25 November, 2015
Anyone who knows Richard and I knows that we love chocolate. We both believe chocolate is a basic food group and we should eat some every day. (We don't practice that, we just believe it.
Well, this part of South America is the home of chocolate. This is where cacao trees originated. Where the first people learned that cacao could be eaten. That the fruit on the beans could be dried, fermented, roasted, and then ground. That the resulting powder could be mixed with water and spices and maybe some honey, and made a delicious drink. That this special treat was worthy to be drunk by royalty, or the gods! Then the Spanish arrived, and brought cacao to Europe. Theobroma, the food of the gods, the scientific name of chocolate, became a world-wide fascination and commodity.
We saw cacao trees growing in the tropical regions of Ecuador. Haven't found them in Peru, but this is one of the big cacao growing regions of the world.
And home to the ChocoMuseo, a chocolate museum plus café plus workshop!
Yes, the ChocoMuseo holds workshops so people can learn how to make chocolate. The basic workshop is From Plant to Bar - people learn how chocolate is grown, picked, fermented, dried, roasted, ground, and turned into cocoa powder and cocoa butter, then mixed and churned and molded into edible chocolate bars.
The other major workshop is Ganache and Truffles - for those of us who are ready to make fancier chocolates!
And that's what I signed up to take, the Ganache and Truffle workshop.
I arrived a bit early, and had a cup of cocoa tea - an infusion made from the cacao seed shell, boiled in water and sweetened. Delicious and refreshing and chocolatey without being heavy!
The other participants showed up, and Catarine, our instructor, gathered the three of us and took us to the workshop. We each donned an apron (chocolate making can get messy), and we were ready to go.
First we learned how to make ganache, the filling for truffles. Cream is heated to boiling and can be infused with flavors - we added coffee, and a dash of clove and cinnamon. This was strained and then poured over melted chocolate. (It could also be poured over chopped solid chocolate.) For dark chocolate, one uses a 2 to 1 ration - 200 grams of dark chocolate to 100 grams of cream. With lighter chocolate, less cream is used since the chocolate already has more fat in it. Anyway, we learned how to properly mix the cream and chocolate, slowly slowly, then faster to make a smooth glossy paste, which is the ganache. This is set aside to cool, and will be used later.
Then we put on gloves (like surgical gloves), and using ganache made previously, we rolled truffle centers. This has to be done quickly, because chocolate melts at 98.6 degrees F (about 37 C) - yes, exactly at body temperature! (Made for humans, right!?!?!?!) The passionfruit ganache was very melty, and I had trouble making nice round truffles out of this. But, well, pretty isn't everything.
While our rolled truffles chilled, we learned how to temper chocolate. The heated chocolate is spread out on a marble slab and spread around, then scooped back - this mixes the cocoa butter and chocolate liqueurs so they don't separate later on in processing the chocolate. The chocolate needs to be cooled to exactly 28 C (82.4 F), then a little more warm chocolate is added.
We used this molten chocolate to line molds - my molds had designs from the Nazca lines on them, which seemed so Peruvian! The important part was to fully line the bottom and sides of each truffle mold with the melted chocolate, without making it so thick that it would be a solid piece of chocolate. It was sort of like finger painting little cups with chocolate - so you know this was fun.
These molds went into the fridge to solidify, and our truffle balls came back out. Each ball was dipped and rolled in the melted chocolate, placed back on a tray, and decorated with our choice of goodies - I used either almonds or mini M&Ms to create my lovely truffles. (I should add that we used forks for this part. Most of the time we used spoons. And yes, we went through a LOT of silverware! With, of course, licking the spoons off before changing to a new one.)
Then the chocolate molds came out - these were filled with our coffee ganache, which we made at the beginning. The last layer was more molten chocolate to enclose the ganache center. And back into the fridge.
While everything chilled, we had a tour of the processing area.
Turns out my belief that chocolate is a basic food group that should be eaten every day really isn't too far from wrong. Catarine told us that if a person ate ten roasted cacao beans each day, they'd receive all the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins needed for good nutrition. Scientists have said that chocolate is as close to a perfect food as exists, and that it really does provide us with most of what we need for full nutrition. (This, of course, is without the sugar or milk or any of that unhealthy stuff we tend to add in.)
Then we tasted some of the drinks they made - pisco, a local liquor, mixed with chocolate, or coffee, or whatever. Just tiny fractions of a shot glass, but wow, strong stuff!!! Enough to get a little tipsy!
Finally, our truffles were ready for packaging. We had little boxes and ruffly paper cups, and cello bags with, of course, colorful ribbon. Presentation matters, even with homemade truffles!
It was a fun afternoon, I had great fun, and Richard and I now have 12 truffles to nibble on over the next week. Absolutely worth the modest fee for the workshop!
If anyone is ever in a place with a ChocoMuseo, definitely check it out and take a workshop. www.ChocoMuseo.com
And they also have a special workshop for children and families!