Sunday, December 06, 2009

Chocolate for the Holidays

Winter has definitely arrived in the Bay Area, and that means scarves and snow in the Sierras. And while this Hawaii boy is not a big fan of the cold, I do like the low temperatures because that means I can make chocolates!

Last year my friend April taught me how to make chocolates. (And some of you might remember the disaster of me photographing the step-by-step process only to have the images accidentally wiped out from the memory card before I could upload them.) To make chocolates, the weather has to be cool so that the chocolates can harden properly. If it's too warm or humid, you'll just have mushy chocolates. That's why a lot of professional chocolate makers work in air-conditioned temperature-controlled kitchens. For me, I just have to wait for the weather to cooperate.

Like I said, it's been perfect right now for chocolate-making. So I made these the day after Thanksgiving. I made two types of chocolates: 1) chocolate covered lavender caramel tiles with sea salt and 2) cardamom truffles. My nephew came by to help. Making chocolates is pretty easy, but I've learned that it's a tedious job so I appreciated the extra hands. Here's a look at how we made the chocolates, starting with the cardamom truffles.

Truffles are chocolate-covered candy with the interior infused with flavors. I decided to make cardamom because I had the flavor in ice cream a lot in the past and loved the sudden burst in flavor that seemed new and different to me. To start, I warmed 1/4 cup of heavy cream and then pour in over a bowl filled with 12 ounces of milk chocolate chips and 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter. I stirred until the chocolates melted. (If it's not totally melted, put it over a double-boiler until it's totally melted and silky.) Then I added 2 teaspoons of ground cardamom and poured the batch into an 8"x8" pan and placed it in the refrigerator to harden up a bit. (It doesn't have to be very hard, just hard enough that you can mold it.) It was in the refrigerator for about 2 hours (you can make it overnight). Then I spooned it out into little balls (people recommend using a melon baller) and then my nephew molded them into a nicer ball shape. Since they're called truffles, they're supposed to just resemble the fungus truffles, so they don't have to be perfectly shaped.

Then we prepared the chocolates to coat it. I used a semi-sweet chocolate chips because that's what I had. This is the tedious part of chocolate making because this is where you have to temper the chocolate. What that means is melting the chocolates and then cooling it to the point where you can get the chemicals reformulated back to being hard chocolates, but you want it wet enough so you can dip. The formula is melting it to about 100 degrees, then cooling to the mid-90s when you add a few unmelted chocolate bits, a process called "seeding," and then cooling until 86 degrees which is the point you can start dipping. My nephew was in charge of the instant-temperature reader and it was a chore just getting to the right temperatures. You have to be pretty patient because when you don't do it right, the chocolate won't harden with a nice sheen and instead will develop streaks or white bits.

After the chocolate was ready and we dipped all the cardomom-infused chocolate balls into them, my nephew used his little pocket flashlight to inspect them. You see, the truffles have to be totally covered by the chocolate exterior to make sure none of the cream-infused chocolates are exposed, allowing the interior to spoil. Some people just cover truffles with cocoa powder, but this means these have to be refrigerated and eaten quickly. But when you cover them in chocolate (completely), you can store it in cool room temperature in a dark dry place and they're good for a couple of weeks like this. So above, my nephew Chris did touch-up work, using melted chocolate to cover any holes he saw in our dipping work.

Now we focused on the lavender caramel chocolates, which is my favorite and a real popular chocolate when I pass them around. I used the same recipe that I printed in last year's post, so you can go back here to read the complete recipe. But here's the step-by-step look:

I started by infusing the heavy cream, adding about 2 tablespoons of cooking lavender to the heavy cream, which I warmed up. I left it in the pot for about 2 hours to let the lavender oil infuse the cream.

Then I made the caramel, which is just basically melted sugar. I used a vanilla bean (these suckers are expensive so be careful when using them) and took out the seeds and dumped them in the pot with 1.5 cups of sugar. Then over medium heat, I waited till the sugar melted, stirring occasionally. This is a boring and long process, and you have to keep from being tempted from turning up the heat or else you'll burn the caramel (unless you want to make burnt caramel). Eventually, the sugar starts to melt and turn color and eventually becomes a nice shade of caramel. Then you add 2 tablespoons of light corn syrup and after that gets all blended in, I pour in the cream. (If you have to reheat the cream, do so because you want it warm.) I placed a splatter guard screen over the pot with the caramel and slowly poured in the heavy cream. This keeps the lavender from going into the caramel because you don't want to be eating them. And the caramel also bubbles up so the screen protects from overflowing.

