There are no pending adventures in the chocolate world this month but there are plenty of interesting adventures with chocolate going on right here at home. Summer has been unofficially kicked off by the grill out celebrations of Memorial Day and the heat has already started to bear down on Asheville. We made the seasons first batches of frozen Chocolate covered bananas to help beat the heat. Savoring a frozen Chocolate covered banana on a hot summer day is a great way to cool off and a much healthier option than ice cream. We’ve got them in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate with pecans, and dark chocolate with pecans.
I’ve been hard at work learning to incorporate all the interesting things I learned at The French Pastry School class about Chocolate Showpieces that I attended in May. A large part of my focus has been applying the technique I learned for creating flowers into creating specific flowers that can coordinate with people’s wedding bouquets. Currently I can offer Gerber Daisies, Roses, Sunflowers and Dahlias and soon I hope to offer Orchids, Calla Lilies, and Anemones. The result of all this experimentation has been the creation of some beautiful flowers which adorn some of our Smash Cakes. For those of you that aren’t familiar a Smash Cake is a cake made with a thin shell of chocolate and filled with chocolates (not cake). The cake is then smashed with a special hammer and the pieces shared with guests. It’s a fun and unique way to celebrate. I am also working on creating bouquets of flowers to be used as cake toppers so that someone seeking a more traditional cake can add a bouquet of chocolate flowers to the top of their cake.
I’ve also used the new flowers to create mini showpieces. For the showpieces I drew on some inspiration that has been lingering with me since my trip through Kentucky in May (see blog post Bluegrass Country). I used some new techniques to create wood grain on chocolate and constructed a base for the showpieces that resembles old barns and fences. My goal was to create showpieces that would really show off the flowers, juxtaposing the rustic elements with the delicate beauty of the flowers. They will be on display at the shop through June so come on down and check them out!
As for what the rest of The Chocolate Fetish kitchen is up to? One of our chocolatiers has been hard at work in The Chocolate Fetish “shoe factory” refining our cowboy boots and chocolate high heels. From animal prints to whimsical colors I am constantly delighted by the creativity and attention to detail that goes into creating these chocolate shoes. There are always a great selection of fresh and stylish designs to choose from, it’s worth a trip to the shop just to check them out. Another chocolatier has been designing some custom art that may soon grace the walls of The Chocolate Fetish while our Production Manager has been here all hours as he experiments with some delicious (and top secret) new flavors. Keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter to be the first to hear about all the deliciousness coming your way!
There is so much that goes into creating a piece of art, and it doesn’t include just good solid techniques. At times like this morning it requires a willingness to persevere even when it’s not going quite right. The pieces just weren’t going together well, and my partner and I weren’t working together well. Chef Leroux kept walking by and telling us it wasn’t flowing. Neither of us could figure out why when he visited our piece he could hold up an element and it looked beautiful but as soon as he was gone we couldn’t recreate it.
This is the moment when one has to know to walk away and come back fresh when one’s mind won’t wallow in thoughts of we’re never going to finish and this is the worst piece in the class. We stuck with it and eventually the pieces began to flow together. We were finally able to get the base all together and thankfully my partner took on the hairsplitting task of carrying the piece across the room to the spray booth.
After spraying with a good base coat of colored cocoa butter we attached the finishing elements including the leaves and flower. The leaves were pretty straightforward but attaching the flower was another hairsplitting experience. When attaching sculptural elements with chocolate it is not as simple as just gluing them on. One has to find a balance between holding the piece long enough for the chocolate to set up but delicately enough that it doesn’t melt in your hands. You also have to take care that you use enough chocolate glue for it to stick together but not so much that it creates messy globs all over your sculpture.
By mid afternoon we had finished! Four long days of learning and work had finally come together into a beautiful chocolate showpiece. And much to my delight we had actually done a mighty fine job. Even the Chef admitted that earlier he was concerned we might not do well but we had really pulled it together into a nice piece. After an emotionally trying morning wondering how we would ever finish hearing this kind of praise was relieving. Sure it was easy for me to look back and and see where the mistakes were and write a list of everything that could be better. However it was also easy to look at it and think about all the great things I had learned, some of which I learned by having this forum to make mistakes in. I could also look at it and see all the great things that had been accomplished; we had a made a beautiful piece, executed a lot of new techniques, and made lots of great design choices.
There were a total of ten different sculptures made, each beautiful and while based on the same designs rach was a little different, reflecting the people who made them. There is much a person learns at an intensive course that goes beyond how to manipulate chocolate. This week taught me patience, it taught me how to work in collaboration with someone else, it taught me that its ok if it isn’t perfect and it taught me lots of times less is more. Stephan Leroux has written books about sculpture and I’m sure they are filled with great technique but no amount of reading could compare to hands on one on one with a master.
In my day to day at The Chocolate Fetish I don’t get many chances to create chocolate showpieces. Flowers however are in high demand, so I am always grateful for a new technique. Today Chef Leroux taught us a relatively quick method that should be easily adaptable to making lots of different kinds of flowers. We began by making petals, lots and lots of petals. We were instructed to make petals in sets of various lengths and curved angles so when constructing the flower they would layer well together. Then we tediously attached them to a center sphere taking care because the delicate petals easily melted in our hands. The final step was to airbrush the flowers with colored Cocoa butter. This proved to be another tedious step as just the pressure from the airgun threatened to blow petals off the delicate flowers.
