There is no better, there is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle.--Michael Faraday, The Chemical History of a Candle
Michael Faraday was right. Everywhere we look, the world around us contains so many possibilities for understanding natural philosophy (the old name for science), because we use it in our lives in so many ways every day.
Faraday was focused on the numerous processes at work in a candle; we're going to take the same approach in a somewhat different venue. And if, in addition to reading along, you replicate the steps described here, at the end, you're going to have a treat to reward yourself with.
Interestingly, you can find chocolate massage at some spas, so there is actually an even more direct connection between chocolate and massage than we're exploring here.
Source: http://thedailybasics.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/chocolate-massage-tineye-marriot.jpg accessed 24 August 2012
Our connection to it here in this post is just as a very nice part of the larger material physical universe that we're engaged in; maybe we'll talk about chocolate massage some other time.
Making vanilla-cream-infused chocolate balls
To make chocolate balls, we have to decide what we're going to do about their inside and their outside.
For this recipe, we're going to have a ganache inside--a smooth, soft mixture of chocolate and cream, infused with fresh vanilla.
The outside will be, for simplicity's sake, premade hollow chocolate shells. The reason I'm going premade on this is that I don't want to discuss tempering chocolate yet--that's a big enough topic that I want to treat it later on its own.
Here are all the ingredients that I'm going to use in this recipe.
The cream in the background, and the chocolate buttons in plastic bags and the vanilla pod lying on a saucer in the foreground are going to become the inside of the chocolate balls.
The hollow chocolate shells lined up in plastic trays in the center of the picture are going to become the outside of the balls. I buy mine at a nearby chocolate store; depending on where you live, this may or may not be an option.
Later, we're going to talk about how to make them entirely from scratch. But as I mentioned, there is enough to learn about that process that I want to get back to it later, so that we can quickly get to making some confections now.
Ingredients to start:
8 ounces chocolate buttons or other kinds of chips or shaved or chopped chocolate for the ganache
Either dark or milk is ok, whichever you prefer. White may work every bit as well as milk or dark does, but since I don't have very much experience with white chocolate, I can't speak to it out of real experience.
You don't have to seek out buttons, but you do want as much surface area (the "amount" of exposed surface [Wolfram MathWorld, "Surface Area" accessed 24 August 2012]) as possible exposed, so that when you add the boiling cream, it melts reasonably evenly. You don't want to pour boiling cream over a chocolate slab. If you start with a block of chocolate, chop it or shave it so that you have lots of smaller pieces, exposing more surface area for the cream to contact.
You'll have ganache left over from this much chocolate for other uses--more chocolate balls, cake frosting, other treats.
2 ounces extra chocolate for sealing off the filled chocolate balls
1 cup pasteurized heavy whipping cream
This proportion of cream to chocolate is not absolute. When you try it, see what you think about the resulting ganache. If you find it too liquidy, you can fix that by adding more chocolate. If it's too stiff for your taste, you can make it more liquid by adding more cream to the mixture. This proportion is a good first approximation, but feel free to vary the proportions to get the ganache to be the way you like it.
63 hollow 3/4" chocolate shells
3/4" inch is a very good size, since we're putting a creamy filling inside a crisp chocolate shell. If the person eating the chocolate eats it in two bites, the filling has the potential to leak out (especially later, when we're going to be doing other, very liquid, fillings, such as liqueurs). This small size is convenient for people to just pop in their mouths and eat in one bite, so there's no danger of the filling leaking out uncontrolled.
1 vanilla pod
Microbiology of this photograph
The chocolate in the center and the foreground, for all practical purposes, do not support microbes, and are safe for storing at room temperature. They're best used within 18 months from manufacture, for the sake of taste, but as long as they're stored in a hygienic way, straight chocolate is a very safe food.
The biologicals in this photo, the vanilla pod and the cream, are where any practical risk of food spoilage is going to come in. Before it's been used in cooking, the dried vanilla pod can be stored at room temperature in a dark place out of direct sunlight for at least 6 months--some sources say for up to a year. If it dries out, or has visible signs of stinky mold, then you have a problem, but most of the time, it should stay moist and workable for 6 months.
After you've used it to make a ganache, you can reuse it a few more times, but it needs to be fairly soon--the cream that it is boiled in will determine its remaining shelf life. Before it's ever used, you should store it at room temperature; after boiling it in cream, you should store it in the refrigerator, and any reuse should take place soon after.
The cream is a good source of bacterial growth, because it's a great food source for them, but we're going to thwart that by boiling it, killing any microbes that may have been in it. Of course, others can establish themselves later, so we'll definitely practice safe food handling practices with it. The cream is the most immediate weak link in the food safety chain of chocolate confections, and it's the one around which we'll plan our safe food handling.
