Now it is time to temper chocolate. The teacher recommended starting with milk chocolate, it is the easiest one to temper.
The teacher also recommended that chocolate buttons are used. The reason for this is that they are all the same size and will melt at the same rate.
Since the cake I was decorating was supposed to look like a present with a bow, I selected a chocolate transfer sheet which would serve as the ribbon and bow around my present shaped cake. Before starting with this, take a good look at the cake and determine which side is the nicest looking one and remember it, this will be the front of the cake, the side that should be presented to the viewers.
A transfer sheet is an acetate sheet, which has coloured cocoa butter printed very thinly in a pattern on one side. From this I cut out two strips that would form the ribbon around the present. I made mine about 3 cm wide and measured so that they would be long enough to go from one bottom edge of the cake, across the top and down to the bottom edge on the opposite side. And two of them would form a cross. But, that would mean that one of the two strips would be covered by the other and would not be possible to remove! So I left one of the strips as it was and placed it over the cake where I was planning to place it. Then I took the second strip and measured up where it would cross the first one. Then I cut out the segment that crosses the first strip. That sorts out the ribbon part. But a present should really also have a bow. For this, I cut out four strips 3 cm wide and about 15 cm long. Then a further four strips at 3 cm by 10 cm. Then finally cut out one strip of 3 cm by 5 cm. This should still leave enough of the transfer sheet, in case you make mistakes. Now cut out a largish piece of baking paper and place the transfer strips with the chocolate side up and make sure to remember which strip is for what purpose. This piece of baking paper is your "clean area".
For the tempering, divide the chocolate into 3 equal parts. Place two of them in one bowl and keep the last one aside. Place the larger amount in the microwave and heat on maximum for 10 - 15 s at a time, taking out between each and stirring. The microwave time may vary, depending on its wattage, so better be careful, if the chocolate burns it will need to be thrown away and it will smell up the kitchen. At first it may appear that noting is happening with the chocolate buttons, but looks can be deceiving. Also keep checking the bowl temperature, it should be pretty much at body temperature. When the chocolate has melted fully, add the last part of the chocolate buttons and "massage" them in, they'll start to melt a little from the warmth of the already melted chocolate. This is called "seeding" the chocolate, meaning the already melted part has lost its tempering and you use the seeding chocolate buttons to start the tempering process. Now do a "paper test". Basically take a small strip of baking paper and dip one end and one side of it in the melted chocolate and set it aside, while continuing to stir the chocolate. If the chocolate is tempered, it should start setting within the minute. Look at it at different angles, there may be some streaks on it, like oil slicks. This means it's not fully tempered, but close.
One thing to keep in mind, if you see that the chocolate along the edges of the bowl begins to set, don't be tempted to scrape it off and try to blend in with the melted chocolate at the bottom of the bowl. Try to get as far as you can with the bit that is melted. Only then scrape down the bowl and repeat the tempering procedure if needed.
When the final lot of buttons stop melting and just appear like lumps, heat up the chocolate again in the microwave, this time in 5 s bursts or even less and keep checking and making the paper test until the lumps are completely gone. Do the paper test on the chocolate to make sure it's tempered still and wait until you are sure. I managed to ruin my tempering in the last melt and although I did the paper test, I didn't wait to see if it had set, but went ahead and spread a thin layer on my two transfer pieces and placed them onto the cake. If the chocolate isn't tempered, the pattern won't stick to the chocolate, at least not well. If this happens, quickly remove the ribbons from the cake.
Then cut out two new ribbon strips, slightly wider than the initial ones and repeat the process with cutting out the section of where they cross.
Cut out a second largish piece of baking paper. This will be the "dirty area" and should be placed next to the clean area. The bowl of melted, tempered chocolate should be placed on the other side of the dirty area.
Take the three strips for the ribbon and place on the dirty area, pattern side up. Drizzle some of the melted chocolate and spread it with an angled palette knife, thinly but not so that it is see-through. Then pick up a strip at a time and run two fingers along the two long edges to remove excess chocolate. Then carefully place with the chocolate side down over the cake and leave to set.
Next do the bow. Take two of the strips at a time, place on the dirty area, drizzle chocolate and spread in the same way as for the ribbon. Take up a strip at a time, run your fingers along the two long edges, to remove the excess chocolate, then carefully fold the strip into a loop so that the two short edges meet and stick together. Looking at the strip from the side, it will be a shaped like a droplet. Place it on it's side on the clean area to set, then repeat with the second strip. Then proceed with the other six strips. The reason these should be done two at a time is that by now the chocolate in the bowl should start getting thicker and begin to set. Once spread on a transfer strip, it will set even faster and can only be folded while still setting, after that it will just snap. Finally do the last small piece.
