When you have nothing to do, the hours seem to stretch on eternally and there is just no way to fill the void. All you can see ahead is a never-ending stretch of boredom, like those arrow-straight lines of highway going through the Texas dessert.
When there is work to be done, the hours seem to go by like minutes, you can’t get enough done in the time allotted, and there is always something else to be done. And you’re falling asleep after a hectic day, when you say to yourself “Damn, I forgot to…” just another thing to add to tomorrow’s list.
We are in the latter situation right now. And the weather isn’t cooperating. By this time of year, it’s usually raining in Quito and the temperature averages around 65F or 17-18C. Right now, it’s been in the low 70s or higher, meaning inside the workshop we’re hitting 71-73 or 21-22C. With all the work we have to do, this isn’t helping our production rush.
Our ganache takes at least 24 hours to set fully, meaning a wait of at least one night before enrobing. When we have cooler temperatures we can usually enrobe the same day, as the ganache sets up quickly. Butter ganaches are melting in our fingers! I think global warming has come to Quito!
We’ve been offering chocolate classes on and off now for the last year. It recently came to my attention that the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, one of the more well-recognized universities here and home to many students of Quito’s wealthy and elite, is now offering chocolate classes. They are four hours long, and demonstration only. They enroll a maximum of up to 35 students at $90 per person. No materials are provided, nor do you go home with chocolates.
Our classes are $30 per person, and include both lecture and hands-on practice making truffles. You get to take home what you make, and this usually amounts to no less than a half pound of chocolate per person. So if you’re interested, choose which class you prefer and think is the better deal, and we’ll be happy to accommodate you whatever your choice may be. We’ll be starting up again sometime in October.
I´ve been away making chocolate like crazy to ship out of here at the end of the month. One of the difficulties of making chocolates in a country where everything isn´t standardized and industrialized is fat content. What do I mean by fat content? Well, most butters and creams have a pretty standardized per cent of fat in places like the US or Europe. Not here…at least not that I know of.
Why does this matter? Because without standard %s of fat to refer to, my recipes tend to get thrown off.
Summers is still going on here, not much rain. This means the cows are eating a lot of dry, brown grass. Not much water in there. But more fat as a total per cent of the product. This has meant a lot of broken ganaches and time lost fixing the emulsion. Too much fat, the recipe gets thrown off, the emulsion breaks, and I have a headache. I’ve managed to overcome this problem somewhat by reducing the amounts of butter and cream in my recipes.
But come the rainy season, and we’re back to a more watery, thin cream and butter that has pockets of air and water in it. This means another adjustment. It’s not as difficult as too much fat, but it sure isn’t easy when you don’t always know what you’re working with.
We receive dried, fermented beans direct from our grower in Quevedo, Ecuador. These are the basic raw materials for making chocolate. The beans are surrounded by a tough, inedible shell that is hard to remove.
After roasting in a copper kettle, the shells becomes brittle and can be peeled off by hand. Beans must be peeled by hand for our chocolate covered beans. In the typical chocolate making process, a winnowing machine removes the shell, which is then removed with a blower. However, these machines also break the bean up into what most people know as nibs.
Beans are painstakingly peeled by hand, one by one.
The new panning machine. This is a very basic panner, attached to a Kitchenaid, allowing us to do small-scale, microbatch production. Large industrial panners can hold several hundred pounds at a time and have drip or spray mechanisms for applying coating.
Roasted, peeled beans ready for the panner.
Behold the beans in the panner with an initial coating of chocolate. We add chocolate little by little over a period of several hours to coat the beans. We don’t use any polishes or glazes at the end of the process, preferring to leave the beans with their natural finish, with the addition of just a little cocoa powder and powdered sugar to finish them.
Finished beans still in the panner.
I wish I could tell you I was too busy making chocolate and other stuff to write…but no, that’s not it. I wish I could tell you I haven’t had the typical complications many a small business owner faces, many of which, I have discovered in my conversations with others, are simply par for the course, the normal, everyday winds of adversity. Nonetheless, all has not been awry, we’ve actually also been on vacation in California, back in my hometown of Solana Beach.
While there, we did a bunch of fun stuff with the kids, like Legoland, Seaworld, trips to the beach, many afternoons in the pool, among other things…while I also dealt with PR problems, meeting brokers, packaging and labeling design, equipment needs, and other fun business stuff you don’t usually here about here on my blog. But I’ll spare the details for later…
I’m now back in Ecuador, and we’re ramping up production for the fall. This week we’ve been especially enjoying playing with the new panning machine-it’s a Kitchenaid drum attachment for panning. I’ll post more about it later because I have to go back and add some more chocolate to the cocoa beans we’re working on for export. But for now, I can say we must have the near perfect environment for doing it because even the first batch of almonds turned out perfect!