Chocolate is a magical medium.
With a texture that morphs from solid to liquid in seconds, it is the art material of choice at the Culinary Institute of Canada this week.
That's because, in the past few days, it's being shredded, melted, spray-painted, sculpted and molded into creative, artistic expressions by pastry arts students working to complete their end-of-year projects.
"Working with chocolate requires patience. It takes fine science and technique to temper it properly," says Sean Burton, who has spent hours creating the Mad Hatter, a white chocolate rabbit popping out of a dark chocolate hat.
When the third-year student sat down to design his showpiece, he wanted to demonstrate as many of the technical skills involved in chocolate processing that he could.
"So I worked with modelling chocolate, molding, painting and airbrushing it. At first I had difficulty deciding on which theme to use. But I was walking downtown and I saw someone walking wearing a heart reminiscent of the Mad Hatter. So inspiration struck and, being a fan of "Alice in Wonderland", things came together from there," says Burton with a smile, as he lifts his colourful chocolate creation up for others to see.
Even the rabbit's fur is fashioned from chocolate.
"I created it with a paintbrush and some tempered chocolate. I dabbed it on before it dried to create the fur texture," says Burton, Calgary, one of 32 students in the pastry arts class taught by chef instructor Christian Marchsteiner.
Sarah Hill is another.
"For the past five weeks I have been working on chocolate sculptures. In particular, I've been working on this one all day and now we are going to finish it with a chocolate lacquer," says the Moncton resident, pointing to the Sorting Hat, inspired by the popular movie franchise, "Harry Potter".
Described as a Hogwarts school artifact, it magically determines to which of the four schoolhouses each new student is to be assigned in the movie series.
For Burton, the magic is making chocolate work the way she wants it to.
"There are times where I've wanted to tear my hair out, but once you get the hang of it and you want to learn more, it becomes easy because you become passionate about it."
And, sampling is always fun.
"I do like the end results that come from chocolate. It's hard work, and now I understand why it costs so much for handmade chocolate. It takes a lot of time."
Chef instructor Marchsteiner appreciates the time his students put into their creations.
"It's such a creative thing. Everybody starts with the same thing but the end result is always different," he says.
Need to know
- Couverture chocolate is a type of chocolate used in pastry shops and confectioneries, it means "to cover" or "to coat." It is available on P.E.I. at Bulk Barn and other retail outlets.
- Couverture flows more readily when heated, than chocolate found in candy bars. For a chocolate to be called couverture, it must contain at least 31 per cent cocoa butter. It comes in three types: milk couverture, dark couverture and white couverture. If unavailable, use a good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate with a high cocoa butter content.
- Bakers chocolate or coating is similar to couverture, but the cocoa butter is replaced by another type of fat. It's simpler to work with because no tempering is required.
"It's such a creative thing. Everybody starts with the same thing but the end result is always different."
- Tempering is the process needed to handle the couverture, so that it will give a lasting gloss, best melting properties and a good resistance to warmth. Tempering means the process of melting the chocolate, precrystalizing it and the rewarming it to the correct working temperature. Couverture needs to be warmed to 45 to 50 C, then cooled to 26 or 27 C, then rewarmed to 30 to 32.5 C to be workable.
- Signs of overcooking? Chocolate will become grainy or scorched.
- The majority of cocoa plantations can be found in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Ecuador and Columbia.
(Sources: Candace Merkins,Delta Prince Edward Hotel, Culinary Institute of Canada.)
Here's a recipe to try:
150 mL cream
200 g dark couverture
100 g milk couverture
5 g vanilla
30 g butter, soft
30 g Nutella (optional)
In a medium pot heat up the cream with the vanilla. Pre-melt the couverture.
Add the cream and the Nutella to the couverture and stir until everything is well incorporated. When the ganache is at room temperature, add the soft butter and mix with a soft whisk.
Pipe with a piping bag small truffles on parchment paper. Leave them in the fridge until they firm up.
Dip truffles in dark chocolate and role in cocoa powder.
Source: Chef Christian Marchsteiner, Culinary Institute of Canada