When the bubbling subsides, you cook the caramel until it gets to the perfect temperature that will allow it to harden properly. According to the recipe, that's 252 degrees so you need to use a candy thermometer and watch it carefully.

Once it reached 252 degrees, I took the caramel off the stove top and poured it into a pan that was lined with parchment paper and sprayed with flavorless oil. Then I just let it sit at room temperature for about two hours so that it'll harden.

After the caramel hardened, I removed it from the pan and peeled off the parchment paper and then cut the caramel into 1-inch squares. It was pretty easy to cut, but it was really oily and shiny for some reason. I put Chris is charge of reshaping the squares to make it more of a square if I didn't cut it perfectly. Then we tempered some bittersweet chocolate chips and dipped the squares in that. Then I sprinkled some pink sea salt flakes that I have in my pantry on top just for that added salted caramel thing.

Here the chocolate-covered caramels are hardening up. And with the cold weather, that didn't take too long. Of course, that meant we also had to work really fast when dipping the chocolates because the chocolate did seem a bit fudge-like near the end. (If it's too thick, you'll have to re-temper the chocolates and I hate that so I rather just work quickly.) Afterwards, I used a paring knife to clean up the edges of the chocolate tiles to make it look pretty.

This is my final results. I dressed them up by placing them in little candy cups I got at Sur La Table. Don't they look festive? They always bring a smile to the people I give them to during the holidays (if I don't end up eating them all first).

So in this cold season, gather some friends and make yourself some hand-made chocolates. It's a fun (and delicious) way to spend the holidays.

Other chocolate posts:
Chuck Siegel: The Willy Wonka of Emeryville
A Chocolate Affair to Remember
The Art of Chocolate: A Conversation with Christopher Elbow


Palidor said...

Wow! Love the flavors that you made. Send me a box for Christmas, okay? :-)

Hungry Dog said...

Awesome post! I'm dying for one of your salted caramel chocolates. I'm not sure I'd be patient enough to make them myself but I'd also like to put in an order for a box for Christmas! :)

julie k said...

How long did it end up taking? Thank you for describing "tempering" - never really did understand that before.

Single Guy Ben said...

LOL, what am I, an online store? Sorry, already ate all my caramel tiles.

Julie, when I made these two kinds of chocolates I did some early prep work. So my day went like this:

1) Warmed the heavy cream with lavender in the morning because it needs to infuse for 2 hours.

2) Made the cardamom infused chocolate and refrigerated it.

3) Two hours later after getting some lunch, make the caramel, then poured in the leavender cream then sit it out to harden. That's when my nephew arrived.

4) Worked on the truffles because the cardamom chocolate was ready. Took about nearly two hours to temper and dip all the pieces so by then the caramel was ready.

5) Dipped the caramels and that took another hour or so. So all together the time with just my nephew helping was maybe 3 hours? Again, because certain parts take time to set, I did those ahead of time so we weren't just sitting around waiting on them.

Carolyn Jung said...

What a fun thing to do with your nephew. I love how he used a flashlight to inspect each chocolate, too. Now that's what I call quality control. ;)

Cal Orey, Author-Intuitive said...

Beautiful job. Wanna switch homes? In the Sierras. Zero degrees. Did swim today and shoveled. More snow on its way. I miss SF so much.
Author of the new book
The Healing Powers of Chocolate (due out this month)

Last year this time I was spoiled with luxury chocolates from around the globe delivered to my doorstep every week!

egg to the apples said...

Those are some great looking chocolates! Good work.

Karine said...

Impressive job! Thanks for sharing :)

foodhoe said...

Very nice looking! You should start a mail order biz for those lavendar caramels single guy. Hmmm, we should schedule dinner soon so I can get my box! jj...