I remember taking a geology course in college to satisfy requirements for a Liberal Arts degree. Although I managed to get a respectable B grade, I don’t recall anything being discussed involving geodes. Maybe I skipped that class, but geez, it’s been a while, say 45 years.
Thus, when I heard that Peter Greweling, professor of baking and pastry arts, would be demonstrating the art of creating edible geodes out of chocolate and naturally-formed sugar crystals at the PMCA’s dinner event during its production conference earlier this month, I had to reacquaint myself with what a geode is.
Geology.com had the following definition: “Geodes are spherical to subspherical rock structures with an internal cavity lined with mineral materials. They have a durable outer wall that is more resistant to weathering than the surrounding bedrock…The mineral lining the cavity is often a scintillating druse of tiny quartz crystals underlain by multiple bands of translucent gray and white agate.”
OK, you have to love that descriptor, “a scintillating druse of tiny quartz crystals…” Initially, I thought druse was just another poetic way of saying drizzle; actually it a geological term, which means incrustation of small crystals on the surface of a rock or mineral.
But enough geology; let’s get back to Greweling and his chocolate geodes. So let me set the stage. Here we are, awaiting the arrival of Greweling as the dinner speaker — the organizers did a cute video “search” for him as an introduction — when he comes on stage and begins talking about these 20- to 40-lb. chocolate eggs sitting on the table.
And these aren’t just any kind of chocolate eggs; they’re Jurassic Park dinosaur-sized eggs. In describing the process, Greweling explained that it takes six months to create such beauties, essentially involving a super-saturated sugar solution and constant turning of the egg while regularly draining, refilling and capping it.
Greweling traces the idea for a chocolate geode back five years. That’s when he was candying a pumpkin, and realized he had left it in the syrup too long, which prompted the formation of crystals. An attentive student asked whether one could do the same with chocolate. Confident that it could be done, Greweling worked with the student to create a chocolate geode.
Essentially, it’s all about creating a hollow chocolate egg mould and then “drilling and filling” throughout the six-month process. What happens after six months is the creation of truly colorful (aided by food coloring) sugar crystals that mimic actual geodes.
During the dinner, attendees were asked to peak under their plates. Those that had a marker were summoned to the stage to hatch, rather, hack the chocolate egg to reveal the crystal structure within.
Provided with an apron, safety glasses, a hard hat, hammer and chisel, the participants started banging away at the geode. Well, while breaking through a chocolate shell with a hammer and chisel may sound easy, given the muscle power each attendee had to expend, I can tell you, the process wasn’t so straightforward.
I have to say, this was one of the most entertaining dinner presentations that I’ve seen at the PMCA’s annual production conference. Kudos to the organizing committee for arranging to have Greweling involve the audience in his chocolate geode demonstration. This will be a hard act to follow for next year, but I heard they’re already working on it.
But it wasn’t all fun and games at the conference, although sampling 14 different chocolates from the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s member base of bean-to-bar chocolatiers before dinner couldn’t be classified as taxing.
Two-and-a-half days of sessions ranging from basics such as moulding, enrobing and panning to regulatory updates and legal issues inherent to product development and caramel troubleshooting, kept the hall full.
Even the last half-day, which typically has a drop-off in attendance, retained a respectable audience to hear fascinating talks on cocoa fermentation, cocoa bean roasting and flavor development, and a conching update.
So those in charge of approving continuing education for your employees, “Open up those wallets.” Support these fantastic organizations such as the PMCA, NCA, RCI, AACT, WCC, FCIA, WCF, IFT, PMMI, PLMA, ECRM, SFA and others — forgive me if I left anyone out — by allowing staff to attend, network and learn. I’m grateful that I’ve had that opportunity. And so is my geology professor.