…10. Superheroes, Science, and Megan vs. Chocolate – Chocolates part the first (of many, number unknown)

Apparently, WordPress gives you a Gold Star for your 10th post.  That suits this post nicely.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a Gougères situation.  Gougères are basically cheesey puffs filled with more cheese.  Delicious.  Anyway, I thought the gougères production was going badly (which is ridiculous and paranoid) so I didn’t go to my friend’s party because I thought they were fucked up.  They weren’t, but I figured that out after I decided to wrap myself in a blanket and never leave the house again.

I relayed this story to my shrink, not thinking this was a big deal, just annoying cause my friend boycotted me for a week.  She referred to it as an “incident” and asked what I could do in the future to keep myself from getting into such a negative head-space when I make pastries that aren’t up to my standards (perfect in every way).

This is what came to my mind:

Stain Boy, but with an Eclair on his chest with a big P for PASTRY!

I’ve always been a fan of superheroes — my first crush ever was on Batman, because, well, he’s BATMAN.  And when you work in kitchens it isn’t a bizarre thing to see someone you work with walking around on his or her break with an apron around their neck all cape-like.

So I says to her I says: I could get a cape.

I COULD GET A CAPE? That’s so stupid.  That wasn’t what I meant, I was just trying to visualize myself being totally awesome.

When she gained control over her laughter, she said “I don’t know what that means, but as long as it works for you.”

I could tell she wasn’t ever a comic book girl, so I half-heartedly attempted to reason why wearing a cape could help anything, but to no avail.  Oh well.  I did, however, think of Stain Boy when I made these chocolates and avoided having my head explode when I remembered that making chocolate is stupid messy if you are me and you only make them sometimes.

And so we come to today’s adventure:

Chocolate is my nemesis.

Or perhaps I am the nemesis of Chocolate.  I think it knows that I eat it out of instinct rather than logic.

So while Chocolate and I get along in many areas (my stomach, for one), when it comes to tempering it, I fail.  Almost always, multiple times until I eventually get it but by then I hate Chocolate more than most things.  When I was in school, in a safe environment with plenty of marbled surfaces and somewhat climate-controlled room, I could do it.  I was fast, the chocolate was smooth, had a snap, I was proud.

Then I graduated.  And it was as though the chocolate gave me the middle finger and then assed my car, starting this feud.  I had to make chocolate occasionally when I was at the bistro.  Nightmare.  I worked with it at home on the tiniest marble in the world. Disaster.  My mother found me in the kitchen, 4am on Christmas day, trying to temper chocolate, JUST BECAUSE.  I had nothing specific I wanted to do with it, I just felt compelled and couldn’t sleep until I did it.

Why then, do you wonder, did I decide to make bon bons for Christmas this year? I guess I’m a masochist.

The tempering technique described by Chef Eddy van Damme was recommended to me by a friend of mine who pastry chefs in London.  She finished school a year or so ahead of me and had always complained about tempering not being her strong suit, so I decided to trust this guy.  His blog is really great, even if he is a handsome celebrity — I rarely trust the good-looking or the famous.

There are different ways of tempering chocolate.  Wait, do I need to explain the tempering process?

This is for children.  Don’t be offended if this reads like it’s been dumbed-down.  I’m not a scientist so I refuse to get all uber technical on my blog.  This blog is about me having fun, and science is only fun when unicorns are involved. Also, I should say this is a blatant rip-off of the Callebaut video we were shown in school to explain said chocolate science (C.S.).  I was relieved to have already read a book on C.S. and thus didn’t need to pretend to know what those pointy things were doing and why there were so mad.

To explain briefly:

There are 6 types of chocolate crystals, and they form one after the other.  The temperatures are when the crystals melt. If you start with a beautifully tempered chocolate bar, you must only melt it to 31 degrees Celsius and go about your business. Why? Because level 5s (which I call Happy Crystals) are the only crystals that can form level 6 crystals (the AMAZING Crystals) which make chocolate durable, smooth, and shiny.  If your chocolate is not tempered from the beginning, melt it to 50 degrees to get rid of all those nasty crystals, then cool it to form level 4 and level 5 crystals (29 degrees), then melt it to 32 degrees so all that’s left are the Happys, which, when they set, will become the Amazings.


