Back to School: Chocolate & Wine
I have to admit, I didn’t mind going to school when I was younger. I even loved taking notes, which I still do. But I doubt I was asking for homework, like I recently did here in Zürich. What kind of class was this, you wonder… Chocolate, but of course. It was actually a class on chocolate and wine, even if my focus was certainly on the former. Our instructors taught us all about the cacao bean and the grape, what they consider two of the most fascinating products on earth.
In 2009, I took a class with Laughing Lemon all about Cooking with Pumpkins, and you may recall the numerous varieties of squash with their funny names and odd shapes… or even Jack and Silvia’s matching orange outfits. After the pumpkin class, names like Bambino Gigante, Big Max, Blue Hungarian and Turk’s Turban were familiar; this time, my new vocabulary included Ripasso, Beerenauslese, Chinato and Clairette de Die. Wine expert, instructor and Swiss Ambassador for Champagne, Silvia Gautschi McNulty told us all we need to know to best pair chocolate desserts with assorted wines. A few highlights and lessons learned:
1,000 aromas can be identified in a grape and over 500 in a cacao bean. “A lot of times, wine and chocolate go awful together. But if you get it right, it is an amazing mouth experience.” Wine has to be at least as sweet as the chocolate you are pairing it with. If not, the wine loses its flavor and gets very acidic. The more intense a chocolate dessert is, the more intense the flavor of a wine has to be. The more fat in that dessert, the more acidic the wine needs to be to balance the fat (fat absorbs acidity). Therefore, a wine with high tannins and high alcohol will work to clean your palate so the wine can be tasted. Wines that match these criteria (intense flavor, high sugar, high alcohol, acidity) are often found in sweet, fortified wines or sparkling wines from the muscat grape variety.
Jack taught us about how chocolate is made and touched upon its history too. As he explained how to taste chocolate and what to look for, we broke pieces in half, listening to it snap, we put it close to our noses to detect different aromas and let small pieces melt in our mouths. Around the table, everyone shared their reactions: “Nice mouthfeel. Tastes burnt. Mmm, I like this one better than the last. Nutty. Too much sugar.” We tasted assorted Swiss brands, some known for using more cocoa butter than others, or mixing and matching cacao beans, and especially varying quantities of sugar. Most of all, we were becoming savvy at detecting good quality chocolate — and for this, we clearly had to taste as much as possible to be certain !
From a round table tasting and discussion, to tempering and dipping we went. Armed with tools from a hardware store (the best place for chocolate accessories), it was time to make our own chocolates. We learned about chocolate’s two enemies, water and heat, and how to best work around that. We played with the different proportions of chocolate and cream to get chocolate sauce or ganache to fill our pralines. Latex gloves on and it was time to get messy – rolling truffles in coconut, cocoa powder and melted chocolate.
Of all the chocolates we made and desserts tasted (dark chocolate tart and milk chocolate mousse, in photos above), my favorite was definitely the mini peanut butter cup (recipe below). An even more delicious spin on an American classic that I don’t see here in Europe… unless it’s in a care package sent from New York for Halloween ! Jack made a silky peanut butter ganache using pure peanut butter (100% peanuts), 38% milk chocolate and sea salt. I’ve got a trusty jar of Jif in my cupboard (creamy, not crunchy), brought back from New York, but I’ll have to grind up some peanuts for this recipe.
I’m not sure Silvia will approve, but I’ll be pairing these chocolates… with a tall glass of milk !
I’ll be back in Oerlikon, tempering and dipping chocolates with Jack soon, in preparation for Curious Courses next week. Jack and I will be teaching a class together called Chocolate Cravings, all about Swiss chocolate (history, making of, tasting, etc.). He and Silvia will also be offering their Chocolate & Wine class again this November, so keep your eye on their schedule page, that one will be sure to fill up fast !
Homemade Peanut Butter Cups
Peanut butter ganache, recipe by Jack McNulty of Laughing Lemon
Heat 120 grams of peanut butter (use only 100% pb) to 35°C (using a microwave or strong hair dryer). Melt 150 grams milk chocolate to 45°C. Add the warmed peanut butter to the milk chocolate and add a sprinkling of sea salt to taste. Mix well without incorporating any air into the mixture. Cool to 28°C. Meanwhile temper either dark or milk chocolate (Jack and I both prefer using dark chocolate for the pb cups, but most people prefer the sweetness of milk). Add the tempered chocolate to little aluminum cups, allow to sit for about 30 seconds, then dump the chocolate out leaving a nice coating of tempered chocolate in the cups. Once the ganache is cooled, add it to the cups and allow everything to cool.