Saturday, 4 July 2015

I've moved!

Dear readers,

My life is officially devoted to chocolate and I have now moved on from Chicken in a Cherry Sauce.

Please visit my website for my new blog devotely entirely to chocolate and cacao including recipes, cocoa adventures and more.

You can also keep in touch with me via my Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks to everyone for your support. Chicken in a Cherry Sauce has been a very enjoyable part of my life and I've met some wonderful foodie friends with whom I hope to keep in touch.

Lots of love,


Friday, 6 February 2015

The Chocolate Challenge - Tempering

Dear readers,

Tempering is required in order to get the cocoa butter into the correct crystal form for the chocolate to have a good snap and sheen. Cocoa butter is polymorphic and, if melted chocolate and left to cool without tempering, it will result in chocolate bloom (the fat will crystallise and appear on the surface).

Tempering requires practice and can be rather tedious. At work I have tempered chocolate using the water bath method (constant stirring of the chocolate in a bowl whilst heating and then cooling it slowly in a water bath). This method is slow and requires a lot of arm power! However, it is well controlled.

Another method for tempering chocolate is by seeding it; some pre-tempered chocolate in very small pieces (i.e. shavings) is added to the untempered chocolate (which must be at a specific temperature so that it doesn't melt the shavings) to "seed" the correct cocoa butter crystals. This is probably not a suitable method for a single origin bean to bar chocolate since one wouldn't want to taint the flavour.

So, I decided to try marble tempering, or granite tempering in my case (since I did not have access to marble). I read on Cherrapeno's blog that it is possible to temper using granite if marble isn't available.

My first attempt at tempering using a granite floor tile

I watched a Youtube video to guide me (unfortunately I cannot find the one I used to share with you). For some reason I was quite nervous during my first attempt at tempering. However, it is easy to re-melt the chocolate and try again if it has been unsuccessful (this is the convenience with making plain bars rather than individual chocolates with fillings or inclusions).

In short, one has to heat the chocolate to 42ºC in order to melt out all of the fat crystals. Then about three quarters of the chocolate is moved around on the slab with spatulas (cleanly, unlike myself, as one can see in the picture!) in order to cool it to below 27ºC. The temperature to which one needs to cool the chocolate does depend on the type (dark, milk or white) and other factors. Once the chocolate has cooled to the correct temperature, it is added to the remaining warm chocolate and stirred thoroughly. The warmth from the non-cooled chocolate should warm the cooled chocolate up to 31ºC which melts out all of the "bad" (i.e. unstable) fat crystals leaving only the "good" crystals (i.e. form 5, the most stable of the 6 polymorphic forms of cocoa butter). The chocolate should then set in a tempered state.

It takes a lot of practice and I am still trying to get my head around it, however, I am improving! Once the chocolate is tempered, however, one needs to mould it...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Chocolate Challenge - Conching

Dear readers,

Eeeeek... over two months have passed without my posting on here! I'm so sorry! Life has been even busier than usual and very chocolaty too. Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know what I've been up to! Sorry to ruin the surprise, but I completed my first bar a couple of months ago and I'm now on my third batch of chocolate! I am learning a lot, and I have much to share with you!

The fourth stage of my home chocolate production is conching. There are two main purposes for this stage; flavour development and texture development. In essence, conching is the churning of the chocolate at an elevated temperature (ideally 40°C to 50°C) for an extended period of time.
I mentioned in my refining post that I bought a stone grinder because I would be able to carry out two stages of my chocolate production with it (grinding and conching). Although the machine has no temperature control, some heat is produced from the friction during the mixing. This keeps the chocolate at around 30°C which seems to be good enough to "conch" the chocolate!

I conched my first batch for 24 hours and despite the small particle size (from the grinding), it still felt a little dusty in the mouth and not very creamy. I decided to conch my second batch for 48 hours. The difference was quite significant! The extra conching time gave the chocolate a much smoother and creamier texture. This is due to the even distribution of the cocoa butter coating the sugar and cocoa mass particles. During the conching process there is also flavour development from the release of volatiles, which reduces the acidic and astringent notes. This makes a more rounded flavour and better overall quality chocolate. Delicious!

The next stage is probably the most tedious... tempering!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Chocolate Challenge - Refining

Dear readers,

Firstly, sorry for my absence from this blog! I know that I keep saying it but life has been crazily busy!

The third stage of my home chocolate production involves
refining. In order to make the chocolate smooth, the particle size of the ingredients must be below 20 microns; which is undetectable by the tongue. It's actually quite difficult to get hold of equipment which will grind the cocoa beans (and sugar) to this size. I discussed refining with Willie Harcout-Cooze and he recommended a small machine which he uses to produce small batches of chocolate when sampling new cocoa beans.

I decided to go for it and buy the machine! It is a stone grinder for Indian cooking. It wasn't too expensive, and I managed to convince my father to buy it for me as a combined late birthday and Christmas present! I figured that since I would be able to carry out two key stages of the chocolate processing (refining and conching) in the one machine, it would be well worth it.

Firstly, I put the roasted and winnowed beans into a standard food processor to turn the beans into a paste. I also used a hair dryer to melt the cocoa butter in the beans. Then I added the paste to the stone grinder. This, in my opinion, is where the magic really happens in chocolate production. This is the point at which the cocoa beans turn into chocolate; the gorgeous glossy cocoa liquor! The friction in the machine produces some heat which helps keep the ground beans liquid.

