Chocolate is the intersection of food and science. When you understand that it needs more of a chemist's touch than that of an artist, chocolate can be a chameleon of taste and structure. To learn the tricks of handling this malleable, yet delicious dessert staple, Globe Life turned to Canadian chocolate master, Chris Kwok, who finished second overall in the Canadian Selection Competition for World Chocolate Masters this winter.
Get a thermometer
For anyone who has attempted to temper chocolate, this advice comes as no surprise. Kwok is very precise in listing off temperatures for tempering: melt at 40 C for white and milk chocolates, 45 C for dark; cool a portion of the melted chocolate down to 28 C with a marble board, working the liquid to the point of soft peaks as you spread it with your spatula, before adding it back to the rest of the pot and getting the temperature back up to 31 C.
This is the textbook technique, says Kwok. But while the temperature of the molten chocolate is important, it's not as important as the temperature of your kitchen. It should be a balmy 22 C, otherwise it risks messing up the crystallization process as the liquefied chocolate condenses into a slurry-like mixture on the cool marble.
Understanding the relationship between temperature and crystallization is the key to becoming a chocolate master, says Kwok.
Be creative with your flavouring
Kwok is a fan of traditional French pairings of flavouring. His all-time favourite is pear brandy with pistachio, the mild sweetness of the pear contrasting nicely with the salty, crunchiness of the pistachios.
That said, he is always experimenting and enjoys taking risks, like in his first Canadian Selection Competition for World Chocolate Masters. Then, he concocted a chocolate tomato filling, which may have been too "surprising" for the judges. At this year's competition, he went for something less surprising, but still risky: mandarin with hazelnut.
Part of the trick is to match the flavour with the type of chocolate you're using. Dark chocolates are like red wine grapes, and take on noticeably different flavours based on where the cacao bean was grown. Kwok enjoys the Saint Domingue variety, which is a bitter, spicy dark with fruity nuances.
Try, try again
At the base of Kwok's 2013 competition sculpture was an incredibly lifelike apple made of white chocolate. Kwok spent hours perfecting this one small part before the competition.
"I made at least a dozen other ones at home," he says, practising airbrushing them so they had the same sheen as the polished apple the evil witch offers up to Snow White.
The lesson for at-home pastry chefs is to be patient and not panic if your first attempt isn't perfect. When asked what the most important tool is for a chocolate master, his answer was immediate: "A calm mind," he says.