Thursday, April 2, 2015

Kitchen Diary with some Easter Baking

If you are a fan of fruity spicy buns I do hope you have either bought or made some some Hot Cross Buns for this Easter. There is nowhere in my town to buy good ones so making them is the only option, plus you get the divine smell of sweet spicy bread dough as they bake. If fruit buns are not for you then how about some thickly cut freshly toasted bread slathered with lemon curd for your Easter weekend breakfasts. In the UK Marks & Spencer and Waitrose both sell a very good 'fresh lemon' tasting version.

I currently have a good batch of hot cross buns in the freezer which will be defrosted on the Thursday night before Good Friday and then popped into a hot oven for about five minutes on Good Friday morning for a delicious breakfast. There are many recipes to be found for these classic buns, but for me a long time favourite has been one by the late Jane Grigson. This brilliant author's life is being celebrated this year as it is now 25 years since she passed away. I used to read her newspaper columns avidly, and have most of her books, although the paperbacks are now rather tatty. 

So here is a  link to Jane Grigson's Hot Cross Bun recipe which has been reproduced by blogger Marmaduke Scarlet. I do think bread recipes are fairly forgiving so leave out some of the spices or the candied peel if those are not to your liking, or you simply do not have nay in the house. I often cut back on the amount of sugar in sweet buns like these, often using only 50g of sugar to 500g flour and not always including an egg. Keep the dough quite soft adding extra milk/water if it is too firm. It will feel quite sticky as you start kneading but will become more cohesive and elastic as you develop the gluten by kneading. You do not have to do all the kneading in one go. You can leave the dough to relax for a short while and then come back and knead some more after say 20 minutes. The final proving of the shaped buns may well take more than 30 minutes and I usually allow another hour for this final rise but my kitchen is not kept very warm. The buns will be almost double in size when ready and will be just losing their resistance when you gently push into the dough with your finger.

Good Friday is also about fish and I had a lovely fish box delivered last week from a South Devon supplier:
The crab was eaten straight away and I had the scallops in a delicious chilli pasta the next night.
Pasta of seared scallops, white wine, butter, red chilli & fresh basil sauce

The rest went into the freezer and for Good Friday we will be having baked whole plaice. I was delighted that the plaice were a good size as all too often they are caught when they seem only half grown. I am looking forward to eating my way through the box which also included monkfish tails, large squid, gurnard, lemon sole fillets, red mullet and plaice fillets.

Easter, like Christmas, has to include some home made chocolates. I did far less this year than previously and forgot to photograph my chocolate lobsters but here are some bunnies and eggs:

The eggs were a thank you to a colleague who is a genius at fixing things and managed to sort out my Kenward chef mixer for me. I hope he enjoys the eggs as much as I will enjoy having my mixer back in action.

Quickly back to baking and here is the cake I made for a recent Clandestine Cake Club meeting with the theme of Easter cakes:
This is a genoise sponge layered with lemon curd and iced with white chocolate ganache. The bunny is created by placing a cookie cutter onto the cake and sprinkling the inside with desiccated coconut, gently pressing it down onto the icing. The tail is a halved large marshmallow pressed onto the cake, cut side of the marshmallow down. Gently remove the cookie cutter and you should be left with a good clean edged bunny image. Genoise is currently my favourite sponge for layer cakes as it is so light. I have only recently been having success making it after following the instructions in William Curley's book on Patisserie. I think the winning trick was to add some of the whisked batter to the melted butter and stir that together to distribute the butter before adding that mixture back to the main bowl. Previously tried recipes have instructed to drizzle the melted butter directly into the whisked sponge mixture. I always found the butter sank to the bottom of the bowl and in trying to stir it all in I ended up knocking all of the air out of the mixture, resulting in a rather heavy tough sponge. The basic instructions in this book are excellent so if anything in the pastry world has been defeating you I would suggest look in this book for help.

