There was an almost nirvana experience recently when a very highly skilled and passionate pastry professional spent three days at the Art Institute in Atlanta teaching some fabulous chocolate magic. The first two days focused on demonstrations to a rapt audience of pastry students and professionals when stunning showpieces were created using techniques such as a 50/50 mix of chocolate and sucrose to create a natural looking stone look that when painted took on a beautiful faux marble appearance. To achieve this technique, the chocolate is heated to 95 degrees, the sucrose is quickly added and the mixture is poured into the desired mold to harden. Following removal from the mold, the surface achieves its somewhat earthy, natural appearance by scraping a knife over the surface.
Those who attended on the third and final day took away the additional pleasure and experience of hands on work creating and building chocolate showpieces. By the end of the day the teams of students had increased their skills, knowledge and ability to work with chocolate and proudly presented 5 sculptures worthy of competition.
Who was this professional? How was he able to hold the attention of inquisitive minds and work such magic in this short amount of time, and most importantly how did he do it?
Chef Stéphane Tréand is a specialist in chocolate and sugar showpieces, he has been in the pastry field for more than 25 years. He began winning awards shortly after his career began; in 2002 he was a member of Team France at the World Pastry Championship in Las Vegas taking second prize in the international competition. In 2004 he earned the very honored and prestigious distinction of M.O.F. (Meilleur Ouvrier de France), the top honor in the pastry industry in France. With endless energy fueled by a deep love and passion for his craft, Chef Tréand guided the participants as they designed and created their masterpieces.
In addition to the 50/50 mix referenced above, he also showed them a quick method of putting chocolate into an easily malleable state by using the Robot Coupe. In a matter of minutes, the whir of the blades cut the chocolate into a small pellet size. An example of a use at this stage was the creation of a textured shape that could be molded and used for the center of a sunflower. A few more whirs of the blades and the chocolate turned into a warm, smooth ball shape which was then easily molded into such things as long curved reeds to provide aesthetic and design support to the sculptures.
Another technique was a unique, yet quick, method of making leaves. This is done by placing a thick stripe of tempered chocolate on a piece of acetate and then spreading the chocolate out on both sides with a pastry comb. The leaf edges are then smoothed into the desired shape and size and finished with a stem. The stem was most likely molded utilizing the Robot Coupe product described above.
Many of the shapes in the designs were achieved by the use of silicone molds which were filled by carefully piping in tempered chocolate. After the chocolate was hardened and removed from the molds, the next steps included airbrushing the desired colors onto selected components and spraying the main structure with a mixture of chocolate and cocoa butter. This step provides a very nice smooth finish with a glazed appearance. Attachments such as flowers and butterflies were placed by using hot tempered chocolate. This process is greatly assisted and eased when “cold spray” is used to quicken and shorten the time required for this chocolate to set up and harden.
Some tips Chef Tréand gave included the recommendation to refrigerate larger molds to shorten the setting time. When a piece is refrigerated that is more of a flat, disc shape, flipping it over periodically will provide a flat level piece to work with. The base of the showpiece typically falls into this description thus added strength and support are obtained with a more level disc. Cold spray can also be used on pieces shaped via the Robot Coupe method to increase strength and stability. The use of your hands/fingers to smooth the edges of the showpiece gives a neater appearance than the use of a knife. A very nice finishing appearance, especially for the airbrushed pieces, can be obtained by dipping a brush into glitter and gently blowing it onto the desired areas.
Wow, what a time was had by all! I am sure by now, you can easily understand how those who attended were convinced by the end of the seminar their experience was truly an awesome investment with dividends that included not only new skills but new friendships as well and they are anxiously awaiting another opportunity to learn at the hands of a great master. Thank you Chef Tréand, for your outstanding and unparalleled professionalism and furtherance of the craft you know and love so well.
by Elisabeth Walker