Now I’ve always loved chocolate (who doesn’t?) and I’ve cooked with it many times, but I have to admit that I didn’t have a great understanding of the whole chocolate making process. So when I was invited to attending a chocolate class at ‘Bake With Maria’, I was really excited to expand my knowledge of this area.
The class was held at a baking lab based in St John’s Wood, owned by Maria Mayerhofer. The lovely Maria explained how she started out teaching people how to bake bread at her home (shutting her partner away in the bedroom while the classes took place!) and the popularity of these classes led to her opening the Baking Lab in 2011.
They have just introduced chocolate-making classes, hosted by Annamarie Jones, a pastry chef and chocolatier, originally from San Diego. Here she is, introducing us to her very own (albeit slightly tired!) cacao tree, Corky.
To begin with, Annamarie explained where our chocolate comes from. The Forastero tree yields around 70% of the world’s chocolate, found in the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The top grade is the Criollo tree, which yields a much smaller percentage of the world’s chocolate. And the rest is taken from a hybrid of the two – the Trinitario tree.
THE CHOCOLATE MAKING PROCESS
- The pods are split open – the layers of beans and fruit are put into a fermentation crate or laid over banana leaves. This fermentation process isn’t just to improve the flavour – it helps the beans to get rid of any bacteria and stops the beans from growing.
- Next is the drying process – the beans are left in a covered space outdoors for around a week (it can be up to 3 if it has been raining heavily).
- Roasting – the beans are roasted at the optimum temperature for the best chocolate. It is vital that they aren’t over-roasted. They need to be kept at a steady, low temperature over time, making sure no smoke rises from them.
- Winnowing – the shells are removed, often using machines to speed up the process. The meat of the bean is taken out and ground down. At this point you have the cocoa nibs – these are a very healthy snack food that are high in antioxidants and are great to give you a boost of energy.
- Nibs are ground down – they are ground into a cocoa liqueur to form a paste. The cocoa butter is extracted. This butter helps the chocolate to melt but it can burn very easily which can ruin the chocolate, so it needs to be handled carefully.
- After being extracted, the cocoa butter is added back in – it is up to each chocolate company’s discretion as to how much butter is added back in, and this is what gives each type of chocolate its unique flavour, but you will never find out the exact quantities, only the overall quantity of cocoa.
- The chocolate is smoothed out – this is done with a slow heat treatment and usually needs large machinery to get it to the required texture.
- Moulding – the liquid is poured into bars, to form the chocolate bars we use as chocolatiers.
Our class was in partnership with Cocoa Bijoux, a delightful shop in West Hampstead, selling every kind of chocolate you could imagine. The shop’s owner, Stuart, took us through a detailed tasting session.
1. The first chocolate was a 55% milk chocolate bar from Eastern Congo.
2. The second was a 42% milk chocolate bar from France, with caramel and salt. It was very nice, easy to eat, and apparently one of the most popular purchases in the shop.
3. The third was a 72% dark chocolate from the Dominican Republic.
4. The fourth was a 71% dark chocolate from the Philippines – this had a hint of treacle and liquorice and was my favourite of the bars we tried – it was the most unusual.
5. Fifth was a 72% dark chocolate from Venezuela, which Stuart explained was the most ‘typical’ tasting dark chocolate (what a cocoa bean should taste like).
6. Next was a 77% dark chocolate from Peru.
7. The seventh was a 64% raspberry flavoured dark chocolate from France. For me, this was quite reminiscent of the chocolate Turkish delight that you used to be able to buy (but obviously a lot nicer!)
8. The prettiest of the chocolates on offer were the truffles, which included milk champagne, kir royale, cassis liqueur and blackcurrant powder.
9. Slightly less pretty, but very tasty, were the chocolate walnuts.
10. Moving on slightly from the traditional chocolates, we were given some raw honey from Sardinia to try, which was made up of 35% ground piemonte hazelnut.
11. And finally we tried some pistachio cream spread, which I could have just continued to eat straight from the jar with a spoon!
After the tasting session, Annamarie showed us how to make a dark chocolate ganache to turn into truffles.
Ingredients (makes about 50 rolled truffles)
125ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split and beans scraped
50g unsalted butter, room temperature
75g 65-70% dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
Pinch of salt
Cocoa powder for dusting
Stir the cream and glucose together in a medium saucepan. Scrape the vanilla beans into the pan along with the pod, and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil over medium high heat, remove from the heat, and allow to sit for one minute (for best results, allow to cool, transfer to a bowl, cover and infuse further by refrigerating overnight).
Line the bottom and sides of an 8 inch square baking tin with plastic wrap.
In a small/medium heatproof bow, pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and stir in the cream mixture using a spatula in small concentric circles until the chocolate is fully incorporated and emulsifies into a homogenous mixture. Add the butter in small pieces and incorporate.
Pour the ganache into the lined tin and spread evenly. Cover with cling film and allow to set in the fridge for about 1 hour.
Place the cocoa powder into a 2-inch deep baking tray.
Place the ganache onto a work surface or chopping board, remove cling film and using a knife, cut the ganache into 1 inch squares, dipping the knife into hot water and wiping between each cut. Wearing plastic gloves, roll the ganache squares into balls, then roll and coat in cocoa powder.
The truffles are ready to serve! At the class, we were also treated to a glass of champagne and some chocolate macarons.
MAKING TRUFFLES AT HOME
As we left, there was another surprise to come – the lovely people at Bake With Maria had prepared some ganache for us all to take home, to try out making some truffles at home! I made mine this weekend, trying out three different flavours – coconut, honeycomb and raspberry:
Bake With Maria are now offering two types of chocolate classes:
Introduction to Chocolate Making
Cost: £65 per person. Length: 2.5 hours.
Details: This class will teach you how to make, Truffles, Chocolate Lollipops and Orangettes. Coffee, tea and a homemade treat is served upon arrival and you will take home all the chocolates you make in the class – beautifully wrapped!
Chocolate Desserts Class
Cost: £105 per person. Length: 4 hours.
Details: This class will teach you how to make Pot de Creme, Chocolate Brittle Tart and Chocolate Fondants. Coffee, tea and a homemade treat is served upon arrival and you will take home a Chocolate Fondant, two tartlets, and one pot de crème.
For more information, you can visit the Bake With Maria website here. They also offer gift vouchers and host private parties at the Baking Lab.
I was invited to attend the chocolate class by Bake With Maria but did not receive any payment. All views are my own.