And to end here are a couple of my Easter bakes from previous years:

Animal Biscuits April 2014

German Easter bread - Aachener Poschweck

Wishing you a very enjoyable Easter break.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Kitchen Diary: Spiced Soups for Light Main Courses & Some Baking

This week's theme is 'lightly spiced soups' and I have made three quite different ones for you to choose from.
First up is a somewhat 'made up as I went along', Asian Duck Noodle Soup which I cooked to use up a small amounts of five spice roasted duck and some duck stock made from the carcass.
This is basically a light broth flavoured with miso paste, garlic, ginger, seaweed, and Japanese Nanami Togarashi chilli seasoning. Pieces of thinly sliced duck and fine pre-cooked noodles are added to the broth and heated through just before serving the soup. This soup would also work with chicken, beef or salmon. The 'chilli seasoning' is available as a premixed blend of chilli pepper, orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, pepper, ginger and seaweed and is very good in soups like this.

Approx quantities per person to serve as a meal:
400-500 ml low salt stock (chicken, duck, beef, or good bouillion powder)
1 rounded tsp finely chopped ginger
1 small clove garlic finely chopped
1 tsp vegetable oil with very light flavour
2-4g dried cut wakame sea weed pre-soaked in water
2 rounded tsps miso paste
20g (or more) thin asian dried  noodles which you have precooked
50-100g cooked duck meat or as much as you want to eat!
1 tbs Japanese soy sauce
Nanami Togarashi or Japanese/Korean chilli flakes to taste
  1. Soak the sea weed in cold water for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Pre-cook the noodles according to the packet, drain and rinse in cold water.
  3. Finely chop the garlic and ginger.
  4. Chop the duck into small thin slices.
  5. In a pan large enough to hold all the ingredients gently fry the ginger and garlic in oil until cooked through but not browning.
  6. Stir in the miso paste and then add the stock.
  7. Bring to a simmer and then add the drained seaweed pieces.
  8. Bring back to a simmer and check for seasoning adding as much of the Japanese soy sauce as you need to get salt levels to your taste.
  9. Add the duck meat and bring back to a simmer.
  10. Add the noodles and bring back to a simmer.
  11. Season with the Nanami Togarashi or Japanese/Korean chilli flakes.
  12. Serve straight away.
I am submitting this Asian Duck Noodle Soup to the Bangers & Mash Spice Trail Challenge for this month's theme of Temple Food.

My next soup is from the the chef  Yotam Ottolenghi and the recipe is online here: Chicken & Buttermilk Soup. I was drawn to this soup as I love the combination of citrus and chicken and I have also been keen to start making use of my stash of sumac spice purchased a few months ago. I actually served my soup warm/hot rather than cold, and I did not bother with frying the chicken pieces at the end. The recipe lists basil, coriander and mint, but I used a little potted basil, no coriander and only a hint of mint as that was all I had. It is a delicious soup which is tangy from the buttermilk, lemon and sumac spice while the potato gives it a silky texture. We had this for Sunday supper after a weekend of rather rich food and I will definitely be making this again.
The inspiration for my third soup comes from a recent day trip to London. In between shopping and a pit stop visit to the Saatchi Gallery I headed to Arbutus in Soho for their fixed price 3 course lunch and these are the dishes I tucked into:
Grilled Cornish mackerel, salad of shaved fennel, radish and salmon
Slow roasted leg of rabbit, Artisanal black pudding, turnips and carrots
Yorkshire rhubarb, meringue, yogurt.
It was all very delicious and cooked so precisely. I would have loved to have seen the chefs at work but recipes from Arbutus and their other restaurant Wild Honey have been published in a book titled 'Today's Special' which I have just borrowed from my local library and from that I give you:
Roast Tomato and Fennel Seed Soup.
Ingredients for 2
500g plum tomatoes
sea salt
2-3 tbs good olive oil
1 small onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic crushed
quarter tsp chilli flakes or more to taste
quarter tsp fennel seeds
2-3 anchovy fillets
very small sprig fresh rosemary
2-3 tbs mascarpone cheese

