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Chocolate: Modern Art
In October I attended the Les Dames d'Escoffier International (www.ldei.org) meeting in Los Angeles. At the Gala Grand Dame Award dinner honoring Madeleine Kamman, we were treated to a fabulous 7-course meal, which included, of course, a spectacular dessert by Michel Richard. This got me thinking about how chocolate has been used to augment, decorate and embellish spectacular desserts over the years. In this era of "architectural" food, chocolate decorations have been taken to new heights.
A company that specializes in chocolate decorations is Chocolates Ala Carte. You can visit their website to get a feel for what is happening commercially at http://www.chocolates-ala-carte.com. All this leads me to this article on what I call "Modern Art." That is -- the art of making chocolate decorations. We will discuss the techniques used and then you can experiment. Remember that mistakes can just be melted and reused so try a technique or two until you master your favorites.
Before we start, please read the previous lessons on tempering fine chocolate and on molding with chocolate. I am going to assume that you have your chocolate prepared and understand the molding with chocolate. Aprons on -- welcome to the world of chocolate decorations. Please make sure and read the total directions before starting so you will know where you are going with each process.
Ingredients and Equipment:
1 lb. Melted and tempered semisweet chocolate or melted compound chocolate
1/2 lb. Melted and tempered white chocolate or melted compound chocolate
Thin flexible sheets of smooth plastic or acetate. Look for acetate sheets in craft shops, hardware stores and home supply stores. You'll find candy making sites on the Internet usually carry these as well.
A small offset spatula
Parchment (baking) paper lined cookie sheets (it helps if they fit in your refrigerator if your kitchen is warm).
Small plastic sandwich bags will work well as piping bags. You can let the leftover chocolate harden in the bag so it is easy to remove and re-use.
8 ounce glasses or jars to hold piping bags. These can be kept warm in the oven on the lowest possible setting.
Kitchen scissors and a utility or exacto knife.
With a pencil or pen draw outline shapes on a sheet of parchment paper. Think flowers, leaves, vines, hearts, initials, fanciful lattice type shapes, stick figures, etc. Once you have the designs done, place around 1/2 cup of warm chocolate into one of the bottom corners of a small plastic bag. Carefully gather up the bag top and twist to enclose the chocolate. With a pair of scissors, cut a very tiny hole in the corner of the bag. Squeeze gently to release the chocolate. Trace your design with the warm chocolate then let them harden at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Very carefully peel the chocolate design off the parchment paper. Once you get really proficient at this technique -- try laying the parchment over a rolling pin or other cylindrical shape to get a curved design, which adds another dimension to your decorations.
These are not the thick malleable chocolate ribbons made with sugar syrup but thin ribbons of chocolate, which can be used to encase the sides of a cake, cheesecake, cupcake, or ice cream ball.
Cut parchment paper or a sheet of acetate in two-inch wide strips. This is one application where acetate will work better than parchment if you can find it as the acetate remains firm when covered in chocolate. They can be as long and wide as you need to encase the cake or other item, but let's start with 2 inch wide by around 12 inches long so you can learn the technique.
Using a spatula carefully spread a thin layer of chocolate across the strip of parchment/acetate. Be careful not to go over the edges, it makes removing the parchment/acetate afterwards difficult without breaking the edge. Leave about 1/8 of an inch between the chocolate layer and the edge of the parchment/acetate. Carefully picking up the wet chocolate-coated paper/acetate lay it, chocolate side in, against the cake. Enclose it all the way around cutting off any excess so the ends just touch each other without overlapping. If the paper/acetate doesn't go all the way around let that piece harden then fill in the missing area with another piece later.
Once you have this technique mastered, try combining two colors of chocolate. For example, spread a very, very thin layer of white chocolate over the paper/acetate leaving gaps and holes. Then spread a layer of semisweet chocolate over that. The finished product will have both colors showing for a nice and professional effect. You can experiment with stripes, blobs, etc. You can even pipe designs on the parchment/acetate, let them set up just a little and very carefully smooth another layer over that one. Experiment and you will come up with some wonderful combinations.
Draw open designs of leaves, gingerbread men, stars, long triangles, etc on the acetate sheets and cut out carefully with a utility knife. Place the acetate sheet on a piece of parchment paper. Holding the acetate steady, carefully smooth a layer of chocolate into the shape with an offset spatula. You want the chocolate to be not much thicker then the acetate sheet. Carefully lift up the sheet and you have a design in chocolate left on the parchment paper. Let the design harden and carefully remove from the parchment paper. You can decorate the shape with chocolate piping or thin layer of the opposite color of chocolate. Think of this technique when you want to produce large architectural elements for decorating desserts, cakes and ice cream.