After the previous two weeks spent learning to work with chocolate, the time had arrived for our class to complete our chocolate showpieces.
The class brainstormed ideas for a theme, and we decided on 'nature'. From there, each person was given the freedom to dream and design a showpiece fitting into this theme. The showpiece had to be constructed of 50% chocolate and the other 50% could be from any other medium, such as sugar.
Our chef-instructor has competed in a number of showpiece competitions and he suggested we all sit down someplace quiet and write-down the first five things that came to mind when we thought of our theme. He also encouraged us to have a glass of Maker's close-by "to set the mood". From the list of five items, he said three can usually be grouped and we could take our design from there.
I arrived at class a bit early the next day and found a totally empty and quiet kitchen. I sat and began my list (sans Maker's, unfortunately):
1. Running in Central Park
And there I had it: I could group the last four ideas together and create a showpiece around the Cascades, a favorite hiking spot not-too-far from Christiansburg.
At home later that night, I pulled-up photos from my hike. And per my request, Valerie also passed a few photos along.
I sketched out my design and met with my chef-instructor the following day. He changed very little in my design, but gave me some very helpful ideas in terms of construction. From there, we had to develop a time line to keep us on track for the following four nights:
- Melt/pour/cool/break chocolate (3 full sheet-pans of bittersweet, 1 full sheet-pan each of milk and white)
- Roll/cut/shape/dry pastillage for rocks
- Melt chocoalte for construction
- Begin constructing clif
- Air-dry dark and light brown sugar for trail
- Finish clif construction
- Airbrush rocks
- Melt/color/pour/dry sugar base
- Clean-up visable mortar on clif
- Attach clif to base
- Construct trail
- Melt/color/knead (x2) sugar for waterfall; pull waterfall
- Final clean-up; move and present at 9 PM
Each night was a full four hours of work. After Monday's class, I was a bit discouraged as I had not made as much progress on the clif as I had hoped. But I tried not to rush through it Tuesday night, as I reminded myself that this was the focal point of my piece. If it looked rushed, the whole piece wouldn't work.
My mind was more stressed than my body, as I slept fitfully Monday and Tuesday nights, dreaming of nothing but constructing the pieces of broken chocolate into the cliff.
Wednesday night gave me two hold-your-breath moments: moving the clif (which had been constructed seperately) to attach it to the sugar base and then moving the entire showpiece across the hall to present.
All went well, as my piece was solid, and as heavy, as a rock. I was more than pleased with the outcome.
The night after our showpieces were presented, we took the practical exam for the fourth module, as it was focused on chocolate. We had to create molded chocoaltes, which involved: making ganache, tempering bittersweet chocolate, lining and filling the molds and finally, unmolding the set chocolates. I finally ended the streak of 99% on my exams, scoring a 100% for my effort.