Preheat the oven to 200C

  • Halve the tomatoes and arrange them cut side up in a roasting dish.
  • Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and drizzle over about 1 tbs olive oil.
  • Roast for 15 minutes or until soft and starting to brown a little.
  • While the tomatoes are roasting cook the onion, garlic, anchovy, chilli flakes and fennel seeds in a heavy pan in about 1 tbs olive oil.  Do not brown just gently cook until tender.
  • When the roasted tomatoes are cool enough to handle, chop them roughly. You can include the skins but I am a bit wary of cooked tomato skins which I hate the texture of so I removed them from my soup. At this point I also removed the rosemary sprigs.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes to the onion mixture and bring back to the boil.
  • Add some water if the soup is too thick.
  • Serve in bowls with a scoop or two of mascarpone cheese, a drizzle more of olive oil and in my case some extra smoked chilli flakes.

You could make this more of a meal by adding chunks of a very tender buffalo mozarella cheese instead of the cream.

I took part in a fund raising auction for some Valentine's chocolates earlier this month and my bid won this rather lovely box of chocolates offered by Graham Hornigold of the Hakesson Group. There were some lovely flavour combinations in the box including a particularly delicious raspberry and rose chocolate. The funds raised go to Galvins Chance a charity set up to help disadvantaged young people get training and work placements in the hospitality industry.

What I have been baking:
Hot cross buns are one of my favourite yeasted buns and I believe it is never too soon in the lead up to Easter to start baking them though they are traditionally eaten on Good Friday. For both these and the @SundayBakeClub 'birthday boule' below, I used a strong white flour from Carrs milled in Cumbria which has been very successful. This flour is milled from Canadian wheat and it has a slightly lower protein content than the Waitrose bread flour I have been using.

Finally for dessert this weekend I made a Tart Tatin based on a recipe from Marcus Wareing found on the the Great British Chefs site; recipe here. This is one of those very simple, and so much greater than the sum of its parts desserts. Loads of butter too!
So I missed pancake day but we still ate well!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Chocolate, Chilli & Chai Spices; a Brownie Based Dessert

I do a lot of baking, but 'smart' desserts rarely feature in our meals at home, so this last valentine's weekend was an excuse to think about plating a dessert, rather than just having a piece of warm cake and custard and calling it pudding.  I am guessing that if you went out for a meal this valentines weekend you would have expected to see a chocolate dessert on the menu. I am always keen to see what ideas restaurants come up with for the much anticipated 'chocolate to make you swoon' dessert. Unlike most pastry chefs I am no artist so I try to keep my desserts pretty simple and focussed on flavours.
So for my not too rich chocolate dessert I chose to serve warm cubes of  a light chocolate brownie with slices of fresh mango, a chai spiced milk ice-cream, creme fraiche and slivers of candied mild chilli.

The beauty of this combination is that much of the dessert can be prepared well in advance and you can serve as much or as little brownie as each person wants to eat. If your mangoes refuse to ripen you can always serve them lightly pan fried in butter and lime juice.

The Chai Spiced Milk Ice-cream is one I was experimenting with last year and I'm still not sure I have the right balance but the base of the ice-cream came from this recipe link Great British Chefs.  I modified it by steeping a heaped dessert spoon of chai tea in the milk first. I also had some ice-cream stabilier  that I was trying out which was used instead of the gelatine. If you want to use a bought ice-cream I think a caramel flavour would go well.

The Brownie recipe came from food writer David Lebovitz. He has a few brownie recipes on his site but this one called Helene's Brownies caught my eye as it is relatively low in fat and lower in sugar than many traditional brownie recipes. It was fine for the dessert here, served warm, in small cubes, but if you looking for the full on sugar/butter hit then this is not the one for you.

The Candied Chilli was made using chillis from a bottle of 'Pepperdew' chilli pickles. These small round chillies are relatively mild and are preserved in a fairly sweet vinegar. I rinsed off the pickling juice, sliced the chillies into slithers, and then dusted them with fine caster sugar. They were then left to dry out overnight. Blanching a fresh red chilli in water for a few minutes and then simmering in sugar syrup until it is tender should also work, just be sure you know how hot the chilli is first. Again cut into slithers and sprinkle with sugar. You should be able to do this a few days in advance, store in plenty of sugar as you can shake excess off just before using.

