Sunday, September 25, 2005

My First Time

You can just take your mind right out of the gutter, readers: I'm not writing about that. I have, however, passed another milestone. I have crossed another item off the list of major accomplishments to be realized before I die peacefully in my sleep, surrounded by grandchildren and ganache at the age of 106. I have finally tempered chocolate.

Many of you, I'm sure, have tempered chocolate successfully and probably when you were far younger and less experienced than I. Some of you may be surprised, or even shocked, that it has taken me so long to do the deed. There is no very good reason for me to not have done it earlier: it's a valuable skill, and it's not terribly difficult, especially for someone who can make feuilletage without undue worry, as I can. But it is a little bit fussy and more than a little bit precise, and that is not the sort of cooking I do. I like to fly without a net, and if I'm using a recipe, it's usually a recipe that I've made up myself, though often by combining several other recipes from diverse sources. You can't just wing tempering chocolate. Or at least I can't. There may be some group of cooks who have the culinary equivalent of perfect pitch. They may be able to reach into a pot of water and know that it's 120 degrees Fahrenheit or into a pan of melted chocolate and know that it's 30 degrees Celsius. Most such people, however, tend to die pretty young, as the temptation to use their rare talent when deep frying overcomes their immature judgment. You can see how that might end up badly.

There aren't, as it happens, many occasions where I really need tempered chocolate. I am not a big candymaker, and while I do like chocolate a lot, I generally have it in forms where it doesn't need to be handled with kid gloves. And when I've made truffles in the past, rolling them around in a bit of cocoa has seemed like a fine way to finish them. They certainly taste great that way, and it's doubtful that very many people like the truffles enough more with a chocolate coating to make the coating worth the effort.

I've been thinking a lot about chocolate truffles recently. Specifically, I've been thinking about some slightly less common (though by no means unheard of) flavorings for them. I've been thinking about making some chile-flavored truffles or some cardamom-flavored truffles, or perhaps some black pepper-flavored truffles. I still think all of those are fine ideas, but I didn't get that far this time around.

Chocolate Truffles with Ginger

1.5 cups heavy cream
3 T. granulated sugar
4 oz. candied ginger
6 green cardamom pods
500 g 70% dark chocolate

Chop the candied ginger very fine.

Chop the dark chocolate coarsely.

In a saucepan, combine the cream, the sugar, the chopped candied ginger, and the cardamom pods. Place over low heat and stir occasionally until the cream reaches the boil. Turn the heat off and cover the pot and let sit for half an hour. Remove the cardamom pods and bring the mixture just back to the boil.

Turn the heat off, dump the chopped chocolate in, and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Let the chocolate mixture cool until it is nearly room temperature. Using a hand mixer, mix the chocolate on high for about two minutes. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for at least four hours.

Form the refrigerated chocolate mixture into balls. Roll them in cocoa powder, or dip them in tempered chocolate.

For this particular recipe, I used a Trader Joe's Pound Plus 70% Dark Chocolate bar. It is very good chocolate, and it is very reasonably priced, but when I first made the mixture, I was shocked (no, really) to find that it was too intense. I would not have thought such a thing possible, but there it was, nonetheless. I found the extra sugar helped a lot and also helped bring out the ginger flavor. The ginger flavor, nonetheless, is not as strong as I would like, even though four ounces of chopped crystallized ginger (I used Trader Joe's candied ginger slices, which certainly seem plenty strong when you eat them as candy) looks like a lot when you've got it all chopped up.

I still have a lot of the truffle dough (or whatever you want to call it) in the refrigerator. It is fairly intense stuff, and a small cookie scoop worth of it is plenty for a truffle, and since I was tempering chocolate for the first time, I didn't want to deal with more than eighteen or so truffles. I formed mine by scooping the batter/dough/whatever with the small cookie scoop and dumping small balls of dough from the scoop onto waxed paper. Then I dusted my palms with cocoa powder and rolled them into better spheres. Not perfect spheres, though. I know that professional chocolate truffles are perfectly round, but real truffles, which chocolate truffles are, after all, supposed to emulate, are not perfectly round. (Which is another way of saying that I can't make them perfectly round anyway, so I'm turning a bug into a feature. I live near DC: I'm allowed, or even required, to spin.) Once they were rolled into balls, I put them back on the waxed paper and back in the refrigerator while I tempered the chocolate.

Rolling truffles on your palms is a messy business. Tempering chocolate is a messy business. Making the truffle mixture/dough/batter/glop/whatever is a messy business. But it's chocolate, so try to enjoy it, okay?

Everything you need.There are numerous ways to temper chocolate, and they are all well documented on the Internet. I chopped a bunch of chocolate (I'd guess 200 grams, but I didn't measure, and it only matters that you have enough, and there's always some left over anyway, so don't sweat it) and put it in a bowl that was set over a saucepan of simmering water. I let it melt and stirred it a couple of times. It got up to just over 130 degrees, which is too hot, but it doesn't appear to have hurt anything. 110 degrees is probably plenty hot, but then you'd have to watch the chocolate instead of just let it sit there over simmering water while you're doing something else. Anyway, when it was all melted and stirred (heatproof rubber spatula; you don't want to get too much air into it) and smooth, I took it off the heat, dumped the hot water out of the saucepan, put cold water in (more cold water, enough so that it touches the bottom of the bowl), gave it a stir, stuck my thermometer into the chocolate, and went off to watch TV. It takes a half hour or so for the chocolate to come down to around 80 degrees, and you just want to stir it occasionally so that the temperature stays more or less uniform.

