29 July 2009

Chocolate Candies Finale

We completed the Chocolate Candies portion of school today, with the exception of the exam, which is coming up in a couple of weeks - more on that later. I think everyone in my class would agree that this week was calm, collected, and enjoyable. We are finally clicking with each other in terms of planning, time management, and teamwork. We are forming personal bonds as well, and I am lucky to have been graced with a wonderful partner for these first few weeks in the kitchen. Tonja is such a kind soul, and is very patient with me when our plan isn't always executed as smoothly as we would prefer. Today we changed partners, and again I am lucky; Theodore is one of the brightest students in our class, and he is always willing to help anyone who might need it. Also - he's a big Dave Matthews fan, so there's some common ground. :)

I am impressed by how quickly we have transformed, and amazed by the amount of information we are being fed. Considering the fact that two weeks ago nobody had a clue how to create a chocolate or a caramel, I'd say Chef Sebastien has really gone above and beyond with us. I've had great teachers throughout my educational life, but I can't remember the last time one was so patient, helpful, easygoing, and interested in his students' success. He genuinely gets along with everyone, and has a sense of humor conducive to the kitchen environment.
After last week's technical jargon, I thought it might be more interesting to actually talk about the chocolates. I know you all really wanted to know the proper temperatures for tempering and making ganache (wink, wink), but it's time to move on...

This week we learned to use the enrobing machine, which makes dipping candies much easier and far more efficient than doing it by hand. The process is something of a car wash for chocolate: the candies are lined up at the entrance, moved through two "curtains" of chocolate to ensure an even coat, and cranked out on the other side (see photo above, left) to be labeled with a decal (see Earl Grey Tea Ganache Candies being detailed at left), used to determine which type of chocolate it is (i.e. coffee bean decals for Columbian chocolates).

We have made so many things, and my fridge is finally beginning to overflow with edible proof. The first ganache candy we produced is called Creamy from Normandy (at right, with the French Pastry School logo). It is made with milk chocolate and hazelnut paste (gianduja). The flavor is rich and - duh - creamy. Also made with milk chocolate, and cast in a similar manner, Columbian candies contain espresso powder which enhances the flavor of the chocolate. Peanut Butter Pave candies contain a ganache made of milk chocolate and peanut butter, and are enrobed in dark chocolate. The most interestingly-flavored ganache candy we made uses a combination of milk and dark chocolate mixed with cream steeped with earl grey tea leaves. The tea flavor is an acquired taste with the chocolate, but is extremely unique.

Besides basic ganache candies, we have also made Swiss Rochers (like the kind you buy at the store, only a lot better), Rum Truffles, Grand Marnier Caramels (at left), and Pistachio-Cinnamon Bonbons. The pistachio candies are the only ones made with white chocolate. They are definitely my favorite so far, along with the caramels.

Our first exam is the week of August 17. We will be required to present various chocolate candies to Chef Sebastien, as well as two showpieces - one of chocolate and one of sugar. Monday and Tuesday will be practice days where we will focus on our weakest points, be it making chocolate shells (see my first attempts at right - one good, one not so good), tempering, creating a ganache, et cetera. Wednesday through Friday are the actual exam days, where we will produce everything I mentioned above. Should be interesting...

Next week is going to be busy on many levels. We begin our chocolate showpieces on Monday, which happens to be my birthday. I bit the bullet and bought a ticket to see Tori Amos that night; for some reason I have a hard time saying no to her. I am doing my first stage (imagine how the French would pronounce the word 'stage') on Thursday at Custom House, a restaurant in the South Loop/Printer's Row neighborhood of downtown Chicago. The food is progressive American, and I enjoyed a delicious meal last February when I visited. Also, my friend Brian is coming to town for Lollapalooza, which begins Friday afternoon and ends Sunday evening. The weather here has been really fantastic, and I hope it holds out through all of the concerts.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone... I know I will!

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