Sweet Labors Of a Chocolatier
IT’S A SMALL MOMENT ---NOTHING SPECIAL SEEMS TO BE HAPPENING HERE --- BUT AS Albert Kirchmayr picks up a super-sized ladle and puts into the chocolate, all his bard-earned skills as a chocolate maker come together.
He stirs vigorously and a deep, mellow glub-glub-glub answers back from the vat of dark molten chocolate. But something is not quite right. Whether he sees it or hears it or senses it some other way is not clear --- and he won’t tell. “Secret,” he says with a smile. So he reaches over and picks up a few chunks of solid chocolate nearby and throws them into the vat to shift the temperature downward by a barely perceptible degree.
With another few minutes of heating and stirring, the chocolate is finally ready. He turns and picks up a plastic mold containing 18 heat-shaped indentations and ladles on the chocolate. Bittersweet, of course, for hearts.
“Chocolate mystery,” he says, with the same enigmatic smile on his face, as he dumps the leftover chocolate back into the vat, leaving only a thin coating in the mold. “if the temperature is not right of the chocolate or even the room --- you can have the room temperature not right --- then your chocolate get gray of dull and not shiny. Or it never hardens up.”
It takes two layers and sometimes three to build the sides of a chocolate shell thick enough to hold a filling, so hi repeats the process of pouring on the chocolate and then dumping it back into the vat again.
For over a year now 33-year-old Albert Kirchmayr has been making chocolate in his one-man chocolate factory in North Baltimore, wholesaling it to a handful of local candy and gourmet shops. His chocolates also appear as favors at the fanciest of country clubs.
But even with the chocolate mania that has swept this country in the past few years, there is still not the huge demand for chocolate here that there is in Europe. Where he grew up, in Bavaria near the town of Oberammergau, chocolates were the gift of choice, he says. “Chocolate was sold everywhere. I could go 300 feet from my house and buy chocolates.”
When he came to Baltimore in 1976 as a classically trained chef, he had no thought of going into the candy-making business, but he wanted to keep his home traditions alive and give fine handmade chocolates to his friends. Working with chocolate, he found, was not as easy as he thought, so when he heard about a demonstration that was to be given in Washington by a Swiss chocolate maker, he went. Something clicked, as they say, and in the space of there weeks he had found an place in Switzerland to study chocolate making, quit his job and was on his way back to Europe.
He apprenticed for a year at Munich’s Confiseris Daeuwel with master chocolatiers Karl and Ruediger Daeuwel before going to school in Switzerland to learn chocolate-making specialties. He returned to Baltimore two years later with a cargo container filled with specialized stainless-steel candy-making equipment.
Keeping up with the demand often has him working seven days a week at peak chocolate-buying tiemes. He is working nearly around the clock now cranking out chocolate hearts by the thousands for Valentine’s Day.
Although chocolate seems to have been with us forever, it is only in the last 100 to 150 years or so that it has become the common currency of lovers. Cocoa beans have been used in chocolate making since the discovery of the New World, but it took the invention of specialized machines in the 19th century to make on a wide scale the substance we think of as chocolate.
“Chocolate is made by grinding it finely. You couldn’t do that without machines,” Mr. Kirchmayr says. “You couldn’t go there with a rolling pin and roll the chocolate until it becomes a powder, you know. So that’s why the history of chocolate isn’t that long.”
In making chocolate, the cocoa beans are first peeled, roasted and then smashed to release the oils. “That’s cocoa butter. It’s very, very hard and has no taste at all. Tastes like nothing.”
That is set aside while the remaining part of the pod is ground to a powder or a fine paste. Then the cocoa butter and sugar are put back in to make what we call dark or bittersweet chocolate. Milk chocolate is made by adding mild solids and a different proportion of sugar. And white chocolate is just the cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids.
Albert Kirchmayr is a purist. He uses only the best imported chocolate made with cocoa butter as his raw material. Other kinds of chocolate are made with different vegetable oils instead of cocoa butter, easier to work with and also less expensive.
“Cocoa butter is not like regular butter where from one degree to the next it turns from solid to liquid. Cocoa butter has three different melting points because it has three different oils in it,” he says. You have to get just the right temperature where enough components of the cocoa butter are in a liquid state to make toe chocolate easy to flow while other components are semi-solid to give the chocolate its thickness. And even though this makes working with it much trickier, Mr. Kirchmayr continues, the difference in the taste is worth it.
In making his chocolates and their fillings, he uses fresh eggs, cream and butter --- ingredients that mass-produced chocolates don’t contain because it would reduce their shelf life. And because he is working in small batches, he says, he can make more sophisticated flavors. He fills and flavors his chocolate with marzipan, Gianduia (a hazelnut-based cream), Irish coffee, mocha, whiskey, Cointreau, raspberry, cherry liqueur and orange or lemon butter cream. He also makes Earl Grey the truffles plus rum, coffee and orange truffles.
Industry candy nearly wiped out the small candy shops in Europe and America, he says, but within the past 10 years, the demand is finally coming back for fine handmade chocolates.
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