Tabling – to portion some heated chocolate onto a marble to cool it through agitation, usually to 21-25 degrees then combined with hot chocolate to achieve 32 degrees.  Takes time to learn, makes a kind of a mess, but looks super flashy. This is what they make you do in school, so, you know, when you’re working in a Chocolaterie and the power goes out, you can temper the chocolate without a machine.  Some shops make people do this all day for flare.  It’s like visiting the most fattening zoo ever.

Seeding – Adding tempered chocolate (set) to melted chocolate to lower temperature and encourage Happy crystals.  Sucks cause not all the chocolate melts and so you’re left with chunkies floating around, unless you use a giant block, but who can afford that?  Not this guy.

Incomplete Melting – As vaguely described above, gotta start out with tempered chocolate though.  Good luck finding that in bulk.

Thinning – THIS IS THE ONE.  Melt.  Cool to 35 degrees through agitation.  Add 1% grated cocoa butter.  Agitate to 31 degrees.  What do ya know? You’ve got tempered chocolate that didn’t make a mess and didn’t cost you  your first born. A+.

So with that I proceeded to make a huge mess, because well, I relate to stain boy on many levels.  And above is what happens when you cool your apartment to 16 degrees instead of the more appropriate 19 degrees while chocolatering.

Accomplished are:

Nutmeg Truffles pg. 465 – delicious.  Tempering not so necessary as truffles are rolled in cocoa to set, but I do it because it’s good technique.

Lemon Ganache with Popping Candy pg. 455 – silicone moldies.  Delicious but had air bubbles.

Maldon Sea Chocolates pg. 467 – Molded centres in demi-spheres then hand-dipped, finishing with fleur-de-sel. To be honest, I’d rather eat some of that awesome Lindt Fleur-de-sel.  That stuff is crack.

I will say this – the only molds I have are ones that I picked up from the school for a super deal because they were getting rid of them.  They are ugly and look like chestnuts, have stupid flowers on them, or are shaped like maple leaves (which are awesome, but you can’t fill those with, say, Jasmine tea ganache). So I bought new molds.  I was totally tricked by clever marketing (and reasonably low prices) into getting silicone.  DON’T GET THESE if you want to be a happy confectioner.  Popping them out was great, no complaints there, but all the gusto I could muster while tapping those molds to rid them of air bubbles was no match for the floppy tray.  This would make more sense if you could get a hard plastic tray to pop these guys into while working with them, then pull them out to empty and wash the silicone.

Here is an establishing shot of finished product.  Had to severely alter it (Vintify?) because my camera corrupted the shot that was in focus and had the white balanced. Pictured here are the Browned Butter Marshmallows from BraveTart, and  Strawberry Balsamic Rosewater Macarons which just tasted like those pink wafer cookies we all liked when we were kids. I used the Lenôtre recipe, which makes me happy all the time.  I put this box together for Secret Santa at work.

…9. My Everest, the Croissant (pg. 54).

Ohhhkay.  So maybe Everest is an exaggeration.  Croissants are not especially hard to make.  They are a pain, and they can take a very long time, but if you have had any experience with yeasted doughs and you know simple things like, I dunno, when butter melts, you’re fine.  Patience is all you really need.  That and things like these:

Two rolling pins? I have this auto-immune thing that causes lots of things that are irritating, and one of them is arthritis.  My hips, my knees, and worst of all my hands are effected.  I’ve had to give up a lot of super fun things like riding my bike for hours on end  and running everyday and going to intensive hot yoga classes and writing with pencils or pens and weight lifting and painting and sculpting because my hands turn into claws with minor use and hands are pretty important for my job, most jobs really, so I try to use them as little as possible outside work. I have to use rolling pins with handles for heartier jobs and the long pin for larger jobs that require almost no pressure.  If I put any pressure on my palms while using the straight pin (or a French pin), I get all kinds of crazy pain and then my fingers go numb.  If you are not like me, use which ever pin feels comfortable.

Oh wait, why are Croissants are so important to me?  I don’t care much for sugar.  I’m definitely a salt-craving person, but I didn’t grow up with junk around the house, or salty things at all, so I don’t buy that kind of thing.  I eat olives when I get a martini (you can make it a meal if you get five per cocktail, and then drink four), chips at parties, steak in restaurants, bacon at work.  At home…apples. Yogurt. Coffee.

