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Chocolate Showpiece Course


lebowits
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Photographs for this can be found here. I'm having great difficult posting them inline.

Ever since getting into chocolate I've been fascinated by show pieces and the people that

compete in building them. After talking to a few people and finding little about the

process of creating these works of art, I found myself in Chicago, in February (who goes to

Chicago in February?) attending a class in show piece design/construction at the Callebaut

Chocolate Academy.

The class was attended by a total of 7 students, almost all of them full time professional

pastry chefs and chef instructors. Only I, and one other student still had "day jobs".

As class began, I began to get this deep sinking feeling in my stomach as Chef displays a

drawing of what we will be building over the next 4 days. My immediate reaction was "No way

in hell!" So here I am, a bit terrified as being caught out for the fraud I truly must be

and facing what we have to do.

Needless to say, the first day was a bit of a blur as we cast chocolate into silicon molds

for beautiful curved pieces, and hand cut the legs and body of a crane (bird, not machine)

out of a slab of poured and barely crystallized chocolate. At the end of

the day I had completely blown nearly my whole days work when the legs I had so carefully

cut snapped in more than one place.

The next morning, Chef came over, looked at my broken body of a bird and said simply, "Start

again". Fortunately, the 2nd time around didn't take as long.

Once the body was assembled from 3 separate pieces, it was time to draw thin sheets of

chocolate and hand cut shapes to give the body dimension from side to side, and basic wing

shapes. Of course, by this time, I've also snapped off the head and most of the neck of my

piece.

LESSON ONE: Don't, don't, don't rush! It is better to be slow and do things correctly than

to go do them again. Measure 2 (or better 3) times before doing anything that can't be

undone.

LESSON TWO: ALWAYS be hyper aware of where YOU are and where your pieces are. This way you

won't put things under a table and snap off rather important bits. Chocolate is FRAGILE!

After creating the legs, body, and

wings, it was time to move onto building a base to hold this thing. Thus

ended our second day.

We had cast a number of very pretty curved shapes on Monday which were sitting on a tray

under my station. They would need to be attached to a flat surface which in our case would

look much like granite but be composed completely of chocolate.

Chef demonstrated how we were going to attach these lovely bits again, using nothing but a

hot pallet knife and a paper cornet full of tempered chocolate.

Then the base took on a whole new level of interest as Chef nestled a sphere into the curved

pieces he just attached to the base. This is what our bird would rest on. "Are you kidding

me?", I thought. How are we going to attach a 24"+ tall bird made of what must be 7 - 10

POUNDS of chocolate on top of that little sphere?

But there it was and I dutifully began assembling my own base.

So here we are at the end of day 3! Chef wants EVERYONE to have their birds mounted on top

of the base. I now realize that I've made another rather large blunder.

The original picture we were working from has the "feet" of the bird pretty much on top of

each other. In making my second set of legs and body, I had spread them much farther apart.

Nearly 5 inches apart. The sphere resting on top of the base is only about 4 inches in

diameter. It's not going to fit. So I think about this and come up with what I hope is a

clever if somewhat uglier way of mounting the bird.

Now everyone else was cutting a hole in the top of their spheres and carefully placing a

thick rectangle of solid chocolate vertically through and setting it into a pool of tempered

chocolate. This would transfer the weight of the bird and transfer it over a wider area

across the bottom of the sphere and then to the vertical curved pieces holding the sphere.

Everything in a nice straight line going down toward the base. I decided to cut a

horizontal plank from the same rectangular pieces of chocolate, level it,and attach my bird

to that.

My original thought was to sink the plank farther down into the sphere, but the cut-outs,

but again, I was rushing to finish what Chef asked us to do and didn't think to cut the

vertical post properly. Either way, I had my mount and it was now time to place the bird on

top. Of course, this is a rather terrifying prospect. As we started to say, the "sphincter

factor" was rather high.

Nonetheless, with the help of two of my class mates, one placing the tempered chocolate

"glue" and another telling me if I was holding my bird perfectly straight and not leaning in

any particular direction, we got it attached. After a couple of minutes to let the

chocolate set, I carefully released the bird from my grasp while keeping my hands cupped

around where I had been holding it. That way I might catch it as it started to go over.

Fortunately, and to my utter amazement, it stayed upright.

So now I have a roughly 4' tall show piece. Of course it doesn't have a complete neck or

head. This led me to begin calling it "Ichabod, the Headless Crane of Sleepy Hollow".

That night I had several good drinks and simply couldn't believe that I had built this

thing. And that it was STANDING!

The next morning, changed into my uniform, and immediately headed into the lab to see if my

bird was still standing. Fortunately it still was and we needed to begin working on

additional decorations. Breast and tail feathers, additional body feathers, and of course

detail for the head. But I didn't have a head. A class mate suggested that I use the head

and neck that I had cut on Monday. So again with a hot knife in hand, I cut off the neck

where it broadened into the body. Using this a template, I placed it atop the complete

head/neck, and matching the angles, cut the good part off the rest of the body. Then, using

tempered chocolate, I attached it to the cut I had just made. This wouldn't be very strong

on it's own, so I attached 2 chocolate disks on either side of the join to provide more

strength.

I could now move on to doing the additional bits of feather decoration, the breast and tail

feathers, and cutting and attaching the head and beak. Of course that would be too easy.

