It all started with a windmill.
Yep – I actually stayed here. A real life windmill in Usk,Wales. It was truly spectacular and I had the most wonderful weekend.
I put this down to three things:
1. Amazing people;
2. Stunning surroundings; and
3. An unlimited supply of delicious food and drink.
I actually put on 5 pounds in 4 days. Fact! I know you don’t believe me. I didn’t think it was possible but I have independent verification that this did actually happen.
I am putting the majority of the blame on the truly fabulous chocolate making class that I attended. It lasted for around 3 hours, during which I basically didn’t stop stuffing my face with all different types of chocolate (including white chocolate which isn’t actually chocolate because it contains no cocoa solids – can you see this is going to be an educational post?).
It all took place at Black Mountain Gold in Crickhowell, just a short drive from Usk. The chocolate workshops are a bit of a sideline as their main business is making beautiful chocolates to sell retail in their lovely little shop, on the net and wholesale to shops around the UK.
The lovely Jules (founder and master chocolatier) and Lucy (his assisitant who got her job following attending one of his workshops – how cool!) had created a class especially for our group of 11 girls. They usually do more intensive workshops for four to six people but they were more than happy to be flexible.
It was great fun from start to finish. Following introductions and a glass of something nice, we started off by splitting into pairs to make different types of chocolate. Whilst we were doing this, Jules gave us lots of interesting chocolate related info and answered our constant stream of (probably rather annoying) questions. Not once did he say “we’ll come on to that later”.
To add a competitive edge, points were awarded points throughout the day for answering questions and making the best chocolate. Can you guess which one won?
First we were taught how to make truffles. Yes, that is what those funning looking things in the photo above are!
You start by making ganache, which is surprisingly easy. You can use milk, dark or white chocolate. You will need double the quantity of chocolate to cream. Just heat the cream and pour it into the chocolate.
Here are a few tips from Jules to make sure you don’t go wrong:
1. Don’t boil the cream. You should just bring it until it is close to boiling.
2. Always pour the cream into the chocolate and not visa versa.
3. Don’t stir straight away (this will split the chocolate) leave it for 2 – 3 minutes and then stir.
4. If you don’t have small chocolate coins use a bread knife to easily slice up a bar of chocolate.
Once you have made the ganache you can add flavouring. My absolute favourite is sea salt and caramel so I was delighted to be presented with a box of each.
You then need to let the ganache set so that it can be shaped. We did this by pouring it into a rubber mould, covering with cling film and placing in the fridge.
Check out this delicious white chocolate ganache with raspberry and coffee.
Once the ganache is set it can be shaped. I would have liked to do cute little balls but it turns out that these are done using a different method. We therefore tried a few triangles, squares, stars and other creative options. It is a lot harder than it looks to make something pretty!
Next we learned about tempering chocolate and making shaped chocolates in moulds.
I had never heard of tempering before but I can now tell you that it controls the crystals in the chocolate so that your chocolates are shiny, coat your mouth and make a ‘snap’ when broken. These are all very important qualities of a good chocolate.
Jules had fancy tempering machine so it’s a pretty easy job in the Black Mountain Gold kitchen. You can also do it at home but its awfully complicated. Basically you need to melt the chocolate in a bain marie, then pour three quarters of it onto a marble slab and work it with a pallet knife until it is 28 degrees celsius. Pour it back into the bowl and bring to a temperature of 31 degrees celsius for dark chocolate, 30 degrees celsius for milk chocolate and 28 degrees celsius for white chocolate. I told you it was complicated!
Once the chocolate is tempered you can then get it into the moulds which is very fun.
First make sure the mould is nice and clean then blast it with a hair dryer (as demonstrated by my lovely friend Kat) to make sure there is no dust and give it a polish to make sure there are no fingerprints.
Next pour in the chocolate.
Then scrape it off nice and flat with a pallet knife and give it a few bangs on the table to get rid of any air bubbles.
Pop the chocolates in the fridge and when they set they will shrink and come easily out of the mould. Voila!
It really was a fun and informative day. I never thought the time would come when I’d have had enough chocolate but I must admit I was starting to feel rather sick by the time we left. Luckily we were all presented with a big bag of chocolates when we left, so there were plenty to satisfy the cravings when they came back the next day!
So in conclusion, if you fancy an afternoon with a master chocolatier, I would recommend that you seriously consider pairing it with a weekend in a windmill. It certainly did the trick for me.
For more information on Black Mountain Gold, check out their website http://www.blackmountainchocolate.co.uk/