chocolate


It cracks me up in chocolate books where it says the melting point of chocolate is between 83℉ and 93℉. Ha ha ha ha ha. That's quite a point, inn'it? A range of 10˚. In my mathematics, a point is a single degree and not a range. Not so in the world of chocolate.

OK, that's a lie. It doesn't crack me up.

The thing is, chocolate isn't like water that boils and freezes at specific temperatures at specific altitudes, because chocolate is an amalgam of several complex substances each with their own melting points. And it depends on what type of chocolate is being melted, white, milk, or dark. Further, chocolate is like coffee in that beans from various sources are mixed together, blended by experts in large quantities in order to bring some sort of reliable consistency to their final product.

There are exceptions to this called single-source chocolates, and even those will vary from season to season, as wine and coffee do and pretty much everything else does, and even the precise location of trees within a single plantation produce varying results. Thus the concept of terroir as the French put it, a term usually associated with wine, has equal application to most all foods. This is the wonderful world of chocolate. Nothing is ever simple, is it?

Chocolate comes from cacao trees, which are particularly persnickety trees to grow. They appear only within a range of 15˚ - 20˚ North or South of the Equator, so you can twirl a globe around and see for yourself how limited the number of places it's possible for them to be cultivated. They require constant warmth and rainfall and yet they cannot tolerate strong direct sunlight. Young trees require deep shade, older trees require speckled sunlight. Therefore, they must be planted along with other larger trees to provide them with shade.

There are two main types of cacao trees. Forestero type cacao tree accounts for 95% of world production, but the highest quality of chocolate comes from the Criollo type cacao tree, but the Criollo produces much less yield per tree and is more susceptible to diseases. There is a third, a hybrid between these two types which is considered much higher quality than Forestero and higher yields than Criollo, called Trinitario. Now you'd think Trinitario demonstrating the best of both types would be the main tree used but that is not the case, and this causes me to sense a revolution possible in the cultivation of cacao trees especially in underdeveloped countries near the equator. Venezuela is the chief producer of the Criollo type and their country is presently being run into the ground by an acknowledged maniac and because the Criollo trees are the lowest yielding to begin with, and also the most difficult to deal with, the chocolate from them is much more expensive. This chocolate pictured here is El Rey 73.5% dark chocolate, the Venezuelan Criollo type. It's a premium single-source chocolate. It's considered a delicacy. A lot of people don't much care for it. It does take some getting used to, especially for those who favor milk chocolate.

If you want to put chocolate into a cake, you can just melt it and be done with it. That chocolate tends to melt at temperatures immediately below body temperature, accounts for its extraordinary mouth feel. But, if you want a shiny brittle candy bar, as chocolatiers do, then the chocolate must be tempered, in much the same way that steel is tempered to increase its strength. Except differently. Tempering is how chocolatiers produce chocolate with a shiny finish, a distinct ))) snap ((( when it's broken, and stability of its sugars and its butter. Tempered chocolate tends to hold its shape.

Have you ever seen chocolatiers pushing melted chocolate around a marble slab? They're using the chill of the marble to bring down the temperature of the chocolate that was heated to about 20˚ beyond its melting range. This eases whatever combination of crystalline structures comprise that particular chocolate. Different chocolates have different target temperatures for tempering. The manufacturer of your brand of chocolate will specify the target temperatures. This chocolate, El Rey, 73.5% dark, is heated to 122 ℉ - 131 ℉, then cooled down to 82 ℉-84 ℉, then heated again to 88 ℉-90 ℉. You can see why a precise thermometer is essential. It's like this; smoooooth it up, smoooooth it down, smoooooth it back up, ding. Notice these temperatures are just above and below body temperatures.

If you're sufficiently clever, you can go directly to the precise target temperature, but I've never trusted that. Actually, I have a machine that tempers both ways, but I've never trusted the machine to go to the precise temperature either. I've always made the machine do it the hard way. And now, I've realized I can do it myself a lot more efficiently and reliably than the machine can anyway so I rarely use it anymore. Noisy bastard thing. It makes more of a mess than I do. The directions on the back of El Rey box instruct to melt 2/3 the total amount of chocolate to 104 ℉, then add the remaining 1/3 unmelted discs. I don't trust that method either, because how do they know what temperature my discs are? Huh? They don't. If my discs are cold then that won't work, now will it? Same thing if my disc are too warm. I don't trust it, so I do it the long way. Plus, it's more fun. Lastly, I would hate it if the cocoa butter in my chocolate bloomed to the surface because of half-ass tempering. That's a problem with chocolate that is the result of it experiencing extreme temperatures after being tempered. The butter tends to rise to the surface. It doesn't ruin the chocolate, but it makes it unpleasant to eat as candy. Bloomed chocolate can be restored by re-tempering. Otherwise, it's good for hot chocolate or brownies or cakes, or cheese cakes. Whatev.

