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Science! (and lots of chocolate)

Yesterday saw the little black sports car ensconced in a NCP multi story down by Bristol docks, while a contingent from the hallowed halls of cix:goumet (marypcb, ramtops, perlmonger, SashaWINOLJ, JohnWINOLJ, and I) went to a lecture on the science of chocolate...

Dr Peter Barham is an entertaining speaker, and I've been to one of his lectures on the science of cooking before, so I knew a little of what to expect. And yesterday's event certainly lived up to expectations...

First we were introduced to the history of chocolate - by imbibing Aztec-style chocolate drinks. These were spicy and quite grainy - made with corn flour and chiles. The story of chocolate's arrival in Europe was accompanied by samples of mole sauce, cocoa butter, and roasted cocoa beans. Chocolate bars weren't invented until the mid 1800s (as a means of making money from what would have been a waste product fed to pigs) - very late in the 1200-year history of man's use of the cocoa bean.

As the afternoon went on it became clear that the hands-on lecture was much more a "taste buds-on" event, especially when we all trooped downstairs for a mass chocolate tasting session, which was the prelude for an introduction to the commercial manufacture of chocolate bars, and the reason why Hershey's tastes bad to Europeans*...

Chocolate tempering was introduced by showing how the 6 different forms of chocolate melted at different temperatures. Appparently only two of the 6 forms are suitable for how people like their chocolate, and only one of them tastes good - so the better quality the chocolate, the more effective the tempering proccesses. Events concluded with an attempt at making chocolate in a food processor and an electric mincing machine using nothing but cocoa butter, icing sugar and roasted cocoa beans, and in fast-setting chocolate with liquid nitrogen.

A fun afternoon, ended with a convivial cup of tea sat in the sun...

* In the early days, most Hershey's chocolate arrived at its destination slightly rancid due to the long journey from the factory. It's a taste people in the US have grown to like from chiildhood, to the extent that Hershey's now has to make its chocolate slightly stale deliberately, so as to cope with efficient modern logistics services...


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 25th, 2004 03:25 pm (UTC)
Ah! I always thought Hershey's tasted vile, while Americans would boldly defend it, and now I know why!
Apr. 25th, 2004 04:14 pm (UTC)
the roasted cocoa beans are yummy and I want a regualr supply. I apologise for introducing the liquid nitrogen; I was so disappointed he hadn't brought any out that I lured him into it...

cocoa butter is monstrously bland; looks like white chocolate but that has added sugar ;-)

what surprised me was how much sweeter chocolate with less sugar tasted when the sugar and cocoa mass were ground more finely.

And the cocoa moth larvae story explained those regulations for the percentage of insect matter allowed in chocolate...
Apr. 26th, 2004 01:33 am (UTC)
Ahh. Liquid nitrogen. De rigeur for making lab icecream.
Apr. 26th, 2004 07:13 am (UTC)
Interestingly (but unsurprisingly) the "sour milk/stale chocolate" taste is not mentioned on the Hershey's virtual tour

This UK candy site has several people mentioning the "cheese/vomit" aroma of Hersheys chocolate and then still saying it is the best in the world!

I'd always heard it as the milk soured on the way to the factory rather than after the chocolate had been made, but I'm perfectly happy to accept either explanation! The virtual tour is very clear about the milk being fresh, pasturised and combined with sugar to make a sticky goo (and certainly implies it is still fresh tasting at that point)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )