Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chocolate and Beer Tour and Tasting

By Sophie Spano

On Saturday, May 26 The International Culinary Center organized an outing for students at the California campus to the TCHO Chocolate Factory, followed by a tour and tasting with the brewer at ThirstyBear Brewery.

The TCHO experience included a presentation and factory tour with one of the most knowledgeable and entertaining chocolate experts in town, as well as an in-depth guided tasting of the flavor-driven, artisanal chocolate.

TCHO is a luxury chocolate maker based in San Francisco, California that partners directly with farmers and cooperatives to improve growing, fermentation, and drying methods and teach them to create specific flavor profiles in their cacao beans. Its factory and world headquarters are located on Pier 17 along the Embarcadero, in the city’s historic downtown waterfront district. TCHO’s core principle is flavor; and the company has developed a Flavor Wheel as it’s roadmap for sourcing beans. It also, of course, helps customers learn about the products they are enjoying. The Flavor Wheel uses six adjectives to describe chocolate: chocolatey, citrus, nutty, fruity, floral and earthy.

The second unique principle that TCHO follows is the TCHOSource program that is “designed to obtain the best beans in the world while enabling the producers of those beans to earn a better living.” TCHO directly invests in cacao farmers and provides them with the technology and knowledge to improve their businesses. It was interesting to learn that most cacao farmers have never tasted chocolate made from their own beans. Why? The growing climate is too warm for chocolate!

After the presentation, students tested all of the TCHO’s chocolate offerings. The first was the 99% unsweetened with cacao from Ecuador and Peru… so no added flavors or sugar! We moved on to Chocolatey, which is a single origin chocolate made from Ghanaian beans. It was rich with a fudge-like flavor. Next was Fruity, single origin from Peru at 68% cacao. It was bright with hints of cherry. Nutty was also single origin from Ecuadoran beans and slightly sweeter at 65% cacao. We finished the dark chocolates degustation with Citrus from single origin Madagascar beans at 67% cacao. And then, of course, there was the milk chocolate. And though dark chocolate is very popular right now, the United States is still the number one consumer of milk. Everything was tasty and the 10% discount in the store sweetened the deal!

Just after visiting the TCHO chocolate industry, students walked through the streets of San Francisco to find the ThirstyBear Restaurant and Brewing Company in the SoMa district.

In a city with quite a few breweries, ThirstyBear is the first and only to be certified organic.

Here we met brewmaster Brenden Dobel who brought us on a tour of the small brewery and led us though a beer tasting. We sampled the following four beers: the Polar Bear Pilsner, a “Bohemian-style” beer brewed with Munich malts; the Kozlov Stout – a black ale brewed with black malt, chocolate malt, and roasted barley; the strong American-style IPA; and the refreshing and citrusy Valencia wheat beer.

I noted some crossover between the seemingly two different products —the concept of terroir relates to both cocoa and hops growing regions and affects the flavor of chocolate and beer. Also, the adjectives used to describe chocolate and beer are similar. And although we did not do a chocolate and beer pairing, that is definitely up next!

Sophie Spano is an intern at The International Culinary Center, studying foreign languages and business at the Université du Sud Toulon Var which is located in the southern France.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Chef Jacques Torres Demos Viennoiserie

By Mercedes Wilby

Last week I went to Chef Jacques Torres' demo on viennoiserie. I was curious to see what Mr. Chocolate would do. Obviously he is a brilliant pastry chef who made a name for himself before he opened his chocolate shop. Chef Jacques explained that other than chocolate, the first few units we study in the Classic Pastry Arts program (tarts, bread/viennoiserie, etc) are his favorite things to make. I guess it makes sense when you think about it. There is something incredibly satisfying and surprisingly relaxing about making a croissant or an apple tart. Plus is there anything better than a freshly baked pain au chocolat?

First things first, he talked about yeast. He likes using fresh yeast. It is sold in bricks and kept cold. As he explained, it should always be crumbly... if it's not, it's too old. For both the croissant and brioche recipes he used, he mixed all the ingredients together, not bothering to make a preferment.

Next, Chef Jacques showed us how to make croissant dough (which can be used to make pain au chocolat and danish, among other things.) The procedure was more or less what we learn in class. He did emphasize the importance of a long fermentation—you should always let your croissant dough proof overnight in the fridge, he said multiple times, as it helps develop the flavor and cut the sweetness. This wasn't news to me, but it was nice to have the concept reinforced. What was news was that you can replace about 10-15% of the sugar in a croissant recipe with trimoline, an invert sugar. This will give it a good flavor and a nicer color when it is baked. I'll have to try this sometime—I'm really curious to see how it works.

Then he showed us the process of turning the dough. His method is to cover 2/3 of the rolled out dough with butter, then fold the dough up in the equivalent of a single letter turn. Then roll out and make one double turn and then one single turn. That's it. Let proof overnight in the fridge, roll out, cut, bake, eat. Speaking of eating, he served fresh croissants and pains au chocolat. There is nothing better than a pain au chocolat fresh out of the oven—it's light and buttery and the chocolate is still melted. Gosh they were good.

For the bomboloni, he made a "light" brioche dough. Since the dough would be fried in oil, he explained, you don't need so much fat, so he cut down on the eggs and butter (but still added plenty). He showed us when to add the cold (but slightly softened) butter: once the gluten in the dough is developed enough that it pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl and forms a ball. It takes a while for the butter to become fully incorporated into the dough, so you should add it cold to ensure it doesn't melt from the friction of the dough rubbing against the bowl—you should also use a sturdy mixer or you could end up burning out the motor (as Chef Jacques almost did).

To fry them, form them into tight balls and let them proof. Then drop them into a pot of 160°C oil and cook until they are golden on both sides. Take them out of the oil and roll them in granulated sugar then fill them, apparently any filling is acceptable. Chef Jurgen (who happened to be sitting in on the demo) suggested his favorite, apricot jam. Chef Jacques scoffed (jokingly, of course) saying that apricot jam is cheap and in France they use raspberry jam. His favorite filling is pastry cream—what he was using in the demo—because when you throw a pastry cream filled bomboloni at someone it will stick to them better than a jam filled one would. Good reasoning, I think!

Regardless of the relative merits of fillings and how they function in food fights, the pastry cream filled fresh bomboloni he served were incredible. (A shout out to whoever was in the kitchen assisting him. You all did a great job making a ton of them.)

Chef Jacques, interestingly, will not use pastry cream powder for his pastry cream, opting instead for cornstarch. He pointed out that no one really knows what is in pastry cream powder. Chefs Jurgen and Rudy tried to object but it was futile. Chef Jacques was right, they didn't really know exactly what was in it. Honestly, I couldn't taste a difference in the pastry cream, except to note that it was exceptionally smooth—partly because he enriched it with a bit of butter once it cooled slightly.

Overall an excellent demo; I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I can't wait to try out some of the tricks he showed us at home... and then eat the results!

Mercedes Wilby is a student in Level 3 of the Classic Pastry Arts program. On her blog, Pastry Place, she chronicles her culinary exploits at The International Culinary Center, throughout NYC, and in her own kitchen.