Tuesday, 28 October 2008

I should cocoa.... a workshop at Rococo

rococo bag

OK, OK, I hear you. I've been meaning to post about this since the day itself, but have been stupidly busy with work. Anyway, here - finally - goes... Oh, and sorry, but there are very few photos - simply didn't have the opportunity. Busy making chocolates, believe it or not.

First, the shop. What a beautiful place. Located on gorgeous Motcomb Street in poshest London (Belgravia, for the uninitiated), and opposite another fabulous foodie destination, Ottolenghi, Rococo is an oasis of all things chocolate and... well, Rococo. It was warm, inviting, visually appealing in every way, and wonderfully spacious. A real browser’s delight.

And it doesn’t just sell chocolates. It sells a range of teas, coffees, and hot chocolate (well, of course) – all with the option of truffles in accompaniment. Mmmmm.....

The workshop itself was divided in half: one half devoted to actually making the ganache, and the other half an introduction to chocolate and a tutored tasting by Chantal Coady, the woman who started Rococo back in the eighties, straight out of art school. Talk about having vision.

I opted to start in the group making the ganache – a fortunate decision, as it turned out, as we overran... So we got the benefit of even more time with the chocolatier, the lovely Laurent, than planned.

Not a moment of that time was wasted. Laurent was an excellent tutor – engaging, amusing, but absolutely dedicated to the process of making perfect chocolates. This wasn’t just a ‘play’ session – this was for real. Gulp.

We learnt about the chemistry of making the perfect ganache, and then learnt how to look for the signs of it all going right or wrong at every stage. And it requires a fine and experienced eye. The tiniest amount of graininess (imperceptible to all of us except for beady-eyed Laurent) to the chocolate/cream/butter mixture indicates trouble – with the patience of a saint on a very generous retainer, Laurent showed us how to use a hand blender and the microwave to rescue it.

Finally, after much beating and cajoling, the mixture turns from being slick and shiny to something more ‘fulsome’, for want of a better word, and with more of a sheen than a shine. And this is the perfect ganache – not a stodgy mix of the ingredients, like the truffles I’ve made before using a Nigel Slater ‘recipe’, but a smoother-than-smooth liquid emulsion. A perfect blend of fat and water. Genuine magic. Alchemy, even.

We each then poured our glossy ganaches into plastic cartons for chilling in the fridge (so that the ganache could firm up) before going back upstairs to the shop for the second part of the afternoon.

chocolate ganache

in that there container is a minor fortune's worth of ganache. The couverture alone that went into it was about seven quids' worth. And yes, I am going to eat it all. And no, I don't need any help.

Chantal gave us a fascinating talk and slide show of chocolate production using her slides taken at the Grenada Chocolate Company – in which Rococo has considerable investment. All an eye-opening experience for me, as a self-confessed novice in all things cocoa. I didn’t know, for example (the shame, the shame), that cocoa pods grew straight out of the tree branches/trunks. Or that the raw cocoa bean has a colour and texture much like lychee. Perhaps most amazing, though, was learning that the whole harvest-to-bar process at the GCC is undertaken by hand, with the help of a few tinpot (usually secondhand, from the US) machines. It really is a cottage enterprise, and it’s little wonder that Chantal is so passionate about it. It’s also no surprise that the resulting chocolate bars aren’t cheap at £4.95 a (100g) throw.

And then, the tasting. For Chantal, it’s all about ‘character’. Invariably, she said, she thinks of different types of bars as having their own distinct personality, and this is how she remembers them. The case in point here was Rococo’s Manjari bar, a feisty, lively ‘lady in red’ (her words, not mine) head-turning bar – the Penelope Cruz of chocolate bars. And so it was. We tried about 4 others in addition, including a typical English ‘gent’ bar (I wish I could remember which that was – her point was that it was quite traditional in taste, like a good claret, but without a particular punch or spiciness), as well as the GCC’s own bar – a delicious, very ‘pure’ tasting bar.

And then she proved to us that darker isn't always better – something that many people believe, apparently – by having us taste an 85% cocoa dark chocolate. Perhaps we would have believed anything she said, being in the presence of someone so knowledgeable and impressive, but I don’t think so. The chocolate lacked ‘roundness’: it was very blunt in its taste, and the taste didn’t really develop in the mouth on melting. At the same time, the texture was less smooth than others we tried, being almost muddy.

