Look Who’s Cooking: Author Allen Woods turns his creativity to chocolate candy making

  • Greenfield resident Allen Woods spreads melted chocolate on top of a layer of pecans to make one of his giant turtles. For the Recorder/Roxann Wedegartner

  • Greenfield resident Allen Woods spreads melted chocolate on top of a layer of pecans to make one of his giant turtles. For the Recorder/Roxann Wedegartner

  • Instead of making small chocolate turtles, Greenfield resident Allen Woods likes to create one large turtle, which he then decorates with pecans to create the illusion of eyes and a ridge down the creature’s back. For the Recorder/Roxann Wedegartner

  • Instead of making small chocolate turtles, Greenfield resident Allen Woods likes to create one large turtle, which he says both the children and adults in his family love. For the Recorder/Roxann Wedegartner

  • In chocolate candy making, a thermometer is needed to test the melting chocolate’s temperature, a scale is required to weigh the chocolate, and a chocolate chipper is useful for chopping bigger chocolate chunks into smaller, more manageable chunks prior to melting. For the Recorder/Roxann Wedegartner

  • WEDEGARTNER

For the Recorder
Published: 1/15/2019 2:05:47 PM

We all love chocolate in its many incarnations. With the high holiday of chocolate, Valentine’s Day, coming up, you could buy some for your friends and family, or you could do what Greenfield resident Allen Woods does and make it yourself.

Woods is an editor, freelance writer and historical mystery author who relishes the “art and science” of chocolate candy making, whether it’s truffles, bark, or my favorite, turtles. His first novel, “The Sword and the Scabbard: Thieves and Thugs and the Bloody Boston Massacre” is part of an emerging series that follows tavern keepers Nicholas and Maggie through the historical and criminal intrigue of Boston during the Tea Party and the Revolutionary War.

Roxann: So, why chocolate?

Allen: Several years ago, I became interested in cooking and was doing a lot of it for friends and family for fun and entertainment. I’m not sure exactly what sparked the interest other than I’m not much of a holiday present buyer, so I came up with the idea of trying to make chocolate candy as gifts. It turns out I got pretty good at it and everyone loves it.

RW: To heck with the dinner, let’s just move on to the chocolate, right?

AW: Something like that. Once you start making chocolate, you find that all kinds of people have a special connection to it. I found I liked it, too. I don’t eat chocolate all the time, just when I make it. I find there’s an art and science to it that appeals to me.

RW: I doubt most people who eat chocolate think of it as art and science.

AW: That’s probably right. The science part is the experiment and the learning. You have to get the cooking temperature right, you have to get the weight of the chocolate right, and then cook it in the right way. The art part is deciding what to make, how to make it look good, which ingredients to use to make it special. It can also be very tactile, and you get to lick your fingers!

RW: What artistic delight are you making today?

AW: I’ve already made some truffles and some bark. If I’m making chocolate for gifts, it can take three full days to make all the different chocolate candies I need. Today, I’m making turtles, or a turtle, to be specific. I like to make a giant snapping turtle; there’s the art part. It will have a big ridge down its back and it has eyes (pecan chips) on its head. When I first started making chocolate, I started with making turtles. Then I got the idea of making one giant turtle for the kids and now grandkids. They love it, but so do adults.

RW: I see that you have a few tools out here. Are those essential to making chocolate?

AW: Yes, I’d say so. But it depends on what you’re making. These are the basic tools, however. You need a double boiler to melt the chocolate in. You need a scale to weigh the chocolate, and you need that rake-looking thing (called a chocolate chipper) to chop a bigger chocolate chunk into smaller manageable chunks for melting. I like to have a marble slab to assemble on, but that may not be necessary. You’ll just need a clean, smooth, dry surface.

RW: Do you use a special kind of chocolate?

AW: I buy my chocolate from Richardson’s Candy Kitchen in Deerfield because it’s such a wonderful place to go and the chocolate is so good. But many recipes call for store-bought chocolate chips. Others call for Ghirardelli’s chocolate. I’ve just always used Richardson’s and they’ll sell it to you in big chunks.

RW: Any tips for the novice chocolate candy maker?

AW: There’s a few. I like to put liqueurs in my truffles like Cointreau, Amaretto, Frangelico. I find if you do that then you have to reduce the amount of cream in the recipe by the amount of liqueur that you put in.

When melting the chocolate, you have to keep it at a constant temperature to produce a smooth, professional look, and keep stirring. Chocolate doesn’t like water, so keep it out of contact with any water, even on utensils. Don’t waste unused melted chocolate; put it on a sheet of wax paper and let it cool to be reused again.

Chocolate Turtles

Ingredients:

12 to 14 oz. soft caramels (homemade or store-bought)

6 oz. pecans (halves, toasted)

8 oz. chocolate (semi-sweet chocolate chips can be used, if preferred)

Prepare a cookie sheet by covering it with aluminum foil or parchment, and spraying the foil or parchment with nonstick cooking spray. If making individual turtles, arrange the pecans in clusters of four with each pecan pointing in a different direction (like turtle legs). If making a single giant turtle, arrange the pecans in the body of the turtle and add a head, legs and a tail of pecans.

Unwrap the caramels, if they’re wrapped, and place them in a microwave-safe bowl. If they are very stiff, add a spoonful of water so the final product will be softer. Microwave them until they’ve melted, stirring after every 30 seconds.

Allow the caramel to cool slightly, so it’s not piping-hot. Then, using a small scoop or spoon, drop a spoonful of caramel on each pecan cluster. Remember the “art” part; the clusters don’t have to be perfectly round and the caramel doesn’t have to cover all the pecans.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Chocolate is sensitive to both heat and moisture, and melts best at temperatures between 104 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spoon the melted chocolate over the caramel layer, letting some drip down the sides, and nudging it around so it covers the top of the caramel completely. Place the baking sheet of candies in the refrigerator to fully set the chocolate and caramel (at least 30 minutes). Makes 24 turtles.

Serve the turtles at room temperature. To store, put them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or at cool room temperature for up to two weeks.

Truffles

Ingredients:

cup whipping cream (if you choose to flavor with liqueur such as Cointreau, Amaretto or Frangelico, add to the cream to total only ⅔ cup liquid)

12 oz. chocolate in pieces (about the size of chocolate chips)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Finely chopped nuts, flaked coconut, cocoa powder and/or orange rind (for rolling finished truffles in)

Bring the cream to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add the chocolate pieces and whisk until they’ve fully melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the vanilla. Pour into a bowl and chill until firm (more than one hour).

Line a baking sheet with wax paper and drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the sheet. Chill again until firm.

Roll the truffles between your hands to make balls, then roll them in the nuts or another coating. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to a week or so. (Truffles are best fresh, however.) Makes about 30 truffles.

In the “Look Who’s Cooking!” monthly column, Roxann interviews and shares the recipes of people from around Franklin County who may be well-known in their professional or political lives, but not necessarily for their lives as passionate cooks, bakers, or all-around foodies.


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