Updates from the Chocolate Lab

We have done so much in the weeks since I made that first and only post about the Chocolate Laboratory. Since we have now learned the basics of tempering chocolate by hand, we are now exclusively using the tempering machine (and thank goodness because it’s so much faster and easier!)

We have been learning how to make ganache filled chocolates using a myriad of different moulds:




The ganaches: White chocolate & lemon, pistachio, salted caramel and dark chocolate

We have also been conching our own chocolate from the cocoa bean in order to produce a unique “Wesking chocolate bar”. A conche is an insanely expensive piece of equipment which scrapes and mixes cocoa butter and chocolate so that the cocoa butter is evenly distributed. It is at the conching stage that other flavours such as vanilla or coffee essence and sugar can be added to give the chocolate a distinctive taste. A large part of the taste is also dependant on the type of cocoa bean being used and where it is from.

We experimented by varying the percentage of cocoa butter and sugar to cocoa bean to produce a smooth, yet tasty chocolate. We learned that the longer the bean stays in the conch machine the more of its flavour it will lose, but the smoother it will be. We also had to consider how sweet or bitter we wanted it and also how much “dryness” we wanted to feel on the tongue. Supermarket chocolates have a much higher percentage of cocoa butter (or even vegetable oil) to make them feel smooth, creamy and sweet, but so-called “designer” chocolates tend to be more bitter and flavourful. So it’s really a balancing act between the taste and the texture. Personally I find the Westking bar to be slightly too dry for my liking and also a bit acidic on the tongue, but it is an interesting experience to really see the difference in taste and texture when more or less of certain ingredients are added.

This Westking bar is a semi-production and marketing project for the class. We have to make up about 500 bars, decide on the packaging and then sell them in the college shop (when I say shop I mean tiny cart by the front entrance which usually inexplicably only sells pick n’ mix and deodorant). It was an interesting project, if only for the fact that we all had to try and work together to come up with one cohesive idea.

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The draft design

As the packaging says our chocolate is conched for about 36 hours (chocolate can be conched for anything up to 70 or 80 hours) and as it can’t be left running overnight at the end of each day Chef scoops out all the chocolate and turns off the machine. Then each morning in the Chocolate Lab begins with one of us being allocated to “hairdryer” the chocolate. And by that I mean blasting the conch machine with a hairdryer to melt the residual semi-conched beans and cocoa butter left from the night before so that when the machine is turned on the wheels and scraper run smoothly, ready for the chocolate to be poured back in for further conching.


In a fit of creativeness a small group of us have started our own project; designing a box of chocolates to give as Christmas presents. We have Friday’s off and Chef allows us to spend that time in the Chocolate Lab just playing around and doing whatever we want. It’s been a lot of fun testing out different flavours and coming up with ideas…. but there’ll be more on that in a later post…. :)

She bakes at midnight


You know you’re in the Kan household when it’s midnight, the oven is still blasting away and we’re all dozing in front of the tv, timer in hand waiting for the baking to be done. Tonight I had to finish using some leftover short crust from our first assessment on Tuesday.

For our assessment we had 5 hours to make a lemon tart and 12 profiteroles topped with caramel and filled with chantilly cream. We did lemon tarts right at the start of the course, and the profiteroles, well, if you are friends with me on Facebook you will have seen what happened to my poor profiteroles. This is how I got from the first photo to the second:

We had made St Honores that day. It is a traditional French pastry, named after the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs (yes, there is such a thing!), consisting of a puff pastry base with a ring of choux pastry round the outside, filled with creme chiboust and topped with profiteroles. It had been a long and stressful day in the kitchen. Chef had been shouting a lot and there had been some burnt caramels and some people having to start their choux pastry over again. I was heading up to the changing room, St Honore plus some eclairs made from the extra choux, and of course you only ever trip up the stairs when you’re carrying something that cannot survive a trip up the stairs. It only took a split second, then I was staring at the box sitting on its side on the stairs. And that’s how I ended up with soggy choux buns partly submerged in a sea of creme pat. But hey, it still tasted good!

So back to our assessment, everything was mostly ok, though I made a couple of errors, I didn’t quite blind bake my tart case long enough, it was only juuuuuuust cooked, and then I left my filled tart in the oven slightly too long so it began to separate from the sides of the pastry. My profiteroles were fine, just a little on the large side.


After presenting our work we had to leave the kitchen whilst Chef examined and tasted what we had done. Kind of like the Great British Bake Off except without any glamour or Paul Hollywood or Star Baker award. Well, I passed :) as did everyone else in the class. There are more photos of our lemon tarts plated up in a modern style here.

We each made a double recipe just in case anything went wrong we would have extra to do it again and so that it how I ended up making a lemon tart and tarte aux pommel (recipe here) at midnight. Tonight’s lemon tart corrected everything I did wrong in Tuesday’s assessment, though I have now made 4 lemon tarts in the last month so I fear will not be making or eating them again for quite a while!