First of all: Wow. Thank you for the outpouring of commiseration and friendliness on my last post! I was shocked and delighted that so many people shared my opinion on the commenting issue! And I was very pleased to meet some new readers and some long-time lurkers.
Now, let’s get on to something more Christmassy!
I got an email from my dad last night:
“Tree’s up and getting decorated! Two ganaches ready for cutting and a third flavor steeping (force noir, mint tea and lavender).”
This tiny little email made me giddy with excitement and anticipation.
For as long as I can remember, my dad and I have made chocolates the week before Christmas. It’s our family tradition.
For years, we made Scotch-and-Grand-Marnier-infused truffles that we rolled by hand.
(And oh Internet, might I assure you that we ran the least germy chocolate-making operation in the world? So much hand-washing!)
We’d roll all these little un-uniform balls of chocolate, freeze them, dip them – by hand – into tempered melted chocolate, freeze them again, and then arrange them on pretty Christmas plates that my mother bought specially for the occasion.
(Let’s be honest: She is the one who made our home-spun candies look elegant and tasty.)
(Although they WERE tasty. Drooooooool…)
Then, several years ago, my father got a book called Chocolate Obsession. It changed the face of our chocolate making forever.
Now, we make molded chocolates. My father bought lovely little molds in the shape of hearts and seashells. We fill the molds with tempered chocolate and turn them upside down to dry. Then we fill them with fancy fillings and ganaches. (Hence my father’s email above.) Old standbys include lavender infused chocolate… Rose-flavored caramel… Earl Grey tea… And now my mouth is watering.
After the fillings have hardened, we cover the chocolates with a layer of tempered chocolate. Once THAT cools, we have lots of fun banging the trays with knife handles and other chocolate-loosening tools until the chocolates release their grip on the trays and tumble onto the sheets of parchment paper with which we’ve covered the counters.
If some chocolates should break upon impact, no worries: We get to eat the “imperfects”!
My dad also makes caramels, which we dip into (say it with me) tempered chocolate and top with a kernel of sea salt. Those are my favorites.
Over the years, we’ve evolved from using our hands and a “double boiler” fashioned from a small pot resting in a larger pot… to a real double boiler, digital-read thermometers for prime chocolate-tempering temperature, dipping forks, and fancy molds. Our chocolates are (for the most part) uniform and sometimes have fancy decorations on top, like a checkerboard pattern of pink and black or flecks of gold leaf. Some are topped with lavender buds or pink peppercorns or sea salt.
And the pretty little plates have evolved, too. Now my mother tracks down miniature candy boxes and makes dainty labels describing each type of chocolate.
We make way too many chocolates and even after we’ve filled as many little boxes as possible, we have Tupperware containers filled with chocolatey merchandise.
You’d think THAT would be the best part. But not for me. I think my favorite aspect of chocolate making is the delivery.
My parents have a whole list of people they like to gift with chocolates and wine each year. And my father and I set out on December 24 to deliver the goods. We drive around town in the cold and the snow, talking and consulting our list. Sometimes, no one’s home. Other times, one of us will drop off the gifts at the door. Once in a while, a family friend will invite us in for a drink and some conversation.
Then we return home to a house filled with delicious smells. My mother – who usually stays home – will have made mulligatawny soup, our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, and a loaf of French bread.
We’ll all sit down together, sometimes in front of a movie, and eat, the Christmas lights glowing merrily in the background.
Choosing which ganaches to make… Getting chocolate all over my arms and face… Delivering sweets to people I’ve known all my life… Sipping hot, creamy soup in front of the Christmas tree… The whole production… I look forward to it all year.
Last year was the first year in memory that I didn’t participate. (I was at my in-laws’ instead.) Which makes me all the more itchy to get my hands on some tempered chocolate.
This year will be the second year that my husband will participate. He loves the chocolate making aspect, but is not so crazy about the driving-around-to-the-homes-of-people-he-doesn’t-know-and-making-chit-chat portion. I am hoping to indoctrinate him to the whole shebang eventually.
I promise I’ll take pictures of the fruits of our labor and share them with you after the holidays.
In the meantime, what do you most look forward to each Christmas? Or what is the best childhood memory of the holiday season you cherish most?