A Sweet Gift Straight From the Heart for Valentine's Day
There’s at least one way to cut the cost of loving this week: Making your own candy for Valentine’s Day?
WKSU’s Vivian Goodman explores that option in today’s Quick Bite.
Holidays are always hectic for pastry chef Stephanie Paganini, but Valentine’s Day is the busiest.
She and her tempering machine are both running practically non-stop.
“The tempering machine’s job is to melt and cool and hold the chocolate at a certain temperature. It’s for when you’re going to do a hard shell application or a truffle that is a hard shell, so that you get a nice, shiny, structurally sound shell at the end.”
Chef Paganini’s showing us how to make chocolate truffles today in the pastry kitchen of the International
Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute in Chesterland.
Besides her chef’s toque, Paganini wears many other hats here.
“I am chief legal counsel, HR, student services director, career services director, and I run the pastry program.”
Inspired by her Italian grandmother
Stephanie’s mother, Loretta Paganini, founded the school. But Stephanie’s guru since grammar school has been her grandmother, a famous pastry chef in Italy she’d visit every summer.
“My two sisters would go outside and play soccer with the other Italian kids. I would stay in the bakery with my grandmother because she, to me, was magical. ... It would just look like she would move her fingers, and then all of a sudden this magical pastry would come out of it.”
Pastry is Paganini’s second career. She was once a prosecuting attorney in Lake and Geauga counties.
“When I would stand in front of a jury trial, it was my job to convince the people in the courtroom that my version of the facts was accurate. That’s what I do as a pastry chef instructor every day. I convince those
students that how I tell them to melt chocolate is how they should do it.”
A happy death
She teaches home cooks at ICASI as well as culinary students, and her most popular class around this time of year is “Death by Chocolate.”
“Death by chocolate means a happy, happy, death.”
Why do we die for it especially on Valentine’s Day? Paganini has a theory.
“Ancient people believed that it helped keep the men virile. I think it’s the high caffeine in it, as well as the other chemicals in chocolate that release a euphoric feeling in your brain. Chocolate really does make you feel better.”
She says it doesn’t always have to be expensive chocolate.
“It depends on what you’re using it for. So if I’m making a chocolate dessert, or I’m making something on a professional level, then absolutely I’m going to use a higher-end chocolate. We call that higher-end chocolate category couverture. It’s going to have a very smooth finish, the way that they produce the chocolate, the way that they roast it. But you know, sometime you just want to eat those bunny ears. Growing up those waxy, chocolaty bunny ears, those are fantastic.”
Today, though, we’re going gourmet, as we learn how to make two kinds of truffles: one with a hard shell and one without.
Chocolate truffles are an homage to a very different kind of treat.
A savory truffle is a highly prized, hard-to-find mushroom that the French call “the diamond of the kitchen.”
In celebration of the traditional truffle hunt, when pigs are sent out to scout for the lumpy, mud-colored fungi, pastry chefs would mix chocolate with heavy cream.
“And they would roll it into these rough-looking balls,” says Chef Paganini, “and then they would toss them in cocoa powder so it looked like that mushroom truffle coming out of the ground covered in dirt.”
A prettier version envelops the little balls in a hard, smooth, chocolate coating.
But for home cooks, that poses challenges.
“Where you’re using a hard shell,” says the chef, “you’re melting chocolate. You have to temper it, so you have to reach certain temperatures, I think that can be intimidating. But when you’re talking about something as simple as melting a little bit of chocolate, throwing some heavy cream in there, whatever flavorings you want. Everyone knows how to make a meatball. Everyone can make a simple truffle.”
Mixing chocolate and heavy cream
For a batch of the rustic-looking, traditional, hand-rolled truffles she makes ganache.
She melts dark chocolate, combines it with heavy cream, and puts it in the fridge.
“Once it cools, you can take an ice cream scoop, put it into the chocolate, and get that chocolate out, and roll it into balls. I have really hot Italian hands, so as I’m rolling this they’re already melting in my hands.”
Next she tosses the balls into a bowl of cocoa powder, then paints them with ruby-red finishing sugar.
“Sanding sugar,” she calls it. “And for me it gives a little bit of crunch on the outside of my truffle.”
For maximum crunch, though, you want those harder-to-make molded truffles. Paganini does them in several flavors.
With white chocolate, she’ll make an Asian truffle with lemon grass.
With dark chocolate, she gets a blackberry flavor by adding red wine, preferably Merlot.
“The truffle that I’m making for you today is actually made with balsamic vinegar, strawberry extract and balsamic vinegar."
Vinegar with chocolate?
Paganini says, “They’re fantastic together. The balsamic has obviously very grapey notes to it. Because it’s aged in barrels it has a wonderful sort of woody flavor to it that matches really well with the nutty flavor of the chocolate. You get a bright but deep flavor. It’s wonderful.”
But still tricky to encase in a hard shell.
She starts the process by spooning melted chocolate from the tempering machine into a silicone mold of little heart shapes.
“The chocolate sticks to it. So I filled it all the way to the top. And now I’m turning it out upside down, and I have this wonderful chocolate shell that I' producing, which I can fill with that strawberry balsamic ganache.
"Alright, so this is going to go into the refrigerator to chill.”
Even more ganache
When the molded shells are cool enough, she fills a piping bag with more ganache.
“And so we’re going to pipe this into those hard shells. Now you’re just putting a little bit of chocolate in each shell. Just a tiny little bit. The more chocolate ganache I put inside my shell, the weaker my truffle, and the more likely it is to break on me when I pop it out.”
With a shot of ganache in each shell, she’s ready to pour more tempered chocolate over the entire mold, scrape off the excess, and pop it back in the fridge for 10 more minutes to harden.
The little candies may not be easy to make, but they are way too easy to eat. And your Valentine might enjoy a gift straight from the heart.