It’s Not Me, It’s You

So, I had ambitious plans to make not one, but two new kinds of candy bars today. One involves a marshmallow layer, which I’ve already made. It currently stands alone on my counter… it might never encounter chocolate.

Why? I can’t get good chocolate.

Here’s what happened. There’s a nearby gourmet-ish grocery store that sells chopped blocks of high-quality name chocolate — such as El Rey and Callebaut. Yesterday, I stocked up on a lot of El Rey Bittersweet Chocolate with plans to use it for ganache fillings and coatings. I also read a lot about chocolate in Bittersweet and Chocolate Obsession. They both talk about how the chocolate sold nowadays is different from the chocolate sold in the past, due to current tastes in the US for high-quality chocolate, especially dark chocolate. The chocolate now tends to be higher in chocolate liquor, higher in cocoa butter, and lower in sugar. They explain that the method for making ganache should be adjusted to compensate for these changes, and they both have different methods for this, and for fixing broken ones.

So, excited to try all this out late last night, I try to make a tea-infused ganache, based on the Recchiuti method. It breaks. I try to fix it. It doesn’t emulsify. I try to fix it again. Nothing doing. I let it it sit overnight. It’s still broken in the morning. Medrich talks about the “fish scale” texture of a broken ganache. So true.

I’ve never had a ganache break on me before. Breaking, btw, means that it gets an oily, curdled look instead of a pudding-like look because the fats have separated from the chocolate; the emulsification breaks. At first, I thought that it would be a good opportunity to learn how to fix it, but when it didn’t get better, there was no choice but to try again and hope I’d figure out what happened.

So, I tried again. Twice. They both broke. They both couldn’t be fixed. I consulted a third book, adding Sherry Yard’s advice. I also look back at my school notes.

In making the ganaches, I contemplated and practiced the effects of whisking, stirring, using an immersion blender, using a food processor, the amount of time spent emulsifying, the temperature of the cream, whether the chocolate should be melted or finely chopped, the type of fat in the ganache (I didn’t want to use butter for taste reasons), the exclusion or inclusion of invert sugar, the type of invert sugar (in my case, corn syrup or glucose), and the effects of the tea infusion (I used a cheesecloth to strain, in addition to a fine strainer the last two times).

In trying to fix them, I tried emulsifying the ganache w/ half of it heated to 130 and half cooled to 60, gently reheating all of it, adding more cream, adding butter, and simmering 3 Tbs of cream and slowly emulsifying the ganache into it. Nothing worked.

I sighed deeply. I looked at my depleted supply of chocolate… and start to think that the cause of it all was a mistake on my part, but an even bigger mistake on the chocolate’s part. The chocolate had seemed “snappy” enough, but I hadn’t tasted it. I chop a piece off and put in on my tongue. It’s dry. It doesn’t melt easily. When it does, it feels almost curdled. I bite into it, and encounter graininess, with some crunchy particles.

Bad chocolate. Experience now tells me that bad chocolate cannot ganache.

In fact, I don’t know what could be done with it, except return it. I briefly thought about trying to re-temper it, but at that point, I just wanted it far away from me; and it’s not like I had a tempered seed to use. I returned the chocolate that I hadn’t used and the labels of those that I had, and got a refund. The store manager didn’t really believe that the chocolate was bad, though; “we’ve sold a lot and no one’s complained,” she said. I asked her to try tasting it herself, but she repeated her statement. Well, I bought a lot of it, I complained, I had proof, and she refused to taste it. Plus, I wasted money and resources with the cream, tea, butter, corn syrup, and glucose. And time. And don’t even remind me of how many chocolate-y dishes I’ve had to wash. Today is just full of mistakes.

Chocolate can go bad from being stored in too high or too low temperatures, in a humid place, or if improperly wrapped. Mine seemed very dry, and I’m not sure the exact cause of that. I bought some bittersweet Callebaut from the same store a couple months ago, and it didn’t melt properly — it was fudgy at 120F. I don’t know what’s up with their chocolate storage… or if I’m doing something completely, utterly, horribly wrong in a variety of areas.

The real tragedy of this is that now I’m not sure where I can buy good chocolate in bulk in the area. I’m probably going to have to buy it over the internet. I’m going away next week, so I can’t have it delivered until the week after. I will be in Berkeley and SF on Saturday, though, so if anyone knows of a reliable chocolate seller, please let me know.

Back to working with fruit for now, I suppose.

15 Responses to “It’s Not Me, It’s You”

  1. Nancy Says:

    How about ScharffenBerger?

  2. Nina Says:

    Yeah… I’m going to give a shot — I’ve booked a tour for Saturday morning, and might stock up.

  3. Nancy Says:

    The building is beautiful and the tour quite interesting. Enjoy!!

  4. Bella Says:

    Nina, I like the way Guittard performs in ganache applications–not the single varietals, though. Did you go on the factory tour when you were at Greystone? The pistoles are nice because you don’t have to worry about chopping the chocolate, and you can use them to seed if you need to temper. I think they have a 61% or 65%. I also really like like Felchlin Chocolate. I’ve gone through a distributor to get it, though:

    If you work at a restaurant, you may be able to order through your chef if they allow a steward sale.