The Creme Fraiche was served as is topped with the 'candied' chillies but you could add a little sugar and vanilla if you liked.

The Mango was just served at room temperature and cut into sections. Really ripe mangoes can be hard to cut up neatly as they just get so soft but an under-ripe is really best lightly cooked in a little butter and perhaps some lime juice and sugar to sweeten. Unless you are having to cook the mango, which should be done just before serving, the mango can be sliced up well in advance of serving. If you felt like it you could also make a small amount of mango couli with the trimmings and serve this as well.

To Serve

  • Have the ice-cream in the fridge for about a half hour before serving so it is soft enough to scoop
  • If the mango slices have been in the fridge take them out now to come  up to room temperature.
  • Have the oven on high ~ 200C to reheat the brownie cubes. They should only take 5 minutes to heat through if they are cut into cubes. As soon as they are hot turn the oven off and just leave them in there until ready to plate them.
  • If cooking the mango, pan fry it briefly as above until it is just soft.
  • Start by placing a fan of mango slices onto each plate.
  • Scoop a quennelle of creme fraiche onto each plate and sprinkle with candied chilli pieces.
  • Place the brownie cubes around the plate
  • Place a generous scoop of chai tea milk ice-cream on each plate
  • Add a few more candied chilli slithers onto the ice-cream
  • Serve straight away (with mango couli if you made any)
I am submitting this brownie dessert to The We Should Cocoa February challenge. I have missed putting in entries for the last few challenges but as some of these earlier challenges included ice-cream and chilli I feel I have now almost caught up. This month's challenge is being guest hosted by Katie of  recipe for perfection

Friday, January 23, 2015

Marmalade is not just for Breakfast

It is the time of year when I am lured into making marmalade. Those tart seville oranges will not be around for long and before I have even checked what marmalade reserves I have left from the year before, there are a couple of kilo of oranges in my shopping basket. Back home as I rummage around for empty jam jars I realise they are all in still in use with last year's jams, and yes last year's marmalade.  I rarely make toast for breakfast on work days, just at weekends  and as each summer I also make blackcurrant and raspberry preserves with fruit from the garden, all too often there is a far greater supply of preserves than demand.
So this is a post about using marmalade any way other than on toast for breakfast, and is dedicated to anyone like me who has some 'vintage' marmalade in their cupboards that they really should find a way to use, if only to free up some jars that will facilitate the jam making habits they cannot shake off.
My all time favourite recipe for reducing the marmalade mountain is bread and butter pudding. If you  have eaten bread and butter pudding before, and did not like it, think back, was it made from the very low cost supermarket packaged bread? For this dish you really need slightly stale, ie at least a day old, traditional bread or buns, that absorb the custard mix without losing their structure. You can make the dish in quite small amounts very successfully which is another reason I am fond of making it.
Marmalade Bread & Butter Pudding
I never weigh out ingredients for bread and butter pudding and you will find quite a range of recipes with some using a lot of cream, some far fewer eggs, lots more sugar than I have used etc. You really can fashion this to your own tastes. If you are skipping the marmalade then do sprinkle each layer with caster sugar as you place the bread into the baking dish. If you are using sweetened buns or bread then I would  not add in any extra sugar.

For 4 servings

6 slices of stale bread (about 160g), crusts removed, lightly buttered and spread with marmalade
400 ml full fat milk
4 eggs
pinch of cinnamon or allspice or nutmeg (optional)
50g sultanas or raisins or chopped dried apricots or chopped candied ginger

1 tsp caster sugar to sprinkle on top.

buttered shallow baking dish
Oven temp: 160C/320F/Gas3

After buttering and spreading marmalade onto each slice of bread cut these into quarters or smaller and build up layers in your buttered baking dish sprinkling in the sultanas or raisins etc as you go. If you are going light on the marmalade and have a preference for sweet desserts you may want to sprinkle in about a teaspoon or two of caster sugar along with the sultanas.

