Went to the Valrhona demo/tasting today, and it was every bit as interesting as I’d hoped! The chef (whose name I have momentarily forgotten, but who is the Valrhona corporate pastry chef for the United States) demonstrated how to make several different confections using the new Valrhona lines, and they passed around some extremely yummy samples. I took a photo of his plated-desserts buffet that I will try to post later.
There were some very interesting ideas in this demo. In one, he did a frozen mousse with gianduja (a mix of chocolate and hazelnut paste), dipped in Jivara milk chocolate mixed with a little oil to soften it. It was the tastiest chocolate ice cream bar I’ve ever had. In another, he made a chocolate caramel “cream” that was perfect for a truffle center (so there will be caramel truffles this year, yum!). He also made a ganache with creme anglaise (a stirred custard of vanilla bean, sugar, eggs, milk or cream) that was wonderful – creamy and milder than I would expect for ganache. It’s a pity I can’t use that in truffles – the lightly cooked egg yolks would be an invitation for food poisoning. But perhaps on a cake someday…
(Side note: one of my very favorite truffle flavors is unfortunately not one I can put in boxed chocolates, for that reason (lightly cooked egg yolks). It’s orange curd truffles, made with concentrated orange juice (I boil tangerine juice down), orange peel, egg yolks, butter, and sugar. The resulting orange curd is superb (and tastes even better in truffles!) but must be kept refrigerated because of the egg yolks. Perhaps this year I’ll make a small batch just for myself and Mike…the recipe, by the way, is out of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, if anyone is interested.)
I also discovered that Frederic Bau (head pastry chef for Valrhona) has come out with a new book! It’s Fusion Chocolate: Chocolate in Cuisine and focuses mostly on savory desserts. It was inspired by Xocopili, a new chocolate from Valrhona that is spicy! It’s a 72% chocolate and comes in cocoa-dusted pearls. I asked Philippe, Made in France’s pastry guy, why I hadn’t seen it in the warehouse, and he said that they carried it but didn’t put it out for the warehouse sales as it was a specialty item – but, if I wanted some, to come find him and he’d get it for me. They’re having a warehouse sale on Friday, and I intend to do just that. 🙂
Another interesting idea was agar pearls. This is cool. You take 500g water, add 10g agar (which produces a fairly hard gel), add whatever flavorings you like, and cool until just above the gel point for the agar. Then you take a graduated cylinder (or other tall thin container) filled with a neutral-tasting, chilled oil (he used grapeseed oil as he said it was the most neutral oil), and drip the agar solution into it. As it descends, the thick oil compresses it into pearls, and because of the oil, it stays in individual droplets. Chill, pour through a strainer, and presto! you have beautiful little pearls of flavored gelatin. I’m seriously considering doing this trick for some textured truffles. It’s too cool not to try.
And, I got the crown jewels! They handed out a product information sheet that had, among other things, the exact sugar-cocoa-fat content of each of their chocolates. This is important since the % cocoa butter controls so much of how a ganache behaves…superb!
Other interesting notes:
- Valrhona does not recommend making ganache by boiling the cream and pouring all of it over the chopped chocolate to melt it, then stirring it into an emulsion. The chef said (and I think he’s right) that adding too much cream at once will result in a broken emulsion. Instead, you should start with melted chocolate, then add warm cream, 1/3 of the amount at a time, stirring in each batch before starting the next one.
- The ideal temperature for ganache is about 40-45 Celsius. It should not be chilled below 35.6 C, which is the point where chocolate starts crystallizing.
- Butter should never be melted into a ganache, instead you should bring the temperature of the ganache down to 35-37C before adding the softened butter.
- They use an immersion blender (not the classic spatula) to stir the ganache. I think I need one before my latest chocolate escapade. 🙂
- Several chefs rhapsodized over Palmira, a single-estate chocolate. Valrhona’s rep said it was only available retail, but you could special-order 10-kg cases of it. I am tempted to order a bar or two to taste it, then decide whether I want 10kg of it. I’m guessing it probably won’t be 10kg good (at least compared to easier-to-get Valrhona lines), but you never know.
- There’s a chocolate mag out there, Cocoaroma. I must get a few copies (I’m told Whole Foods carries it) so I can check it out more in depth than the copy I flipped through at the demo.
- Valrhona only produces about 10,000 tons of chocolate per year. Bigger quality chocolate manufacturers like Callebaut produce 150,000 tons per year. Still a small company, but very very focused on quality.
- 70-75% of Valrhona’s business is through the food service industry (restaurants et al), 25% retail.
- There’s a chocolate retailer in San Francisco, Cocoabella, that I must look up. They’re on Union Street. If anyone knows about them, please comment!
That’s all for now. I intend to start doing some experiments later this week, with the lemon and lime basil et al.