THE furthest I ever got in my first brush with chocolate calligraphy was a wobbly “H” and “a,” before they got wiped off with kitchen paper. Eugene, the then pastry chef at Kitchen at Bacchanalia, had already piped a straight-lined “Happy Birthday” greeting on a wavy-edged, gray-green platter, upon which he would lay a petite chocolate and grapefruit tart south of the chocolate lettering. I couldn’t resist asking if I could try my hand at chocolate calligraphy.
“Sure,” he said, offering me a fresh platter and the parchment cone he had just used, filled with probably four or five letters’ worth of chocolate ink. But he assured me there was more than enough. There probably was, and if I had had enough practice, I could well have turned in a platter with a more cursive script, perhaps even in a Copperplate style.
Why it would take me so long to dive into that practice, I have no clue. I suppose my mind has a strange and silly way of perceiving first-time endeavors as complex and difficult, demanding large tracts of empty hours.
Since my August encounter with that slim, nearly juiced-out parchment cone, the thought of doodling with chocolate words never dawned on me until the third week of October, when Chef Val, while marking my test script, put the idea in my mind.
Let’s just say she was waxing lyrical over my cursive hand (“Did you learn this?” to which I replied, “Must have inherited it from my father.”) Then, she reflected out loud: I could conceivably produce edible, elegant words to grace cakes. She didn’t urge me to try it; she merely expressed the possibility and the potential.
And so this morning, after yet another speedy week that said goodbye to itself in a flash, I decided to start my Saturday on a meditative note. I pulled out my calligraphy book, and my calligraphy doodles from three years ago, studying the hours of Copperplate practice I had put in, observing especially the curves and nuances of the mighty caps: “H,” and “M,” “B” and the super-complex “J.” Then, I admired some of my “L,” “F,” “U”—letters I love for their sultry curves and elegant tails.
Then came a quick visit to YouTube for cone-making tips and the actual piping process. They were straightforward enough, though I’d love to refine my cone-making skills and develop nimbler and more agile fingers (that’s for everything, actually, not just for cones).
To melt the chocolate, I went the traditional bain-marie route, not the microwave (I don’t own one), though our class had an animated conversation about microwaving two or three weeks back. Some of us in class swear by it, including Chef Val, who can’t imagine having to melt chocolate using my slow-poke method in a restaurant kitchen, where speed is everything. Bain-marie your chocolate to pipe just over a dozen letters? Doesn’t make sense, her voice rose with incredulity.
Oh well, once a purist, always a purist!
The words behaved wobbly at first in my first run with a smaller cone. I haven’t quite decided if pulling the tip further away from your cake canvas, as the Cordon Bleu Chef on YouTube had demonstrated, was a good idea. Having a longer thread of chocolate trailing below the cone tip doesn’t necessarily give you that much control over the shape and angle of your letters.
My second and larger cone yielded an endless supply of words, so much so that I didn’t get to use up all my melted chocolate. What I really should have done to conclude my calligraphy session was to stick the cone tip in my mouth, and deliver a glorious squirt of chocolate, right to the last fine drop.
But all I did instead was to scrape my chocolate bowl clean—scrape down, as Chef Val likes to tell us at our cake-baking classes. Then came the kiddie, lick-the-spatula moment, so giddy, silly, and messy I hadn’t realized there were chocolate smears on my left cheek until my 2.30PM student showed up. She teased and grinned, and I grinned in return, just as I had grinned later in the day, when it suddenly dawned on me that I seemed to have forgotten my French masculin and feminin.
Non, ma chère, it’s not Bonne Anniversaire, but Bon Anniversaire.
You can soon follow our kitchen at viv’s writings and reflections in a brand new blog to be unveiled end of November.