Monday, December 21, 2009

Tempering, Dipping, Trimming,

And, Of Course, The Messy Cleanup...

Tempering a fine chocolate is a scientific process that also depends on voodoo. Chocolate is strange stuff. Chains of complex triglycerides must be cojoled or conjured into aligning perfectly. Combinations of temperature, time, motion, and many other factors, including relative humidity must all be in place.

When it's time to dip, I put the flavor of rolled ganace I'm going to dip into the freezer. I always check the clock. About twenty minutes in the freezer makes an easier to handle truffle. Longer and things can begin to get dicey. If the ganache freezes hard as soon as it hits room temperature condensation will form, that liquid might go into the melted chocolate. That's a complete, and utter disaster. While the chocolate appears to be liquid, it is actually nothing of the sort. It is molten. Same as a metal. Same as a rock inside a volcano. It pours and flows, but it ain't liquid. Even a single drop of water introduced into the melt pot will cause it to instantly sieze, grow hard, and there is no fix for it. You have a pot of however much chocolate you spent the time and effort to melt and temper that is going to take a grip of work to put into the trash. So, the clock is watched.

To begin the tempering I chop two and a half pounds of tempered fine chocolate. I am still using Trader Joe's Pound Plus 72% cocoa mass bars. If one of the bars I unwrapped has broken temper, which you can tell by light brown blossoms of cocoa butter which has separated out of the chocolate, I set it aside to use in the next batch of ganache, ice cream, hot chocolate, or some other use. There is a technique for bringing chocolate which has broken temper back into alignment, but, in the interest of time and space, I will put that off for another time.

During this process I keep a pound or so of chopped chocolate handy at all times, temperature and consistency are paramount concerns here. I also have a pot of pure cocoa butter standing by too.

With the temperature set at 98°, when the initial chocolate is about half melted I kick in the motor on the bowl and it begins to rotate. Constant motion is all part of the process. Before I got this machine, I was tempering on marble slabs with paddles and forearms for the motion. I like my machine. My bowl capacity is a bit over four pounds. Chocolate is added until I have a good, smooth and glossy rolling ball of molten chocolate. The temperature is reduced to 88°. I add more chocolate chunks at this time to hasten the cooling and also to introduce more already aligned and tempered chocolate into the mixture.

I hold the melted chocolate at 88° for about ten minutes and drop a ball of ganache into the chocolate. I roll it around to ensure a good coat is achieved, snatch it out with a sturdy fork, give it a tap or two to knock of the excess and put it onto a plastic cutting board which has been wrapped with butcher paper. Before the chocolate shell sets any decoration like colored sugar, chopped nuts, or cocoa needs to be sprinkled on.

When the board is filled the rest of the decoration can be done. For raspberry truffles, I use red sugar sprinkles, pink and white chocolate stripes.

There is a method to the madness of decoration. First, it gives me a visual signal as to which flavor of truffle I have, but, the stripes also form a protective barrier which allow me to handle the truffles without getting fingerprints and other distracting things all over them. All through this process I am watching the dipped truffles closely, looking for dull steaks and shadows in the chocolate shells. What I want, actually what I demand, is a thin, tight, shiny shell of chocolate that fully encases the ganache. If I see the temper starting to break I will heat the chocolate back up to 98°, then cool it back down again and resume the process from there.

The board of dipped truffles is popped into the fridge for ten minutes or so to fully harden the shell and the decorations, then they are quickly trimmed and placed into two ounce paper soufflé cups, the cups put into containers and the containers into the fridge.

The only thing that changes with the flavor of truffle being dipped is the decoration.

Fresh Raspberry - Red sugar, pink and white chocolate stripes.
Crystallized Ginger - yellow sugar and white chocolate stripes.
Frangelico - milk chocolate* and white chocolate stripes
Starbuck's Coffee Liqueur - White and dark stripes
Tahitian Vanilla - White shell, white stripes
Peppermint - White shell, peppermint chunks, white stripes.

I keep at it until the refrigerator looks like this:

Added bonus is the bits of chocolate, colored white chocolates, sugars and other decorating stuff that gets trimmed from the truffles. It gets bagged to be used on whims. It will do wonderful things to morning oatmeal. My kids call it "truffle stuffle..."

*A small confession here. I really don't bother with milk chocolate at all. To make the striping that I call milk chocolate I melt some white chunks into dark chocolate.