People often ask me what my favourite dessert is.  Well, that’s not specific enough for me.  I mean, I don’t really like desserts.  Especially ones I haven’t made (restaurant desserts I mean — often they are too expensive and taste like corn syrup, barf).  I love making ice cream more then most other things, but I don’t love eating it.  I prefer the satisfaction of making something I think tastes great, and then feeding it to others.

I do, however, love a perfectly made croissant for breakfast with a cup of strong, black coffee.  It’s a French cliché for a reason; I honestly don’t think I could ever need anything more then that, which is why I both love an hate brunch. Love love love to serve brunch, hate to eat it.  Croissant. Coffee. Maybe crispy bacon. Heaven.

Which is why I don’t make Croissants.  Ever.  Out of fear that I will disappoint myself.  I know there are only two places in this city, of all the bakeries and coffee shops, that make croissants that will meet my standards.  I don’t eat them.  Never have.  I want to be that good. So instead I eat apples and mope about not having croissant.

I tried to put this off.  But I kept thinking about it.  I go through phases where I can’t bear to leave my apartment.  This week was hard, and I kept thinking about croissant, maybe because I was just hungry and had no food, so when I realized that the only things I had left in my cupboards in any quantity necessary to make more than one serving of something just happened to be the very ingredients needed to make croissants, I stuffed my crippling anxiety into the closet.

I made this recipe, which is almost identical to the one we were given in school (the last time I made near-perfect croissants — I unearthed this photo to give myself courage. Yes, a little too European Brown, but an excellent go all round) last Christmas when I received The Modern Café.  I followed the instructions dutifully.  Epic Fail.  But I know why.

Hey look, I took a photo of the recipe so I wouldn’t have to look it up again and type it. Yay!

Call me lame, but I still get a kick out of activating yeast.  This batch was sooo happy.

I used Traditional Active Yeast, the Fleischmann variety.  I did some interweb poking (I am obsessively thorough with my research before I do anything, sometimes I don’t get anything done at all because I ruined it with reading) and apparently all the yeasts they produce are essentially the same, so getting it spot on isn’t especially important.  All in all, the yeast research led me to believe that yeast lacks a lot of precise science, which makes sense I guess but doesn’t instill a lot of faith in me.  Blahblahblah…what I mean is that I used 14g Active instead of 10g Instant.  And I proofed the yeast in warm water first.  I didn’t trust just throwing it in to a bowl with 21 degree water and a bunch of bread flour.

Mix these things with a hook till shaggy, add softened butter, knead until homogenous and soft.  Score the top to help it relax cause that’s what the French think it does (I just think it looks…authentic).  I left my dough on the counter.  My apartment was 19 degrees, perfect for Croissant making.  I made my butter block from 21 degree butter, but I found it was too soft.  The butter and the dough should be the same pliability, if that makes sense.  I chilled the butter until it felt pliable enough to laminate with but not on the verge of melting or squishing.  This happened to be 19 degrees.

After the dough ferments 45 minutes, roll it to a rectangle double the size of your butter block (which is also rectangular and 1/4” thick).  Migoya’s instructions say to “roll the dough” over the butter block instead of folding it over.  Maybe it’s just me, but conceptualizing this action just doesn’t make sense, so I just folded it.  Tuck the edges of your envelope and start rolling gently.

The nice thing about laminating dough is that getting confused about which way you roll is easy, but if you try to roll the dough in the direction you previously rolled it, the dough will fight you.  It doesn’t want that shit, so if the dough fights, back off.  This’ll happen when you roll in the wrong direction and when the dough needs to rest, so back off and give it some space.

Generally when laminating roll the dough out slowly, carefully, with little pressure until it has tripled in length, rotate if necessary (so it is horizontal to you), mentally divide in 3 and fold the third on your left over the centre, then the right third over so your dough is stacked.  Let it rest minimum fifteen minutes, though I like 30.  If it is warm, over 20 degrees, chill it a couple of minutes, but not enough to set the butter or it will crack (that’s bad!).  Roll to triple the length, rotate 90 degrees, fold, rest.  Do this 3 or 4 times, whichever you prefer as either are common for croissants.  This is the exact same process as puff pastry, except 6 folds are completed and there is no yeast in the base dough (détrempe).  I only did 3 folds because it was getting on to 10:30pm and I had to get up early enough to rise and bake these guys before work*

Migoya also says to freeze the dough for an hour before the final rolling and cutting, so the dough is “partially frozen”.  This stage destroyed the whole process last time.  The butter froze (obviously) and broke through the layers, ruining hours of careful work and any chance of having a proper honeycomb centre.  I could have set the book on fire.  My head also may have exploded, I was so mad at myself for not listening to my gut.