Whisk the milk and eggs together and pour over the bread. Now leave this to soak in for 30 minutes.
Sprinkle the top lightly with the caster sugar and place into an oven preheated to 160C/320F/Gas3 and bake for 30-40 minutes until puffed up and set. If the pudding has not turned golden on top then place under a hot grill just to caramelize the top.
The pudding will be nicely puffed up when it first comes out of the oven by will drop back down as it cools.

My favourite accompaniment is whisky custard (instant version:  packet of prepared custard into which you have stirred in a couple of tablespoons of whisky just before serving).

You can posh this up rather by using an enriched type of bread and plenty of cream such as in this Nigella's creamy brioche version which would also work well with Pannetone, if you have one left over from Christmas.

The classic French Toast has very similar ingredients to bread and butter pudding and makes a tasty weekend breakfast dish which is equally as acceptable as a dessert in my book. Here is another Nigella recipe  for a version that includes orange zest and cinnamon in the egg mixture and is served with an orange and marmalade syrup: Orange French Toast with Marmalade Syrup

I used a pinch of allspice instead of the cinnamon and made my syrup with just marmalade and fresh orange juice. The marmalade peel was sieved out in my case as all my home made marmalade has quite thick pieces of peel. If you have a thin cut marmalade, as specified, then I doubt you would want to sieve it out. Again I warn you not to use supermarket bread as you will get a much more pleasing texture from a traditionally made loaf.
Moving onto my favourite subject of cake:
Dan Lepard's Marmalade Flapjacks are also offer a quick and easy way to use up your marmalade mountain though I made these with golden syrup instead of black treacle specified and used a light brown sugar instead of dark. You could easily omit the raisins or substitute them with chopped apricots or chopped dates if you have too many of those left after Christmas.
Another rather flavoursome bake is Marmalade & Ginger Cake from Kate Weatherell's book 'Sugar & Spice'
This is a cake I made last year for a Cake Club meeting with the theme of 'Breakfast'. The original recipe has an orange and ginger glaze but I used a fondant icing and candied ginger.

90g butter
150g golden syrup
200g orange marmalade
240g self raising flour
4stp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
120ml milk
2tbs dark rum (optional)

Orange & Ginger icing
200g sieved icing sugar or powdered fondant sugar
1-2 tbs orange juice or ginger cordial or water
finely grated zest of half an orange
chopped candied stem ginger to decorate

Oven temperature: 170C/325F/gas mark 3
20cmx30cm deep cake tin lined with parchment paper

Sift the flour and spices into a mixing bowl.
Measure the milk into a jug and add the eggs whisking to break them up.
Melt the butter and syrup in a pan.
Stir the marmalade into the butter/syrup mixture and take off the heat.
Add the marmalade mixture to the flour and stir in.
Add the milk/egg mixture and rum to the bowl and stir again to mix well.
Pour this quite runny mixture  into the cake tin and bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester pierced into the centre comes out clean.
Turn out cake onto a rack to cool.

To decorate
Place the sieved icing sugar into a bowl and add the grated zest.
Now add the liquid gradually until you obtain a fairly thick but pourable icing.
Carefully pour the icing over the top of the cake spreading with a palette knife to get an even cover.
Sprinkle over the chopped candied ginger while the icing is still wet.

Moving onto a savoury recipe now which I was at first quite skeptical that I would like but Diana Henry's Marmalade glazed chicken drumsticks was very simple and a really well balanced mix of sweet and spicy.
The chicken joints are baked in a marinade of  mild flavoured marmalade, fresh orange, mustard, garlic and chilli. I must be greedy as I would want more than the two drumsticks per person given in the recipe and I was tempted into using chicken thighs as well as drumsticks as they are my favourite part of the chicken.