This concludes the main work with the tempered chocolate. It takes practice, as you need to work fast in a home environment. Temperate chocolate sets quickly. In fact as a comparison, you can do the paper test before you add the last third of the chocolate buttons and observe how it behaves. For starters it will take a long time for it to set, more than 10 minutes perhaps. Professionals have equipment that can maintain melted tempered chocolate indefinitely, in fact when I went to the Chocolate Festival in Stockholm in October 2010, they demonstrated what appeared to be an industrial sized, stand-alone double sink, but where the taps were producing dark and milk chocolate respectively, all tempered and ready to use. Now that's something!
Give the transfer sheets some more time just to make sure the chocolate sets and in the mean time, choose an actual fabric ribbon which will match the colours in the transfer sheets. It should be of the same width as the cake board and be long enough to go all the way around it. You will also need narrow double-sided sticky tape. Now glue the sticky tape along the side of the cake board, then peel it to reveal the second sticky side and glue on the fabric ribbon. The best way to do this is to keep the cake and board on the work surface and use it to help ensure that the fabric ribbon sticks on level. Also make sure that the edges of the fabric strip end up at the back of the cake, not the front.
So it is time to carefully peel off the acetate from both the three pieces of ribbon on the cake and all the pieces for the chocolate bow. The acetate has also the advantage of making the chocolate surface extra shiny, so investing in a few plain acetate sheets may also be well worth it.
How to assemble the bow? Well, a little more melted tempered chocolate is needed and a small paper cone for piping it and glue the pieces together. Once you have this ready, cut out a tiny hole at the tip of the cone, then start with the four larger bow parts, one at a time. Place it on the cake to see where it makes contact with the cake surface, then pick it up and dab a little melted chocolate onto the bow loop and place back on the cake surface. Repeat with the other three and it's OK to allow the flat edges overlap a little and place them in a cross.
Then take the smaller four bow loops and repeat carefully the procedure above, but this time shift them so that each small loop ends up between two large loops. Try to use as little of the melted chocolate as possible, but use the paper nozzle to get into the trickier places to make sure each loop is in contact with one or two others underneath. Finally glue on the smallest loop in the middle of the bow and allow the whole thing to set. If some of the strips have set in a funny way, you can carefully trim them with sharp scissors before fixing to the cake. And you end up with something like this.
With some of the left-over covering, I made a twisted rope to go around the bottom edge of the cake and hide a few things I wasn't happy with. This is actually a general trick to keep in mind - anyone can make mistakes. If it happens, don't try to cover it up and hide it, instead make a feature that will disguise it instead. For example you can see where I got some corn flour on the chocolate covering of my cake in the last photo of yesterday's blog entry. I offset the chocolate ribbon to cover it. I also didn't measure the length very well, the twisted rope around the cake hides this.
It's best to try and have a continuous twisted rope around the whole cake, but make sure that the ends meet at the back of the cake. As it is a twisted rope style, cut the two ends at an angle, then it is easier to disguise them where they meet. Also brush a little of the piping jelly along the cake edge before placing the rope there, so that it doesn't move or fall off even.
At this point I was quite happy with my cake, I was the slowest one in the class, but given that I've only covered two cakes with icing in the past and then not at all well, I did quite well and had very little to hide actually.
But there was one more technique to try - moulding. The teacher brought out a large box with small silicon moulds in various different shapes - flowers, butterflies, bees, sea shells etc. I selected a mould with ladybirds and one with flowers and took a walnut sized piece of white modelling chocolate and a similar piece of milk modelling chocolate. Kneaded each of the pieces until soft. Then I used a little trex (transparent vegetable fat) and greased up the inside of each mould. Then I pressed in modelling chocolate and made sure it filled the mould, before carefully wringing it out and set the shape aside to dry a little. This way, I created a few ladybirds and flowers.
Once they had dried a little, I brushed them with edible glue and stuck to the cake.
And this is how a lot can be hidden away. One thing to keep in mind though is that the different forms of chocolate will have slightly different colour, so be careful not to use too many of the techniques. I was happy with my cake before I stuck on the moulded decorations and would have stopped there, but this was for training purposes.
To round up, the sponge was very good and had a very dark brown colour and fine and moist texture. I was very careful with the butter cream. Unfortunately whoever made it had used salted butter and had not mixed it well, there were lumps of butter here and there and it did have a distinct savoury flavour, but not like a salt caramel piece, but just salty.
I had had a big dinner just before tasting the cake, so was not able to appreciate it fully, it felt too sweet, but Lundulph thought it was very well balanced. The in-laws had a lot of nice words to say about it too, which made me happy.
So, next steps are practice, practice, practice. Particularly on the tempering of chocolate and here is an interesting fact - tempered chocolate can be stored for a very long time in an air-tight container away from light and extreme temperatures. Untempered starts going off in a couple of weeks or so.
The other very important thing about the clean and dirty areas I mention above. Just let the chocolate set, then scrape it together and use again, don't throw away. The teacher explained that chocolate takes a lot of effort to produce, it would be terrible to waste it unnecessarily. This also means that it's sort of easy to practice - keep melting and tempering over and over again. So also avoid disposable piping bags, but use ones made from baking paper, so that left-over chocolate can be saved and used again.