Friday, April 22, 2011

A New Blog

I created a side blog to display my pictures. Check it out at:

These are some I took this past week at Mayfield Park in Austin. It was a pretty cloudy day, but I still got off a few great shots.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Truffles - Part 2

It's been a crazy week, but here's part 2 of truffles. Sorry I didn't around to writing it sooner, but I haven't had much free time to write. Also, it's quite long, but I wanted to tell you all what I learned from my class!

So, once you've read Part 1 (below), you are ready to move onto Part 2. Coating the truffles.

You can coat the truffles using one of two types of chocolate. First, the easy type... coating chocolate. Coating chocolate isn't real chocolate (read part 1), so it's much more workable and still gives you a decent 'snap.' And unless you're super picky about your chocolate, it will do a good job. Coating chocolate you can buy at a local craft store, or you can get at a local bake shop. I've heard that Guittard's A'peels are very tasty.

To work with coating chocolate, simply use a double boiler or the microwave (watch this so the chocolate doesn't burn) and melt your chocolate. Using the methods described below, coat your truffles. That's it. There is no tempering required for coating chocolate. Yea, much easier.

But if you want that true chocolate truffle, then you'll have to use true chocolate, and you'll have to temper it. Tempering chocolate means melting it down above 115 degF and then slowly brining the chocolate back to 89 deg using seeding chocolate. This process of tempering allows the chocolate to get to a glossy and streak-free form. If done properly, it turns out very beautiful and glossy and has a great 'snap.'

First, melt your chocolate. My instructor suggests doing this in the oven. Yes, the oven. The place your chocolate (reserving some for seeding) into a heat proof bowl and stick it in the oven at about 300 deg. Every few minutes check on it and stir it around. Once you've hit 115 deg, and you're melted, pull it out... with hot mits. You don't want to burn your chocolate. If you are using white chocolate, only bring it up to 110 degF max.

At this point you need to temper your chocolate.

Without getting into too much chemistry, I'll explain it like this. When you melt chocolate, you remove the crystal structure in the cocoa butter. When the chocoalte returns to a solid, this structure in the cocoa butter reforms. The temperature and speed at which the chocolate cools to its melting point (89 deg), determines how the crystalline structure reforms. If the chocolate is allowed to cool on its own, the crystals of fat will be loose, resulting in a chocolate that is dull in appearance, soft & malleable, and greasy to the touch. However, if you bring the chocolate slowly down to 89 deg with a process known as seeding, the cocoa butter will form dense crystals and the chocolate will cool to a very stable hard chocolate with a slight sheen, and nice snap when broken.

The seeding process uses unmelted pieces of chocolate to bring the temperature of the melted chocolate down to 100 deg in the beginning of the tempering process. The crystal structure in the unmelted chocolate act like magnets, attracting the other loose crystals of fatty acids to begin the crystallization process that results in well-tempered chocolate.

Okay enough chemistry, here's how you do it. Take your melted chocolate and slowly start stirring starting in the middle. Add about 1/2 cup of unmelted chocolate pieces (at room temperature) to the center and press them down to the bottom of your bowl with a spatula. Make sure they fully melt in the center. Then work your spatula around to the outside of the bowl, slowing moving the chocolate out from the center, up the sides, and then scraping it down. Check your temperature. If you're still above 100 deg. repeat the process. This could, and will, take a while.

Once you've reached about 100 degF, your chocolate is no longer hot enough to melt new unmelted pieces. Keep stirring slowly, bringing the chocolate up the sides, and scraping it back down again, until you've reached 89 deg. If you happen to go below this, you can reheat the chocolate in the microwave, however, if it gets above 90 degF, you'll have to re-temper it and start all over again at step 1.

To maintain a nice shine and prevent streaks, make sure you continuously stir your chocolate, especially as you work.

Now the fun part, coating the truffles. Don't forget to take your truffles out of the fridge and let them set to room temperature about 5-10 minutes first. Otherwise you're chocolate shell will crack as the hot chocolate cools and the cold truffle warms up.