I invented a new process that I should get a Nobel for, but yeah, like that's gonna happen. I too have a marble slab, but frankly, I don't see the point in making a gigantic mess and putzing around with melted chocolate for half an hour creating an unnecessary and heavy mess for what can be accomplished in minutes with no mess at all. My idea is, since a double boiler is good enough to heat the chocolate, and it works much more efficiently than the tempering machine does, then why not a cold water bath to bring the temperature down? Clever, eh? Therefore, I use two baths, one hot another cold. The chocolate is tempered quite quickly this way. One must merely take care not to get water into the chocolate which would cause it to seize, as dripping water into a bowl of sugar seizes. Ta daaaaaa.

* salaams elaborately *

* backs out of room *

* returns *

In that picture up there ^^^, notice at the bottom, some of the chocolates are clumpy? Those were the very last of the molds to be filled. At the very end, I got down to the seed discs. ( the chocolate is shipped in disc form ) These few untempered discs were tossed into the bowl of tempered chocolate to seed the batch to start building crystals. Crystals have a hard time organizing on their own, they can use something to build around. Once crystals get started they tend to spread out. You can visualize frost developing on a window to get an idea how all crystals grow. I wanted to use up those discs that seeded the tempered chocolate but the tempered chocolate wasn't hot enough to melt them. So I shoved them in the mold surrounded by melted chocolate. That's why they look like a mess. They're special. They'll be like a lumpy little prize for whoever gets them.

The chocolates still in their molds were taken to a table in a spare bedroom with the window open. It's cold in there. This is enough chocolate for one day. Tomorrow they'll be wrapped and soon after that boxes will be made for them. It all depends, there's no rush at this point. Plus, I'll have a chance to see if the tempering was good and take note if any bloomed.

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I carved the shapes from which these molds were produced in the usual way I create bas reliefs by scratching away the background from an image drawn on plaster using dental tools. It's tedious and it hurts my fingers. From those matrices, I poured the silicone molds using food-grade silicone. The yellow molds were my first attempt. Frankly, I didn't know what I was doing but the resulting molds are still serviceable. The orange molds uses silicone from the same company but is a mixture that cures more quickly. Those molds are better, but I ran out of silicone before I was finished because I made them 4 X thicker than they need be. They depict ordinary hieroglyphs that denote common phonemes in the ancient Egyptian language. The molds are proprietary to myself, and as unprofessional as they are, I love them dearly. That is the story of the molds.

There were a few notable failures from the hand mold . I ate them.


As it turned out, there were 102 good ones, or whatever 87 + 15 comes out to, minus the few I ate impulsively along the way because I didn't care how they looked. Wrapping them is a total pain in the ass. The two types of paper, foil, and some other kind of candy paper stuff, keeps sticking to the wrong side electrostatically, so first separating them then sliding them across the table to the edge where I can get my mitts on them with clean dry fingers can become a bit aggravating. See what I endure?


Tomorrow, the boxes. If I feel up to it. The boxes are Photoshop files. I have two printers that manage to both give me trouble one way or another during box production. They must printed on card stock then cut out and glued, and frankly, the thrill is gone. I should hire this part out. Any takers?

But back to this chocolate. This El Rey chocolate here is too exclusive and expensive to mess with artificial flavors. No matter how real they are, artificially. I still have about 10 LBS of El Rey left to temper, plus two types of other French stuff. I have tons of flavors, oils specific for chocolate. OK Fine! Ounces of flavors. My original idea was to create mints, so I have spearmint and peppermint. The kids like orange flavor. But I think I'll save all that for the 60% Ghiradelli chocolate chips I have in bags purchased from Sam's Club for experimentation purposes. I can add Kahlua, raspberry, root beer, lemon, almond, vanilla, a whole bunch of other flavors. Ghiradelli is generally more assessable to most people than El Rey is. Best to use the flavors on the cheaper chocolate, don'cha think? Kids. What do they know?

Also, my original idea was to wrap them all in gold colored wrappers because I wanted them to be like little Egyptian treasures, which having been entombed and unearthed, presumably would be pharaonic and thus gold, but my Hare Krishna friend told me he like colorful wrappers better than gold wrappers and that changed my attitude toward candy wrappers.

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There are two sizes of boxes. These are the small ones. They're given to waiters, waitresses, hair dressers, people who stop by for various things, change the filter, remove cardboard boxes, that sort of thing, in short, service people. They sometimes go, "WTF?," but never refuse.

The larger boxes are only slightly larger and they hold only a few more pieces. They go to cool people like yourselves. Want one? Tell me. I'll mail you one. I especially like giving them to ladies because ladies really dig chocolate. That's my theory anyway, and I'm stick'n with it.

The files for the box were created in Photoshop and saved as .jpg files. They're on two laptops, on the backup hard drive, and online at two well-known photo hosting sites, this blog and on another private website. You can just take them. They're printed columns of hieroglyphs printed on card stock, and they're lined with purple construction paper. They have a little ankh pull tap on the lid. They're cute as hell.

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