Colette Sheridan discovers that making Easter eggs can produce great results and be a whole lot of fun.
WHEN Elke O’Mahony, foodie and founder of Bia Sásta, was asked to give a friend advice on buying chocolates for her wedding day favour boxes eight years ago, she worked out that the cost of 600 chocolates from a gourmet chocolate shop would be €300.
“Even though it wasn’t my money, I wasn’t prepared to let my friend pay that much,” said O’Mahony at a recent chocolate-making class in her kitchen in Grenagh near Blarney. O’Mahony spent a weekend working like a wizard in her kitchen making chocolates. “I came up with a couple of samples for the wedding. We decided on very simple cinnamon-flavoured truffles and white chocolate rum and coconut-flavoured truffles. I made 600 of them for €50.”
O’Mahony, who brings consumers and food producers together by organising food-related events, makes chocolate eggs and truffles more as a hobby than anything else. She is not registered as a chocolate maker but is keen to impart her knowledge. Making your own chocolate eggs for Easter makes sense, both from the point of view of quality and as a way of avoiding the environmental waste generated from Easter egg packaging. Easter eggs create 375,000kg of waste in Ireland every year. Often, the chocolate is of poor quality. Making Easter eggs is a fun activity for children. And for the six sweet-toothed women that attended Elke’s class, it was an excuse to indulge in one of our favourite treats.
O’Mahony, originally from Berlin, was brought up beside her father’s allotment in the middle of the city. It became a small farm where chickens and rabbits provided food. Almost everything the family ate was home-produced. “We always made our own cakes and biscuits. I was 25 before I ever bought a packet of biscuits.”
In O’Mahony’s kitchen, the temperature was low to facilitate the setting of the chocolate. We didn’t make chocolate from scratch, using cocoa beans. “It’s very hard to get cocoa beans. They have really come up in price and you have to be registered to buy them. The last two summers in Europe and South America were very hot so the cocoa growers had to use a lot of artificial watering systems. That has brought up the price of chocolate.”
The chocolate that O’Mahony used at the workshop was bought in Aldi. Called Choceur, it’s a Swiss chocolate with a medium cocoa solid percentage. When choosing chocolate, O’Mahony says it’s important to read the label and make sure the chocolate contains cocoa solids. If the label says ‘chocolate flavoured’, it means that flavouring has been added as well as colour to make it look and taste like chocolate. If you examine the label, you’ll see that the chocolate is mainly made from vegetable fat.
“If you press chocolate against your gum and it doesn’t melt, then it’s very poor quality chocolate. Unfortunately, a lot of the high profile chocolate is like that. It’s advisable to pay more for good chocolate.”
Tempering the chocolate is the process of melting it, cooling it down and bringing it up again. O’Mahony placed squares of chocolate in a bowl resting over a saucepan of warm water.
After stirring it and melting it, we poured the chocolate into moulds, both small and large sized egg moulds as well as heart-shaped moulds for the truffles. The chocolate was then put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. After that, you ease the solid chocolate out of the moulds. When making an Easter egg, use a narrow brush to cover the edges of the shells in melted chocolate. This makes the two shells stick together.
The chocolate O’Mahony used is relatively cheap. For really good chocolate made in Cork, she recommends Eve’s Chocolate and Ó Conaill’s chocolate.
As well as the heart-shaped truffles filled with a coconut mixture and tasting like a superior Bounty bar, O’Mahony demonstrated how to make hand-rolled truffles. “You basically mix butter, chocolate and whatever spices you want. The butter will combine with the chocolate because it’s never as hard as the chocolate. You just roll the mixture into little balls or whatever shape you want. For your coating, you can use cocoa powder, chopped nuts or caster sugar.”
O’Mahony spoke excitedly about the various moulds she keeps in her kitchen. There were bargains to be had on Amazon as well as moulds bought in Brennan’s Cook Shop on Cork’s Oliver Plunkett Street and Delia’s Kitchen Shop in Carey’s Lane. Friends in Germany also send moulds to O’Mahony. She favours silicone moulds over plastic as they last longer.
In between licking chocolate from our fingers, we made chocolate eggs with varying success. A couple of the shells cracked while being edged out of the moulds. But we all went home with delicious chocolate, happy to ditch our diets, and savour the fruit of our labour.
* For Easter egg recipes, see www.biasasta.blogspot.com
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