Despite starting to make a living out of talking about and tasting chocolate ten years ago, I hadn’t actually attempted to make chocolates or even chocolate-dipped fruit on my own since some time before this. I observed other friends make them, but I was content with making cookies, cakes and brownies. Mostly I make food because I enjoy eating it, hence I will even whip up cookies or muffins over a cake that might have to bake for 45 minutes (what, wait over an hour from deciding to make a cake and actually getting to eat it?). The idea of a several-stage, seemingly complicated and messy process that might also fail, didn’t quite seem worth the effort.
Then I got invited onto two chocolate workshops within the space of two weeks. Thiscoincided with conversations with a dear friend looking for chocolates for her wedding. I recommended a few chocolatiers but she decided she would buy some love spoon moulds (she was marrying a Welshman) and make them herself. From my wedding last year I know that adding something that mammoth to the To Do list last minute is a guaranteed precursor of stress so in a moment of extreme empathy I volunteered to do them for her. At least I felt I had enough friends in the industry to give me some advice. The workshop invitations could not have come at a better time. I picked up tips to make it so much easier and also had a reason to practice the new skills meaning that hopefully they’re now embedded!
I was really rather proud of how the spoons turned out and received William Curley’s first book from the friend as a thank you. This is a book I have previously looked upon as containing far too many intimidating recipes to justify purchasing for myself, even though I have always recommended it for others. Now? Bring it on.
The two classes I went on were really quite different. Still I would thoroughly recommend them both. Which one depends on your objectives. Allow me to elaborate. If you’re looking for fun with some friends for a few hours and a chance to learn some introductory skills to make homemade truffles for your dinner party then the 2.5 hours at Bake with Maria will be totally enjoyable as well as useful for this.
The class is in a small but pretty industrial unit near Hampstead. After being welcomed with a homebaked treat the education begins with a tasting that’s a useful introduction to the process of chocolate being transformed from bean to bar and also different styles of chocolate including flavoured bars and a truffle or two. Then you’ll watch ganache being made and get your gloves on and transform that ganache into little balls and coat them with cocoa. There’s plenty of time to ask the sweet teacher AnnaMarie for tips. In the short class you’ll also have time to learn the basics of tempering and pour chocolate into lollipop moulds and sprinkle them with nuts and other treats. A perfect thing to learn to make teacher gifts or kids party treats.
If you think you want to go to the next level of expertise, to add to your skills as a baker, to get the edge for a kitchen-related interview or to start a home chocolate-related business then the amount you cover in a day with Cookery School at Little Portland Street is staggering. The room is large and filled with stainless steel and professional kitchen lighting, as well as mirrors and screens to make sure you can see everything (even though the class is capped at 12 so it’s not totally necessary). We also started with a cocoa and chocolate production background and tasting here, this time it was a roundup of premium brands used in professional kitchens in London as well as a few other UK-made artisan bars. My classmates here were all on an intensive eight week cookery course covering every specialism a modern chef should know, which should give you an idea of the calibre of this class.
Roz and the Portland Street Cookery School chocolate workshop
For each chocolate skill we were given the demonstration by Stephen, who is currently a chocolatier for a restaurant group making thousands of filled chocolates a week. School owner Roz gave us a demonstration of honeycomb which is the basics of a caramel with added complications so if you can master this you can master any caramel. The practise and tips in tempering made my days moulding the chocolate love spoons infinitely quicker, easier and less messy. Most exciting for me was learning how to make praline. I *love* praline and the good quality paste is pretty pricey. Now I can do it myself and it stores for ages. Simpler than I’d expected and you don’t even have to make it regularly (assuming you want to eat it regularly and, well, why wouldn’t you?).
Caramelised hazelnuts cooling to be blitzed into praline paste.
Most of what we saw being made at Portland St we then went to create ourselves including the seed tempering, piping ganache and filling and capping moulds. The best thing is that someone always made a mistake (yep, I made plenty) which meant we all learnt how to fix mistakes (or when to give up and start again!). This is invaluable when you’re actually trying to repeat the process at home. It’s no good just seeing how it looks when it all goes smoothly. What happens when you’re at home and the lumps won’t melt? And what made the honeycomb so dense? Not all of us have chocolatiers on speed dial (and because of this experience I didn’t need to hassle any of the ones on mine!).
This day of making was intersected with a most delicious lunch. The advantage of the class appearing as part of an intensive course across all disciplines means you’ll get to sit down to bread baked on site and some more gourmet dishes with top quality ingredients. We had slow cooked quail, Greek salad and spiced pumpkin soup accompanied by organic wine. Divine. Neither class comes especially cheap but they were enjoyable and both taught by chefs with years of experience so if you think you’re going to use the skills again they actually very good value. And you get to take home a whole load of chocolates! Which at the prices charged in most of the London boutiques it practically pays for the class (and makes you realise, if you didn’t already, why these chocolates aren’t – and shouldn’t be – cheaper!). In my next Chocolate Ecstasy newsletter sent out this week I’ll be sharing 10% discount codes for both so if you do want to book it’ll be even better value! To sign up fill in your details on this page: http://chocolateecstasytours.com/news.