As I was attaching one of my small bits, the curves holding the sphere gave way,

(fortunately) leaving me holding the bird. Another class mates piece had fallen over late

on day 3 and shattered, so I was VERY lucky.

So I had to figure out how to create a new mount. Again comes out the hot pallet knife and

I cut way a level surface. There were several small pieces we had cast on Monday and one of

them was just perfect for placing atop my broken base to be a new platform for the sphere

and bird.

Now, using a metal sphere mold which I heated, I created a curved "dimple" which matched the

curve of my chocolate sphere. More tempered chocolate and again, Ichabod rides high. This

time with a full neck.

Now I could move on to making the rest of the head details.

The last details to be added were a large flower and a few swirly long decorations made from

modeling chocolate which I had a hard time getting the hang of.

Chef demonstrated making the flower petals and mounting them on a sphere which was decorated

with white chocolate and sanding sugar to look like the center of the bloom.

So, this being our last day, I got busy and made my own flower and attached it to my piece.

Ichabod is now essentially complete since we're running out of time.

Chef spends the remainder of our last day demonstrating how to add color with an air brush.

Needless to say, by the time he's done, his own piece is stunning.

Having now made what I'm sure is a rather modest show piece, my esteem for people who do

this with any skill at all has gone up immensely. Now I just need to find the space, buy a

few tools and parts and begin thinking about my own artistic aesthetic.

It was terrifying in the beginning, but as I moved through the week, my confidence built,

and I realized that I can indeed do this. Perhaps not well yet, but I can do it.

Anyone else have stories to share about learning to do this?

Steve Lebowitz

Doer of All Things

Steven Howard Confections

Slicing a warm slab of bacon is a lot like giving a ferret a shave. No matter how careful you are, somebody's going to get hurt - Alton Brown, "Good Eats"

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It all sounds incredible!

Alas, apparently I don't have permission to look at your photos and so that was the end of that. For the time being only, I hope. I am eager to see what you and your classmates managed to do.

I would be terrified to attend such a class. Just the thought of going to NOTL makes me nervous. :raz:

ps. And I am disappointed that you won't be there.

Edited by Darienne (log)

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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I really enjoyed your well-written, descriptive narrative. Best thing I've read all day. Are you a paid writer in your day job? I, too, was not allowed access to the photos which is unfortunate as I would have enjoyed seeing them.

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My apologies about the photos. Give it another try. I've changed the permissions on the album to "anyone". Thank you for the complement about my writing. I'm not a paid writer though I've done quite a bit of technical writing during my career. I'm glad you enjoyed the narrative. I look forward to hearing what you think after you see the photos.

Steve Lebowitz

Doer of All Things

Steven Howard Confections

Slicing a warm slab of bacon is a lot like giving a ferret a shave. No matter how careful you are, somebody's going to get hurt - Alton Brown, "Good Eats"

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Just saw all the amazing photos. I do salute you, sir. You have a brilliant future in the showpiece part of the chocolate world if you choose. I am truly awed of the entire process and for a first try, you were amazing. Thanks again.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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Excellent Steve - thanks for posting this.

Interesting to see your pieces get airbrushed in place. The course I took in Quebec had us putting 36 inch or taller projects in the hood then taking them back out again after spraying - one girl lost it after the 3rd time her piece broke.

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Excellent Steve - thanks for posting this.

Interesting to see your pieces get airbrushed in place. The course I took in Quebec had us putting 36 inch or taller projects in the hood then taking them back out again after spraying - one girl lost it after the 3rd time her piece broke.

Moving these just looked too risky. Two pieces crashed during the week. When the first one came down, you could hear the collective gasp in the room. Simply moving them from the floor stands to the table the previous evening was thrilling enough. None of us wanted to take chances.

Steve Lebowitz

Doer of All Things

Steven Howard Confections

Slicing a warm slab of bacon is a lot like giving a ferret a shave. No matter how careful you are, somebody's going to get hurt - Alton Brown, "Good Eats"

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Great photos, thanks for posting. You said there was some milk chocolate in there, maybe on the crane? Isn't dark chocolate preferred for its strength? Or were the milk chocolate pieces non-structural?

The forward leg had a matched milk chocolate piece cut to almost exactly the same shape. The milk chocolate extended forward of the dark chocolate on part of the leg to give the appearance of a shadow. Unfortunately you can't see it in the photo(s). It's simply too thin. The original design had the milk chocolate the same width as the dark.

I would agree that milk chocolate isn't as strong a material as dark chocolate, but in this case, mated to the dark chocolate, it would have only added support and not needed to be structural by itself.

Steve Lebowitz

Doer of All Things

Steven Howard Confections

Slicing a warm slab of bacon is a lot like giving a ferret a shave. No matter how careful you are, somebody's going to get hurt - Alton Brown, "Good Eats"

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(who goes to Chicago in February?)

Why, only 2.7 million Chicagoans, and a few million suburbanites, that's who. It's OK, we're too busy keeping the world running to worry much about the weather :biggrin:

I really enjoyed the description and the photos. Candy and chocolate showpieces always seemed pretty insane to me. They still do, but it's great to see and read the step-by-step of how a "basic" one goes together!

I'm signed up for a non-professional 4 hr. class there in a few weeks, so it's interesting to see inside the facility.

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