It took a few hours for the chocolate to lose all of its graininess (particles less than 20 microns) and became smooth. However, further flavour and texture development of the chocolate is required which is achieved by the conching process.

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Chocolate Challenge - Winnowing

Dear readers,

The second stage of my home chocolate production is winnowing the roasted beans. Winnowing involves the removal of the shell and can be carried out before or after roasting and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Since the shell is very difficult to remove before roasting and would require some form of pre-treatment, I decided to roast my beans first. The major disadvantages of winnowing post-roasting is that some of the cocoa butter is lost in the shell and more energy is required to roast the beans. However, I have plans for my shells so there is no loss of product!

I simply cracked the beans and separated the shells using my hands. This can be quite tedious and time consuming, but it was fine for a small batch of 1kg. I did, however, suffer a minor injury of a sharp piece of shell underneath my thumbnail!

Another method involves cracking the beans and shells together and using a fan or hairdryer to blow the lightweight broken shells away from the broken nibs. I decided not to do this because I wanted to save all of the shells.

Monday, 28 April 2014

The Chocolate Challenge - Roasting

Dear readers,

The first stage of my home chocolate production (after sourcing already-fermented beans) is roasting.

At La Iguana Chocolate, they roast their cacao beans in a pot over a fire and stir constantly for 10 to 20 minutes until they hear the beans "pop". I asked Jorge (the eldest son of the family) how I should roast the beans at home. I asked if I should use a frying pan and wait for the "pop" and he replied...

"yes, do add a little of water just to wet the bean no make a sopa OK, good luck".

Following Jorge's advice, I added a splash of water to the beans in the frying pan and turned the heat up high, stirring constantly. Once I started to hear the loud "pops", I turned the heat off and continued stirring the beans until the popping stopped (one has to be careful; they can move when they pop so it might be an idea to use a splash guard). The aroma that came from the beans was extraordinary! The whole house smelt of brownies. I went out and came back a few hours later and the whole house still smelt of brownies; it was incredible! I definitely recommend roasting a few cocoa beans before a house viewing instead of baking bread. I'm sure it will be much more effective!

Slightly-wet beans before heating

Beans during the "roasting"

I recently attended the Food And Drink Expo in Birmingham and met Willie Harcout-Cooze from Willie's Cacao. I spoke to him about roasting and he said that I should not do it in a frying pan because the beans should not be exposed to direct heat. He recommended that I roast them in an oven on a baking tray with some baking paper. However, at this point I had already roasted most of my beans using Jorge's method. I will definitely try roasting the beans in the oven next time!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Chick Macarons with a Cherry Sauce - Happy 4th Birthday to my blog!

Dear readers,

Chicken in a Cherry Sauce has just turned four!

Thanks so much to you, my readers, who have supported this blog! I really enjoy being part of the online food blogging community; there are so many beautiful and inspirational blogs out there! I would like to give extra special thanks to those of you who regularly visit my blog despite my sometimes infrequent posting. I really appreciate your patience and loyalty!

To celebrate I decided to make some "Chicks with a Cherry Sauce" in the form of macarons sandwiched with cherry sauce. I thought that this would also fit quite well with Easter coming up! They didn't turn out quite as uniform as my Champagne Macarons (hence I haven't photographed many of them). However, this could be considered as a part of their character. I think that I got lucky with my success on the Champagne Macarons - these chick macarons took three attempts to get right! Clearly I have yet to master the art of making macarons.

I have been a little lazy with these and left the shell plain almond flavour with a very basic filling of cherry jam! Nonetheless, I think that these simple flavours go well together.

As with my Champagne Macarons, I used the same base recipe that I developed with my Kaffir Lime and Coconut Macarons.

Chick Macarons with a Cherry Sauce
45g egg white (preferably aged for 2 days at room temperature)
70g + 20g icing sugar
50g ground almonds
22g caster sugar
Yellow food colouring (powder or gel - the amount will vary depending on the type used)
Black icing
100g cherry jam

This recipe will make 16 macarons (32 shells).

Sieve the almonds and 70g of icing sugar together. Whisk the egg whites until they become stiff, then add the caster sugar and food colouring and whisk until stiff again. Fold in the sieved icing sugar and ground almonds. Stir a few times until the batter has a runny consistency. Pour the mixture into a piping bag and pipe circles of the mixture onto silicone baking sheets. Tap the baking tray gently on a flat surface to help the circles flatten and remove excess air. Leave to rest for 45 minutes until the tops become matte and dry. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Place the macarons in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 140°C. Place a wooden spoon in the door of the oven to hold it ajar for the duration of the cooking. Bake for 20 minutes, then set aside to cool before removing from the baking sheet.

Add a few drops of water and orange food colouring to create an icing dough. Roll it out and cut out small triangles for the beaks. Add a little more water to the leftover icing and use that to glue the beaks to half of the macaron shells. Finish the decoration using black icing for the eyes.

Sandwich the chick face shells and the plain shells together with cherry jam.

Do not use gel icing for the eyes! I had just finished decorating them on a Sunday evening when it started to get dark and the eyes were still wet so I left them to dry. A week later, the eyes were still wet. So I had to be quite careful in handling them so that I didn't smudge the eyes and cover the macarons with black icing!

I did research Chick Macarons before I made mine and found some beautiful and adorable creations. I particularly like these that were made by Raspberri Cupcakes. As one may see, I found the photographs inspiring!

atch out... the chicks might lay a Cadbury's Mini Egg while you're not looking...