Charles Chocolates

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The coolest thing happened.

A few months ago, a local chocolate making company, Charles Chocolates, hosted a contest on Instagram. All one had to do, was demonstrate an experience making some candy or chocolate related confection and to hashtag their final product. I shared the Chocolate-Covered Praline Bars that everyone loves and no one can possibly get enough of. Side note: if you haven’t tried these yet, they’re a must. So easy and delicious.

Fast-forward to last week when I was alerted that my post was accepted as one of a handful of winners! I immediately texted my friend, Shireen, who told me about this opportunity in the first place. She’d worked there for a season to help with high demand and always had such great things to say, both about the company and the actual chocolate.

The winners were gifted free attendance to the San Francisco factory headquarters for a day-long chocolate making class. I couldn’t believe my luck.

I’ve always been interested in the history and production of chocolate and saved up to go to Belgium when I was 21 so I could go on a chocolate history and city tour. It was incredible, needless to say. Since my return, I’ve made a few chocolate focused desserts but it’s not easy — chocolatiers are definitely professionals. In fact, during the class, the two instructors kept referring to “the diva that chocolate is” with her temperamental nature. Ha!

Anyhoo, Saturday finally arrives and I drive to the city with my husband (who’s been invited to join). We were a group of about six, with two instructors/Charles Chocolates professionals. Before entering the enormous factory, we donned hair nets, Charles Chocolates t-shirts and had our shoes sanitized. Anything for chocolate.

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The class exceeded any and all of my expectations. It was incredible. The class started with a brief introduction to the factory and their specialities. We not only got to see but also taste the chocolate that they use (primarily Guittard, Valrhona, and Dandelion chocolate). My favorite, as always, is Guittard. And now I know why — it’s the quality of that cocoa bean and the soil in which it was grown in. We tasted milk varieties and varying levels of dark. We learned about the percentages and how the percentage of chocolate labeled solely represents the percent of cocoa product in that chocolate. We learned about the conditions in which chocolate grows. We also tried Dulcey chocolate, which is a somewhat new variety of chocolate created by accident. A white chocolate was left in the bain-marie too long and it began to caramelize, resulting in a caramel chocolate, which is now widely used. So it’s essentially a hybrid of white chocolate. (Which by the way, IS indeed real chocolate).

After our tasting and my million-and-one questions were answered, we got to work making a simple ganache. They provided a recipe that combined both dark and milk chocolate to act as our chocolate truffle centers. We were also gifted the leftover ganache to take home to use for our own purposes. (I plan on making cupcakes this week and topping with that chocolate. Or else perhaps a simple vanilla cake and spreading the ganache between the two layers). IMG_8666

They then presented us with molds, very similar to ice cube trays, in which we piped our ganache into the centers. You could choose from heart shaped molds or squares, each sophisticated and desirable. See photos below.

As the ganache set in the refrigerator, we were fed lunch to balance out the amount of chocolate we were tasting. And in true San Francisco form, we had the best local spread. A cheese platter with an enormous round of brie topped with syrupy pistachios. There were also sliced cheeses, crackers, finger sandwiches (which included cucumber and cream cheese triangles that they had been piped with cream cheese for a super clean finish — only a true pastry chef would do that!), and a fresh spring salad with sliced strawberries and fennel. It was all amazing.

We returned to class, this time to temper chocolate. (We used 61% dark chocolate). This was perhaps the most exciting part of the class because it’s a skill that takes practice and it’s helpful to have someone who knows what they’re doing to teach you how to temper it. The take away was that it’s a combination of time, temperature, and agitation. The ultimate goal for tempering is to achieve that beautiful shine on chocolate. To reach that state, it’s a series of changing temperatures to form beta crystals. It’s pretty scientific but they taught us how it can be done at home with a thermometer. And maybe we’ll get so good one day we just need our trained eye.

We did two things with our tempered chocolate. First, we enrobed our chilled ganache with the shiny chocolate to create a shell around it and to complete those truffles (first picture). Next, we spread the entire pound of temperated chocolate (told you it was a generous class!) onto our work stations to make chocolate bark. If you’d like to make your own, try this super easy recipe for Chocolate Bark that I make around the holidays. Charles Chocolates provided us with hazelnuts, and almonds for the nuts, dried cranberries and cherries for the acidic component, candied ginger, toffee bits, salt crystals, and feuilletine (dried crepe pieces/sugar cones for ice cream). When I make it at home, I often have mini marshmallows, crushed graham cracker, and chocolate chips for a rocky road version. You can add anything your heart desires.

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When we finished our bark, we bagged them up and they provided little gift boxes for the truffles that were now set and ready. I couldn’t believe we were able to make so much and have it look and taste so professional. The quality of the ingredients were really key to everything we made.

The whole reason they decided to offer a give-away like this was because their goal is to offer a class like this in the future for the public. We were their test-run. So, if this experience sounds like something you’d be interested in, keep an eye out because it will be offered soon and it will be worth every penny. Also, it was an awesome date idea. (Fabien, my husband, who has zero experience with baking, despite his French roots, was able to follow everything so there aren’t any levels nor is experience required). We both had a blast.

Thanks again, Charles Chocolates!

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