Chocolate making with Noble and Stace
A row of women choosing colours and firing up hairdryers – sounds like preparation for a night out, but it was actually part of a recent chocolate workshop with Sussex experts (and recent Muddy Awards finalists) Noble and Stace that I joined near Arundel.
It was a beautiful sunny day and I worried I would be spending it in a windowless room with the air-con cranked up to the max. In fact, with chocolate generally best worked with at room temperature we were in The Stables – a light-filled annex to the lovely Edge Cafe at Edgcumbes – winner of this year’s best café in the Muddy Stilettos Awards.
We started in the pretty courtyard with some of those Edgcumbe’s own lovely homemade coffees and teas while Noble and Stace founder Mike told us more about the take home treats we’d be making. Among our band were two people who had been given the experience as birthday presents, a former chef with her young daughter and someone who’d booked it as a treat to self on an impromptu day off work.
The class was first divided into two, some making a cream ganache to be refrigerated for later use and my half of the room making the filling for another batch of chocolates.
My little team had to carefully melt and stir white chocolate chips, then when we’d reached the correct consistency and temperature (checking with a fun ray gun-style infra red thermometer), we stirred in an Edgcumbes expresso.
On my modest forays into chocolate creations at home before – mainly dipping strawberries – I’d always used a cereal bowl over a small saucepan as a bain marie to melt the chocolate and cursed when the bowl slipped or I dripped water in to the mixture, ruining the texture.
So, what does a professional use to melt chocolate? A microwave it turns out! The secret it to drop it to a medium heat and zap the chocolate for no more than 20 seconds at a time. Our melted white chocolate and coffee mixture was a real surprise – it both looked and tasted liked crème caramel, far more pleasant and subtle than the sickly concoction I feared.
When we were done Mike loaded our mixture into bags and we carefully piped it into hollow chocolates leaving space to later cap these off with a layer of chocolate.
It took a fair bit of time and concentration to fill them to the right level – Mike creates Noble and Stace chocolates a lot faster, with the help, he says, of a constant background of Radio 2.
Next Mike brought out what looked like tubes of paint but were actually different coloured cocoa butters for us to use to decorate the inside of moulds. With the addition of melted chocolate and a spell in the fridge, these then made attractive bars.
I went for the splashing effect Mike showed us, flicked off a coffee stirrer, going for red, white and blue on plain chocolate. Some people painted shapes.
Generally Mike would leave his own beautifully decorated chocolate bars blank on the reverse but he let us load the backs up with treats of our choice. I went for cocoa nibs and orange peel on one, praline pieces on another and biscuit and honeycomb balls on the third. A few people had also had fun licking spoons of leftover chocolate and ganache by this point.
Next was the hardest part of the day – working with the cream-based ganache that had been in the fridge and rolling it into balls – much easier said than done as it was very messy and the mixture was quite hard. There was a lot laughter about the dubious shapes we were producing but Mike assured us the ‘rustic’ look was more authentic and with a later dusting of cocoa powder they looked better and they certainly tasted heavenly!
Somehow, pulling gloves off with my teeth I got chocolate smeared all round my mouth like a kid at Christmas!
We then returned to our filled chocolates and had a go at tempering – something that ensures the chocolate is glossy and has a pleasing snap. To do this we warmed some pre-melted chocolate then added fresh chocolate nibs. We then dipped in our filled chocolates to coat and seal them. The chocolate didn’t take long to start to set so we had to heat it slightly every few minutes – which is where the hair dryers came in! Afterwards, we added the final decoration, with finely piped white chocolate and sprinkles of praline.
It had been a fun and interesting morning, great for anyone who loves chocolate or cooking, is creative, or just enjoys learning something different in a fun atmosphere. You also get recipes to take away, at least one of which I reckon could be made with children. Of course, the workshop makes a great gift experience.
All that was left to do (Mike kindly handles all the clearing up) was the exciting boxing up of our goodies ready to impress people back home. My other half was delighted with the haul, which included a double-layered box of the filled chocolates, so rich that, Mike assured me, you’d eat fewer at a time. Hmm, no comment!
Fancy getting creative with chocolate? Here are some tips
- Melt chocolate in a microwave on a medium heat in 10 – 20 second bursts, stirring in between. Do not overheat. Use a microwaveable plastic bowl as it’s more flexible, which helps when scraping the last bits out.
- You can buy your own moulds and hollow chocolates to pipe into online. Regular thermometers work OK for checking optimum temperatures, which differ according to the recipe.
- To keep chocolate melted for dipping use a hairdryer!
- When decorating the inside of a mould think about the layering effect of the colours and how it will look in reverse. I started with white splashes then blue and red but had I added the white last the other colours would have stood out better against it. If you’re painting words inside a mould you’ll need to use mirror writing.
We worked quite often in pairs on the Noble and Stace workshop so it’s a fun thing to do with a friend or partner. You can also book a private workshop for a group so it’s perfect for hens, reunions etc.
If you give a chocolate-making workshop as a present it’s certainly a gift that gives back to the giver as you’re bound to get some of the haul!
Click this link for the next Noble and Stace workshops at various locations. Workshop numbers are capped at eight and you can also book a private workshop for a group. You can buy undated gift vouchers.
Words: Debbie Ward