Thursday 31 July 2014

Summer time and the chocolate making ain't easy..

Chocolate is a demanding medium, temperamental in lots of ways and very sensitive to temperature and humidity.  Our workshop is on the whole over the year a little too cool than is ideal for chocolate work - around 18C is supposedly a perfect temperature; I remember visiting a chocolate shop in Cambodia - air conditioning kept the shop itself cool, but behind a glass wall  you could see the chocolate making workshop - with the staff in coats and woolly hats as this area was supercooled to 19C! 

In winter, the workshop can be as cold as 5C in the morning and with heating on it can get to about 13C.  In the summer usually the average temperature is about 14 or 15 - so we have become used to working with chocolate at these cool temperatures - they are not ideal but we have found for each chocolate that we use, the little idiosyncrasies that will get the result we want.    For example, we used to have an annoying issue with our popular Smoked Hebridean Sea Salt bars; for some reason the edges of the bars would stick to the mould and they would never look great.  We found that by warming the moulds a little before pouring in the chocolate, the bars came out cleanly and perfectly when cooled; hurrah!

It has been a glorious summer and rare indeed for the sun to shine quite so often, so unobscured by cloud and quite so effectively for so long.  It has meant that, for the first time since we started making chocolates, the temperature in the workshop has crept up to the perfect 18C and we found ourselves uncharacteristically working in 'ideal temperatures'.  But of course, all our chocolate making tricks have been developed to cope with the cooler workshop and we have had to adapt again.  As the temperature has risen (once to a heady 22C!) we have occasionally just abandoned any attempt to make thins or bars - the chocolate has just taken on a mind of its own and we cannot get conditions right to keep it tempered or help it cool.

Sending chocolate orders through the post has been nerve wracking as well!  I have been studying weather charts, judging the optimum time to take parcels to the post office to minimise the time they spend in the back of a warm van.  For the last box scheme, always sent mid month, I ended up splitting the order - making one batch for 'the north', which according to the weather forecast would be coolish over the weekend, and a second batch for the following week for 'the south' when a small dip in the summer temperatures was forecast.  I delayed sending an order of bars last week till the weather cooled a little, and supercooled the chocolates in the fridge for 24 hours before I sent them just to give them the best chance possible of arriving still tempered.

And of course, the fine weather is wonderful for the food festivals and farmers markets that we attend - it is grand to see everyone out and about, relaxed and unfettered by windproofing and umbrellas.  But we will be cowering in the shade, fussing over our delicate stock and wishing that we could be selling ice cream!

I ain't really complaining - it has been a wonderful long stretch of good weather.  It has kept us on our toes though in the workshop, learning new ways of doing things and being amazed at how much difference a rise of 1C in the room temperature can make!