The Candyman Can...

Prior to last month's cooking class fiasco, I had already set into motion another Groupon-based cooking class experience with my friends Lauren and Natasha, this time, to learn the art of chocolate making from a chocolatier in my neighborhood. I pass by his shop, Canady Le Chocolatier, all the time, though I'd never purchased any of his wares beyond some obscenely delicious gelato. Mostly, I try to avoid going in there at all, solely because the gelato is so good. I consider it a testament to my will power that I've only been in the shop three times in the four years I've been living at my current address.

Still, given my love of desserts in general and chocolate in particular, I was excited to spot such a convenient and interesting Groupon opportunity. I quickly contacted everyone I thought might be interested, and put a tidy little group together to go. Thankfully, despite my spotty track record with Groupons, this class turned out to be much more serious and informative than the last. For one thing, the class was not BYOB, nor was any alcohol served, so the atmosphere was focused on learning. Plus, the small class size of five individuals meant that we got a lot of individualized instruction from the teacher.

In fact, the instructor was so serious that he bordered on the Gordon Ramsay end of the spectrum when it came to his style. Despite beginning his career in academia, he was certainly not a nurturing educator. Instead, he expected his pupils to pick up information quickly, and to intuit his guidance with little assistance. I found his demeanor rather off-putting, personally, but I still came away from the experience having learned a great deal and felt that I got my money's worth out of the class.

Lauren, learning how to make milk-chocolate caramel.

After a brief lesson on the production of chocolate and a ill-advised dictation session in which the teacher made us copy down a series of recipes by hand (he would have cut about thirty minutes off the class's excessive 4.5 hour run-time had he given recipe handouts instead), we went straight to the kitchen, where we made six different fillings for truffles, including a mind-blowing milk-chocolate caramel, four different flavors of ganache, and a pineapple-flavored fondant, then proceeded to decorate molds, line them with chocolate, fill them, and turn them into six different shapes of truffles.

Me, engaged in my thirty minutes of vigorous stirring. Check out the motion blur!

We also undertook the onerous task of preparing almond dragées, which are blanched almonds coated in caramel, which causes them to clump together. They must then be vigorously stirred for approximately thirty minutes as the nuts roast and eventually come up to a high enough temperature to separate. Then, whoever is tasked with making them must pour the molten mixture out onto a Silpat to tediously separate the rapidly hardening candy with two forks. Finally, the candied nuts are coated in innumerable layers of chocolate and a coating of powdered sugar.

The instructor seemed to think this would be a good task for me after I breezed my way through the dark chocolate ganache (perhaps he thought I'd get cocky and wanted to bring me down a peg?), and then proceeded to make fun of me at every turn for lacking the bicep fortitude necessary to complete the task. I was not a fan. He then informed me that I was being too sensitive. Also not a fan. At least I picked up some caramel tips that I intend to apply to my future salted caramel sauce attempts...

Lauren, filling truffles with pineapple fondant. My dark chocolate ganache truffles are in the foreground.

For four and a half hours of candy making, I feel like we had a prodigious output. We ended up with dark chocolate ganache truffles, milk chocolate raspberry truffles, white chocolate macadamia nut truffles, dark chocolate chili truffles, pineapple fondant truffles, dark chocolate covered milk chocolate caramels, and the almond dragées. We made so many different candies, in fact, that sampling at the end for quality control was actually a bit overwhelming. After about three truffles, Lauren and I desperately agreed to split the rest going forward, and by the end, I achieved the impossible -- I was sick of eating chocolate. I'm not sure when I'll be able to eat it again, but I fear the contents of my goodie bag might go bad before I can eat them all.

Natasha, and our other two classmates, coating the almond dragées with chocolate.

Adding to the slightly unfriendly atmosphere in the kitchen, the instructor never so much as asked us for our names, nor did he have us introduce ourselves to one another. I feel kind of weird having shared such an intense learning experience with two strangers whose names I didn't even learn. I was pretty grateful that I brought friends with me, otherwise the entire evening probably would have felt even more hostile and alienating.

Near the end of the class, I was finally able to get a shot of the three of us together, which prompted the instructor to icily request that we pay attention to him and not each other.

I wouldn't exactly call the class a fun experience, though Natasha and Lauren didn't seem to share that assessment. It really was the exact opposite of the dumpling class -- all seriousness, and little joviality. I did learn quite a bit, though mostly I think I learned that chocolate making is extremely labor-intensive, and I have little desire to try it at home. Those pricey truffles in expensive artisan shops are worth every penny, and if I get a craving for them, I'll gladly fork over the money with a greater appreciation of the work that went into making them.

Without the Groupon, the class runs $200 per person, and considering the abuse I feel I took, I'm glad I didn't pay the full price for the experience. Furthermore, while I learned some handy candy-making tips, I probably won't be making truffles that elaborate ever again, so the main skills we covered will ultimately not be useful to me. It was an informative but exhausting evening, and I'm ultimately pleased to have gotten a deal on it.

Our collection of chocolates. Pretty professional-looking, eh?

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