Monday, 28 April 2014

The Chocolate Challenge - Roasting

Dear readers,

The first stage of my home chocolate production (after sourcing already-fermented beans) is roasting.

At La Iguana Chocolate, they roast their cacao beans in a pot over a fire and stir constantly for 10 to 20 minutes until they hear the beans "pop". I asked Jorge (the eldest son of the family) how I should roast the beans at home. I asked if I should use a frying pan and wait for the "pop" and he replied...

"yes, do add a little of water just to wet the bean no make a sopa OK, good luck".

Following Jorge's advice, I added a splash of water to the beans in the frying pan and turned the heat up high, stirring constantly. Once I started to hear the loud "pops", I turned the heat off and continued stirring the beans until the popping stopped (one has to be careful; they can move when they pop so it might be an idea to use a splash guard). The aroma that came from the beans was extraordinary! The whole house smelt of brownies. I went out and came back a few hours later and the whole house still smelt of brownies; it was incredible! I definitely recommend roasting a few cocoa beans before a house viewing instead of baking bread. I'm sure it will be much more effective!

Slightly-wet beans before heating

Beans during the "roasting"

I recently attended the Food And Drink Expo in Birmingham and met Willie Harcout-Cooze from Willie's Cacao. I spoke to him about roasting and he said that I should not do it in a frying pan because the beans should not be exposed to direct heat. He recommended that I roast them in an oven on a baking tray with some baking paper. However, at this point I had already roasted most of my beans using Jorge's method. I will definitely try roasting the beans in the oven next time!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Chick Macarons with a Cherry Sauce - Happy 4th Birthday to my blog!

Dear readers,

Chicken in a Cherry Sauce has just turned four!

Thanks so much to you, my readers, who have supported this blog! I really enjoy being part of the online food blogging community; there are so many beautiful and inspirational blogs out there! I would like to give extra special thanks to those of you who regularly visit my blog despite my sometimes infrequent posting. I really appreciate your patience and loyalty!

To celebrate I decided to make some "Chicks with a Cherry Sauce" in the form of macarons sandwiched with cherry sauce. I thought that this would also fit quite well with Easter coming up! They didn't turn out quite as uniform as my Champagne Macarons (hence I haven't photographed many of them). However, this could be considered as a part of their character. I think that I got lucky with my success on the Champagne Macarons - these chick macarons took three attempts to get right! Clearly I have yet to master the art of making macarons.

I have been a little lazy with these and left the shell plain almond flavour with a very basic filling of cherry jam! Nonetheless, I think that these simple flavours go well together.

As with my Champagne Macarons, I used the same base recipe that I developed with my Kaffir Lime and Coconut Macarons.

Chick Macarons with a Cherry Sauce
45g egg white (preferably aged for 2 days at room temperature)
70g + 20g icing sugar
50g ground almonds
22g caster sugar
Yellow food colouring (powder or gel - the amount will vary depending on the type used)
Black icing
100g cherry jam

This recipe will make 16 macarons (32 shells).

Sieve the almonds and 70g of icing sugar together. Whisk the egg whites until they become stiff, then add the caster sugar and food colouring and whisk until stiff again. Fold in the sieved icing sugar and ground almonds. Stir a few times until the batter has a runny consistency. Pour the mixture into a piping bag and pipe circles of the mixture onto silicone baking sheets. Tap the baking tray gently on a flat surface to help the circles flatten and remove excess air. Leave to rest for 45 minutes until the tops become matte and dry. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Place the macarons in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 140°C. Place a wooden spoon in the door of the oven to hold it ajar for the duration of the cooking. Bake for 20 minutes, then set aside to cool before removing from the baking sheet.

Add a few drops of water and orange food colouring to create an icing dough. Roll it out and cut out small triangles for the beaks. Add a little more water to the leftover icing and use that to glue the beaks to half of the macaron shells. Finish the decoration using black icing for the eyes.

Sandwich the chick face shells and the plain shells together with cherry jam.

Do not use gel icing for the eyes! I had just finished decorating them on a Sunday evening when it started to get dark and the eyes were still wet so I left them to dry. A week later, the eyes were still wet. So I had to be quite careful in handling them so that I didn't smudge the eyes and cover the macarons with black icing!

I did research Chick Macarons before I made mine and found some beautiful and adorable creations. I particularly like these that were made by Raspberri Cupcakes. As one may see, I found the photographs inspiring!

atch out... the chicks might lay a Cadbury's Mini Egg while you're not looking...

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Chocolate Challenge - Processing Chocolate from Bean to Bar at Home

Dear readers,

Having been inspired by the improvisation at La Iguana and my desire for understanding the chocolate production process, I have decided to attempt the processing of my own chocolate at home
from bean to bar. Sadly, I don't have access to fresh cacao beans here in England. Therefore, I will have to omit the first few steps (the harvesting, fermenting and drying of the beans). Unfortunately, I do not have enough beans from La Iguana to carry out this challenge; so I have bought a separate 1kg batch of fermented, unroasted Criollo beans from South America. The remaining steps I intend to carry out to process a ~70% cacao dark chocolate bar will include:

1. Roasting
This should be one of the most straightforward stages. There are two main techniques which I can carry out at home for this step without having access to specialist equipment.

2. Winnowing
This is, effectively, the removal of the shells of the cacao beans once they have been roasted. There are, again, two main techniques for this method which should be feasible at home.

3. Refining
This is the first step that will be quite challenging since it will require specialist equipment. The size of the cacao particles will need to be below 20 microns in size in order for them to be undetectable by the tongue. It will be difficult to track down a refiner which I can use at home to get the particles to this size!

4. Conching
Once I have refined the cacao and added the sugar, the chocolate then needs to go through the conching process. I anticipate that this will be the most difficult stage of the home chocolate processing. It involves the churning of the chocolate at a continuous speed and elevated temperature for a minimum of 12 hours. I have doubts about my ability to complete this stage!

5. Tempering
I have already tempered chocolate, but not at home. There are three techniques for tempering; the marble method, the seeding method and the water bowl method. If I manage to track down a slab of marble, then I will attempt marble tempering!

6. Moulding
This should be simple enough, however, it depends on how I wish my chocolate to be moulded. This will involve either searching for a suitable mould or trying to create one myself.

Before I carry out any of the processes, I plan to read about home chocolate processing as much as possible. I, of course, expect to come across plenty of bumps along the way but this is all part of the learning process. I can only hope that I will manage to overcome these obstacles so that I can complete the challenge and taste my own homemade chocolate!

If anyone has any advice or ideas then please do share them!