I haven’t been able to thread the last two days because of an unhappy shoulder, so I’ve been doing the next best thing…chocolate! I spent yesterday morning looking through my chocolate notes, and quickly came up with recipes for sixteen new flavors to throw into this year’s test kitchen:
- Rosemary thyme honey caramels
- Cinnamon honey caramels
- Coffee caramels
- Saffron cardamom rose caramels
- Maple pecan marshmallows
- Mint marshmallows
- Green tea marshmallows
- Vanilla graham cracker marshmallows (s’mores)
“Pure” fruit jellies
- Apricot ginger honey fruit jelly dipped in dark chocolate
- Fig-fennel fruit jelly dipped in dark chocolate
- Strawberry honey rose fruit jelly
Fruit jellies layered with ganache
- Apricot fruit jelly with dark chocolate saffron ganache
- Cherry rose with maraschino ganache
- Rose lemon white chocolate
- Saffron lime
- Goat cheese, balsamic vinegar, honey
If you’re wondering how I devised sixteen recipes so fast, it’s because I don’t really have 148 different chocolate recipes. Instead, I have maybe ten master recipes: one generic recipe for caramels, one for marshmallows, one for fruit jellies, and a couple for different kinds of ganache (white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate). So creating a new flavor is as quick as pulling up the master recipe and doing three or four tweaks to change flavors. It does take some care, though, especially with ganaches, where you want to control moisture content to avoid spoilage. But I’ve more or less figured it out over the last twenty years.
As for choice of flavors? That’s also a question of experience – or rather, of building up a design vocabulary. It’s like that in any craft – as you work, you develop skills in many different techniques, materials, and design elements (color, etc.). Eventually you develop a repertoire of techniques and materials that you can use as a vocabulary for design. By combining your vocabulary “words” in different ways, you can create intriguing, original pieces. The individual words of the vocabulary may be classic, timeless, and perhaps a little boring, but the “sentences” – your finished work – can become unique and intriguing.
There is, of course, a balance between developing vocabulary and “writing” finished pieces. If your set of words is very limited, what you say can be limited (though beautiful within those limits) as well. But if you devote too much time to learning new techniques, materials, etc., you may never learn how to compose your “words” effectively into sentences. Most of the master craftspeople I interviewed for my book said they went through a phase of exploring technique, and now – having mastered technique – explore ideas instead.
In my case, I have developed a vocabulary of chocolate techniques (molding, dipping, making ganaches and other bonbon centers, cutting centers on a guitar) and of chocolate flavors. I know that apricot puree can stand up to white chocolate but not to dark chocolate – and that if you put the apricot into a fruit jelly, the flavor intensifies enough to stand up to either. I know certain flavors (tamarind, chamomile) just disappear, and that others (coffee, orange) can overwhelm if I’m not careful. And over the years, I’ve tried virtually every combination of fruit or spice with chocolate, both white and dark.
So I have a wide vocabulary of flavors, and it’s just a matter of learning how to combine my words. Some sentences are quite short – I have yet to find anything that improves dark chocolate mixed with Armagnac – and some are quite long, as in my jasmine tea – vanilla – orange blossom honey caramels. As time goes by, I develop a stronger vocabulary and a stronger sense for what “words” combine well and which do not.
The same can be said of weaving, of course. I’m fairly well-versed in certain methods of weaving, but have just started a whole new vocabulary with jacquard. I’m looking forward to the day when I can write my own sentences, paragraphs, and entire compositions using jacquard!
I’ll leave you with two photos: one of last year’s chocolate compositions, and one of Tigress, expanding her vocabulary of small places to hide. (We had the food processor out of the cabinet, and the resulting space was just perfect for a cat. Who knew? Well, Tigress, of course. But she’s one smart little kitty.)