Monday, March 17, 2014

The Chocolate Fantasy Competition in Albuquerque

This is how we made our second-place award-winning chocolate sculpture!
This year was the third time I decided to enter a chocolate sculpture competition. But it was the first time I had a partner — Molly Greenwood, my pastry chef at work. It was such a pleasure working with her. She has great skills, never loses her cool, and was just a really fun person.

The rules are: the entire piece must be edible and 80% must be chocolate. You must relate to the theme which this year was "Frozen in Time." You also must supply 300 small tastes which relate to your sculpture.

And the hardest part is you have to get the thing to the show. Most of the participants live or work in Albuquerque, but we are in Santa Fe which is almost an hour away. The drive down is extremely tense. Most people, including me, make the parts and assemble on site but Molly felt we should assemble in our work kitchen and take it down complete. She was in charge of final assembly and put the panels in place perfectly. Then we garnished and fussed a little on site and it worked out great. Please enjoy the photos which were taken by both Molly and me. The competition is a fundraiser for the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science and 900 people attended and were served an excellent plated dinner followed by a room full of dessert action stations. They do a fantastic job and I was honored to be a part of it. If you have any questions, or if any of you attended, I would love to hear your feedback of the evening. Please leave a comment!

I started by making a cardboard model, and then my husband Jim made me a MDF base and routed out a place in the center for the chocolate dowel to stand.

Molly taught me the importance of tempering chocolate which we did many many times throughout the 2 weeks it took us to make all the parts. To temper chocolate, you need to raise and lower the temperature to specific intervals which cause the chocolate to be dark, strong and prevents it from getting that annoying bloom (you know, when it looks grey and old).

Here is Molly pouring the tempered chocolate into our mold which is a slab of marble with steel flat stock for borders all held down with the best tool in the world, duct tape.

After pouring the chocolate she used her bench scraper to even out the surface. Extra chocolate was put back into the bowl and re-tempered.

We decided each panel would have a window, so I made lollypop mixture which is mostly sugar, water, and a little corn syrup which I tinted with blue food coloring. We cast this the same way as the chocolate on marble. Marble is a great surface because it causes everything to cool very fast. After it cooled, it was nice and bendable and I played with using some of it curved, but we ended up using it for windows and a river on the base of the finished piece

It really was amazingly glass-like.

All the color on the panels was made with chocolate plastic which is simply melted white chocolate mixed with corn syrup. Once it cools it firms up and you can handle it like play dough. At that point I kneaded in the color.

All my colors ready to go. I like to roll it out ahead of time and chill it very well. Then you can use stamps, molds and an x-acto knife to cut and sculpt the material.

A rolling pin and cornstarch is the easiest way to work it. You can also mix and marbleize the colors, but the more you handle it the softer it gets and if you overwork it, the fat starts to separate out. This material is best used for decoration as it has very little strength.

Then I started the really fun part, decorating the stepped panels.I was trying to create a feeling of change of seasons as the Arctic melted and changed from all white to lush wild flowers, with a touch of fantasy.

Here is Molly using the tempered chocolate in a fine-tip pastry bag as caulk to hold the windows in place. What a nice steady hand!

This was the part that made me quite nervous. Each panel was notched into the base and a bead of tempered chocolate was applied to each edge on both sides and pressed into place, like magic they all stood up. We used compressed air to chill the chocolate faster which is a trick I learned from watching a competition on television.

Then we loaded it up in the back of my car (it fit with only half an inch to spare!) and drove to Albuquerque. One hour on the highway at 75 miles per hour and nothing bad happened. Amazing!

Here is Molly putting some finishing touches on the sculpture. We both added and subtracted flowers and shrubs trying not to go overboard. I added a little polar bear which I sculpted out of white chocolate (you can see it on the left side of the base).

Here we are done, relieved and happy. Then we had all day to kill until the banquet at 6:15.

Presto change-o in the bathroom, and Molly and I became elegant chocolatiers! We had a great night and winning second place was a thrill!


Monica said...

What were some of the other entries? (You can kind of see one in the background behind yours — it looks like a white Han Solo in carbonite.)

What was the sculpture that won first place?

Stacy said...

The New Mexico Museum of Natural History Foundation (which ran the event) has lots of photos of the event and the sculptures on their Facebook page.