Thinking outside the chocolate box with a confectionery course at Bettys Cookery School

PUBLISHED: 17:51 06 October 2014 | UPDATED: 21:58 19 January 2016

The Bettys' team show the students how its done

The Bettys' team show the students how its done

Archant

There is something very special about a beautiful box of hand-crafted chocolates. But what if it's your own hand doing the crafting? And what if that hand belongs to someone whose middle name is 'oops!'?

Helen Proudfoot gives a master class in chocolate temperingHelen Proudfoot gives a master class in chocolate tempering

Clumsiness is a strong element of my genetic make-up. I come from a long line of trippers, droppers and smashers and, I’m proud to say, my own children are gamely carrying on the klutz tradition by having fingers more buttery than a dairymaid’s.

So to say I was a little apprehensive when the lovely people at Bettys Cookery School invited me to create my own handmade sweet treats on their Chocolate Box course is probably under-playing it slightly. Rather like asking the Keystone Cops to guard the crown jewels, it felt like a disaster waiting to happen.

But I should have known better. Even someone with the dexterity of a donkey (that would be me) can succeed when Bettys’ top team is on the case. And you don’t get much better than the course tutors at the Harrogate cookery school. They were calmness personified, even when faced with a room full of nervous virgin chocolate-makers and one cack-handed individual who even needed help tying her own pinny (that would be me again).

They talked us through the tricky but essential tempering process (see below), which is essential if you want shiny chocolates with just the right amount of snap; gave us tips on creating super-smooth caramel; and walked us step-by-step through the intricacies of ganache (raspberry, stem vanilla and cognac).

Time to make the raspberry ganacheTime to make the raspberry ganache

We lingered round the demonstration table as long as we could, asking ever more elaborate questions, but eventually we had no choice but to return to our well-equipped work stations and tackle some tempering of our own.

I was very lucky to be placed between Jenny Stanton from Middlesbrough and Jane Hendry from Lincolnshire, who formed a sort of culinary tag team, giving advice and jumping in to help whenever it looked like I might be about to set the kitchen on fire or, more likely, forgetting to add a key ingredient (apparently raspberries are pretty much essential when making raspberry ganache).

They were a complete joy to work with – I’ve been on Bettys courses before and have consistently found my fellow students to be delightful company (it must be something in the tea that attracts them) – and we hooted with laughter as we sloshed liquid chocolate around our marble worktops with a palette knife to bring the temperature down to the exact level required.

It goes without saying that we got it all over ourselves, the work station and the floor, but everyone was in the same sticky boat so no one raised so much as a single eyebrow. Even the tutors took it in their stride – literally – by artfully stepping over the rivulets of chocolate to help, advise and, most importantly, encourage us in our efforts.

Icing sugar and cocoa powder give truffles a professional finishIcing sugar and cocoa powder give truffles a professional finish

Needless to say, it was huge amounts of fun – like being Willy Wonka for the day without having to clear up after those pesky oompa-loompas.

And the end results were nothing less than amazing. With the addition of a few shakes of edible metallic dust, some clever transfers and copious amounts of icing sugar, even my creations looked chocolate box pretty.

I returned home laden with goodies – to say my children were pleased to see me is an understatement, although I did notice they threw their arms round the chocolate boxes first – and we lounged languidly in chocolate heaven for days to come.

For a klutz like me, it was an incredibly satisfying experience right through from tempering to tasting. In fact, I can honestly say I only made one clumsy mistake – forgetting to padlock the fridge after placing a large block of raspberry ganache in it for safe-keeping.

:: The next Chocolate Box day-course at Bettys Cookery School in Harrogate is on November 4th. It runs from 9am to 4.30pm (including a delicious lunch and various breaktime treats) and costs £180. For further information, phone 01423 814016 or visit bettyscookeryschool.co.uk.

Temper, temper

Chocolate is a temperamental culinary diva. A few degrees either way can mean the difference between smooth, shiny deliciousness and a desiccated lump of claggy unpleasantness.

Accurate tempering is the key to mastering its temperamental nature. If chocolate is melted and then allowed to set naturally it won’t be glossy and will lack that necessary snap. It might even have a grey-white speckled finish and a grainy, brittle structure (doesn’t sound very moreish, does it?).

To temper small quantities of chocolate at home, you need to melt it in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring gently until it reaches 48C on a sugar thermometer. You then need to put the bowl in a bain marie of cool water (iced water is fine), stirring until the chocolate cools to 27C.

Finally, put the bowl over the simmering water again and heat to the correct working temperature of the chocolate you are using (28-29C for white; 29-31C for milk; and 30-32C for dark).

Caramel

This deliciously rich caramel filling can be stored for up to a week in the fridge; just allow it to come back to room temperature before using.

To be honest, it’s worth making even if you are not attempting your own chocolates as it tastes heavenly served warm over vanilla ice cream

Ingredients

40g soft brown sugar

50g glucose syrup

15ml water

40g butter

25g golden syrup

90ml condensed milk

Method

:: Put all the ingredients except the condensed milk in a heavy-based pan over a low heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.

:: Turn the heat up and, using a sugar thermometer, bring the temperature to 125C (stirring constantly to prevent it from boiling).

:: Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool until the mixture stops bubbling (continuing to stir all the time).

:: Add the condensed milk and immediately plunge the hot pan into a cold water bath for a few seconds.

:: Stir for a few minutes to cool the mixture further before either transferring to a disposable piping bag (if you are filling chocolate shells) or putting it into a fridge-safe container (for ice cream or spooning straight into your mouth whenever you happen to be passing).

Chocolate raspberry ganache

This fabulously fruity filling is enough for around 30 chocolates but, as with the caramel, it also makes a wonderful addition to any dessert in its own right.

Ingredients

90g milk chocolate

170g dark chocolate

65ml whipping cream

6g glucose syrup

80g fresh raspberries

15ml crème de framboise

Method

:: Fill a saucepan about a third full of water and put on the heat to boil. Put the chocolate pieces in a heatproof bowl and partially melt over the simmering water. Be careful to ensure no condensation from the side of the bowl touches the chocolate (it will seize up and be unusable).

:: Bring the cream and glucose to a boil in a small heavy-based pan. Break up the raspberries with your fingers and add to the pan with the crème de framboise. Allow to cool a little.

:: Pour over the chocolate in two or three stages and fold through with a spatula until smooth. (If the raspberry mix or melted chocolate is too hot, the ganache might split.)

:: Pour the ganache into a 15cm by 15cm metal frame and put it in the fridge for up to an hour and a half to set.

:: Remove the frame and cut into cubes using a sharp knife. You can leave them as cubes or hand roll them into balls if you prefer before putting them back in the fridge to re-set.

:: Bring the ganache back to room temperature before hand-dipping in tempered chocolate and putting on baking parchment to set. Alternatively, you can keep the ganache in the fridge to enjoy with dessert and for general nibbling.

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