Simon Bisson (sbisson) wrote,
Simon Bisson

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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...
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