We started the day a little earlier with breakfast so that we could walk about an hour before starting our chocolate bean to bar making class at ChocoMuseum. We walked South out of the hotel in the San Isidro area along neighborhood streets heading into the Miraflores area. The streets interconnect at strange angles in places and I slightly lost track of the direct route so by the time we crossed Av Jose Pardo we were further West than I had planned but only 7 minutes too far that direction so we still made it in time to start the class without a problem.
Marcelo was our instructor and was great. He talked us through the cacao plant and where they grow in the world (equatorial regions in South America and Africa). We tasted an opened one that had a gooey white stuff that was slightly sweet. That fruity and sticky white stuff is fermented with the beans for almost a week and then the beans are removed so that they can be dried in the sun. For most chocolate growing regions, this is where they bag and sell the beans to countries like Switzerland and the United States to finish the process into various chocolate products.
So we started the chocolate bar making process by roasting the beans about 15+ minutes constantly stirring until you could begin to hear popping like popcorn. After these cooled on the counter in front of us, there were about 25 beans for me, Jill, and Marcelo. We cracked the roasted beans and put the outer shell into one bowl and the inner bean into another bowl. We used the shell portion to make a tea with. While it was seeping, we used some mortars and pestles to grind the beans. The goal is to grind for a long time into a paste such that you can actually separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder but Jill and I were not as experienced as Marcelo nor did we have enough time to just keep doing that. He looks like a paste at least - ours were still just fine grains but we had to move on from there.
So after we drank the tea, which was pretty good, we made two different chocolate beverages with the ground beans. The first was more Mayan traditional. We added honey, chili powder and hot water. The second was Conquistadores style with sugar and hot milk. That one was really good when the bean remnants were strained out.
Now that we knew but didn’t accomplish the cacao butter/powder separation, we heard about the process. That takes about a day. After that, you decide your target chocolate percentage which indicates how much cacao powder is going in. For the 50% range, you have less than half cacao powder, then some of the cacao butter, then some sugar, and the rest is milk powder. For the 70% range or higher, you have about half cacao powder, some of the cacao butter, and the remainder is sugar. The closer to 100% you get, the less sugar involved. 100% is about 90% cacao powder and 10% cacao butter and no sugar. That is powerfully good for you but you generally can only eat about 1 (perhaps 2) square(s) of it a day.
Once your target percentage is determined, you put those into a machine that blends them for 24 hours. This breaks down the crystals in the components to make things really smooth. It takes time! When that is done the liquid rests for several hours and then it is time to temper it so that it is shiny! If you don’t temper it, it will taste just fine but it will be a lighter brown look that appears raw. But if you temper it by cooling it on a marble stone and then mixing in some more and cooling that and eventually refrigerating it, then when you use that chocolate to pour into molds it will hold the shininess and will have a snap when broken.
So we got to the point of choosing 47% milk chocolate or 70% dark chocolate for the bars we would be making and both chose to get the 70% for our bars. Then we had to choose a mold from about 25 options. Jill went with a bar mold while I chose chocolate egg mold. We then could choose any of about 20 fillings for the bars. I went with coffee beans and m&m’s while I cannot even list all of the stuff Jill chose for her chocolate bars. We filled the molds slightly and then made sure the chocolate had covered the interior of every mold. We then had to get the air out by dropping and tapping the mold pans several times. Then we put in fillings as desired. Jill elaborately put all kinds of stuff in there making me proud. I just put a few of either choice in my eggs. After this we covered our fillings with a drizzling motion and had to ensure none of them were “above” the bottom of the chocolate mold when they’d be turned over to remove later. They were put in the fridge for about 20 minutes and dropped from the molds. Nice popping sound coming out. And after 2 hours working with chocolate, we had our own bars to enjoy!
We bought a little from the store and walked 15-20 minutes over to a seafood restaurant that is well known called La Mar. I didn’t see a single thing on the menu that was not some kind of seafood dish. Jill knew this going in. So we ordered a shared scallop appetizer and two other “cebiche” dishes. The scallop thing was ok - perhaps a bit fishy for me but both of the “cebiche” items were actually good and I had seconds of each. Jill was impressed with my ability to consume more than a few bites with the ugly face of yuck. It was admittedly pretty good.
The server talked me into finishing the meal with a glass of Pisco to sooth the stomach. While I went through that, we saw some cookbooks in the back and took one to the table. The one we will get has lots of interesting stuff in it and it is available on Amazon so we don’t have to carry around an extra 5+ pounds to get it back to our kitchen.
We then walked back to the hotel via a different route to see some other parts of the city and ended up walking past the place we will be going to dinner later. So it was a productive walk and good way to burn off some of the chocolate and lunch before we go workout in the nice hotel gym for the day.
We went into the hotel gym which is really nice and started warming up on some bikes before doing our workout. The same guy that stretched us after our workout yesterday was there and he was happy to see us. I went into the room where we can do some Crossfit like moves without machines in the way and he came in there to turn up the music for me again. He doesn’t speak a lot of English, but he asked what kind of music I like. I told him rock. He said “metal?”, and made a guitar motion. I said no just rock. He thought about this a bit then asked for a band. I said Rush. He eventually had me type that. Then he plays Tom Sawyer and he seemed pleased and walked out of the room so a few Rush songs played while I stretched and did some mobility movement waiting for Jill. Eventually we ended up on songs that had the word “rush” in the song but were no longer by the band.
For dinner, we walked to Astrid and Gaston for dinner. I had no idea that we were in for a 10 course tasting menu PLUS 3 courses of dessert PLUS take home box of chocolates. I’m confident Jill didn’t expect that either. They worked around my food restrictions perfectly. At the END of the marathon meal, they brought complimentary bubbles and wished me a happy birthday. I could write AS MUCH about this dinner as about all the paragraphs of chocolate earlier in this post. Instead, I will summarize with the following and if you want more please ask or talk to Jill :-)
Jill thought every course was great which is saying something given the number of courses there are usually one or two “whatever” moments for her. The only exception was the palette cleanser dessert starter that she wasn’t fond of. For me, thinking back to any 7+ course tasting menus I HAVE EVER HAD, I can say with certainty it was the best I have had. My favorite memorable item was course #5 (early) which was a Cantonese Peruvian taco that was simply amazing and not outdone by any savory courses after that. I’m including a photo of the menu and you can click the link to view all of our photos if you really need to see this stuff.