The reason I put such emphasis on safe food handling is this: Not only is it a matter of professional ethics; it is also one of respect.
A couple of years ago, I read of a benefit being put on at the Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish tribe) longhouse cultural center, to raise funds for their legal struggle for federal recognition of their tribal status.
The tribe is suing the federal government for recognition--asking to reverse a 2001 Bureau of Indian Affairs decision that the tribe had gone extinct.
--Duwamish tribe, "Duwamish Fight for Federal Recognition" accessed 24 August 2012
I emailed them to ask if they'd be interested in having me set up my massage chair at the event, and donating all money I earned from massage there to the legal fund that the benefit was set up for. They liked the idea, and so I showed up at the agreed-upon day and time.
While setting up my massage chair and learning my way around the center, I talked to others working at the event.
The woman managing the kitchen mentioned that they often used the longhouse dining room to put on philanthropic and other service events, but no matter what the event, anyone working in the kitchen has to have a food-service license that shows they are trained in the basics of safe food-handling. No exceptions.
Even if it's charity, anyone eating there has the right to expect that the people serving them a meal are doing it at a professional level of standards. No one, even at a charitable event, is expected to settle for less-than-professional quality of service.
As the woman explained, "It's a matter of respect.".
It's out of that spirit of respect for anyone that we served food to that I present the food-safety information here. Taste and enjoyment are very important, but keeping each other safe to continue to enjoy it is a foundational principle.
Step 1: Prepare the vanilla for infusion
Vanilla pods are really fruits of the vanilla orchid. The shiny textured pods contain the tiny black seeds of the orchid. We're going to include both the contents of the pod and the pod itself in our infusion.
The first step is to slice open on side of the pod and flatten it out. Then you can scrape out the seeds and other contents of the pod. They're seen on the right side of this saucer, beside the knife.
The seeds and the pod are going to go into the cream to bring to a boil on top of the stove.
Once the pod is used in this way, it still retains a great deal of flavor. You can reuse the pod 5 or 6 more times, but remember that--now that you have cooked it in cream--you need to store it in the refrigerator, rather than at room temperature, and you need to use it sooner than the 6-month-or-more shelf life a dried pod would have.
This is also your opportunity to put other flavorings in the ganache. I've just suggested vanilla here, but you're certainly not limited to that--you can put in other herbs and flavorings, to suit your taste. Your imagination is the limit here, as long as it's something you can safely eat or drink.
VERY IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: Never use essential oils of any quality less than food-grade essential oils for flavoring, whether you're making chocolate or any other food.
Because I as an MT, as well as the MTs in the reading audience, work with essential oils, it is critical that we be very clear on that distinction. We may often use the term "essential oils" to refer to topical products that we apply to clients' skin.
We must always make sure not to confuse the essential oils we use in massage with food-grade essential oils that we use in cooking or other ways of making food--no exceptions at all.
Many of the essential oils that we use in massage or aromatherapy are actively harmful or toxic if eaten or drunk.
Never, ever eat or drink any essential oil unless you are absolutely positive that it is a food-grade essential oil and nothing else. When purchasing it, unless you are absolutely positive from the label, never hesitate to feel free to ask the merchant you are purchasing from if it is food-grade essential oil, and safe to use in food and drinks.
Step 2: Infuse the flavorings in the cream
Put the seeds and the pod in the cream (plus any other flavorings if you've decided to use them), and bring them to a boil on top of the stove.
When the cream comes to a boil, we're going to pour them over the chocolate, so have the chocolate nearby and ready to go when the cream is ready.
Step 3: Melt the chocolate in the boiling cream
When the cream is boiling, pour it over the chocolate and stir to mix it thoroughly.
As the chocolate begins to melt, you'll see small chunks start to appear in the cream.
It will get browner and more evenly spread out as the hot cream comes into contact with the surface area of all the chocolate, melting it more and more.
When it's thoroughly melted, and you can't see any more white cream visible, then--if all has gone well--the shiny glossy surface of the mixture tells you that an emulsion of liquid melted chocolate suspended (or dispersed) in liquid cream is present.
This emulsion is the completed ganache.
Put the ganache aside to cool. Chocolate has a very low melting point; you've probably experienced having chocolate melt from just holding it in your hand. Chocolate's melting point is very close to human body temperature, so you don't want to put this hot chocolate in the chocolate shells right away.
Step 4: Fill chocolate shells with ganache
Once the chocolate has cooled to the temperature that you want to work with it at, you'll fill the chocolate shells with the ganache.
