Commis chefs and apprentices usually start in the pastry section – for a number of reasons, the first of which is discipline. Since everything has to be measured correctly, they learn precision. Pastry also allows for creativity and, as presentation is key, artistic flair.
Since both baking and pastry rely heavily on the way ingredients interact, many consider it a science. So, in order to be a good pastry chef, it is not only important to know how to create dishes, but it’s also essential to understand the basics behind the way the ingredients function.
During my own training, I spent two years in a pastry shop in Canada. If I was going to be a head chef one day, I wanted to know exactly what I was talking about. By the time I got my first head chef position, the experience enabled me to work confidently in the pastry corner.
Unlike other areas of the kitchen, very little has changed in pastry-making since the 1800s, when Antonin Careme – one of the greatest pastry chefs of all time – is said to have elevated French pastry to an art form.
Chocolate is a key ingredient for the pastry chef. Imagine how impressed someone would be on St Valentine’s Day if you could give them chocolate you made yourself.
To make chocolate truffles, use quality chocolate, such as Valrhona, Opera, Calabeau or Green & Blacks. Bars of these brands are available in most quality supermarkets and delicatessens.
Ganache for chocolate truffles
1/2 litre of cream
250g of 70 per cent chocolate
200g of 62 per cent chocolate
100g salted butter
20g cocoa powder for rolling the ganache
1.Heat the cream until it just comes to the boil
2. Roughly chop the chocolate and melt over a bain-marie (a pot of water on top of which another container can be added).
3. Add half of the melted chocolate to the cream, and mix. Add the remainder of the chocolate, and mix well.
4. Cut the butter into small pieces and fold it into the chocolate cream.
5. Place the chocolate into a dry, clean container, cover it with a lid, and allow it to rest until set in the refrigerator.
6. Remove and, with a small spoon, roll the ganache into small balls.
7. Sprinkle cocoa powder on the palms of your hands, and roll the balls. Be careful that the chocolate doesn’t melt.
8. Place the balls into the fridge for about 20 minutes to set. Now they are ready for dipping in couverture chocolate to finish them off.
The process for preparing chocolate to coat truffles or to put in chocolate moulds is called ‘tempering’. Buy chocolate moulds from specialist food equipment shops, or via mail order. Tempering chocolate is very easy to do, but you have to be careful.
1. Use 1kg of chocolate, keeping back 100g for later use.
2. Chop 900g of chocolate into even pieces, and place in a stainless steel bowl.
3. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure that no liquid or moisture comes into contact with the chocolate, so the water should be barely simmering.
4. Stir the chocolate so that it melts evenly and maintains an even temperature.
5. Bring the temperature of the chocolate up to 40°C. Use a thermometer for an accurate reading – make sure it doesn’t go above 43°C or the chocolate will be damaged.
6. Remove the chocolate as soon as it has reached 40°C.
7. Add the 100g of chocolate cut into four pieces to the rest, and melt it until the chocolate reaches 33°C, and then 29°C. Do not bring the chocolate below 29°C, as it will lose the shine you are looking for and you will have to repeat the process. Tempered chocolate should coat the back of a spoon and create a good shine.
8. Now the chocolate is ready to be used for covering the ganache balls for truffles, or poured into the moulds to make chocolates. Place the ganache balls on a cocktail stick and dip into the tempered chocolate. Then use a piece of air board or a potato to hold the cocktail sticks so that you get an even coating.
9. If you want to decorate the truffles, put some of the remaining chocolate into a small piping bag, and then style them to your heart’s content.
Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and the owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. www.thorntonsrestaurant.com