Sunday, August 26, 2012

Adventures in Chocolate Plastique

Chocolate plastique may sound like an eighties synth band, but it's much more serious than that. My friend Lucy is getting married in December and she is the kind of bride who does not muck about. She came round to look at my cake books and, barely halfway through her first brew, she'd decided that the wedding cake she wanted me to make for her big do is Mich Turner's Chocolate Rose Polka Dot, from Couture Wedding Cakes (Jacqui Small, £30). It's a stunner, and my favourite from the book: four tiers of chocolate truffle torte covered with white chocolate plastique and blocked with roses handmade from it. 

Only a fool would not practice a project like this, so when our friends Chris and Louisa asked guests at their recent wedding to bring a cake to be shared for dessert, I saw an opportunity and ordered five kilos of chocolate and a tub of cocoa butter from Chocolate Trading Co

Chocolate plastique, aka modelling chocolate, is made from a water, sugar and glucose syrup mixed with melted chocolate, cocoa butter and lots more glucose. It's rolled out and use to cover cakes in place of marzipan and sugarpaste, and better hands than mine (perhaps working in cooler kitchens) can model flowers from it too. I'm used to working with sugarpaste, but this stuff is completely different. It tastes of chocolate, but the Callebaut I used made it quite yellow. It's stretchy, melty and obstinate. It sticks. It slackens. It refuses to form a crisp line, and needs cutting with scissors, not a knife. I couldn't make get roses out of it without adding tylo powder, which is usually used to turn sugarpaste into something akin to flowerpaste.

Mich Turner is a woman who understands drama. Her cakes are huge; the second-smallest, 9-inch tier of Chocolate Rose Polka Dot, which I made as a single cake for Chris and Louisa (pictured - Frank's motorbike is for scale), is in two layers, took 11 eggs and filled the bowl of my Kenwood to the brim. My arm nearly fell off just folding the flour in. I've no idea how I'm going to make the 12- and 15-inch base tiers of Lucy's cake. I fear I may have to bring a polystyrene dummy or two into play. And I wonder how Lucy would feel about ivory sugarpaste. It might not have the ring of synthpop about it, but it does have the ring of sanity.      

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

At home with Momofuku Milk Bar

Like the look of these cornflake-chocolate-chip-marshmallow cookies? Lemme tell you, they were delicious. Not unlike the chocolate-chocolate cookies, chocolate crumb, cornflake crunch and 'crack pie' from the same book, Christina Tosi's Momofuku Milk Bar (Absolute, £25).

There's often a lot of what Tim would call  Billy Bullshit surrounding New York food phenomena and Milk Bar is no exception. They've trademarked several recipes (I understand the impulse, but I think it's probably futile) and Tosi's defiantly personal approach to desserts is widely admired by a legion of would-be diabetics. The book was subject to a strict embargo when it was published UK-side in May. The crack pie (fudgy, with a homemade biscuit shell and a hard-to-find key ingredient, powdered freeze-dried sweetcorn) is mentioned in breathless tones and the cookies are made with bread flour. It's like a cult.

Knowing that we were off to NYC to get married (and to eat), I fell upon the recipes with a particular fervour. Would my crack pie come out like Christina's? Can I equal the cookie excellence which is a cornerstone of the empire? Well...yes. The methods are a bit of an arse because of Tosi's unusual stipulations (for the cookies you cream butter, sugar, glucose and eggs for ten minutes) and use of bits and pieces that you've made earlier (because earlier, you weren't wiping curry sauce off a toddler, you were making cornflake crunch). No expense is spared, either. But the results were pretty impressive, with a look roughly approximate to the pictures in the book.

I was surprised, then, that when we rounded off a lovely lunch at Momofuku Má Pêche with a trip to the Milk Bar upstairs, the cornflake cookies turned out to be a bit pathetic. Flat, sweaty and softening in their plastic wrap, with no hint of the goodies in every bite that's part of the Tosi ethos, they were just...not as good as mine. Or, I have to presume, as good as they should have been. And there's a lesson somewhere about these parts about why home baking often tastes better than shop-bought baking, however cack-handed the execution. It's fresh. It hasn't been sitting in a plastic sleeve on a shelf. And in the case of the Tosi tasty, you don't have to go all the way to New York to try it.