    Chocolate is tempermental. Don’t get frustrated.

    By the way, Hershey’s now owns Scharffen Berger.

  5. Nina Says:

    Nancy – Thanks, the tour was a lot of fun… and I was able to buy a bulk box of bittersweet chocolate (which is wonderfully fresh) to tide me over for my candy bar experiments. I’ve made two ganaches so far, and they worked without a hint of a problem. I knew it wasn’t me! 🙂

    Bella – Thanks for the chocolate advice! I wasn’t about to go to on the field trip to Guittard that day, so I missed out on the trip. We used Cacao Barry pistoles in culinary school, and I loved them. So neat, and efficient. I haven’t heard of Felchlin before; I’ll have to check them out.

    I’m torn in a few directions with my choice of chocolate. Ideally, I wanted tasty pistoles made by a chocolate manufacturer that also sells chocolate in stores. I don’t have very good storage capabilities in my apt, so I don’t want to keep too much on hand… so if I run out, it’d be good to be able to get the chocolate without ordering it by mail. I really like Scharffen Berger and it’s available in stores in decent packaging, but they don’t sell milk chocolate in bulk and they don’t sell pistoles.

    Unless I get absolutely addicted to Scharffen Berger, in the end, I probably will end up buying pistoles over the mail… and deal with my storage issues. I wish I could taste them all first, but if I go with familiarity, it’ll probably be Guittard or Cocao Barry.

  6. veronica Says:

    El Rey and Callebaut are used by professionals- I use them in my chocolate confections- I work for Vosges Haut-Chocolate. Your ganache probably broke because of the tea,
    you wrote:
    “I sighed deeply. I looked at my depleted supply of chocolate… and start to think that the cause of it all was a mistake on my part, but an even bigger mistake on the chocolate’s part. The chocolate had seemed “snappy” enough, but I hadn’t tasted it. I chop a piece off and put in on my tongue. It’s dry. It doesn’t melt easily. When it does, it feels almost curdled. I bite into it, and encounter graininess, with some crunchy particles.”
    was this your ganache? or the chocolate before you worked with it? if this was your ganache- the graininess is due to burning the chocolate- try using an instant read thermometer and don’t heat above 113F. What kind of tea did you use- did you brew with water first? Also, don’t heat your cream above 90F. I recommend also adding cream in small batches- emulsifying a little bit at a time. And in the future- if you use butter- use clarified- the process of clarification removes water (which I’m sure you know is detrimental to your chocolate.)

  7. Nina Says:

    Veronica — Thanks for the advice. I’ve been reading a lot about chocolate and ganache this past week, so I appreciate getting advice straight from an experienced source.

    That quote is about the grainy block of chocolate that I had bought. I’ve used El Rey and Callebaut just fine in the past for tempering, but on the two occasions that I wrote about, I couldn’t get them to work. I’ve been making ganaches this week with chocolate I bought at Scharffen Berger, and they’ve been fine…. but I do want to perfect the technique as much as possible.

    I always use a laser thermometer for my chocolate (I stir as I take the temp) and heat it to 115F . For this, I infused a 1/4 tsp in Lapsang Souchong tea in 5 oz cream for 5 mins, and then strained it through a double layer of cheesecloth over a fine strainer.

    Why shouldn’t the cream be heated above 90F? The lowest I’ve read is 115F, and others generally say to bring it to a boil and let it cool a bit; one book said that boiling it decreases the percentage of water (like the clarified butter — great tip). What temperature do you have your chocolate at (I assume you melt it) when emulsifying? Do you use a rubber spatula, a whisk, a food processor, or an immersion blender?

    Adding the cream a little at a time sounds like a great idea. It reminds me of a method in Medrich’s book for fixing a broken ganache by emulsying the broken ganache a little at a time into some simmered cream… but gradually emulsifying to begin with makes so much sense.

  8. veronica Says:

    Well, I can help you with some of this. We make ganache in 150lb batches using a Stephan VCM- it sucks the air out so we get nice dense ganache. We never heat the cream over 90 b/c that is what my mentor has told me to do. I think it has something to do with raising the temp of the chocolate- plus, when we use agitation on the Stephan- it brings up the temp of the whole ganache. When I have made truffles at home, I bring cream to a simmer and then let it cool to lukewarm for about 10min. The temperature of our chocolate is always 113F however, we have the option of heat on the VCM, so each recipe is different. If you look on the back of a package of Callebaut or Valrhona- you will notice that not all chocolate is tempered to the same degrees. Darker chocolates tend to be heated to higher temps b/c the higher temp is needed to melt fat particles for a smooth deposit. Is this too much? So when you are at home, working with chocolate, don’t employ the same tempering method every time. And I recommend using Valrhona- they have some very interesting single origin chocolates. I will say that Scharffen Berger is outsourced these days- they don’t oversee their own production anymore. I honestly think it was the tea that broke your ganache- it might have been too acidic- the tannins (it was a type of black tea, yes?) could have prevented emulsification. The only reason I say this is because years ago I tried to make a tamarind creme anglaise and it broke (curdled) every time.