This time it was in the freezer max. 30 minutes.  When it came out, it was 6 degrees and too stiff.  I waited.

And waited.


And finally, when it rose to 13 degrees, I was able to roll and shape it.

I left a trimming out over night and did an overnight rise in the fridge, but as I’ve mentioned before, my fridge is too cold and my freezer too cool, so nothing rose.  I brought them to work and they took 5 hours to rise in a 22 degree kitchen.

Amazingly, I baked some at work and they were great.  I was relieved.  Don’t let my lack of bangs fool you, I was really, really relieved.  But what I thought was neat was I had forgotten one lone croissant on my counter (I think I photographed it and then ran out the door) and when I got home, there he was, looking over proofed and dry.  I threw him in the oven (oops, no egg wash, I always forget) on a lark, not expecting the lack of convection and fancy steam system to  do much for him, but sure enough he was really quite spectacular.

Not perfect, I admit.  But I have room to get better now that I’m no longer terrified of utter failure and public shaming.  And oh shit, so tasty.

*this did not happen.

…8. Pear&Ginger Marmalade (pg. 489).

Canning is something I like the idea of.  It fits in nicely with my dream of owning a small inn — having a garden to supply me with most of the food (gardening being another activity I like the idea of but fail to execute always), preserving, making soap, and all that stuff housewives used to do but no longer have to do because we are living the future.  Don’t get the wrong idea, my goal is not to be a housewife, but to just live simply and under my own control.  Must. Control. Most. Things.

My grandmother was a champion canner, making mainly strawberry and peach jam every year — which makes sense because their seasons are far from one another, and her always delicious-with-peanut-butter sweet pickles which were always quartered, maybe so they sat well between two pieces of toast.

My mother also made sure to have enough jars of freezer jam (strawberry, of course) to last us a year of regular frozen-strawberry jam and peanut-butter sandwiches.  Yes, peanut-butter and I have an unhealthy relationship.  I don’t allow myself to buy it very often.

I, on the other hand, shunned all acts of domesticity for many years, until I realized baking was the only thing I could do and then present to the world without wanting to crawl into a hole.  Usually I just want to put the cake down and run behind a tree, which is better, comparatively.

So, about jamming.

Basic Rules:

Boil the shit out of all your tools and jars and don’t you dare touch them with your fingers even though you should have already washed your hands ten times. Sanitation is essential to not killing yourself and others when it comes to jamming. Or marmalading as the case is here.

Boil your lids just prior to sealing the jars.

The jars should be warm when you fill them. Keeping them in a warm oven is a good way to do this, and it dries them after the sterilizing step.

Use a canning funnel.  They may not seal if you get the rims all goopey.

You will likely burn your fingerprints off, at least the first couple of times.

Metal tongs will play both your friend and your foe in this event.  Be wary.

Pear & Ginger Marmalade (pg.489)

7 Limes

3Kg Pears, stemmed, peeled, cored, chopped

1.8Kg Sugar

100g Crystalized Ginger, chopped

675g Water

Peel the limes.  Slice into a julienne and set aside.  In a large bowl, juice limes over pears and ginger.  Stir in sugar until combined.  Cover for 1 hour.

Bring water and julienne to a boil in a small pot.  Migoya says to cook this until the water is almost evaporated, which I did, but the peel was not especially soft.  I thought the peel would soften further during the jamming process, but it did not, thus I was left with tough zest.  Tough enough for me to be fairly unhappy with the final product. I suggest checking the texture and if they are still undercooked, as in difficult to bite through, add a bit more water and continue to cook until they are al dente.

Strain over Pears and save julienne.

In a large pot, bring pears to a boil while stirring.  After 20 or so minutes, add julienne.  Cook until a thermometer reads 120 degrees Celsius, or until the mixture, when spread on a plate, sets up in the freezer within a couple of minutes (Migoya does not recommend the plate-test.  I do both).

Fill jars, boil lids, lid jars, then place in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes to seal.  Let cool on counter overnight.

If you’re me, eat with peanut-butter.