Archive for June, 2008

The Trouble with Marshmallows

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 30, 2008 by Brian

Marshmallows seems so easy. And maybe they are, and I just haven’t yet figured that out.

Gelatin and water, to soften, while you cook the sugars, then whip the egg whites, add some more sugar and start combining. Okay, you need to get the sugar to the right temperature, and you have to time everything just so to avoid scorching the sugar or cooking the eggs. Well, maybe not so simple.

The sugars, once scorched, made for a very pretty display when I dumped them onto parchment. What started as a big blob became a drizzle that could be drawn and swirled and spun into beautifully thin threads. And for some reason, it tastes a bit like cotton candy, which I suppose is really just spun sugar. Perhaps there’s another confection down that path — I’ll have to remember that.

So I start over with the sugar, and this time it seemed to work. Maybe the problem was with the gelatin, or the eggs. Whatever the problem, the marshmallows were too thin, not fully set, and incredibly sticky.

But tasty, and not like cotton candy. Not like out-of-the-bag marshmallows, either. Tasty like sugar and egg whites and vanilla (with lots of the tell-tale vanilla seeds just to prove the point). Heather sandwiched it between layers of chocolate, with toasted pecans on one side, which certainly is delicious. But when I get this recipe right, I definitely want to offer them au naturale as well.


Chocolating is Hard Work!

Posted in Uncategorized on June 27, 2008 by Brian

Okay, okay. I know that many of you will laugh at that. Come on, Brian, you’ll say, you left the corporate world to make candy and you’re going to try to tell us that it’s difficult?

Seriously, this ain’t easy. Yesterday I finished the dragees, which involved thrice coating the nuts with melted chocolate and stirring until the chocolate set and the almonds separated into their individual goodness. If I make a lot of those, I’m fearful that my forearms will start to look like Popeye’s.

Then I made a ganache — mint, made from organic mint tea steeped in cream with sugar and vanilla — which, I have to admit, is less challenging than it was when I started. Still, I need to keep track of the temperatures of three different pots while at the same time preparing the frame to slab the ganache.

Next I needed to clean the place. It’s already clean — and actually by clean I mean “sanitize,” because you’re never really supposed to have a clean professional kitchen, you’re supposed to have a sanitized professional kitchen — but I had to make it sparkle for the health inspector who came to visit yesterday.

Here’s how that went: he came in, looked around, asked a couple questions, and said, “Doesn’t look like much can go wrong here.” Done, 100%. Woo hoo!

Then I had to dip 240 truffles, one batch each of the Maker’s Mark bourbon (I found myself without any single-malt Scotch) and vanilla. I’m not complaining, by any means — this is my job, after all. It just takes effort to hand-dip individual truffles and then carefully sprinkle sea salt (on the vanilla truffles) or drip a diagonal line of chocolate (for the bourbon/Scotch) on each piece. Then, of course, I had to do dishes and clean — I mean sanitize.

More visitors to the shop tomorrow, with an engaged couple coming in to sample truffles for guest favors (she didn’t think lavender was doable, so I can’t wait until she tries mine!) and a friend who’s dropping by later to check things out. As always, give a call whenever you’re in South City and drop by to try some chocolate.

One Step Closer

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2008 by Brian

Little by little we’re getting closer to being a real company here at Kakao.

Monday I got my forms back from the online legal company that helped me incorporate with the State of Missouri. The state approved everything on June 2, but the service didn’t get me the paperwork until June 23. Interestingly, they sent copies of the originals by FedEx ground and the originals by USPS, and they both arrived on the same day. Huh.

With that paperwork, I could revisit the state licensing bureauand — with my $25 filing fee in the form of a money order — get my state sales tax number. Which I now have. Woo hoo!

Also with that paperwork, I could go to the bank and open up a business checking account. All I have are blank checks on which I can write my company name and address, but one step at a time, right? And soon I’ll have that all-important debit card!

Still waiting for the city, though. The five inspectors who visited last week need to file their paperwork and then the city will mail me a list of all the things I need to do in order to get the numbers I need to pay them taxes. Seriously, you’d think they’d make it easier to get my money!

And tomorrow is the health inspector, probably the biggest step in all of this.

Meanwhile, I’ve got all these truffles to dip, and I’m really anxious to try the chai tea ganache I made, in addition to the Maker’s Mark and vanilla ganaches I made yesterday. And there’s a major taste testing tomorrow on the caramels.

Sunday Afternoon Dip

Posted in Uncategorized on June 22, 2008 by Brian

My plan was to dip the lavender ganache today, and knowing that I had another ganache that needed semi-sweet, I figured I’d dip them both, dark chocolate first. (You can get dark chocolate mixed in with milk chocolate, but not the other way around, so you start with the dark.) 

But then I got to the shop and realized that I had two ganaches that required semi-sweet: the Turkish Coffee and the Stout. (Is the chile-vanilla the only one that gets bittersweet? I feel slightly confused now, because I don’t have my notebook in front of me.)

I also figured I’d dip the caramels — both the “traditional” caramel made with a slighly different ingredient list, and the “creme brulee” version that was made with the same ingredient list but in a different method) — and because we were just experimenting I thought I’d dip half of each type in semi- and the other half in milk. (The deeper caramel would meld well with the darker chocolate, and play more strongly off the milk, I figured. And isn’t that the definition of experimentation?)

To make to story of a long and busy day short, I managed to dip both the Turkish Coffee and the Stout (240 truffles total) plus half of both caramels (about 50 total) and then was completely wiped out. Plus it’s a beautiful day, and I couldn’t stay in the shop any longer. And, really, I need to save something for tomorrow, right?

So who’s going to help me taste-test these caramels?

Parlez Vous Dragée?

Posted in Uncategorized on June 20, 2008 by Brian

One of the treats I learned to make this week was dragées (pronounced drah-zhay), which I was told meant something about dredging nuts through chocolate, in French.

So I’m thinking, well, there’s a nut and then some sort of candy coating and a chocolate covering, and what we’re going to have is basically an ultra fancy M&M, except probably 37 times better.

What an understatement…

Dragées start out at raw nuts — in this case almonds — that are cooked in sugar. While the sugar caramelizes, the nuts get toasted (as in cooked, not drunk), which gives you a flavor that’s significantly different than either caramelized sugar or toasted almonds on its own.

That’s just a start, though. You cool them off and seperate them, and then coat them with tempered chocolate, which is to say you stir them in the bowl until your arms is about ready to fall off.

But not all the chocolate — exactly one-third of it. And you use one-third of it because you go through that process three times. It just doesn’t work to do it all at once. Don’t ask me why.

Just when you think you’re all done (at this point you’ve lost and regrown your arm three times), you sprinkle some cocoa powder on it and stir them again.

I’ve never had anything like these. They’re amazing. Apparently they’re served in certain parts of France only on special occasions, like weddings and christenings, probably because they’re so much work. But even having done the work myself, they are totally worth it. 

Creating Caramels

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 18, 2008 by Brian

But before I even get to the caramels, I have to say…we made MARSHMALLOWS today! I’ve seen many recipes for them, and thought often about making them, but never had. I mean, seriously, what would you do with a whole pan of marshmallows? I mean besides eat them? A batch is too many (unless you’re having a party, in which case you’d have to think of a reason to give everyone a homemade marshmallow), and I’m not exactly sure how long they keep. But making them professionally — well, that’s a different story.

So, caramel. Caramels are a trick, at least if you do them right. A short ingredient list, and combined and cooked simply enough. But if you do something wrong you can end up with crystallized caramel instead of smooth and creamy sweetness. (Although, certainly the crystallized caramel is plenty sweet, and mighty tasty. In fact, I’m told that some people even prefer it.)

What can go wrong? Just about everything. Too much this, too little that, wrong temperature or cooking time, or even the wrong order of ingredients. In fact, Confection Mentor Heather has been struggling for some time to develop a foolproof (read: Brian-proof) recipe that won’t crystallize.

There’s a simple solution to the problem, though: add corn syrup. Just a couple of tablespoons will stabalize the whole batch and make it perfect. Perfect, that is, except for the fact that it has corn syrup in it.

Corn syrup is what we at Kakao refer to as an “artificial ingredient,” meaning it’s something that we don’t use. I’m new to the business, but have absolutely subscribed to the idea that we simply steer clear of artificial flavors, colors and additives. And corn syrup is something we steer around.

Is this a quest for the Truth or a fool’s errand? Will we be destined to making batch after batch of caramels with a 50-50 chance of crystallization? Will we be forever forced to EAT and SHARE our highly textured but oh-so-delicious failures? Or will Heather find that perfect recipe? We’ll just have to see.

Meanwhile, this afternoon we took the caramels that turned out well and dipped them, along with the chile-vanilla ganache I made over the weekend, in tempered chocolate, and sprinkled a bit of sea salt on them to bring out the flavor and really make them sing. Several friends have told me they’ve been suffering from withdrawal from these while Kakao was on hiatus, and I can only imagine how they’ll react when they know I have some at the shop.

So, if you have a chance to stop by the shop, drop me a line and I’ll have some ready for you. You can probably have a marshmallow, too.


The Business of (STL) Chocolate

Posted in Uncategorized on June 17, 2008 by Brian

I’d like to write about the two ganaches I made absolutely totally by myself, and tell you about how I boiled over the cream for the chile-vanilla and had to start over, and how I learned SO much from that experience that the lavender-vanilla I made the next day was absolutely perfect. Or about the wireless doorbell I bought so that I’ll know when someone comes to the shop.  Or even about the fun I had watching several different groups of people enjoying Kakao truffles over the weekend.

But I really need to write about the beginnings of the process of getting “approved” to make and sell chocolates in the City of St. Louis and State of Missouri. I’ll try to be brief.

Let’s start with the sales tax number you need to get from the city. They have a three-page form you need to complete in order to get one, and the first thing they ask for is your sales tax number. Huh? The kicker was that I went down to the office to file the paperwork, and was thwared by their requirement of a cashiers check or money order — no personal checks, credit cards, or cash — for the $25 filing fee. Seriously.

The city hasn’t been too much of a problem (knock on wood) although it does present some challenges. I have FIVE inspectors coming on Friday to make sure that my shop is up to code. A sixth inspector represents the air pollution department, and called me within a few hours of my initial application to see what type of manufacturing equipment I’d be installing and what type of pollution it would cause. (To her credit, she assumed chocolate making didn’t produce any pollution, but needed to be sure.)

Manufacturing? Indeed, I am considered by the City to be a manufacturer. And because I’m currently in an area zoned for retail, I need to apply for a variance and attend a hearing to get special approval to manufacture chocolates on Cherokee Street.

But I expected such challenges, and we’ll just power through them. And truly, those ganaches really look like they turned out well. And I can’t wait for the first time someone rings my doorbell.