There’s only one thing that can provide comfort when you wake up at 8am on a cold, windy Sunday Spring morning. When you look over to see the glowing red numbers read 14 degrees and mumble “What happened to Spring?”. The normal instinct is to huddle under the covers with a loved one. However as my loved one Mr NQN was snatched from me at 3am that morning to go into work I consoled myself with my second loved one, chocolate at a chocolate class at Coco Chocolates newest chocolate school in Mosman.
I’m on my own driving and remarkably arrive incident free across the bridge at Middle Head just past the cafe at Burnt Orange. There are a range of buildings and the Coco Chocolate school and “cellar door” is located at number 21 which faces the carpark. On a sunny day (not today) the lawn area outside is where kids can play and should you want to while away the hours and nibble on chocolate coated strawberries, a glass of Bollinger champagne will set you back a mere $28!
As Mr NQN was called in for work, I asked his sister Amaya if she wanted to join me at the chocolate class and delighted, she accepted. It’s raining heavily in fat hard drops or even horizontally at times and yet all five of us students can’t imagine spending this rainy spring day anywhere else. We start off with a hot chocolate (or coffee or tea but really, who is going to say no to a hot chocolate?).
Nutmeg hot chocolate
I choose the fragrant nutmeg hot chocolate to take the cold edge off the day. Today’s class is an all day class and on the last Sunday every month Rebecca Kerswell the owner of Coco Chocolates who has two boutiques in Sydney and two in the U.K. and are the exclusive chocolatiers to Harvey Nichols and Jenner’s in Scotland. And interestingly, Jenner’s said no to a Haggis chocolate but they’re working on bringing one out here instead! There are all day classes on the last Thursday and Sunday of each month and half day classes are on the last Wednesday and Fridays of the month (except December for both class types). Today’s class is a level 1 class where we cover hand tempering, an almost lost technique of tempering couverture chocolate. The children’s classes are held every Tuesday during school holidays.
The next level 2 to be held around Christmas (dates to be announced) sounds very exciting as students will learn how to paint and decorate chocolates using a spray gun and cocoa butter as well as caramels and pralines and decorate the butterflies above! And the biggest hit of them all is the children’s classes where kids learn how to make chocolate freckles, frogs and chocolate nests with students as young as three years old. Although Rebecca tells us that one student asked to make the rose creams and told her that she only liked dark chocolate!
Rebecca started her career as a chocolatier ten years ago and studied at the Valrhona school for chocolate in Lyon. Hand tempering on marble (nor granite as many kitchens use) is somewhat of a dying art. At a Manchester chocolate festival they asked people how many hand temper and only three people put up their hand. Most places temper chocolate using large machines. Here at Coco, she hand tempers and uses single origin Valrhona chocolate and organic ingredients.
Cocoa beans come from a cacao tree which can grow anywhere but only bears fruit 20 degrees either side of the equator. The pods are roughly the size of a football and inside the cocoa pod the cocoa beans are encased in a sweet, white coating. Larger companies simply wash off this coating but the coating apparently has a wonderful pineapple and honey flavour to it and they sometimes makes liqueur from it. Ideally, for a wonderful tasting chocolate, they steep the cocoa beans in the white coating and allow the sugars from the coating to infuse into the beans giving it a sweet flavour. And once this is done the best way to dry the cocoa beans is in the sun although many places use something similar to a big air dryer.
The next process that amalgamates everything together is called conching. It is the most expensive process in chocolate production as they pay per hour for the conching process which is the mixing process that ensures that the chocolate has a smooth finish. Cheaper chocolate is conched for only five hours whereas more expensive chocolate is conched for a period of three days. Conching brings the particle sizes down so the cheaper chocolates are grainier whereas the more conching is done, the finer the chocolate. And it is called conching because originally the paddles that used to mix everything were shaped like conch shells although they are no longer shaped that way.
Click here to read the full story