As we started out the year vowing to convert our hall closet into a dry aging room after reading The Art of Charcuterie, it seems fitting that we follow up by investing in a marble slab so our kitchen table can serve as a chocolate tempering station. If only hand-dipped chocolates, white chocolate flowers, and three foot tall competition showpieces weren't a bit outside our everyday chocolate chip cookie realm. Enter Ewald Notter's just-released chocolate instruction manual, The Art of the Chocolatier: From Classic Confections to Sensational Showpieces.
The book is not a must-have manual for those obsessed simply with chocolate (for that, we suggest you stick to more home-cook friendly chocolate cookbooks), but for those interested in the artistry behind chocolate centerpieces, be they a simple hexagonal molded chocolate or an elaborate sculpture. Because when it comes to pastry assemblage, Will Cotton will tell you that attending a class or two is hardly adequate for complicated chocolate and candy work. Should you choose to use a book like this as your instructor, we trust you realize that you are setting yourself up for some major molded chocolate angst. Then again, when you don't have an extra $20,000 for that pastry and baking diploma, this book could very well be the next best thing.
Like the The Art of Charcuterie, The Art of the Chocolatier (yes, same publisher) is laid out as more of a printed classroom lecture than a traditional cookbook. Here, your guide is a master chocolatier who has won dozens of international chocolate competitions over the years and is the founder of the Notter School of Pastry Arts in Orlando, Florida.
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The book eases you into the idea of making your own chocolate with basic chocolate information, from the various type of cacao beans to common spices and liqueurs added to complement chocolate's bitter flavor. The second chapter is essentially Notter's cry to please, please invest in the same equipment that he requires his pastry students to buy. ("Candy making and sculpting are rewarding and pleasant experiences that are enhanced by having the right equipment.") It's a hefty list, as making gorgeous chocolate pieces requires more artistic talent than a back-to-basics sort of food experience like, say, canning and preserving. Which is why the remaining thirteen chapters gradually introduce you to various chocolate and candy making techniques, from relatively easy chocolate curls and molded chocolate bars to chocolate-dipped nougats.
By the time you get to chapter 7, the chocolate life starts to get a bit more complicated. Sure, you could buy transfer sheets, those acetate sheets with intricate cocoa butter designs for molded chocolates and bars. But as this is Notter, you will be expected to make your own. A chapter titled "Chocolate Praline Recipes" in layman's terms means chocolate fillings, from lemon white-chocolate cream to salted caramel. So far, all the sort of things that the chocolate-obsessed home cook might spend several months and thousands of dollars perfecting (the chocolate can be as expensive as the equipment) but feasibly are within the chocolate hobbyist's realm.
Then you flip to the third section of the book, "Creating Chocolate Showpieces" (Translation: Best Left To Professionals), where you will, in theory, learn how to make "simple" rose-like chocolate accents to nestle on top of a wedding cake. "You can never go wrong with roses," says Notter. Actually, you can. That tabletop Bird of Paradise? Notter calls it "an ideal decoration for an exotic showpiece." Ideal for a master chocolatier, certainly, as is the three-dimensional Valentine's sculpture with a hand painted white chocolate card, and the chocolate owl wearing a graduation cap and gown and standing atop a stack of books. Let us know how that goes.
As for the final chapter on designing and building your towering competition showpiece, we recommend you leave those pieces to the star pastry school pupil with some serious training. Although, if you actually purchased a hair dryer (as Notter suggests) solely for the purpose of achieving faster crystallization of your chocolate masterpiece, that pastry protégé probably is you.