On 3rd February, Steve and Cameron from The Chocolate Mill MK will be running their first chocolate making workshop at Coldsmoking Cookery School in Great Linford.
Back in October, they had a practice run-through and I was lucky enough to be one of the guinea-pigs in attendance.
The half-day course started at 10am with an opportunity to taste some different types and qualities of chocolate whilst Steve talked us through the origins, types and prices of chocolate and why they vary. I can think of worse ways to start a day!
We then moved on to the finer points of tempering chocolate. Having fiddled around with making homemade chocolates in the past this has always been where both my skills and confidence tended to give way, leading to chocolates that lacked satisfying snap when broken or, worse still, had unsightly bloom on them. There is no denying it, chocolate is a temperamental beast so it was nice to have a bit of hand-holding through the process and to be introduced to some not scary, simple techniques to use at home with basic equipment.
During the course of the morning we had a go at creating our own personalised chocolate bar, made some chocolate ganache truffle filling and then used that to make hand rolled truffles and filled moulded chocolate. At the same time, as we waited for the chocolate to set, Cameron filled the time with a fun, amusing and perfectly challenging multiple-choice quiz which covered more of the history and background to the chocolate industry.
By the end of the course I felt my kitchen skills had been sufficiently challenged to indicate that I had indeed learnt a good deal. The cookery school was also so thoroughly covered in chocolate that it was undeniable that something significant had taken place!
I would have been happy to have come away with a renewed confidence and inspiration for homemade chocolate making but in addition, I had my very own selection of homemade chocolates to take away to proudly show my family. And if that wasn't enough, we were also provided with a set of course notes to refer to at our leisure when the urge to give it a go at home hit us.
This urge niggled away with me for a couple of months whilst I busied myself with the hectic preserve making season in the run up to Christmas. Then finally, with the last event out of the way, it was time to turn my attention to my own Christmas and to dig out those course notes to make homemade chocolate truffles as gifts.
It had been a few weeks since the course by this point but I felt as if I could remember enough to give it a good stab and I had the notes to guide me when I needed them. So, armed with a supply of chocolate callets and with my old moulds dug out of the back of the cupboard, it was time to give it a go. Over the next few days I dabbled with tempering, fiddled with moulding and experimented with fillings until I had created a small, not quite perfectly formed, selection box ready to give to my mum.
I often think it is funny when I look around at other stallholders at food events and think, I don't know how they can stand to make that over and over again... and then I go home and made yet another batch of jam. Each of us has found our "thing"; that passion that never wears thin and, although repetitive, is somehow perfectly bearable. As much as I enjoy making cupcakes for the family I have no urge to make it my business; doing so might even take the enjoyment out of it. This, I think, is the case for chocolate-making for me too. The course was hugely enjoyable and definitely one of my highlights in 2017, and making the chocolates at Christmas was also a lot of fun and hugely satisfying. I am grateful to Steve and Cameron for adding to kitchen skills and helping me resurrect something I had previously given up on due to dissatisfaction with both the process and the results. I hope it will be something that I return to a few times each year to make something special for friends and family. As an artisan myself, I have never questioned the skill behind the product but spend a couple of hours in the kitchen, with a thermometer and a good deal of patience and you will never question the price of a handmade truffle again!
If you love chocolate, if you love playing around in the kitchen, if you love feeling accomplished, if you love learning new skills, if you love someone and would like to give them extra-special chocolates this Valentine, or if you just love the entertaining energy of the guys from The Chocolate Mill MK, then I would have no hesitation in recommending their course on 3rd February to you.