here is a picture of a sample from my 3rd batch of macarons [my birthday macarons were my 4th batch].
This batch was much paler than my prior attempts; I have used a different method each time I have made these sweet treats and have liked them all in their own way. I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of macarons, and they’re not as scary as I first imagined.