One of the many reasons I’m so fascinated by chocolate is that there’s always something new to learn about it. It could be the latest season’s tastes, a new brand launching or a different chocolate making skill to brush up on. I think I’m now pretty good at tasting chocolate – and I do mean tasting rather than just eating (which I’m also pretty good at) – but I’m still working on my skills around creating and decorating chocolates.

I was therefore very pleased to meet Anne Scott of Auberge du Chocolat at Taste London this year: Anne was selling special tickets to her half day chocolate workshops. Auberge du Chocolat is a small chocolate company based in Buckinghamshire. It has won an impressive array of chocolate awards since launching in 2005. The workshops are held at Auberge’s Chesham base, which is where the factory and retail outlet are based. I very quickly bought a ticket as I’ve been wanting to try out one of Anne’s classes for a while. I was also hoping get a little behind the scenes view of what goes on at Auberge du Chocolat.

I’ve had a few attempts at tempering chocolate at home and I’ll be honest, it’s been a bit hit and miss. Tempering is what you need to do to chocolate to get a nice glossy finish on truffle coatings and a good snap if you’re making bars. It involves gentle heating the chocolate to melt it and get all the chocolate crystals properly aligned. During my initial discussion with Anne she mentioned that tempering was really easy, so I was looking forward to having a chat about where I was going wrong.

 

Auberge du Chocolat Course

Auberge du Chocolat Course

 

It was a rainy afternoon on the day of my workshop, so perfect weather to be inside with chocolate. Anne gave clear instructions to wash our hands and not put them near our mouths during the afternoon. Apparently adults often find this last bit harder than children! Within the first 15 minutes the mystery behind consistent tempering was revealed. It may surprise you to know that the secret weapon in a chocolatier’s toolkit is the microwave. Artisan businesses producing large amounts of chocolate normally have a large tempering machine so chocolate is always tempered and ready to use, but the microwave is the easiest way to do small batches quickly.

And it’s pretty simple. Either use chocolate already in pellets or chop up your chocolate into small pieces, and pop it in the microwave for 30 secs. You then need to take it out and stir well. It may not initially look like the chocolate has melted, but it will have started to. You then repeat this process, but in 5-10 second microwave bursts until the chocolate is smooth. It shouldn’t feel hot, but all the lumps of chocolate will eventually melt with stirring. It’s actually relatively straightforward as long as you don’t get a bit gung ho and leave the microwave on for too long. If you’re concerned about using a microwave, there are other alternatives such as using the seeding method with a bowl over simmering water. However Anne said that even Michelin-starred chefs use this technique; I’ve also visited other high quality chocolate makers who take this approach.

So tempering out of the way, we got on with the basics of chocolate decorating, as this is what the workshop was mainly about. I started with a bit of a poor attempt at making a small piping bag out of parchment paper (I got there in the end), then happily tried out some squiggly chocolate writing and decorating. Anne had pre-prepared some chocolate bowls and talked us through how to create a pretty blossom effect, similar to the one she uses for decorating chocolate champagne bottles. We also had a go at creating little chicken scenes on a small slab of milk chocolate, plus some round chocolate thins with a selection of toppings. Both required minimal effort, but resulted in very elegant looking gifts. I even recreated the thins this week with a topping of sea salt and chopped up toasted almonds, and was pretty pleased with the results.

 

Auberge du Chocolat Course

 

Anne provided lots of additional suggestions and tips as we went along. She particularly emphasised the importance of thirds. For example, when creating a ganache for filling truffles or to use as icing, you should use two thirds chocolate to one third liquid. Anne made a water-based chocolate coffee ganache, perfect for the other person on the workshop who couldn’t eat dairy. This involved pouring boiled water over the chocolate pellets, then stirring to melt the chocolate and thicken the mixture. For a more solid truffle filling this should be left to thicken further. However Anne also suggested using the more liquid chocolate as an easy dessert: just pour it into small espresso cups and top with seasonal fruit.

Anne made everything feel very achievable to recreate at home and there was plenty of time to ask lots of questions. She also encouraged us to think about the containers and shapes we already have in our house to use as chocolate molds. Her story of making a chocolate bicycle using all sorts of molds and shapes was proof of how creative you can be with this.

 

Auberge du Chocolat Course

 

Auberge du Chocolat make a range of bars, molded chocolates and single flavoured chocolates, all on display in the upstairs showroom. And this is where we finished our session so that we could taste a selection of chocolates from different countries and with different cocoa percentages. Starting with a smooth 100% cocoa chocolate from Madagascar, we worked our way back down the percentages. I could really taste the difference of the higher quality of this chocolate versus the Callebaut chocolate we used in the workshop. Amy, Anne’s apprentice, then kindly brought up some of Auberge’s ice cream and frozen yoghurt to taste, which was a lovely refreshing way to finish the afternoon.

I had a really fun afternoon filled with lots of ideas and suggestions for chocolate gifting and decorating ideas. Although I’m not really any closer to being a master chocolatier capable of recreating Auberge du Chocolat’s lovely single chocolates, I feel very confident about reproducing some simple and elegant chocolate designs. I also came away with lots of ideas for creating lovely chocolate desserts with minimal effort. If you do want to explore some more advanced chocolate skills, Auberge du Chocolat also offer a full day ‘Indulgence’ session for £150.

 

Check out Auberge du Chocolat’s site for details of their workshops.

 

Auberge du Chocolat Course

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