When the chocolate got to 80 degrees, I poured a bit of the water out of the saucepan, and put it on the stove until the water got to 100 degrees. Then I took the saucepan off the heat and put it on the counter, and put the bowl back on the saucepan, stirred the whole mass once, put the thermometer back in, and set the alarm to go off when it hit 87 degrees. When it got there, I stirred it again, and waited for the chocolate to get to 89 degrees. I had to put the saucepan (without the bowl of chocolate) back onto the stove to get it back up to 100 degrees. I think most people do the last stage with a heating pad wrapped in plastic (to keep it clean), but I have no idea where mine is, and I think it's considerably hotter than 100 degrees, anyway. The 100 degree water worked very well, and the chocolate never got above 91 degrees, which is, they tell me, the maximum temperature for tempered dark chocolate.

Fun historical fact: Carrie Nation, despite having been a big shot within the Women's Christian Temperance Union, apparently never learned to temper chocolate. I reckon that explains her chronic bad mood. I use a chef's knife to chop my chocolate, but if you want to use a hatchet in honor of Carrie, be my guest. I reckon the chocolate might fly around a bit, but you'll probably work out some of your aggressions.

Once you have tempered chocolate, there are a number of ways to coat the truffles. Alton Brown had an intriguing method involving dipping a larger scoop into the chocolate and then rolling the truffle around in the scoop. I tried this, but my larger scoop was not large enough. Dipping a hand into the chocolate and then rolling the truffle around on the chocolate-covered hand is another recommended method and sounds like a lot of fun, but I didn't have an apron on, and I was already wearing too much chocolate. I ended up just dropping a truffle into the chocolate, pouring some more on top with the rubber spatula, and then lifting it out with a dining fork, letting as much drop off it as possible. I did get some pooling of chocolate at the bottom of the truffle, but it was only a little, and it keeps them from rolling, right? I also got a nice thick coating of chocolate that way, and the cold truffles and the 100-degree water in the saucepan counteracted each other to keep the chocolate within the preferred range of temperatures.

When the truffles came off the fork, they went back onto waxed paper that was on top of my pastry marble. They actually hardened up pretty well at room temperature, though when I had done all of them, I hastened the hardening of the last few by popping them in the refrigerator for a few minutes.

I ended up with a fairly thick coating with excellent snap. I was very pleased with the results. As, indeed, were L. and A. who very much enjoyed the truffles this afternoon. I had expected the truffles to be too rich and too dark for the girls, but the apples did not, apparently, fall too far from the tree.

The truffles do pretty well in the refrigerator, but you should really let them sit outside of the refrigerator for a while before serving. Refrigeration can sometimes have an effect on the appearance, but these still looked very good. The flavor is much more intense at room temperature, and the ginger comes through better. Right out of the refrigerator, they are not as creamy, and the flavors are more subdued. The upside is that refrigerated, it's relatively easy to eat two of them, whereas at room temperature, a single truffle (and they are not all that big) is about as much as one person can handle. The chocolate taste will stay with you for a while, though, so while you won't still be eating it, it will still be making you happy. These truffles are great.

I haven't decided what to do with the rest of the truffle dough. I will probably let it warm up a tiny bit and then roll it into balls and then roll the balls around in cocoa powder and take them to choir practice on Thursday. I would like to temper chocolate again soon, but I probably won't have time to dip enough truffles for the whole choir before Thursday. And I wouldn't want to start a fight.


Blogger Sangroncito said...

Yum...and I see below you were in my town! I'm still on the road...home for the weeekend actually between the east coast and about a week when I have regular internet access again in salvador I'll come visit here and catch up on your recent posts...until abra├žo, michael/sangroncito

10:10 PM  
Anonymous lindy said...

This is entirely amazing. I am so impressed. I have never invesigated this, and thought you needed a special tempering whatsis that costs the earth to even think about tempering chocolate. Wow. they are beautiful.

4:36 AM  
Anonymous anapestic said...

Glad to hear you'll have access soon, michael. I'm looking forward to you getting back to regular blogging.

Lindy, I reckon that a professional chocolate tempering machine would set you back the better part of a thousand dollars. There is (or at least there was a few years ago: I haven't checked recently) a home machine that is a couple hundred dollars, but that's still the cost of a good Kitchenaid these days, and I would rarely use it. My impression is that most people use a double boiler and a heating pad and the grated chocolate method. The process is kind of fun, but there is a fair amount of waiting involved (I think mixing in grated chocolate speeds the cooling a good deal and reduces the waiting), and then it takes a while to coat the centers, but of course things take longer when you're learning how to do them. I reckon that with a bit more experience, I'll just use my hand, and it will speed things up a good bit.

5:15 AM  

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