Friday, 22 February 2013

Review: Valentine's Chocolate Making Course with Chocolat Chocolat, Cambridge

About once a year, I get excited about sampling sweet things rather than savoury. Remember my trip to Fudge Kitchen last summer, where I was wowed by the fudge making demonstration and loaded up on enough super-sweet fudge flavours to keep me going for a good few months? No? It's quickly becoming a distant memory to me too. So when a local chocolatier contacted me to ask if I'd like to get involved in some chocolate making to celebrate Valentine's Day, I jumped at the chance and joined Cambridge's only independent chocolatier, Chocolat Chocolat, for an insight into creating the perfect chocolate truffle.

The setting for the chocolate course was a fairly soulless conference room at the Cambridge City Hotel which had been set up for a morning of tasting and making chocolate. The feel of the place was instantly lifted by the little baskets of fragrant chocolate buttons adorning every surface. I couldn't keep my eyes off the neat lines of bowls containing crushed hazelnuts, dessicated coconut and chocolate vermicelli, which lay in wait alongside beautiful red and gold presentation boxes for our finished products. The tantalising smell of chocolate hit us as we settled in around the table, each person curiously examining the baking parchment lined trays and wire truffle tools in front of us and gleefully donning a Trainee Chocolatier's apron. Our hosts gave us a fascinating introduction to Chocolat Chocolat, a little history of cocoa and chocolate shops, and some great anecdotes from research trips and their own tasting experiences. I learned enough about the corner cutting tricks used by mass producers of chocolate to steer clear of Dairy Milk and the like in future. The informative slides and educational format gave way to regular tastings of the different chocolates used to make Chocolat Chocolat's huge range of products and we enjoyed making assessments of the varying percentage of cocoa solids, origin, and quality of the raw ingredients before moving on to make our own truffles to take home. So far so good!  

Moving on to my favourite part of the course, the cooking demo segment of the morning, we watched our expert chocolatiers whip up a creamy chocolate ganache and then talk us through the different techniques and recipes used to flavour the ganache ready for making truffles. I even got to join our hosts at the hot plate and have a go at mixing the melted chocolate and warmed cream together to create the ganache, which definitely gave me the confidence to make my own from scratch at home. Classic combinations, like Champagne and dark chocolate, were given the thumbs up as well as a host of other flavouring ideas, such as adding herbs, crushed spices, spirits and even beer. More tasting ensued: heavenly Parisian style chocolate pots were passed round and cooed over, and bowls of chocolate ganache and Champagne ganache that had been prepared and chilled earlier were given to each couple to start working on their own creations. We, of course, were encouraged to taste a small spoonful of the set ganache before dipping in melted chocolate and rolling in cocoa and other toppings. 

Making our own truffles was much easier than expected, especially considering my adversity to anything fiddly and dessert-related. Playing around with the set ganache was the tricky part; rolling it into balls to form the centre of the truffles requires cool hands and as little contact with anything other than fingertips as possible. Once mastered, I got complacent and misjudged the size of my truffles so I ended up with some very mini bite-size truffles and others that proved to be quite a mouthful once coated in chocolate and decorated. Although they don't have to be uniform, they're a bit more pleasing to the eye that way.

Next up, dipping the truffles in the melted, tempered chocolate was fun but frantic. Our wire dipping forks came into play at this point: the truffles were dropped into bowls of smooth, shiny chocolate, coated and fished out and immediately popped into cocoa powder or other decorations, rolled around and left to set slightly. I took great delight in creating a mini production line; leaving a couple of truffles to set in pieces of hazelnut whilst I dipped and coated a few more in cocoa, then lined them all up to set on my tray. The incredible focus and creativity required to achieve the perfect truffle certainly made me feel like a real trainee chocolatier in action!

Barely minutes after finishing my last truffle, my 30 or so chocolates were set enough for me to handle them and create a pretty selection of gift boxes and bags, all wrapped up with pink and red ribbon and little Chocolat Chocolat stickers. I also tried a couple at this point (well, it was almost lunchtime and I hadn't eaten a chocolate for a good half an hour) and they were delicious: rich, deep flavours of dark chocolate mingled with the quality cocoa powder and left a lingering after taste and no over the top sweetness. When displayed in their little pink and gold cases, the finished truffles looked even better and it was hard to wrap them up and not devour them all right then and there!

An inspiring, tasty, and very entertaining way to spend a Saturday morning, I highly recommend Chocolat Chocolat's course. Even if you think you're not a huge chocolate fan, you'll be an aspiring connoisseur by the time you leave! The next course is on Saturday 2 March; find out more here. The city centre shop has lots more on offer than just truffles and is perfect for a little weekend browsing and chocolate tasting. Visit Chocolat Chocolat at 21 St Andrew's Street. 

Enjoy! :-)

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