Off to school
Much as I love teaching, it’s always fun to be on the other side and learning something new. So I was thrilled when my friend Ros suggested a trip to the wonderful Artisan Bakehouse to try our hands at some chocolate making. It’s a bit of a trek for me to get to the bottom of West Sussex for 9.30am – treated myself to a night in their cosy shepherd’s hut, so I could roll out of bed, partake of their generous breakfast hamper and be in the classroom on time.
It was a lovely chilled day, with Mike from Noble and Stace taking us through all the steps to make some fresh cream truffles, some slightly coffee-infused caramel truffles and some cute little chocolate bars.
Mike pitched the class perfectly – enough technical stuff for us to understand what was going on and how to fix things, without overwhelming us with information. I wasn’t expecting a bank of microwaves, but Mike explained that this is his preferred way with chocolate. Shame I haven’t got a microwave in my brand new kitchen… but I’ve used a bain marie for messing about with chocolate before and I will do it again. I was also a bit taken aback to be handed a hairdryer to keep the chocolate under control, but whatever it takes! I do own a hairdryer, rarely used for drying hair, so it has a new role.
We started with the fresh cream truffles. Don’t tell anyone, but they are pretty easy to make. Melt your butter in the cream. Melt the chocolate, mix it all together. Chill it. Then roll into truffles. I have made this kind of truffle before, but now I know how to make them a bit neater. We dusted with cocoa powder and they are delicious. Perfect to finish off a swanky dinner party.
Next we started on our coffee caramel truffles. This time we were proper chocolatiers, tempering our chocolate and getting busy with those hairdryers to keep the temperature just right. Coffee chocolates, along with the fruit-filled ones, are always last to go in our house. Affectionately known as the “dad chocolates”, as my dear old dad would always take the hit and finish them off, while my brothers and I tucked into the fudgy, nutty and no nonsense chocolate ones. But these were awesome, with a really delicate flavour, just a hint of coffee.
Mike made the filling for us ahead of the class and we used pre-made shells for these truffles. It’s a bit of a technique piping a very small amount of filling into a little case, but after the first couple, I got the hang of it and stopped making too much mess. Once the filling had set, we sealed the top with a little of our tempered chocolate and then the dipping started. Using a special dipping fork, which isn’t a fork at all, we dipped the truffles into the soft chocolate, let the excess drip back into the bowl and then onto some baking parchment ready for decorating.
You can only dip about four before the chocolate starts to set again and it’s back to the hairdryer.
Mike gave us some demerara sugar dusted with cocoa, which looks lovely, and some cocoa nibs and melted white chocolate so we would get all creative with our decorating.
We also made some chocolate bars – Mike showed us how to use coloured cocoa butter to make a pattern in the mould before we poured more tempered chocolate in and added toppings from the fine selection he had brought along with him. I’ve promised to save one of these for my daughter’s birthday in February, but that is going to be a challenge.
All of these new skills and recipes – plus a magnificent lunch and a plentiful supply of snacks to keep our energy and spirits up made for a great day the other side of the teacher’s table.