Mandarin Aerated Chocolate
Specialty Equipment: water bath, vacuum machine, thermometer, moulds
Specialty Ingredients: mandarin essential oil, cacao butter, yellow pectin, tartaric acid, glucose
Dish as in The Fat Duck:
Working with chocolate is a fucking nightmare. So, I got that out of the way.
Every recipe in the cookbook has an intro covering some aspect of the dish, like the origin, certain techniques and/or the developments leading up to the final installment. Childhood memories are often the starting point for a recipe, with Heston trying to recreate flavor memories from a distant past. I never really got it until now. You know that moment in Pixars’s Ratatouille when über critic Anton Ego is served a plate of ratatouille and is instantly transported to his days as a young boy when his mother used to give little Anton a homemade version (the Academy Awards should really introduce the category ‘best scene’). Making the aerated chocolate had a same effect on me, although less dramatic. My memory is not of a rustic, freshly made meal, but a mass produced, highly processed cookie. More on that later.
The chocolate has a few components, mandarin, chocolate and some additions, but making it is difficult as hell. It starts off quite easy. You have to prepare vacuum packed bags for the outer shells and for the aerated centres. The shell is pure chocolate. The centre is made from chocolate, mandarin essential oil and cacao butter. Cacao butter comes, as far as I know, in liquid form, small droplets (for easier processing) and in a large block and any chocolatier should have some to buy.
Both of the bags have to be melted at 53˚C for 12 hours.
The tricky part comes after the 720 minutes: tempering the melted chocolate. You have machines that can do the work for you, but they are a bit specialized for the sporadic moments you need tempered chocolate at home, so I tried it by hand. The chocolate should be tempered by seeding the melted stuff with non-melted chocolate, cooling it to 28˚C and heating it to 32˚C. I seeded it, let it cool and when it hit 28˚C I put the bowl in warm water to increase the temperature to 32˚C. The heating went extremely fast, the chocolate raced to the temperature as if it was a cold-blooded. Also, there was, sadly, some overshoot.
The next step is pouring the chocolate in moulds. Moulds designed for chocolate are ideal, well, necessary, but they have a price tag of (>) 20€. Finding them is another story, I couldn’t, at least not in a store, so I would have had to order them online, which means extra shipping costs. In the end I went for 1€ ice trays, hoping they would work, although the package told me it wouldn’t with the words ‘not suitable for chocolate’. I soon found out why.
Cleaning the surface, letting it sit upside down and cleaning the surface again to create smooth edges. The second round has to start when the chocolate has a satin color. What? At one point I just went for it, but I think the chocolate hardened too much, because while cleaning the edges I chipped away some small pieces of a few shells. Too bad.
Clue one of failure: the piles of dripped chocolate did not really look like the product of a properly tempered process.
The shells have to be filled with a small piece of pâte de fruit (see this post). It is made with mandarin puree, glucose, sugar, yellow pectin, tartaric acid and mandarin essential oil. I left out the oil, because when I made the lollies of a previous dish the essential oil owned all the other flavors, giving other ingredients absolutely no fighting chance. So I only added the mandarin oil to the chocolate filling.
It happened with the previous pâte de fruit, but more extreme this time: after removing the jelly from the heat and adding the acid, the stuff jelled almost immediately. If you pour the mix in a large tray it is no problem, but pouring it in a number of cavities is impossible. I got, all in all, 1, cavity filled with some of the mixture before it started to set and became impossible to work with. I ended up jamming it in the mould, but this meant they had a granular texture instead of a smooth one. If anyone has any ideas why this happens let me know. I have a slow-set yellow pectin, so the fast setting is quite a mystery to me.
One smooth piece, a few granular ones that came out of the mould ok and some that were an absolute mess. They were, however, still usable, only not as they should have been. After cutting the tops of the pâte de fruits I put them in the shells.
To aerate the chocolate in a vacuum machine you have to give it a head start by putting it through a whipping-cream canister. The canister has to be warmed to make sure the chocolate does not set inside and therefore clog the apparatus.
I was well chuffed with my iSi Thermo Whip, thinking it would preserve the heat of the chocolate, making this step a walk in the park. How wrong can someone be. I didn’t realise the thermometer is good at keeping stuff warm, but that also means it keeps outside influences at bay, so warming the whip in a water bath is pointless. The heat doesn’t penetrate the inside, you should warm the inside. The outside was warm to touch. The inside far from it. The result. Solidified chocolate. Damn. Idiot.
Cleaning the whip took forever, as a matter of fact when you read this I’m probably still cleaning the &#@!, so I resorted to melting some chocolate and not give it a head start.
Because it was not aerated the chocolate had more trouble producing bubbles, so I went further down the line, pressure wise, to almost full pressure instead of 250mbar. The book instructs to close the relief valve (the opening the air passes through as it is sucked out), but I don’t know how to do it or if it is even possible. I presented my problem to the guy I bought the machine from and he advised to switch the machine off when it hit the desired pressure. It worked like a charm, so I could keep the chocolate under pressure until it set. After an hour I put the machine back on and it released the pressure without crushing the chocolate filling, because it had time to harden.
The filling should be well over the edges, mine were not, so you can cut the bottom to a flat surface. It probably also helps to expose the bubbly interior. To remove the shells I put the mould in the freezer for one minute (the book talks about a ‘fan-assisted blast chiller’) and they easily released themselves from the mould.
As you can see the shells were very dull, not at all a shiny, well tempered exterior. They looked even worse that the shell of the délice of chocolate, which suggests the ice trays are indeed not suitable for chocolate, like the label suggested. Chocolate is one of the hardest ingredients the work with. An absolute fucking nightmare.
The interior of a random chocolate.
Ok, I screwed up almost every component, but what I didn’t screw up and it would require some effort, is the flavor. I talked earlier about the scene in the Pixar movie and these chocolates are sort of my ratatouille. Heston talks about it in the intro. Eating the petit four brings you instantly back to Jaffa Cakes. Al least it did for me, because I am fortunate enough to have had a carefree childhood, basically consisting of going to school and work my way through bags of candy. I have not eaten the cookies in years, I think since I was young, but this chocolate made me feel no time had passed since. The combination of chocolate and mandarin, in a high quality incarnation, was a delicious reminder of my past.
I read tons of reviews of the Fat Duck Tasting Menu, to determine if what I’ve made resembles experiences of other people having actually eaten the food, and am amazed by the comments on this chocolate. Many are quite neutral, which could mean the reviewers never ate Jaffa Cakes. If I had it in the restaurant, without having made it myself, I would praise it endlessly and feel like Anton Ego. It makes up for and even worth it working with chocolate. At the end of this dish you can eat away all your frustrations with what you’ve just made.