  9. Nancy Says:

    Keep the comments back and forth, Nina and Veronica – I’m learning a lot! Thank you!

  10. Nina Says:

    Veronica – I’ve never had a problem with tea ganaches before — black, green, or herbal. Recchiuti has a section about them in his book, and he doesn’t mention anything about problems with emulsifying them. A tamarind anglaise is a pretty diff’t animal. Any anglaise curdles if it is cooked too long. This recipe for tamarind anglaise seems to work

    I could see how making ganache at home is diff’t from making it with a Stephan VCM. Emulsification at home doesn’t generate nearly as much heat. For milk and white chocolate, I bring the cream to a lower temp than for dark, for the reason that you mentioned.

    I went to the Scharffen Berger factory last week. They’re still doing production in the factory the same way that they’ve always done it, even though they were bought by Hershey. They do some packaging off site, and since their factory is dairy free, milk is added to make milk chocolate off site.

  11. veronica Says:

    Oh, I’ve made anglaise a thousand times! I just could never get a tamarind one- I used to use a concentrate and there might have been something else in there that caused it to curdle. I am tempted to wrangle this beast again with the recipe you provided. Thanks!
    I too have visited Scharffen-Berger’s factory, but as an insider who works in the business- I can tell you that they do not make the bulk of their chocolate any more. Their outfit in Berkeley maybe produces 20-30% of their total production- the rest being outsourced. This is fairly common in the chocolate business and by no means meant to imply that they make inferior chocolate. It’s is mucher cheaper and a lot less of a headache to hand your recipes over to another production outfit! If you are truly interested in making chocolates- check for supplies- I recommend using the Valrhona Caribe and Guanaja- plus they come in discs. And if you have any money left over- spring for some Amedei for personal consumption. Interesting company and you should be able to find an article about them in the April 2006 Food & Wine. All I know about chocolate is that it’s much trickier than I ever expected! and I’m sure you are learning this lessson yourself…

  12. Nina Says:

    Veronica – Yeah, this anglaise recipe is a little different than others that I’ve used — I bet using all cream and no milk helps to prevent curdling.

    Thanks so much for the chocolate tips. Valrhona seems to be the top choice for just about everyone for confections (with good reason — it’s fantastic)… but I’m trying to figure out what would be best for the assortment of candy bars that I want to make, along the lines of the Malted Caramel Candy Bar. Since the bars would be filled with varying flavors/textures and much larger than a single truffle, I’m thinking that my chocolate should be on the cheaper side and have a relatively neutral chocolate flavor. I don’t want to use inferior chocolate, of course, (and I’ll leave Hershey chocolate to Hershey bars), but I am thinking along the lines of Guittard and Cacao Barry (for dark chocolate). I like Scharffen Berger as eating chocolate, but I think that the flavor is a little too strong with berry flavors to be neutral (and it’s a little pricey and doesn’t come in discs), so I probably won’t use it after all… unless maybe for a berry-flavored bar. Even Guittard is a little more fruity than I’d like, so I’m leaning towards Cacao Barry for now, which has a more balanced flavor to me…. but it’s a little harder to find than other brands… so I do want to keep tasting chocolates and experimenting.

    For milk chocolate, Scharffen Berger is my top choice, b/c it’s creamy and strong on chocolate flavor.  I also like Valrhona, but it’s just too expensive.

    I’ll definitely order some Amedei to nibble on, and as Bella recommended above, will check out Felchlin.

    And ah yes, the trickiness of chocolate… I’ve been reading about it almost exclusively recently and experimenting with it… and my mind is swirling! 🙂

  13. veronica Says:

    Cacao Barry makes some interesting chocolates. Just so you know, Callebaut and Cacao Barry are the same company. If you can’t find the perfect chocolate- why not try blending? We use a milk-dark blend sometimes and add a little cocoa butter for an added creaminess.

  14. Nina Says:

    Yeah, it’s a little weird, though — I’ve been looking at online chocolate sellers, and many of them have a lot of Callebaut, but little if any Cacao Barry.

    I’ll try the blending…. It’ll be a good way to use the different kinds of chocolate I bought for sampling.

  15. Ted Niceley Says:

    Hi Nina!
    What a fantastic blog!!!!
    Your Hermes reportage was fantastic but I’ll write about that over there sometime.
    I just wanted to say I’ve had the same experience with El Rey Bitter (Bucare?) and even their white, which tastes so awesome but is hard to work with ( for me at least) also.
    It seemed like it went grainy really fast when it was melted , even following their melt table ( I was doing a creme anglaise type of cremuex) and eventually I just bagged using El Rey.
    This was awhile ago though and I have a friend who did some consulting work with them and I think they reconfigured their methods.
    I blend chocolates often when I make ganache and will use Cocoa Barry and Valrhona or Cocoa Noel, etc.
    I Love Guittards French styles of Pistoles, find some of them more exceptional then others but god, they’re great!
    I’ll finish off with I love Valrhona and their Grand Cru so much it’s the only chocolate I’ll chop a block of when I can’t get their ‘feve’s’.
    Again, GREAT BLOG!!!

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