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May 16, 2004: Nothing sweeter

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There were a lot of things I could be doing this weekend. After all, in only a few more days we are off to Ashland, which means there's a lot of picking up around the house, and doing laundry, and paying bills, and all the other last minute chores that need to be done to get ready for a long trip. But a few months ago I sent my little sister a link to a chocolate making class, since I know she likes to do that sort of thing. I first suggested she take the class and then send the rest of her family in California the results. But then I started thinking it sounded like a lot of fun, and after a few emails back and forth, I was making plane reservations and she was making class reservation. So I flew up to Seattle this weekend to make these:

Of course I also flew up to spend some time with my little sister, and the world's cutest niece, and Bil-2, but the impetus for the trip was the chocolate. And really, does anyone really need any more excuses than those? Cute little girl, hanging out with sister and Bil-2, and chocolate!

In case you are wondering, yes, we made every single one of the chocolates you see in that jumbled mess of a box. There were ganaches of every variety white chocolate, milk, semisweet, and dark. We stirred in cream and learned how to fix a ganache when it breaks (I had no idea a ganache could break in the first place. I am so *not* a gourmet chef, apparently). We zested oranges and limes and boiled them down to make summery citrus truffles (the white lumps you see in that picture). We mixed coffee beans and whole vanilla beans in the cream and boiled them to make an amazing java flavoring for some semisweet truffles (I have never cooked with a whole vanilla bean in my life! I think I was the only one in the class who hadn't a clue what to do with them). My little sister and I stirred just enough cinnamon oil into dark chocolate to make an amazing flavor combination that had just a hint of heat as an after taste. There were liquors and berries to cook down and stir in. And that was all before lunch!

We were supposed to bring our lunch but we were running late (because someone small was gleefully showing me around the backyard and it's hard to pull away when someone is asking her Aunt Jennifer to please push her on the swing just one more time), so we raided the vending machines on campus and had a nutritious repast involving baked Lays chips, peanut M&M's, and chocolate chip cookies. And then it was back to the chocolate making, this time learning how to temper chocolate so it remains smooth and shiny and does not turn all white and streaky.

There is quite a science in the art of making chocolates a science that revolves around closely monitoring temperatures, and knowing when you should and when you should not stir. And tempering chocolate is where it started to get really messy. It requires a big space to spread it out and smooth it around on a surface until it reaches the right temperature, and then if that wasn't messy enough, they brought out the molds, and showed us how to make our own chocolate shells to fill with all those lovely ganaches we made that morning. The larger ones we simply created by painting the chocolate into the molds (that would be those purple-wrapped ones you see in the box they were mint flavored so had to be wrapped so the mint wouldn't leak into everything else). The smaller rectangle chocolates were made by filling the molds with chocolate, and then dumping them back over the pot, so that only a thick coating remained.

It was amazingly, gloriously messy. There was chocolate everywhere. They showed us how to hand dip all the rolled truffles, using just two fingers. They showed us the right way to dip fruits so we did strawberries and cherries and dried apricots and grapes (I would like to interject an important public announcement here. Grapes and chocolate really should not mix). Then they brought out bowls of chocolate powder, nibs, and sprinkles, and we rolled the truffles to coat them, or used transfer papers to add words to them, or dusted them with just enough gold dust to make them sparkle. And then by the time the class was over they laid out huge trays of all the chocolates we had created, and handed us candy boxes and we all got to take a sampling home with us.

My sister and I have decided that while it looks like something really fun to do maybe once a year for a holiday project, we're not sure we're ready to become chocolatiers any time soon. The bar truffles were the easiest things to make, and even those you had to be very careful to get all the proportions correct the molded truffles required great attention to detail (as well as some fairly expensive equipment). But still, it was well worth the plane flight to come up to take the class. It was the sort of class that is much more fun to take with someone you know, and we had the chance, in between stirring and rolling and dipping and getting ourselves messy, to talk and taste and have a wonderful time.

The rest of the trip was far too short. I flew up Friday night and had to fly back late morning this morning due to this evening's choir concert, in which I am not only singing but also playing oboe solos for two of the songs and I think the director might just have killed me if I hadn't come back in time. But there was just enough time last night for dinner and talking and an incredible chocolate cheesecake (because apparently we had simply not had enough chocolate at the class!), and there was just enough time this morning for my little niece to put on her fluffy purple tutu and give me a sneak preview of the dance she will be performing at her very first ballet recital in a few weeks. The sheer cuteness of it was overwhelming. I am not sure how the audience will survive this when they are faced with an entire pack of little 4 and 5 year olds, all in their fluffy tutus, doing vaguely choreographed skips and slides and plies (well, as choreographed as 4 and 5 year olds can get), and singing in their sweet little voices about teaching their dollies to dance.

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