Friday, July 12, 2013

Chocolate Workshop with Ginette Ahier

At first, one may think Ginette's modest and clean design is an inadequate translation of the personality that lies within miniature sweet works of art. Uniform and bite-sized, lined up perfunctorily in each case; but the detail in the patterns and each almost poetic description provides a window in her eclectic quirkiness.

Ginette Ahier is the proud owner-operator of Choco Cocagne in Cocagne, New Brunswick. As part of the various food artisans gathered at the ACE Bakery 20th Anniversary celebrations, she offered a chocolate-making workshop where we learned the science to tempering chocolate along with a quick mint-infused ganache for its filling. We also got the insider's scoop on her small artisanal chocolatière. She spoke of the challenges of sourcing, production, and distribution, as well as offering tidbits of advice for the at-home chocolatiers.
Choco Cocagne always has a new take on the classic, with ganache centres ranging from fresh mint grown in her garden to hazelnut with deep-fried crepe bits, but also unusual additions like Pastis, an anise-flavoured French liqueur, and Masala chai, a robust Indian tea of mixed spices and herbs. Ginette has refined her formulation to optimize shelf-life, so that she can take her business further, with deliveries soon to Ontario and Quebec. Neither sweeteners nor preservatives are added to her products, so they're best consumed within a week if kept cold. As a note for any products kept in the fridge, I strongly suggest you take them out an hour before consumption to really taste the depth of flavours. Believe it or not, your taste buds are numbed by the cold, so the subtle flavours may be lost if you consume it straight out of the fridge.
With chocolate as the main component of her products, it would be extremely limiting if she insisted on a 100% locally-sourced ingredient list. Instead, she handpicks her fair-trade cacao suppliers from specific regions that offer a distinct flavour profile, but also supports local businesses by purchasing berries from her home province of New Brunswick. She refused to divulge any more trade secrets but I have no doubt that the vendor is providing safe, wholesome ingredients of consistent quality!
At the workshop, there were quite a few experienced chocolatiers and candy-makers who seemed familiar with tempering chocolate. This is the process of melting chocolate and specifically, the cocoa butter, to ensure that it hardens into a regular crystalline structure, holding the glossiness and hard shell for a longer time. Untempered chocolate may still firm up, but will have a dull, matte appearance due to bloom, the silvery white sheen which is the cocoa butter fat precipitating out. While I understood the science behind it, tempering always seemed to be a mystery to me; after seeing it in action, I have greater appreciation for that firm "snap" and glossy sheen!
Most operators will use a tempering machine working with blocks of untempered chocolate, but the microwave will work for us nifty common folk who simply wish to preserve the temper from the chocolate manufacturer, before crafting our own pieces. Place the chocolate pastilles in a microwave-safe bowl and heat and stir in intervals until you reach 31–32°C (88–90°F) for dark chocolate. Once the chocolate is tempered, you can heat it up a bit more to make it easier to work with, but keep on stirring! The more agitated it is, the more the cocoa butter will be disrupted and will yield better results. For our moulded chocolates (with mint ganache), we used couverture chocolate for its higher cocoa butter content. This property resulted in a shiny and smooth surface, crisp snap when bit, and of course, perfect melting texture!
While Ginette used her heat gun to keep the chocolate at the right temperature, other participants made the ganache filling by heating heavy cream, sprigs of mint, and sugar to a scald before adding more chocolate. For other flavours, I presume liqueur can also be added in substitution for some parts heavy cream.
We spooned the tempered chocolate into the square moulds, then flipped it over, shook it forcefully, scraping off excess until only the walls of the wells were coated. There is a technique to this step - if you get it right, all the chocolate will settle into the mold properly and air bubbles are removed. Once cooled, I got to fill the molds with our ganache using a piping bag, with Ginette finishing the top layer of the tempered chocolate to "close" the bottom. When the chocolate had set, Ginette flipped the molds onto the counter top dramatically to release our chocolates!
Note: This is a guest post by Laura Leung. Laura is a graduate of the University of Toronto's Food and Nutritional Sciences program and works for Canada's largest food retailer. She has a passion for food and likes experimenting in the kitchen, learning about new ingredients, and tasting new products. During her spare time, she can be found biking in the city, reading a biography, visiting local markets, or enjoying some Portuguese pastries.

Disclaimer: Laura was invited on behalf of Kali Hopkins-Allen from Citizen Optimum to attend an ACE Bakery Artisan Workshop. In celebration of its 20th Anniversary, ACE Bakery hosted their first ever Artisan Incubator. Each Artisan hosted two one-hour workshops to showcase their craft.

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