Finally out with a bang. This rather fabulous rather strong cocktail is Hawksmoor's marmalade cocktail

Do follow the link for full instructions but here are the ingredients which are shaken over ice in a cocktail shaker and then strained into whatever glass shape you fancy
1 tsp Seville orange marmalade
50ml  gin
5ml Campari ( I had to swap this for a red vermouth and used extra orange bitters to compensate)
15ml lemon juice
a dash of orange bitters
a twist of orange peel to serve
Chin Chin!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Kitchen Diary #9 Spicy Soup for Soggy Saturdays

The weather has been cold and wet rather a lot over Christmas and New Year and coupled with having a niggling cold that has dulled my sense of taste the most appealing food I can offer right now is a spiced up chicken and noodle soup. The 'spice' came from a jar of Laksa paste which you can find in quite a few supermarkets and I quite like the Malay Taste brand though I use far less than they suggest on the jar. I am not going to even try and write this out as a recipe as I didn't measure anything while I made it. With apologies to Laksa purists the gist of the soup is:

Chicken stock about 2/3 of total liquid
Low fat coconut milk about 1/3 of total liquid
Some cooked chicken meat torn into spoon size pieces
Laksa paste
Cooked rice noodles or buckwheat noodles
A vegetable - I just used frozen sweetcorn but pak choi is good or beansprouts
Lime juice
Basil or coriander leaf

Cook the noodles first until just done then drain.
Put about a teaspoon of laksa paste per person into a saucepan and gently fry the paste.
Add in the chicken stock and the chicken meat and bring up to a simmer.
Add the vegetable and cook until just done.
Add the noodles and heat through quickly.
Add the coconut milk and bring back to a simmer.
Add lime juice to taste (about half a lime for 2 people).
Serve immediately into deep bowls and garnish with herbs and serve extra chilli flakes on the side.

Tomorrow the Christmas tree and decorations will be taken down and put away so here is a last glimpse of some of my favourite ornaments:
This cheeky baby dragon glass bauble came for Krakow and by some miracle survived the journey home to the UK.
The jester was bought over 20 years ago in Germany.
This glass bauble is hand blown by a local craftsman Malcolm Sutcliffe, they have a fabulous range which can be bought online.
Some of the ingredients associated with Christmas baking are jewels in their own way and I love these candied clementines which get added to various fruited breads and cakes
This is a cardamom fruited loaf which makes a tasty Christmas breakfast with good coffee.
I didn't get the fruit so evenly distributed mind.
This heavily fruited pull apart loaf is my alternative to the traditional mince pie. I make a fairly traditional mincemeat, but without any suet, and then incorporate loads of it into an enriched dough. Small balls of the fruited dough are then assembled in a loaf pan and baked. It 'pulls apart' readily once cooled but still looks like a loaf.
After several days of festive food the simple things start to appeal and this breakfast of 'Drambuie' porridge is one of my favourite winter weekend breakfasts. We were first served this many years ago at a hotel in the Lake District and it has remained a firm favourite ever since. Make your porridge as normal and serve, then pour over a good slurp of Drambuie. My formula for porridge is one cup porridge oats (not jumbo) one cup milk, one cup water, pinch of salt and sugar to taste. Cook all that until the porridge turns volcanic and gloopy!. Pour into warmed bowls and serve with milk/cream, Drambuie and extra sugar if you like.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the gloomy weather my thoughts have turned to planning next summer's vegetable patch and I was delighted to receive some seeds only a couple of days after ordering from Somerset company  Pennard Plants. They specialize in heritage varieties and the seed packets are just gorgeous.
I was particularly delighted to find they sell chervil root seeds.
My chickens are looking forward to sampling the lettuce mix too.
And if I can keep the frosts out of the conservatory I may even get to sample some home grown kumquats.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year from a very wet North Devon!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kitchen Diary #8 My Home Made Christmas Chocolates

For the last week and a bit I have been making quite a few of my Christmas chocolates.  I have been dabbling for quite a few years now at making my own chocolates and have bought some toys over the years to try and make production a little easier and more reliable. Notably the chocolate melters that hold the chocolate at the right temperature and a range of polycarbonate moulds to make all those pretty shapes you see in the chocolate shops.
When I started out making chocolates the moulds were not available in shops but recently I have seen some in Lakeland and even Ikea now has a few for sale. Most of mine came second hand from ebay or from chocolate wholesalers.
If you are thinking of getting into chocolate making seriously then a good starting place for supplies in the UK is the home chocolate factory website. They sell equipment and a basic range of chocolate couvertures to work with. If you want to purchase some of the higher quality chocolate makes then take a look at the chocolate trading company. There are some quite technical books available by skilled chocolatiers such as Peter Grewelling from the US and William Curley and Paul A Young, from the UK.

