Today was the last day of our pastry class and while I'm sad it's over, I'll be glad to get home to my kitchen and try these recipes all over again!
On the agenda for today was chocolate, nuts, more chocolate and buttercream! First, we made nut dragees, which are like a fancy version of M&Ms. Our instructor, Melanie, selected hazelnuts for us, but you can use any round nut like hazelnuts, macadamia nuts or almonds. Nuts like pecans and walnuts get a little trickier because of the nooks and crannies.
When you're working with nuts, it's always a good idea to toast them first. This really brings out the nuttiness and flavor. If your nuts have skins on them, you'll need to remove the skins first before coating them in sugar and chocolate.
Next, you make a light caramel (from sugar and water), coat the nuts evenly with the caramel and then spread out on a pan to cool. As they cool, break them apart so each one is separated.
Now comes the fun, magic part! To get the nuts perfectly enrobed in chocolate, you get three metal bowls that have been in the freezer. Pour nuts into the first bowl and then pour a ladle full of chocolate over them. Stir the mixture until the chocolate sets and the mixture looks dry - none of the nuts should be clumped together. Then transfer the nuts to the second frozen bowl, add chocolate and repeat the process. Keep going through the third bowl. Transfer the nuts to a pan and return the three bowls to the freezer to chill again. Once they're cold, repeat the chocolate coating process three more times, moving the nuts from one bowl to the next. When all the nuts have been coated, you can start eating them just as they are or tossing them in confectioners sugar or cocoa powder.
Before we started making our truffles, Melanie gave us a quick history of chocolate and shared with us some pictures from a trip she took to a Mexican cocoa plantation. We learned that cocoa beans are harvested from ripe, red pods that are about the size of a football. The beans are then laid out in the sun to ferment, then dried and roasted. The outer shells of the beans are cracked and discarded, leaving the "nib" of the bean. Those nibs are then ground to produce cocoa liquor which is further processed to make cocoa powder and chocolate bars.
Now back to our truffles! Once we had them scooped and rolled into balls, we had to temper some chocolate to use to cover our truffles. Tempering is a process of heating and cooling chocolate to specific temperatures in order to stabilize the cocoa butter crystals. This ensures a shiny and smooth consistency when fully cooled.
There are several methods of tempering, the easier methods being the seeding method and the table method. The seeding method involves heating your chocolate to the appropriate melting temperature and then cooling it to the correct working temperature by adding in small amounts of chopped, tempered chocolate to the bowl ("seeds"). By adding room temperature chocolate, it helps to naturally cool the mixture to the working temperature.
Another method of tempering chocolate is the table method. Just like in the seeding method, the chocolate is heated to melting temperature, but instead of cooling it with solid chocolate, the chocolate is poured onto a marble or granite slab and spread around with metal utensils. This method does have the potential for a lot of mess, but looks like such fun!
Once we had our tempered chocolate ready, it was time to coat the truffles. Melanie showed us an ingenious method for dipping truffles in chocolate. Wearing gloves, dip three fingers into the chocolate and transfer a good amount into your other hand's palm. Then place a ball of ganache in your hand and roll it in the chocolate in your hands. This method allows for a thinner and more even coating of chocolate and less of a puddle when you set the chocolate ball on a pan. The other benefit is that you don't cool down your melted chocolate by dropping chilled balls of ganache.
We soon found out that practice really does make for better looking truffles. Ours were not so round and clean. Part of the issue was that we made our ganache with predominantly milk chocolate and we should have reduced the amount of cream we used to compensate for the milk in the milk chocolate. Since we didn't, we had a much softer ganache, which made for somewhat difficult rolling and coating of chocolate. But still tasty, nonetheless!!
The last thing to do before the class ended was to assemble and decorate the other vanilla chiffon cake. First step was to slice the cake into two layers. We also had one-half layer leftover from when we made the parfait on Day 2, so I decided to make mine a three-layer cake. I also chose to fill each layer with the leftover lemon curd from our lemon tartlets on Day 1.
Then we used a small amount of frosting to create a crumb coat and then chilled the frosting to set it.
Finally, we put the finishing layer of frosting on the top and sides of the cake and smoothed it out. Then we put the remaining buttercream into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and piped out decorations to finish our cake.
Once our cakes were done, we had a little "graduation" ceremony where we presented with certificates of completion and then we took a class photo with our instructor Melanie.
It's been such a wonderful week being here at King Arthur. I've loved being able to share this experience with my mom and to be in the company of fellow bakers who have a passion for creating homemade treats. I can't wait to come back for another bake-cation and try my hand at more new recipes and techniques!
Thanks to you all for following along on our journey - keep coming back to the blog for more posts on my adventures in baking!