14 December 2009

Chocolate Week Continued: Behind the Scenes

This is a continuation of Chocolate week, which began with a giveaway and continued with a visit to a chocolate shop here. Today we’re going to go behind the scenes in that chocolate shop--La Maison Saive.

When you walk into this chocolate shop, you are immediately struck by the wonderful smell of chocolate. Next is the friendly smile of whoever’s working in the shop that day. Most often it’s Florence, Christophe’s wife. If it’s very busy, it may be his mother. If it’s not busy at all, it may be Christophe who comes from the atelier to help you choose your chocolates.

From the shop you can get a glimpse of the atelier. The part closest to you looks like a kitchen you might see in anyone’s house. Oven, cooktop, sink, fridge. And because it’s a very busy season right now, lots of notes and orders on the cabinets!

But if you walk back there you see immediately that it’s not a normal kitchen. You see this, which stands about 4 1/2 feet tall.

Then you see this, and you know you're in the right place:

This is called a cuve, and Christophe has nine of them. Each one holds from 25 to 40 litres of melted chocolate. There are dark, milk, and white cuves, as well as cuves for sugar-free chocolate. The cuves serve to temper the chocolate and to keep it at the right temperature for working. They provide a vat of chocolate for dipping and a ‘fountain’ for covering things with chocolate. It’s here that a lot of the work of making the pralines takes place.

Before anything can be made, though, the chocolate has to be tempered. If it’s not tempered, it won’t be shiny, and there’s a risk that the cocoa butter will leach out, making the chocolate grey. It may also look greasy or dull. Eww. As long as we’re on this subject, I’ve learned that you should NEVER put chocolate in the fridge, especially if it’s softened by being in a warm place. If you do that, you’ll get chocolate that’s dull and grey. That’s because the cocoa butter starts to separate from the chocolate when it’s warm, and cooling it down just solidifies that white cocoa butter, making the chocolate look nasty. It’s still edible, but not very pretty.

Ok, back to the story. To temper the chocolate, they fill the cuve with chocolate and melt it slowly. They bring it up to a temperature of 42 degrees C (107.6 F). Then they take it out of the cuve and pour it onto the adjacent work surface, where they cool it down. Then they put it back into the cuve and bring it to 32 degrees C (89.6 F). At that point they can work with for 4-5 hours before they have to do it all again.

To make a molded chocolate, they begin with these molds. Christophe estimates that he has around 1500 of them, in different shapes. Each one holds 21 normal pralines. To form the shell you see here that will be filled with a flavored ganache or a cream, the mold is put under the fountain part of the cuve, filled up with chocolate, and then emptied.

Here you see Christophe filling a mold for hollow tennis ball shapes. The large spatula in his hand is for scraping the top and the sides of the mold after it’s filled and emptied. In the background you can see a tray of truffles he was working on before he stopped to fill this mold for me.

Here you see him emptying the mold back into the cuve. Before the mold is emptied, it’s put on that little shelf you see attached to the cuve, and shaken gently to dislodge any air bubbles that may have gotten into the chocolate before it hardens. After it’s emptied, there’s a shell of chocolate that has hardened inside the mold, which is left to cool completely. For large hollow items, they may make two or three layers of chocolate shell before they put them together.

For pralines, it's the same process. The shells might be filled with a flavored ganache, a caramel, or cream filling. In every case the process is the same. The filling is made in the kitchen area, put into large pastry bags, and each shell is filled by hand. The molds are set aside to cool.

When they’re completely cool, they’re run under the fountain again to seal them, the mold is scraped again, and then set aside to cool. The finished chocolates are then turned out like ice cubes. They’re ready to eat!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a million words. To see some short videos of the process I described above, go to Christophe’s website HERE. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s in French--the videos have no sound, and will make this process very clear. To see them, click on the link, wait till the word “Bienvenue” shows up, and click on that. Then at the top click on the piece of chocolate that says “Nos Coulisses”. This will take you to a page with several videos:

Préparation fourrage--making a ganache. This is the basis for many of the fillings and also for the truffles. Basically, it’s a mixture of cream and chocolate and whatever flavors he wants to use.

Fourrage--Filling the molds with the ganache. Behind, a cuve that’s cleaned and shut down. I can’t help but admire the work here with a pastry bag.

Finition--Closing the molded chocolates--you can see the finishing of the molded shapes as well as the cups which are dipped one-by-one into the cuve.

Démoulage--Unmolding the chocolates, which are then stored in a cool store room next to the shop until they’re needed to replace the stock that has been sold.

Massepain--Marzipan cutting. In this video you see Jonathan, the former apprentice. When I asked Sophie, the current apprentice, what was the hardest part of her job, she said working with the marzipan. It has to be kneaded by hand, and it’s apparently very hard to do.