How do you know that the ganache is at the right temperature? You want it to be cool enough to put in the chocolate shells without melting them, yet not so cool that it becomes solid, stiff, and difficult to work with.
As you're working, you may find that the chocolate grows colder and becomes harder to work with than you want. You can always pop it in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, to make it more liquid again without heating it up too much.
What do you fill the shells with? You can using a frosting piping bag (my teacher's preferred method) or a food-grade syringe (my preference).
Fill up the shell's interior, but only up to the interior rim. You don't want to fill them up all the way, because you need to leave room to add a solid chocolate barrier to seal the creamy ganache inside.
Step 5: Sealing off the chocolate balls
Melt the remaining 2 ounces of chocolate to use to seal off the hole in the ganache-filled chocolate balls.
You can apply the chocolate with a piping bag or syringe to close off the balls in the same way you filled the balls, if you like, but I like to do this part by hand.
Of course, I make sure to wash and scrub my hands thoroughly before this step--20 seconds (time to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice) under warm water, washing, scrubbing, and rinsing all exposed surface areas of the hand, shows care and respect for the well-being of the people to whom you're going to present these chocolates.
Dry your hands thoroughly before dipping them into the chocolate--not only is that an important part of handwashing hygiene, but you don't want to introduce water into your chocolate.
It sounds funny to say that melted chocolate is a very dry liquid--it sounds like a contradiction in terms. And yet, if you think about what "wet" means, it starts to make sense.
Melted chocolate is the same material as solid chocolate--it has just changed physical state, but there has been no chemical change. It's still exactly the same material.
When it was solid, it didn't have water in it. Adding heat to melt it gives the chocolate molecules energy to get further apart from each other. Because they don't hold on to each other as tightly as they did when it's a solid, it's softer and more pliable. But there's still no water in it, any more than there was when it was solid.
But if you add water to the melted chocolate, a chemical change occurs. It's no longer the same compound as it was, and it's not going to work the same way it did before the water was added.
Joe Pastry's blog shows what chocolate looks like when it seizes.
Source: Joe Pastry, "How to 'Un-Seize' Chocolate" accessed 24 August 2012
You can avoid this problem by not letting water get into your melted chocolate.
However, if water does get in, don't panic and throw away perfectly good chocolate!
It can't go on to become tempered chocolate or anything like that, but you can make chocolate syrup out of it by adding more liquid (more water, cream, and so forth). Seized chocolate changes from its original form, but it can be salvaged.
Joe Pastry's blog shows what the process looks like, and you can find detailed directions at the blog itself.
Source: Joe Pastry, "How to 'Un-Seize' Chocolate" accessed 24 August 2012
But let's try not to need to salvage the chocolate by not getting water in it in the first place.
After you've melted the 2 ounces of chocolate, you can dip your clean, dry finger in it to dab melted chocolate onto the open hole of the filled shells.
Dab enough melted chocolate to close the hole completely.
Remember, pure chocolate doesn't support microbial life. The cream, on the other hand, does, although it's temporarily free enough of microbes, since we boiled it. But other microbes can live in it after it cools, so sealing it off from the outside world, using pure chocolate, protects it from that possibility.
If you seal the ganache off totally, these chocolate balls can be stored safely at room temperature for several days.
The melted chocolate used to seal off the chocolate balls wil grow solid as it cools. If you're in a hurry, though, you can take advantage of the fact that changes in temperature can accelerate changes in physical state. You can stick them in the refrigerator or freezer to accelerate the melted chocolate turning solid.
You'll notice that there is unevenness and asymmetery in the finished balls, where I dabbed them with my finger to close them. That's fine; they're homemade--they shouldn't look as perfectly spherical as ball bearings, or as machine-produced chocolates.
As soon as the chocolate seal is solid, you can eat them, although some people prefer to wait a day or so, as the infusion continues to diffuse flavor in the ganache.
The best flavor is within 1-3 days of making them, although as mentioned, they'll actually last longer than that--either at room temperature, or in the refrigerator.
For serving them, though, the plastic tray the shells come in is very floppy, and can lead to dropping the chocolates.
Before moving the filled and sealed chocolate balls anywhere (whether to the refrigerator to speed up the sealing, or to the table for serving), I always slip a baking tray or other support under the plastic tray, or else I transfer the chocolates to a serving plate. I don't try to move the plastic tray unsupported, as that always ends in tears.
If you try this, I hope you enjoy it, and that you let us know in the comments how it turned out for you.
What flavorings do you like in chocolate?
Did you try making these chocolates?
Please tell us in the comments.