There is nothing like watching a technique being done and you can find numerous YouTube clips by professional chocolatiers that are really useful.  In the early stages I learnt a huge amount following the chocolate making threads on the US website egullet. The members of the egullet community are incredibly supportive and very quick to answer any questions, and to share recipes.  Here is a link to the pastry & baking forum. To post you have to be signed up but I really think it is worth it. There are numerous courses to be found and I started out at a one day taster course at my local technical college. If you are going to spend a lot of money on a course try to find one where the group size is small and where you will have plenty of time to get help from the tutor.
To get professional results with chocolate you have to learn to 'temper' the chocolate. If you just quickly melt and use chocolate, much of the cocoa butter contained in the chocolate will set into a form that produces a cloudy bloom on the surface and the chocolate will not have a nice snap to it when set. It may even feel grainy or fudge like when you eat it. To get the chocolate to set with a nice snap and a good silky finish you have to control the temperatures that you melt and then hold the chocolate at while you are working with it. I use the seeding method of tempering chocolate as I am way too messy and clumsy to work with the traditional 'tabling' of pools of chocolate on a marble slab. The seeding method lets you heat the main portion of chocolate to a temperature high enough to melt all of the cocoa butter, and then you cool it rapidly by adding in enough already tempered chocolate and stirring slowly until the pot reaches the desired temperature (dark 31-32C/milk 30C/white 29C). There is a fairly humorous description of the different methods of tempering chocolate in this Hope & Greenwood extract published by the Guardian.
You will need a thermometre that is graduated in 1 degree C intervals and that is accurate in the 25-50C temperature range. Once the chocolate is at the right temperature it needs to be held there, which is where a melter is really useful. You must keep stirring the chocolate and testing the temperature, nudging the heat up or down as needed. Well tempered chocolate shrinks slightly when it sets which is how you get the chocolates out of the moulds (or not!). If it does not shrink enough you can find yourself banging the moulds quite physically to get them out. I am not very good at moulding figures; so often they crack or get huge air bubbles on their noses but I do like this snowman so I like to make a few of these.

Working with chocolate can be messy so make sure there is nothing near by that cannot be wiped clean. When you are tapping moulds to remove air bubbles or drain out excess chocolate it is surprising how far little splashes of melted chocolate can fly around your kitchen.

For piping the fillings into the chocolate shells I use those plastic disposable piping bags. In an emergency I have used a plastic bag with one corner cut off but that is much harder to control.  Most of the fillings I make are based on a truffle mix of chocolate, cream, flavouring/alcohol and glucose/invert sugar. I also really like flavoured caramel centres. Once the fillings are piped into the moulds they have to be left to set and form a dry surface, usually overnight. The next day you temper some more chocolate and then pour a backing layer over the fillings. Once this has set properly you can turn out your chocolates.
Buying packaging in small quantities is very expensive so I usually just present chocolates in cellophane bags but boxes can display them much better.
I have tried some new recipes this year a couple of which are off the internet. From Paul A Young this Prune & Porter truffle was really quite unusual. Here is a link to a clip of Paul A Young doing a Prune and Porter promotional truffle demo during which he shows all the stages including table top tempering. It really is a joy to watch someone so skilled handling chocolate so effortlessly though he does talk rather a lot about prunes to start with! The second recipe was for a sichuan pepper and orange truffle that had a really spicy kick and would suit those fans of chilli and chocolate.
Soft Caramel Milk Chocolate Lanterns
Hand chocolate making is time consuming but at Christmas it always seems worth it and packages of home made chocolates make perfect gifts.