You’re probably wondering what happened to the chipotle ganache. As you may recall, I’d prepared three batches of ganache – saffron, black raspberry and chipotle – and then after turning out some saffron fans and salted saffron crowns, stuck the other two in the fridge to finish the next day. That was what, about two weeks ago? After piping the black raspberry into some twisty-shaped chocolate shells, I was still left with the well-meaning intent of doing something with the chipotle, the very next day at the latest. They say that life is short, but it’s amazing how long it takes for the very next day to finally get here.
Let me backtrack to last month, after I’d shipped off several boxes of assorted chocolates to assorted friends and family. After taking the lazy way out, as always, I had rolled all the leftover ganaches into luscious truffles and dipped them in the leftover tempered chocolate. After they’d set, I neatly packed them in plastic containers, sealing each layer in enough plastic wrap to suffocate Fidel Castro (which, as the history of botched assassination attempts suggests, is not an easy task to accomplish). Then one day, not too long ago, I popped one into my mouth.
There I was, standing at my bedroom window gazing out to the sea, when I absent-mindedly bit into the crisp and glossy chocolate shell, sunk my teeth into the sensual dark chocolate ganache and ate slowly, pondering the world that was so alive and colorful beneath the glittering blue-gray waves. The chocolate was so rich, so dark, and so very, very dry. Like eating lint, I realized, coming back to the world on shore.
I looked down at the chocolate I held in my hand and screamed like I’d found a new wrinkle. There, in the center of the chocolate I’d idly eaten until all that was left was one last bite, was a thick and fuzzy mold. A very green, gray and white thick and fuzzy mold. The chocolates I’d sent to friends and family.
Homemade artisan chocolates, rich with cream and butter, don’t survive as well as Fidel Castro, it turns out. I prayed that everyone who’d received my chocolates had gobbled them up right away, and immediately threw out all the chocolates I could find. Hence forth, my chocolates would be delivered with a message to consume immediately before they could self-destruct. But in the meantime, I’d have to get better about using up or freezing the chocolates that I made. So here I was, last night, with a batch of chipotle ganache in the refrigerator which I knew had to be eaten or tossed out right away.
How had so much time passed without my even realizing it? How is it that the three things you can always find in my refrigerator are spotted zucchini that resemble disease-ridden, impotent sex toys, leftover dinners of indiscernible origin, and some sort of meat turning deathly gray? Because I always intend to use them right away, to quickly chop up the zucchini and roast it with some garlic, to recycle the wonderful dinner into something even more clever and wonderful, to grill or roast or sauté the half pound of meat that I knew I couldn’t afford but looked so tempting at the grocer’s.
But instead, I end up declaring I’m too tired to cook, running out for dinner, running to the grocery store for something “fast” to fix. I spend more time just looking for a parking space than it would take to fix a meal, but instead, I end up squandering my dwindling bank account with all these “time savers” and filling up my garbage bin with all my good intentions.
And the more I waste, the less value that it has. I stop wanting it. And while we can all do with fewer wants in this world, there’s something about valuing what we have enough to enjoy it – whether it’s food, time or those we love – that makes wasting it all that more absurd.
When I waste time, I find that I’m usually bored, because whatever I’m doing isn’t of much value. When I don’t waste my time but use it, I want more. Just as when I don’t waste the time I spend with friends and family, they become all the more precious, and when I don’t waste my food but enjoy it, I want the experience all over again. But when I waste food, what was once delicious, nourishing and prized, is turned to garbage.
So now here I was face to face with the prospect of tossing out a pound of dark chocolate and cup of cream, or going into the kitchen to turn out some chocolates. And so I got the double boiler out and set to work.
It was a beautiful day, a glorious day, one far more sanely spent on the beach. But I’d wasted the rainy days telling myself I didn’t have time to make the chocolates. Funny how I couldn’t find the time to spend but could find the time to waste – whether on the internet, on the phone, on the couch or on the run. Now there was little time left to spend – I had to make up the chocolates before dinnertime or I’d have nothing to blog about but the garbage.
I got the ganache out of the fridge, put some dark chocolate in the double boiler, set out my scrapers, spatulas, thermometer and handy dandy Pyrex baking pan that served as my spendthrift version of marble.
I polished the fleur-de-lis mold with cotton and set it in the Pyrex dish, and changed into something brown. I have learned, in these weeks of chocolate making, that no other rule is more unbreakable to the amateur chocolatier than following the dress code. Which is to say, wear brown.