To coat the truffles you can find the best method that works for you. If you want a rough look to your truffles, then go with the easy, hand way. Use some plastic kitchen gloves and place a little bit of chocolate into your hand. Using your other hand, roll the truffle into the chocolate and place on a piece of parchment. You can also use a fork to fish your truffles out of your chocolate bath and place them onto parchment. Either way, you'll just have to see what works best for you.

As the chocolate is cooling, you'll notice that it looks nice, but is a little dull. That's because the chocolate is going to take on the sheen of its environment. Using a candy mold and making filled truffles will give the chocolate the "super shine" that you're looking for. Either way, you'll still get a nice snap and a smooth coating.

To make a candy filled truffle, you'll want to make a slightly more liquid ganache and you'll need a candy mold. Fill each candy in the mold to the top with the tempered chocolate. Now, let it sit for about 2-3 minutes. After this time, move your mold over your big bowl of chocolate, and turn it upside down. Using a spatula, tap the outside of the mold to allow the still melted chocolate to pour out. Continue tapping until nothing else runs out. Flip the mold back over, and ta da, you have a candy shell.

Fill your shell with desired ganache filling, leaving room for a "bottom" layer of chocolate. Finish off the mold with a chocolate coating to seal in the ganache. Pop in the fridge for a few minutes. When they are setup, bring the mold over the table, flip it over, and tap it gently on the table, so the little chocolate pieces fall out. Now, oooooooh and ahhhhhhhhh, over your beautiful chocolate pieces.

Feel free to experiment with your truffles. Try skipping the chocolate coating, and instead roll them in jimmy's or sprinkles, or cocoa powder, or coconut. If you're rolling them in one of these coatings remember these steps... coat, roll in your hands, coat, roll in your hands, coat again. This will ensure an even coating onto the truffle.

I hope you enjoy making these as much as I did. I know it's hard to explain some things over a blog without a video, but this should get you started or maybe just answer some of your questions about truffles.

Also, check out this site, for some great recipes:

And lastly, if you're tempering something other than dark chocolate, the temperature of the melting point will be lower, and the tempered temperature will be lower as well.
Dark (no milk content) 88-90°F
Milk 86-88°F
White 80-82°F

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

MS150 2011

Before I continue with Truffles Part2, I'm gonna take a slight deviation and talk about my amazing friends and fellow cyclists.

This past weekend was the 2011 MS150. 170 miles from Houston to Austin on my bicycle.

I have to be honest. It was difficult getting motivated for this years ride. I've been spending a lot of time planning a wedding, and then bam, in October, the fire hit. So my whole winter was spent either doing wedding planning (which I love) or rebuilding my house with a bunch of contractors (not so much fun).

I tried to take time out each weekend to ride, but it was difficult. There was always something to do or somewhere to go. My mind was preoccupied.

But that's no excuse. After all, I was riding to help people. For my fourth year in a row, come April, I would saddle up and ride for my mom, Bonnie, and for everyone with MS. And this year was no different.

On Friday April 15th, my awesome friends and co-workers helped to push my fundraising over $1000 for the year... AND push me over my four year $10,000 mark! Thank you so much to everyone!

On Saturday morning, Jeremy drove me from Clear Lake down to the start area and I saddled up around 6:30. It was cold. Not as cold as my first year, but still, by the end of the first mile, I couldn't feel my fingers, ears, knees, or face. Fortunately I made the last minute decision to wear my arm warmers. I was happy about that. I kept them on until past mile 40.

The first half of the ride was great. I was riding by myself this year, so I jumped on a few pacelines and just cranked on the pedals. Around mile 35 I met up with one of my fellow Saint Arnolds team members and we rode together for a while. Eventually I told him he could just leave me, because this year I was in a hurry to go nowhere. I took my time slugging up the hills, babying my left knee (thank you Tough Mudder), and just enjoying the ride. I was actually enjoying riding by myself. I could go as fast or as slow as I wanted without feeling like I was holding anyone back. Plus, I met a bunch of people along the way.

I decided to skip lunch and hit rest stops 3, 5, and 7 on the first day. Usually I hit 2, lunch, 6 and 8... so it was nice seeing what the other stops had to offer. I actually enjoyed skipping lunch. I had a builder bar on me, and that seemed to do much better than a ham and cheese sandwich would have done.