And finally, a shock. She gave us one more chocolate bar to taste, and asked us what we thought it tasted of. For me, it tasted just like a bar (the producer of which shall remain nameless) I'd tasted a couple of weeks ago or so – mouldy. And that’s what it was. Apparently, lesser producers are will use even mouldy cocoa beans in their production, and then hope to mask the taste with cranking up the proportion of other ingredients such as vanilla, or worse, vanillin. This tasting – and the one I did earlier - was proof that it’s a strategy that doesn’t work. One mouldy bean, said Chantal, wrecks the whole batch of chocolate, and should never be allowed to past muster. Evidently, not all chocolatiers are as scrupulous as she is.

The day finished with a go at making truffles from our ganache – by scooping them out with a melon baller (harder than it looks - the scooping is fine, but it's the getting them off the baller that's the tricky part) and then rolling them in cocoa or tiny flakes of chocolate.

my rococo truffles

my truffles. Which sadly didn't survive the journey home too well.

And our reward at the end of it all? A carton of our handmade ganache (80-100 truffles’ worth, according to Laurent) to take home, plus a glass of champagne and a tasting of our freshly rolled creations. A great way to finish the day. I couldn’t resist buying a GCC bar plus a Penelope Cruz bar to take home, too, as appropriate reminders of the experience.

rococo chocolate bars

the best chocolate bars in town

The whole event was more inspiring and interesting than I’d even imagined. I’m not sure what I expected, to be honest, but it was everything and more than I was after. I went in as a complete beginner, and emerged a chocophile with a modicum of knowledge. I definitely want to make my own chocolates now, and the sooner the better. And, of course, I certainly want to return to Rococo again. Very soon.

But now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off for a mouthful of Penelope Cruz...


Manggy said...

Ah, worth the wait :) You don't think you could mail me some Penelope Cruzes, could you? Thought not :P
When I think my ganache is going to go grainy, it turns out just okay in the end. Or maybe I'm just not as discriminating! After all, I didn't know about the moldy beans until now! Yecch!

(huh, the word verification for my comment is "unity." How weird!)

Loving Annie said...

Dear Forkful,
What a totally fabulous experience - the education, the practice, the various tastings and compasirsons and knowledge learned so pleasurably and usefully !

Thank you for sharing about Rococo in such detail.
I'm just sorry you didn't need any help sharing your ganache - I would have quite nobly volunteered :0

Loving Annie

Pia K said...

Oh this sounds - and looks - heavenly... What a fantastic business to run and I love the care, craft, pride, love they put into it. What a great experience! Love that bag too - one of my deep dark secrets are that I actually collect carrier bags...:)

Heather said...

Can you make me a bunch of snail and turtle-shaped truffles? Thanks.

Sam said...

Sounds like an amazing place! Chocolate heaven!

Rosie said...

What a marvellous experience and well worth the wait in gold to read this post.

Rosie x

Susan from Food Blogga said...

I wouldn't worry about blogging if I were making chocolates. I'd worry about eating them. :) Have fun!

Simply...Gluten-free said...

mmmm, it is like you died and went to chocolate heavan!

Foodycat said...

Thank you! I've been so looking forward to this account!

I have one of Chantal Coady's cookbooks and I remember how eye-opening it was when I went through her "5 sense" evaluation of a bar of chocolate. She is quite amazing!

Bellini Valli said...

This sounds like a foodies dream and a great way to spend an afternoon or a day...very therapeutic:D

Mike of Mike's Table said...

that sounds like an amazing day! I'll have to give something like this a try if the opportunity presents itself. I'd love to learn more about chocolate

nicisme said...

Sounds like a day in heaven!

The Peanut Butter Boy said...

Wow, I want to do that, sign me up! I love chocolate almost as much as peanut butter. Making your own ganache and truffles? What an incredible experience.

Gigi said...

what a neat experience! thank you for sharing it with us!

Holler said...

That must have been a great day! I am very, very jealous!

Cynthia said...

I would love to send you some organic cocoa-sticks from the Caribbean but I am not sure they would survive the journey :(

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Cynthia - we can always give it a try! Nothing ventured, nothing gained... ;-)

Naomi Devlin said...

Droooool! My old favourites were the dark organic cardamom artisan bar and the rose, from the same range.

Now I can only eat 100% cocoa content bars - I wonder what chantal would say about that?

The smoothest 100% bar I've found is made by Francois Pralus, a wonderful French chocolate manufacturer who own their own plantation and oversee everything from beany start to delicious foil wrapped finish. I recommend trying one of their bars if you come across them.

I guess you had to eat that ganache pretty quick right - on account of the cream content and all? I'm feeling your pain.

x x x

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