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It’s turning into a chocolate Christmas!

Despite the hot weather, I’ve been tempering bowls of chocolate daily, and little boxes and bags of wrapped goodies are starting to litter the living room (the coolest room in the house).

Above is our first attempt at a chocolate house.  Moulding the pieces was easy enough, but having enough tempered chocolate at the right temperature to glue it all together was tricky.  As was handling the pieces without them melting in our 30°C kitchen!  In the end it took both of us to assemble the finished cottage – a little rustic perhaps, and I’m not sure the roof was watertight, but it was eaten before it passed building inspection!  This was a trial run – we’re going to try to make one for Christmas day as well.  For any Aussies interested in giving this a go, the mould was only a few dollars (you need to buy two) from Roberts Confectionary online.

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Some other chocolate happenings in our kitchen include…

Ginger chocolate – crystallised Buderim ginger coated in a dark (about 65%) Belgian chocolate blend…

A dark chocolate wreath…

…and some musical notes – Big Boy plays the french horn and Small Man the trumpet, so finding a chocolate mould with both instruments on it was very exciting!

A dozen golden tickets are wrapped and waiting to be given away!

I’ve filled Turkish bowls with treats – don’t they look festive?

Our newest chocolate for the season are these little fruitcake truffles, made by blitzing fruit cake and glacé fruit in the food processor and then mixing the crumbs with melted dark chocolate and dark rum.  These were shaped into balls, then dipped in dark chocolate…

And my find of the season – treasure no less – are these French glacé orange rind strips, a new item from Harkola.  At $15 a kilo, it’s quite expensive compared to mixed peel, but massively better.  It’s also perfect for dipping into dark chocolate!

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In my kitchen…

…are a set of beautiful old etched glasses from the 1950s.  Our beloved neighbour, Mrs M, passed away in July, just a week shy of her 93rd birthday.  Her daughter Sarina gave me these glasses to remember her by…

In my kitchen…

…are three jars of Pete’s lilly pilly jelly, made from the fruit of the large tree in our backyard.  The lilly pilly is a tall growing Australian native, which produces tart red berries in abundance.  We harvested the fruit a few months ago and stored it in the freezer until we could find the time to turn it into jelly…

Here’s a Wikipedia photo of the lilly pilly berries…

In my kitchen…

…is a small bunch of kohlrabi, a gift from Jimmy at Flemington Markets.  The bulbs were delicious both raw and stir-fried in oyster sauce, and the chooks loved the leaves…

In my kitchen…

…are boxes of new season Roma tomatoes, which we’ve been turning into fresh and roasted tomato passata.  The great bonus of this process is tomato water, which I’m drinking chilled as I type..

In my kitchen…

…sits a box of dark Belgian chocolate cane toads, a gift for Big Boy’s English lecturer, to thank him for getting our son through the semester!

In my kitchen…

…is the first head of lettuce from our new garden.  Up until now, we’ve been picking off leaves for salad, but this is the first complete plant we’ve “harvested”.  It’s very exciting!

In my kitchen…

…are two bags of rice. The first is a gift from our generous friend, Moo – bomba paella rice from Valencia, Spain, known as the “king of paella rices” for its ability to absorb three times its volume in liquid.

The second is a box of carnaroli risotto rice from Italy – slightly longer grained than the more traditional arborio rice, and supposedly better at keeping its shape during cooking…

Tell me, what’s happening in your kitchen this month?

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These chocolates are made very simply, by mixing Nutella with milk chocolate.  I rarely weigh the ingredients for this, and usually only make it when I uncover half a jar of open hazelnut spread in the back of the pantry.  As Pete pointed out, the combination is better than either the milk chocolate or Nutella on its own!

I start by tempering a bowl of Belgian milk chocolate (Callebaut 823) and once it’s at the right temperature (86 – 88°F), I quickly stir in several heaped tablespoonfuls of Nutella.  There needs to be more chocolate than spread to ensure that the bar sets well enough to cut – I probably use about twice as much chocolate to Nutella by weight.

The mix is then poured and scraped into a parchment-lined cake tin, and allowed to set in the fridge.  Allow it a little time on the bench before you slice it. The slab might crack anyway but, in our house at least, there’s never a shortage of people to eat the broken bits.

The end result is a delicious sweet confectionary which tastes a little like Italian gianduja and a little like Ferraro Rochers.  The whole neighbourhood loves these!

Addendum: If you’re not au fait with tempering, you could try making these by simply melting the milk chocolate gently in the microwave or over a water bath, and then letting it cool to lukewarm (about 31C/88F) before stirring in the Nutella.  Pour it into the parchment lined tray as above and set it in the fridge.  I tried this today and it worked quite well, but the chocolate is more likely to melt and bloom at room temperature than the tempered version, so it’s best to keep the finished pieces in the fridge.

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In my kitchen…

…sits a dish of beetroot dip, made by roasting whole beets,  and then pureeing the peeled vegetable with a little garlic, olive oil, salt and a pinch each of ground coriander, cumin and sweet smoked paprika.  Very moreish!