After turning the corner around mile 90, something happened. The wind. The wind was at our back. First time all day. It was awesome. And just in time too, those last few miles are always the worst and with such a strong tailwind... well, lets just say, had it been a headwind, ugh. I flew up the next 6 miles with more energy than I had all day. I came into La Grange at 1pm and I felt pretty good. And to make it better, after crossing the finish line there was a nice Saint Arnolds volunteer waiting to hand me a beer even before I got to the tent!

Day 2 I started around 6:30am again, this time slightly warmer than Saturday. I got to mile 20 (still before Buscher State Park) and started the long slightly inclined climb. I was moving pretty slow and knew the park was gonna hurt this year. I was hoping my knee would hold up and at least get me up the hills.

I came down the hill before the park doing my usual pulse breaking at about 30mph while people screamed past me around 40mph. I'm sorry, that's just a little too fast for comfort when I'm sitting on two skinny tires with very little protecting my body should I take a crash.

I hit Bastrop and Buscher state park around 8am, warmed up a little at rest stop 2, and got on my way. I just took my time and enjoyed the scenery. I took every hill as it came and conquered them all. Not nearly as easily as years before, but that's what you get for not training very well. It was my own fault.

After the park I took a break at the gas station for my day 2 lunch, another Builder Bar, and got back on the bike. I skipped lunch again and stopped at the next, and last for me, break point. My shoulders were killing me, so the lovely volunteers were nice enough to rub bio-freeze on them. Man, that felt better.

The hills coming into Austin didn't seem as bad this year, maybe because we were blessed with a mostly tail/slightly cross wind until the last 3 miles or so. I hit the finish line around 11:30am and took my hands off the handlebars for a picture. Okay, not that far off, but at least up enough to say "yay" and then quickly grab the bars again. Man, how embarrassing would that be to crash at the finish line.

My lovely fiance brought beautiful roses to the finish line for me, and we both relaxed a little and chatted up with some fellow teammates. Oh, and we drank Saint Arnolds... of course! Unfortunately Brock wasn't there to meet us this year, but we hope he turns up next year!

Overall a great ride and of course I'm happy that I rode. See you again in 2012... probably.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Truffles - Part 1

A few months ago, a friend asked me if I'd ever made truffles or if I knew how to temper chocolate. The answer to both of these questions was no. I've played with molding chocolate before (read the little fake chocolate morsels you get at the craft store), but I've never really worked with real chocolate.

To clarify, to be classified as real chocolate, the chocolate must contain cocoa butter. Those little candy morsels that come in 20 different colors, aren't real chocolate. Don't get me wrong, they still taste great, but if we're getting technical, they are not technically "chocolate." Instead the cocoa butter has been removed and replaced with other types of fats. This allows the chocolate to be much more workable, and still gives you that "snap" without having to temper it. Which is pretty sweet, especially considering that you can't taste much of a difference unless you're a chocolate snob.

Back to truffles. The thing is, I love baking, I love chocolate, I love making little treats for people, and I love knowing stuff. And since I didn't know how to properly temper chocolate, I knew I needed to take a class.

Truffles 101.

Last night we made 4 different types of truffles, learned to temper chocolate, and also discovered why these little buggers are so expensive.

First, the insides.

The inside of a truffle is made with some type of ganache. A ganache is simply a type of filling/icing/chocolate coating that is made with cream and chocolate. (read: includes cocoa butter). The density of the ganache depends on the ratio of cream to chocolate. A 1:1 ratio will give you more of a coating ganache, where as a 1:2 ratio will make the ganache more dense and thus moldable. The ganache can also be flavored by adding different things into the cream. ie - adding orange zest to the cream while it is boiling will give the ganache a hint of orange.

To make the ganache first bring your heavy cream to a boil. If you're adding a flavoring like orange zest, do it now. Watch your heavy cream. It will boil over if you are not careful. Meanwhile get your chocolate cut up into small pieces and place into a metal bowl. Once the heavy cream is hot and just at boiling, strain it through a small sieve (if you've added any type of zest or herbs) to remove all the particles. Then pour it over the room temperature chocolate pieces. Using a spatula, just push the chocolate down into the cream, so it is all covered.

