My Week at Chocolate Boot Camp — Day 1

Choco­late is some­thing I’ve dab­bled with over the years, cov­er­ing home made can­dy (espe­cial­ly sponge can­dy) with milk choco­late, for exam­ple, but I real­ly did­n’t know any­thing about work­ing with choco­late, much less mak­ing items that would look pro­fes­sion­al­ly made.

Well, to cor­rect that, I recent­ly attend­ed the course called ‘Choco­late 1.0 — Dis­cov­er­ing Choco­late’ at the Choco­late Acad­e­my in Chica­go. That’s the offi­cial name of the course, but the staff calls it Choco­late Boot Camp, and it was an intense four days for me, espe­cial­ly since I’m a desk jock­ey and not used to stand­ing and work­ing in a kitchen 8–9 hours at a time.

This course was a Christ­mas present from my old­er son. (My younger son gave me a sim­i­lar present two years ago, the ‘Foun­da­tion of Pas­try Line’ course at the San Fran­cis­co Bak­ing Insti­tute, near where he works at YouTube. In fact, it was Chef Michel Suas, founder of SFBI, who sug­gest­ed I take the Choco­late Acad­e­my course rather than the one SFBI offers once a year.) I was orig­i­nal­ly hop­ing to take the course this sum­mer, but that ses­sion filled up before I could get all the details worked out. But the first week of Octo­ber was a good week to be in Chica­go, the Cubs were about to enter the play­offs and the weath­er was decent, except for one day of rain. (It would­n’t be Chica­go with­out a lit­tle rain, though.)

The Choco­late Acad­e­my is run by Bar­ry Calle­baut, formed by the merg­er of Calle­baut, a Bel­gian com­pa­ny, and Cacao Bar­ry, a French com­pa­ny, in 1996. They also own a num­ber of small­er choco­late firms, includ­ing Van Leer and Mona Lisa. Bar­ry Calle­baut says that 25% of the choco­late avail­able world­wide includes some of their products.

Chocolate Academy

Above is a small selec­tion of the work the stu­dents and staff assem­bled over four days. (As you can prob­a­bly tell, it was a Hal­loween-themed display.)

Day 1:

The first morn­ing was spent in the class­room, learn­ing about how choco­late is made, start­ing with grow­ing and har­vest­ing the cacao pods, and get­ting an intro­duc­tion into the the­o­ry of tem­per­ing choco­late. We also had a choco­late tast­ing, sam­pling every­thing from pure cocoa but­ter and cocoa solids to an assort­ment of white, dark and milk choco­lates. To top things off, the mar­ket­ing teams for Calle­baut, Cacao Bar­ry and Van Leer had pre­sen­ta­tions about their prod­ucts. (The Mona Lisa rep was appar­ent­ly unavailable.)

Why tem­per choco­late? To give it a nice snap, a desir­able mouth feel and a shiny sur­face. Well-tem­pered choco­late is also eas­i­er to work with and is less sus­cep­ti­ble to ‘choco­late bloom’, a white pow­der or white streaks that show up on the sur­face of some choco­late, espe­cial­ly choco­late that has sat too long or got­ten a lit­tle too warm. And that means it has a longer shelf life, which for any­one mak­ing, and espe­cial­ly sell­ing, choco­lates is very important.

Tem­per­ing choco­late is all about the fat in the cocoa but­ter. The fat can form six dif­fer­ent crys­tal struc­tures, though one of them only devel­ops over many months or under pres­sure. Of the five remain­ing struc­tures, the only one that is sol­id at room tem­per­a­ture is called Beta 5. (Some of the sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture on choco­late men­tions a sev­enth crys­tal struc­ture for cocoa but­ter fat, but like the sixth form, it may not occur nat­u­ral­ly as choco­late cools.)

So, tem­per­ing is the process by which the cocoa but­ter fat is encour­aged to crys­tal­lize pri­mar­i­ly in the Beta 5 form.

If you let ful­ly melt­ed choco­late cool, all five crys­tal forms will appear. So the trick is to let the choco­late cool a bit, then heat it back up to the point where crys­tal forms 1–4 all melt, leav­ing only a small amount of the Beta 5 crys­tal struc­ture. 1% is the tar­get lev­el, that’s high enough that as the choco­late cools down again there’s enough Beta 5 crys­tals to encour­age the cool­ing fat to form that struc­ture rather than one of the oth­er four, but not so much that it forms that struc­ture quick­ly, which gives the choco­lati­er time to work with the chocolate.

You can also bypass the cool-then-reheat cycle by intro­duc­ing some tem­pered choco­late or cocoa but­ter (some­times called silk) that is already in the Beta 5 struc­ture into the warm choco­late, thus ‘seed­ing’ the crys­tal structure.

With the the­o­ret­i­cal stuff over, we got to start work­ing in the lab.

The Chocolate Academy Lab Kitchen

We used both tem­per­ing meth­ods in class, start­ing with the clas­si­cal method of cool­ing the choco­late while work­ing it then reheat­ing it.

Mon­day after­noon was spent prac­tic­ing form­ing well-tem­pered choco­late, first by work­ing the cool­ing choco­late on a mar­ble sur­face, then putting it back in the warmer to melt out the unwant­ed cocoa but­ter in struc­tures 1–4, leav­ing us with a pan full of well-tem­pered choco­late. We did this sev­er­al times.

Chocolate Tempering

This pic­ture shows about 7 pounds of dark choco­late, cool­ing before being worked and put back into the warmer.

Then we got to try it using the seed method, which is a lot less messy, though some purists think it does­n’t make choco­late that is as well-tempered.

We also spent some time learn­ing the right ways to fill choco­late molds, made a few sim­ple mold­ed shells and can­dies and then spent some time dip­ping choco­lates, a skill that our instruc­tor, Chef Russ Thay­er, made look oh so sim­ple, but keep­ing a small square of choco­late or ganache from falling off the dip­ping fork into a big tub of warm choco­late is not easy!

By the time we fin­ished up, a lit­tle after 5PM, I was thor­ough­ly worn out. I actu­al­ly fell asleep dur­ing Mon­day Night Foot­ball, and as a foot­ball fanat­ic, that’s tru­ly unusu­al for me!

Part 2 of this report will cov­er Days 2 and 3.

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Published:October 12, 2016


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    Mike Nolan

      Chocolate is something I've dabbled with over the years, covering home made candy (especially sponge candy) with milk chocolate, for example, but I really didn't know anything about working with choco
      [See the full post at: My Week at Chocolate Boot Camp - Day 1]

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        The 7 lbs. dark chocolate looks inviting enough to dive in head first.

        I enjoyed this blog post, Mike. Looking forward to the others. Interesting.


          I wish that I could enlarge the picture so that I could see every detail of the chocolate work. Those look like chocolate skulls, as well as some cute chocolate owls and ghosts. I also wish that I could reach into the computer screen and sample some of those creations!

          Mike Nolan

            I've got a lot more pictures to post, including several closeups of the buffet table. I brought one of the skulls (the smaller white one) home, along with one of the pumpkin candy dishes. My wife has them as her Halloween decorations at her office, everybody says, "Oh, what a nice plastic candy dish!", then they realize it's made of dark chocolate, spray painted with orange cocoa butter.

            I think what you're thinking of as owls are bats. Here's a high-res photo of them:
            bats (Right click on it to get the high-res version.)

            I brought one of the bats home, but sadly the wings broke off in transit. I'm going to see if I can repair it next week when I've got some tempered chocolate to work with. The repairs won't be spray-painted black, though.

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