Back to School- Chocolate Workshop

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I signed up for this workshop at my old high school just after Christmas, so have been getting more and more giddy as the day got closer. After the usual housekeeping and paperwork, tutor Jackie gave us an overview of chocolate from bean to bar. She handed round cocoa nibs, cocoa butter and cocoa liquor and explained the processes. She also explained the different cocoa content to us. For example, did you know that in the UK, a chocolate bar only has to contain 20% cocoa (which is solids and cocoa butter) for it to be called chocolate? Shocking, and when you find out that a Dairy Milk only has 20% it makes you wonder what the rest is.

Anyway, first task of the day was ganache. Jackie explained the best way to melt the chocolate, cool it slightly then add the cream. We were making truffles with our ganache so it had to thicken before we piped it. Disaster number one! It was a lovely day on Saturday, so the heat in the room meant that my mixture wasn’t for setting. So my truffles were quite flat-oh well, at least they will taste good.

Next up, the reason I signed up: tempering. It has always seemed quite complicated but I can see the advantages of it: shiny, snappy chocolate for a professional touch. Actually, it turns out that it isn’t that complicate-just time consuming. Waiting for the temperature to come down in a room with several hobs on the go is a faff, but I think when I try it at home I will put my bowl on top of some of our camping ice packs to cools a bit quicker. Jackie showed us how to make some brilliant chocolate bowls with tempered chocolate. I am not sure that the pictures do it justice but it involved tempering chocolate, feathering patterns, a steady hand and loads of patience.choc bowl stage 1

choc bowl stage 1

choc bowl stage 3

Choc bowl stage 3

We also went crazy when given free range to make lollipopswith the tempered chocolate- who knew a room full of adults could have so much fun with sugar sprinkles and jelly beans. Again, really easy and very little effort.

As if all of this chocolaty fun wasn’t enough, Jackie put on a beautiful lunch for us, and it was great to sit down (we’d done nearly five hours by then) and get to know the ladies I was sat with. I was sat with three terrific women, one of who it turned out lives up the road from my parents and the other two were sister. We had a laugh, helped each other out and shared the washing up-so thank you ladies!

millionaires shortbread

Millionaires Shortbread

After lunch, it was millionaires’ shortbread. A quick tutorial and then we were on making the caramel. After letting it set for a while we covered it in more tempered chocolate and Jackie showed us how to do the feathering technique on top. I loved this-I mean look how professional it looks. Even my hubby didn’t believe that something so professional looking was done by me. I think everything I ever make in future will have this effect on it (even the mash on my shepherds pie!) because it takes presentation to the next level, and for someone like me who can’t do fancy icing it is an easy win.

We covered our set ganache with tempered chocolate to make truffles. After the non-setting, my truffles were a little rustic looking to say the least. But, the upside was that the centres melt in the mouth…which is just the finish I was looking for (honest!). After that, all that was left was to fill the chocolate bowl with the truffles (a few of our bowls snapped but Jackie showed us how to weld them together with chocolate) and make everything presentable.

I was exhausted by the end of the day, but it had been well worth it. Our tutor Jackie was great – she had done six courses in as many weekends but showed no sign of getting bored. And I can honestly say that I have learned techniques which I will put to good use. I came home with a chocolate thermometer and a head full of ideas for Christmas prezzies (watch our family and friends; you will all be getting boozy truffles).

The school, Lowton High, has a brilliant rota of adult learning options. In the past I have done two terms of floristry and Indian cookery (with the exec chef from Patak’s who’s factory is up the road), but this one had me queuing half an hour early to make sure I got a spot! So I heartily recommend that you all check out your local comprehensives, academies or community colleges and see if something similar is available where you live. You’re never too old to learn!

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