Now, resist the urge to stir. Stop. Don't do it.

Let the cream sit over the chocolate for 2-3 minutes to allow the heat of the cream to melt the chocolate. If you start stirring you will release the heat and the chocolate will not melt.

After 3 minutes, put your spatula, or wooden spoon, into center of the chocolate and start working it together. Start from the center keeping the spatula down. Try to prevent getting air bubbles in the chocolate, it's just bad form. Slowly work the cream and chocolate together, moving out to the sides, until incorporated.

Line a 8x8 or 10x10 pan with saran wrap, then pour the ganache into the pan. Gently place another piece of saran wrap over the top and let it sit on the counter for 10-12 hours.

Yep, that's the hard part. Don't touch it!

This will allow the ganache to firm up and become workable. If it is still super soft, toss it in the fridge for a little while. But you should be good.

When you are ready, use a tablespoon to scoop out evenly proportioned amounts of chocolate. The tablespoon will keep all your truffles the same size.

Place each rolled ball onto parchment paper and read Part 2. If the truffles were getting soft when you were rolling them, you can toss them in the fridge for a bit while you start melting your chocolate. (if the chocolate is super soft, which it may be depending on your liquid to chocolate ratio, I'd recommend using rubber gloves to roll them). Remember to bring the truffles out of the fridge about 5 minutes before dipping, to bring them back to a slightly cool room temperature. If they are too cold, the chocolate coating will crack, as you'll see in part 2.

Note: To find some great ganache truffle recipes just use google. There are plenty out there.

Monday, April 11, 2011

2011 MS150 - The Year to 10,000

Between the house and the wedding, I haven't posted much about the MS150. And since I'm on my way out the door, down to deal with the house, I'm gonna have to make this short.

This will be my 4th year riding the BP MS150 from Houston to Austin. Over the past 3 years, I've raised over $9,000 in the fight against MS. This year, my goal is to raise $1000 and push my four year total OVER $10,000.

If you'd like to help contribute to my ride, please visit my page at:

THE YEAR TO 10,000

To all those who have contributed in the past, and who have contributed this year, thank you so much for your support.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fondant Project

A few weeks ago it occurred to me, although I don't like to eat fondant, a good cake designer should know how to work with both buttercream and fondant. Not to mention that you can do some pretty cool things with fondant that you just can't do with buttercream.

So last night I took a fondant project class. My biggest fear about fondant is cracking and folds. So I was pretty nervous about icing the cake. But I learned a few techniques and I think it turned out pretty well.

Now I will take you on a tour of my cake and impart onto you some of the wisdom that I learned.

(It wasn't until after I layered the cake that I thought to take pictures, sorry)

Step 1: Prep the fondant.

The thing about fondant is that it dries out quickly, so you've got to work quickly. Always make sure your fondant is sealed in a plastic bag and only take out what you need. About 2 fist fulls or less is a good amount

Working the fondant exercises the elasticity of the fondant and makes it much easier to work with. Add a little shortening to your hands to help keep the fondant moist. Once you can pull it 4-6" appart without breaking, you're ready to move on. (Think silly putty)

Step 0: Frosting the Cake

Yes, I just went backwards. Perhaps you should read the whole blog before you get started.

Step 0, is frosting the cake. Make sure that your cake is nice and level and is frosted evenly around the top and sides. Don't worry if crumbs are showing because the fondant will cover it all. You want to use enough frosting that the cake tastes good (mask the fondant taste) but not too much that it makes it too soft to hold the fondant. (or too much that it oozes out the bottom, but more on that later)

Step 2: Roll out the fondant.

To make the awesome swirly look that I did below, you want to roll out a few different colors of fondant into even length snakes. Stack them above one another on the table and then roll them up like a snail (or like one of those horrible tasting large rainbow lollypops). Now, kneed the dough in your hands ever so gently. It will over mix very quickly and you won't get those swirly marks.

