How do they do it?

If you had a look at the chocolatier competition story down below and saw that the theme was tea, you might be wondering how the heck you get tea flavor into a firm substance like chocolate. Grind up the leaves and add them to melted chocolate bars? Nope, too grainy. Add a little very strong tea to molten chocolate? Again no, the chocolate will seize and separate. The answer can be found in one simple word: infusion.

As you probably already know, chocolate candies and truffles are made of ganache. And as you also probably already know, ganache is a mixture of melted chocolate and cream at a ratio of somewhere between one-to-one and two-to-one, chocolate to cream. The more chocolate of course, the firmer the ganache.

So. Imagine you have some very fine Earl Grey tea leaves (which marry splendidly with chocolate, flavor-wise), a couple bars of good semisweet chocolate and a small carton of cream. How are you going to put those things together? Or maybe a better question is: how are you going to get the flavor out of the tea leaves and into one or the other of those two ganache components? There’s no easy way to get it into the chocolate as I’ve mentioned, but…ah yes, you can get the tea flavor from the tea leaves into the cream. How? By making a sort of super-rich, cream-based tea of course. Fat molecules absorb flavor like little sponges, and there are more than a few of them in cream. So, just heat it in a saucepan, add your tea leaves (about a quarter cup for every cup of cream) and bring the mixture to a simmer. Turn off the heat, let it steep for a few minutes, then strain out the tea and continue making your ganache as you normally would. Easy as can be.

The same trick works just as well with simple icings and glazes of the kind you might find, say, covering a doughnut. The simplest of these are made of nothing more than powdered sugar and water (or sometimes cream). Once upon a time, one of my secret weapons was a lemon-lavender doughnut icing that I made from tea, powdered sugar and lemon zest. The tea was simply two tablespoons of lavender leaves with a cup of boiling water poured over them (steeped for ten minutes, then strained). I added that to powdered sugar at a ratio of 2-3 tablespoons per cup, plus a drop of yellow food coloring. Dip the doughnuts in, sprinkle a little finely grated lemon zest over the top and bingo: Epicurean doughnut delight. Would you believe a fellow from Krispy Kreme once tried to buy that recipe off me? And here I am giving it to you for free. Just goes to show what a big-hearted guy Joe really is.

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