In my kitchen…

…are several bespoke chocolate bars. One of nicest things about learning to temper chocolate is that it has allowed us  to create custom blends that we just can’t buy in stores.

Pete’s favourite is a  50:50 blend of Callebaut 811 54% and Sao Thome origin 70%.  I’m blissfully happy to be able to make it for him…

Small Man, on the other hand, is a lover of milk chocolate – these Belcolade Venezuela 43% bars (with just a little Callebaut Milk 823 added) were made for him, using fantastic “golden ticket” moulds from Candyland Crafts

In my kitchen…

…is a whole filleted Atlantic salmon.  The fillets will be divided into dinner portions for the freezer, the bones will be used in a fish stock and the head  will eventually become a Malaysian fish head curry.  Don’t laugh – the only thing I had to pin-bone the fillets with were my eyebrow tweezers!

In my kitchen…

…is a bowl of corn chowder, perfect fare for our cold Sydney weather.  Although I do confess to making it just so I could give the leftover corn cobs to the chickens!

In my kitchen…

…are three spelt sourdough baguettes, inspired by my dear friend Joanna’s blog post. The boys enjoyed a school holiday lunch of baguette hot dogs, with Dijon mustard and homemade tomato relish…

Tell me, what’s happening in your kitchen this month?

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For a far more detailed tutorial on tempering chocolate, please have a look at our Chocolate #101: Tempering at Home post. Thank you!

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Pete finds these ironic.  Whilst they have the shape of a regular chocolate frog, they’re really an adult version – 70% dark Belgian chocolate studded with cacao nibs (crushed cocoa beans).  They’re super dark both in colour and taste, and I’m sure they’re good for you, given that 70% dark chocolate is supposed to be both low GI and high in anti-oxidants.

Several years ago, instructed by David Lebovitz’ The Great Book of Chocolate, I taught myself to temper chocolate.  It’s a great skill to have up your sleeve and, once you’ve got your head around it, it’s actually quite easy to do.

It’s helpful to understand from the outset that all candy making works on similar principles. Whether you’re tempering chocolate, making fudge or creating nougat, the aim is dissolve the crystal structure and teach it to reform in a different way.

Tempering chocolate is about melting the chocolate into a liquid form, then teaching the crystals to reform in a manner that will allow it to set hard and glossy, rather than dull and brittle.  From experience, there are two important elements in all candy making – temperature and patience.  If you want to temper chocolate well, you need to invest in a good thermometer.  Mine is digital and waterproof and I use it as frequently as my dishwasher, so it has well and truly justified its $70 purchase price.

Tempering Chocolate #101 – Dark Chocolate

Step 1: Pour some chocolate callets (50 – 70% cocoa) or finely chopped chocolate into a small pyrex bowl.  The amount isn’t really important, although you want enough to make it worthwhile – I use a minimum of 400g.

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Step 2: Melt the chocolate in short 30 second bursts in the microwave.  You need to get the melted chocolate to a temperature of 115F to ensure that all the crystals are dissolved.  Make sure it doesn’t get much hotter than that, or you’ll scorch the chocolate. (Now you can see why a good thermometer is critical.)

Step 3: Put a large chunk of tempered chocolate into the melted liquid.  The theory here is that the tempered chocolate will “teach” the melted crystals to reform in a particular way.  I keep large pieces of chocolate in the fridge specifically for this purpose.   Keeping them cold speeds up the process, but you’ll still need to be patient.

Instead of one large lump, you could use pieces of chocolate – the important thing is that the chocolate should be hard and glossy (tempered) to start with.

Give the bowl a good stir and check the temperature.  Allow the molten chocolate to drop to a temperature of between 88F – 90F.  Go away, read a book or play solitaire on the computer, coming back occasionally to give it a stir.

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Step 4: When the melted chocolate has reached 90F, start testing it by smearing a little onto a plate and putting it in the fridge.  Once it’s tempered, it will set hard and glossy quite quickly (untempered chocolate will stay soft and sticky). Using a large fork, scoop the remains of the chunk out of the melted chocolate and wrap it in a sheet of parchment paper to reuse another day.

Step 5: In order to work with the chocolate, it needs to be kept at a temperature of 88F – 90F.  If it falls below this it will be out of temper (cranky?)  and won’t set properly.  I use a heat mat covered with a folded tea towel, which holds  the chocolate at the perfect temperature for enrobing.

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Step 6: The tempered chocolate is now ready to use.  You can stir inclusions into it, as I did (they’re cacao nibs you see in the photo below), dip truffles into it, pour it into moulds or pipe it onto a cake.  One of the easiest things to make is nut bark, which involves stirring in a variety of nuts and then spreading the whole mix onto a large sheet of parchment.  Once it has set hard, it can be broken into irregular shapes and stored in an airtight container.

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Note: Milk and White Chocolate can be tempered in the same way, although the setting temperatures for these are slightly lower than for dark.

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