Once everything was laid out and the chocolate was ready to melt and to mold, I zipped off to pick up Mira from school. The quick trip was anything but a distraction or an interruption, in fact, it was what made making chocolates so simple. Sometimes the things we tackle seem gargantuan, so many steps, so much that must be done to reach our goals. But once we’re prepared, it’s all so simple.
The truth is, most of the food I waste, just like most of the time I waste, is because the shear idea of just getting ready to do it, is exhausting. It isn’t that I don’t like cooking, I love cooking. But I don’t like getting ready to cook. And it isn’t that I don’t love making chocolates, I do. But when I think about having to clear the counters, get the ingredients out, get the tools out, it just seems like way too much work. Easier to just drive to the store and buy some chocolates. But that’s not why I’m making them. I make them because they make me smile, bring me pride, taste delicious, and are one of the best ways that I know of to totally focus and shut out my worries when there’s no hot date or hallucinogenics to be had. So why do I worry about all the work that goes into making them? Because I’m too lazy to do the prep.
So the kitchen prepped, by the time I returned with my teenaged photographer, all I had to do was turn on the stove and start stirring. That simple. And in a matter of minutes, the chocolate was melted, cooling and reached 88° — the perfect temperature for pouring.
But something totally weird happened. As soon as it hit 88, I started to pour. Now I know I should have brought it back up to 92° but I’d poured at 88 countless times with no problem. But this time, as soon as it hit the mold I saw it was much too thick. But I moved fast, smothered the mold in the chocolate, grabbed the meat mallet and hammered away at the bottom and sides to break any air bubbles, then took a long-handled scraper and scraped the excess chocolate off the mold and flipped it over. But nothing happened.
Chocolate shells are made by filling the molds, flipping them over and allowing the excess chocolate to drain off. When the mold is flipped back over and the surface scraped clean again, you are left with chocolate shells. But this time, the chocolate hung suspended in mid-air, too cold to flow out. My photographer had disappeared into her cell phone and both my hands were covered in chocolate, so taking a photo of the surreal mess wasn’t possible. And I had no time to holler for Mira to come quick. I had to get the chocolate out one way or another.
So I jiggled. I jiggled and shook and jiggled and shook that mold as if I had hold of some sort of exercise machine. And by and by, the chocolate splattered out, making one hell of a mess. I quickly scraped the surface of the mold clean and then taking a sharp knife, gently broke away any setting chocolate from the points of my fleur-de-lis. When I was done, they looked just fine. A bit on the thick side, but fine nonetheless.
I wrote it off to the lovely day. Because it was so beautiful and unseasonably warm, I’d shut off the heat. But everything’s relative. It was still pretty cold, and while it’s important to work in a cool kitchen when making chocolate, it was clearly just too cold. My chocolate was cooling faster than I could manage. I’d learned my lesson about steaming dishwashers, ovens turned on and soup on the stove. Heating the kitchen ruined chocolates, and apparently chilling the kitchen could do the same. Another discovery.
I piped the chipotle ganache into the shells, certain I’d ruined them all. I re-melted the chocolate to seal the shells, and as it was cooling, went back to the blog to do some multi-tasking. I returned to the chocolate to discover it had cooled to 82° — I had failed to focus, had turned my chocolate making into chocolate tasking, and in the process the process was spoiled. Making chocolate is as much about the process of transforming and creating as it is about the final product. By waiting until I had very little time and too much to get done, it had gone from a calming joy to a rushed task — another thing to get done.
I took some breaths, remembered that I was not making the chocolate because I had to, but because I chose to. I was making the chocolate because making chocolate is fun. And soon the chocolate that had gotten too cold was warming to just the right temperature and in no time at all Mira and I were laughing away as she snapped photos and I smeared melted chocolate all over the molds.
We popped the finished chocolates into the freezer. Fifteen minutes later, they plopped out of the molds in near perfection. A few little air bubbles, but I’m nearsighted (and teenagers eat their chocolate bubbles and all).
I cleaned up the dishes, vacuumed the floor and the freezer (careful not to suck up any ice cubes) and looked at the clock.
6:30. Too tired to cook. “Take out?” I asked Mira. “Pho?” she responded. I got in the car and drove to the nearest Vietnamese soup kitchen. There was no time to waste. Our dessert needed eating fast . . .