Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hey, There's a Reason they Cost that Much! . . . Learning to Make Artisan Chocolates

Well, my Pastry II class is finally over, and I'm done with schoolwork until September. Boy, have I been craving the mellower pace of summer. To say I'm grateful for its arrival might just be the understatement of the year. I'm looking forward to pondering all that we did in class over the last eight weeks because we produced some of the most extraordinary and elaborate desserts I've ever seen. We also whipped up colorful French macarons, premium ice creams and sorbets, delicate candies, and sugar sculptures. At the half-way point in the semester, we assembled an impressive array of our creations and offered samples to all comers. From the whimsical to the ornate, they were dazzling desserts. It was something to see.

We made great stuff in that class, but I think the hours that we spent on chocolate may have been the most eye opening for me. In fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of culinary school overall has been the way that the veil of culinary secrecy has been pulled back. I'm talking about that invisible shroud that seems to shield us non-chef mortals from the knowledge of how particular food items are actually prepared. Specifically, the sorts of foods that most people would never even think to attempt at home.   

Case in point, the creation of artisan chocolate candies. I'm talking about handmade chocolates of absolute premium quality; think of the shiny treats you see for sale in high-end chocolate shops, sold for upwards of forty or fifty dollars a pound at minimum. Having now been exposed to some of the methods, equipment, and materials used to produce such candies, I have a far more complete and sympathetic understanding of why they command such outrageous prices.

It's not just because they're made from the finest ingredients, are labor intensive to produce, and the tools required to make them are prohibitively expensive. No, it's also because making them requires a significant amount of skill and training, and pastry chefs who are devoted to learning and perfecting those techniques are not a dime a dozen. I think anyone can call himself a "chocolatier" but then, anyone can call himself a rocket scientist, too. Calling yourself that doesn't make it true.

Anyway, after the last few weeks' immersion in chocolate, I am content to forgo artisan candy production in my own little kitchen and leave it for now to the experts. In the meantime, I present to you my chocolate-filled chocolate "box" (which was 100% edible in every way and, of course, we did eat it!) that I made in class, along with the variety of chocolates--nicely packaged in that gold box--that we produced there as well. We were each allowed to take home one packaged box of our candy, along with our own custom-designed edible chocolate box, also filled to capacity.

Pastry class, after all, does have its benefits.

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