Using a rolling pin (silicon), roll the fondant out onto the table. Important note: make sure to lightly dust the table with corn starch before starting. This will prevent the fondant from sticking to the table and allow it to stretch more easily. Roll in one direction only (top to bottom) then lift and turn the fondant 90 degrees and roll out again. By continually turning the fondant you ensure a relatively round shape and you'll keep the fondant from sticking. Make sure you roll your fondant out big enough so you have a bit to overlap on each side of your cake. You don't want to come up short.

Another helpful hint: You're hand fully spread out, is about 8" from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinky. This comes in handy when a ruler is not available.

Step 3: Fondant onto Cake

Lightly dust the top of the fondant with corn starch, then, starting from the top, roll the fondant back onto the rolling pin towards you. The dusting of corn starch will prevent it from sticking to itself, and the rolling pin will allow you to pick it up.

Quickly move toward the cake, then, start from the back of the cake. Look down and ensure there is enough overhang, then slowly roll the fondant away from you and onto the cake. Ta Da!

Okay, that was the easy part

Now, using the palm of your hand, smooth out the top of the cake. Then, starting at twelve o'clock and working toward three, use one hand to pull the fondant outward, while the other hand presses IN using a circular motion to smooth the top 1/4 of fondant onto the cake. Notice how I emphasize the pressing in and NOT downward. If you press down, you will move the icing out from under the fondant, and it will all ooze out the bottom. Trust me.

Next move to the other side of the cake and work from nine o'clock to six o'clock. Again only doing the top 1/4 of the cake. Carefully pressing the fondant in, toward the cake with the palm of your hand.

Continue around the top of the cake, then work down the cake, doing a little on each side, until you reach the bottom. Don't forget to pull the fondant OUT and not down, and to press IN and not down.

Once you're all done, use a cutter to run along the bottom of the cake and remove the excess fondant. If you used too much icing or pressed down, you've most likely squeezed it out and it will be a puddle around the bottom of the cake. No worries, just wipe that up. (Notice, in my cake, I had this problem and from the side you can see a slight concave nature to the cake. Fortunately, that's what they make decorations for... to cover these mistakes)

If you've gotten to this point, congratulations, you've completed the hardest part. The next part is to decorate.

There were many things going on with this cake, and the first was to put on the sea floor bottom as well as the leaves. The sea band was done using a blue and green fondant mixed together and rolled out to about 3 wide hands length. An impression mat was then laid over the fondant and rolled on to make the pattern you see. Now, you can use just about anything to make these impressions, so use your imagination. By adding texture to the fondant you add just a little more detail to the cake, and it really makes it pop. The leaves were done using green fondant and a leaf shaped cookie cutter. They were then cut in half length wise and flourished with a few details using an impression tool.

To adhere any fondant to other fondant, simply use a wet paintbrush to wipe a small amount of water to the back of the fondant. This will act as a glue and it will "bond" within a few seconds.

Next we made the fish, flowers, and octopus.

To make the fish, use a candy mold. Don't forget to dust your fondant with a light cornstarch before putting it in the mold, otherwise it will be hard to remove. Another trick to removing the fondant from the mold is to hold the mold perpendicular to the table. Next, take a small piece of fondant and make it very tacky by working with it a lot. Then start at the top of the fish and stick the tacky fondant to the fish fondant and pull back. This will help work the fish of of its mold. We also used a dry paintbrush to "paint" on some blue luster dust to the fish, to really give them depth and bring out their scales. But be careful, that stuff gets everywhere!

To make the flowers, we simply used a small flower cutter and then brought the petals together to make it look like they were being swept by the water. The octopus was made using blue, pink, and black fondant. Make his head about the size of a small golf ball, and don't forget octopus have 8 legs. Also don't forget to use a small amount of water to adhere your pieces to your cake.

Finally, add some white bubbles to your fish and dust the cake with some white shimmer powder. The bubbles were made by rolling out white fondant about 1/4" thick and placing a sheet of plastic wrap over the fondant. Use a #12 (I think) tip and press down into the plastic wrap to create a circle cutout in the fondant. The plastic wrap pulls the fondant down a bit, giving it that bubble look. Otherwise, you'll just get more of a circle look. Tricky tricky.

And Ta Da... The final product.