Ok so you’ve got time on your hands (which are very well washed). Now is the perfect opportunity to hone some new skills. Just in case you don’t know, Easter is just over a week away, and while get-togethers will be on-hold this year it doesn’t mean you need to do without. And that you shouldn’t take the chance to make something special for yourself or loved ones.
Chocolate and eggs are synonymous with Easter. While using chocolate is a relatively new phenomena eggs have been used in the celebration of Easter for centuries.
Eggs have been used as a symbol of life, renewal and rebirth by early Christians: the shell represented the tomb and the chick represented Jesus. However, the tradition of eating eggs on Easter is tied to Lent. For six-weeks before Easter Christians traditionally avoided all animal products. However, their chickens continue to lay eggs throughout Lent, and to prolong the availability the eggs would be hard boiled and decorated and given as gifts on Easter Sunday, the day on which Lent ends. The chocolate egg started to appear in the late 1800’s – quite rudimentary but very luxurious all the same. In 1875[i] Cadbury produced the first commercial ‘Easter Egg’ and some 30 years later released the milk egg.
If you love chocolate and you like to cook, you probably have a repertoire of favorites. However the art of ‘tempering[ii]’ is a skill that can unhinge even the most proficient of cooks. Most recipes do not call tempered chocolate as such, but it does demand it to be cared for. Stephanie Alexander, in the tome of a book “The Cooks Companion” recommends the following:
- Chip or grate the chocolate before melting
- Make sure the spoon and bowl are completely dry. Moisture will cause the chocolate to seize and tighten. A couple drops of vegetable oil will rescue it but be careful not to use butter as it contains moisture and will simply make it worse.
- Melt chocolate on low or medium heat. High heat will cause it to turn dry and grainy.
- Melt chocolate in batches, it will be easier to maintain an even temperature throughout.
- Melted chocolate should feel warm rather than hot.
In a double boiler: Bring water to a full boil in the bottom of a double boiler, then turn off the heat. Place grated chocolate in the top of the double boiler. The water in the bottom should come right up to the level of the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to stand undisturbed for 5 minutes, then stir it until completely melted.
Over hot water: Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, then turn the heat very low. Put the grated chocolate in a bowl wide enough to sit on top of the saucepan. The bowl must sit tightly on the pan as steam will spoil the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to stand undisturbed for 5 minutes, then again stir it until completely melted.
In a microwave oven: Put the chopped chocolate in a microwave proof bowl. Do not cover as moisture could form. Microwave on medium for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir the melted chocolate until smooth.
With other ingredients: To melt chocolate with milk, cream, coffee or water, add chocolate to cool rather than hot liquids and melt gently over direct heat while stirring. When adding liquid to already melted chocolate, the liquid should be warm to hot, otherwise the chocolate will seize and tighten.
Our final word on Chocolate is use couverture where possible not compound; couverture chocolate combines cocoa and cocoa butter (much better quality) – whereas compound chocolate is made up of cocoa and oil (often palm) which gives an oily residue in your mouth, although it does not require tempering.
To coin a phrase from one of our 1980’s favorites XTC – when choosing chocolate have all 5 senses working overtime; see, hear, smell, touch and taste.
Chocolate has to be glossy, displaying an obvious sheen. Depending on the type the colour should be deep glossy browns, with rich timber hues that would make your colourist weep.
Snap to it! A good chocolate will have a sharp ‘snap’ when broken.
Long slow love takes time and ends with a quality product. Take a good sniff, if you can smell caramel, you might have a winner!
Just like your recently de-haired face or legs, good chocolate will be firm and smooth. Hold a small piece between your fingers if it melts within seconds eat it quickly and buy more! It’s the sign of a good quality chocolate. If it doesn’t melt…leave it alone.
It should feel smooth and silky. The flavour might have some sweetness and anything from blueberry to leather. It should not be grainy or oily or too sweet.
[ii] *To temper is to heat, cool and reheat chocolate to three precise temperatures, giving it a glossy, streak-free and crisp finish.