Dressage--Making truffles, later to be dipped in chocolate in the cuve. Another chance to admire his pastry bag work. After the truffles have been left to dry, they’re threaded four at a time onto a fork, dipped into the cuve chocolate, and pushed off the fork into either cocoa or powdered sugar. (dipping truffles) The white spots you see here and on Sophie’s hands are the powdered sugar that these truffles will be rolled in after they get their chocolate shell.

Enrobage--Covering things with chocolate. Here, orange peel. Also marzipan and (sometimes) pâte de fruit.

The day I was taking photos, Sophie was putting candied orange peel into this machine, which has a long conveyer belt at the other end. Christophe was waiting at the other end to put them into a box to send to the shop at the front. They cooled and hardened as they moved down the line. I couldn’t help thinking of that wonderful scene with Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory.

So now you know how artisanale chocolates are made. When I think of the work that goes into each one, I am amazed that they are so affordable!


SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

What a wonderful place! You are so fortunate to have this gem nearby.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

How cool that you got to tour this place. Earlier this year, I toured a similar chocolate factory, with some friends. We got to dip lots of things in those chocolate wheels, including pretzels, strawberries, and even potato chips. What a treat to live in chocolate paradise.

Kathy said...

Kate....Thank you for these chocolate posts...taking my mind off my current sadness momentarily...a gift. I am totally mesmerized by this artisanale process...what a wonderful job you did explaining, I was captivated. How wonderful to be located so close to such sweetness!!!!!!!!!! I will think twice when I think Chocolate is too expensive!!! xoxo~Kathy @ Sweet Up-North Mornings...

La Table De Nana said...

How fortunate you are to have had this tour:) The little chocolates are so elegant:)

I bet you loved every minute!

Barbara said...

Did someone have to drag you kicking and screaming from that heavenly place?

Hungry Dog said...

What a great post! How lucky that you got a chance to see what happens behind the scenes. Nice to know that this kind of artistry still exists.

Junglefrog said...

That was a very informative post! I loved it... How cool that you got to learn all those facts and be allowed to take photos there! I never knew you couldn't keep chocolates in the fridge... :) Something new learned then!

The Gypsy Chef said...

Kate, I love this post. So informative! Lucky you!
I have taken chocolate techniques l, and I am waiting for CT ll. I had no idea how they made the pralines. Now that I have an idea I am going to try it. I need to be an apprentice. I also need a cuve for Christmas! I'll hang a pic on the frig! Pam

Phyllisia said...

How neat! That's amazing. I love going behind the scenes, it's the best. Seeing how things are actually done...

Grandma Nina said...

Hi Kate, Came across your post and was so taken in. I love chocolate and I love Europe, so you had me. What a very interesting tour. And that last picture of the chocolates --- I wish I had some right now!

zurin said...

Hi Kate, Tq for a very interesting post. you are so lucky to be able to look first hand. Wish I was there too!:)

nightowlchef said...

C'est fascinant! Merci beaucoup - je dois manger du chocolat maintenant!!

Wow - you must have had a blast! Those videos were so neat. They really work fast, all things considered. Was it cold in the kitchen?

Do you want to switch careers now? Perhaps a little side job??! I would be sorely tempted..!

Jane said...

Oh Kate, you are so lucky to be living in such a chocolate-drenched country, and especially during the holidays! This is a really interesting post. Wonderful photos too!

Always a fan,

P.S. The Christmasey photo you have at the top of your blog is beautiful.

Grace said...

heaven. on. earth. my goodness, even if those chocolates WEREN'T affordable, i'd be willing to pay. how exquisite. thanks for the tour. :)

lostpastremembered said...

I never knew how chocolate worked till now... can't wait to watch the video... i love the word "enrobage"
Can one be enrobaged??? Great post with brilliant information!

~~louise~~ said...

Simply fascinating. What a wonderful commentary. Thank you so much for sharing your sweet journey with us Kate. Now, I know how Willy Wonka must have felt:)

Kitchen Butterfly said...

Fantastic reference post - now when I need to find out something...and some word relating to choccie making, I can come straight here. Thanks Kate

Mae Travels said...

Belgian chocolate deserves its reputation as the best -- so I'm really glad to see some of the details on how it's made. Of course these aren't the details one would need to know to actually _make_ it!

Glad to be introduced to your blog, and thanks for commenting on mine.

Mae of

2 Stews said...

All I can say is wow...lucky you! Such an informative post. One of my favorite "I Love Lucy" shows was when she worked in the chocolate factory!



Sweet and Savory said...

Thank you. I learned so much from your post. I have to return to read it again so I can pick up the missing pieces. Chocolate is fascinating.