The flowers were our last element to build so after the airbrush we moved on to putting it all together. I tend to want to rush to this step and not spend the time it really takes to get each of the elements absolutely perfect. It becomes more and more important to be presice with each element because one little wobble between pieces will cause a big problem when you add multiple pieces together and make something three feet tall. Furthermore its helpful to make multiple extra pieces because every once in awhile a piece you thought was connected well goes crashing to the floor and it sure is nice to have an extra ready to go. Another important lesson learned… from now on my chocolate showpiece mantra will be “take the time to get it right now and make extra or you will regret it later.”
The French Pastry School is known for being the top of its class. You don’t get to the top without demanding excellence, and this class is definitely doing that.
We started the day working with pastiage, a material that I as a chocolatier have never worked with. Pastiage is a combination of confectioners sugar, starch and geletin. It’s not particularly tasty but it’s nice to work with and allows easy molding of things that would be impossible with chocolate. Working quickly so it would not become to dry we made various swirls that reference wrought iron metal work.
I find it interesting to see how different chocolatiers use everyday objects and home made tools, a lot of tools for chocolate sculpture come right from the hardware store. Chef Leroux had his own collection including some homemade silicon molds used to mold leaves. We used a heat gun to mold acetate sheets to the leaf vein pattern on the homemade silicon molds. After sandwiching the semi molten acetate between the two sides of the silicon mold, appling pressure and letting it cool we were left with acetate leaves that we could mold chocolate on. This is a really cool technique that creates a very detailed leaf.
The rest of the day we spent continuing to fine tune our base pieces, molding chocolate leaves, and creating various spheres and swirls we’ll need for our final pieces. Chef Leroux is staying a few steps ahead of us as he builds one of each of the sculptures, so we’ll have an example for reference. It is constantly amazing to witness the skill of a master. Each action is so precise, and executed with such grace and accuracy. I can hope that with years of practice I might come close to Chef Leroux’s level, and close would be quite an accomplishment.
The first thing I learned in chocolate sculpture class is to let go of expectations. Contrary to my desires we will not be designing and building a sculpture based on our own imagination, we will be recreating one of Chef Leroux’s designs with a partner. I understand the neccesity of this as well as the practicality but at first it was hard to accept.
After a brief introduction and some housekeeping we got right down to business choosing our sculptures and learning how to construct the bases. Here we have entered the real meat of the class. We began using and building different molds to build the main structures of our final sculptures. Chef Leroux has a technique I really like using multiple pieces layered together to build a base for the sculptures.The finished result is nice because it gives the pieces a great lift and feeling of lightness while still being very stable. Unfortunately it is time consuming and requires a lot of precision.
As I come to terms with recreating Chef Leroux’s showpieces I get more and more excited about the piece we are creating. It’s a nice opportunity to work outside of my comfort zone and learn some great new techniques. Chef Leroux really is a master of his craft. Everytime he does a demo I walk away thinking, “OK I can do that. It looks pretty straightforward.” Then back at my station I realize that his superb mastery of his craft is why it looked easy. I just have to trust that with practice I will develop similar hand skills and be able to execute with as much precision and grace as he does.
When a nature lover like me is preparing for a week long stay in the United States third largest city a moment in nature is required. To fullfill this need I planned a days stay of rest and relaxation at a friends home in Paducah, KY.
Paducah is a midsize town situated where the recently flooded Ohio and Illinios rivers dump into the Mississippi. My friend’s home is on the edge of an open field and pond, thankfully in a higher part of town. Nature has always been a source of inspiration for me and spending the day on the edge of this tranquil pond was no different. In the morning a few deer grazed in the field and in the afternoon hummingbirds and butterflies danced through the air. I’m a big fan of old barns of which Kentucky has an abundance including a fine specimen on the edge of the field.
Inspiration was abundant in the texture of soft grasses, the ridges of rusted metals, and rich blues of the clear sky. I’m grateful for a day to relax and gather my thoughts about my upcoming class. Already visions of sculptures including tranquil lily pads, stunning flowers, and shimmering dragonflies are flooding my mind, and increasing my excitement for my upcoming chocolate sculpture class.
My chocolate sculpture class begins Monday morning so I have three days and about six hundred miles to discover what other chocolate inspiration I might find.
Generally I am apprehensive about visiting other Chocolate shops. Too often my visits begin with excitement over new flavor combinations and end in dissapointment as I taste poor quality chocolate and over or under flavored truffles. I do my best to remain unbiased but over and over I find myself craving the familiar flavors of The Chocolate Fetish. Sometimes one does find a diamond in the rough.
My chocolate philosophy is all about subtlty. To me, the secret of a great truffle is balancing a disticnt flavor in a way that is recognizable yet allows the flavor of the chocolate to be the star of the show. A truffle’s flavor should unfold gracefully and be enhanced by its flavorings, not overpowered by them.
First stop on the road to inspiration is Nashville’s The Cocoa Tree. I find this little shop in an interesting block off North 5th Avenue nesstled amongst a cluster of local cafes and shady trees. Founded by chocolatier Bethany Thouin The Cocoa Tree features Southern inspired flavors like Jack & Ginger and Yazoo’s Dos Perros.
I really enjoyed the Music City inspired artwork, especially the photo of a guitar adorned with truffles. I was pleasantly surprised by some of Cocoa Trees truffles. All of the chocolate was of good quality and I found some flavors delightfully well balanced. Thanks Cocoa Tree for a pleasant visit and a little bit of inspiration along the way.