By James W. Mullaney
“Chocolate pastillage? Chocolate pastillage!! Why would I want to make chocolate pastillage? And if I did want to, wouldn’t I just add some cocoa powder — easy as one, two, three?”
Well, actually it’s not quite that simple.
Why make chocolate pastillage? Because it’s a different, unique and innovative medium. It’s not really sugar and it’s not really chocolate, but rather it’s a hybrid. Chocolate pastillage has the advantages of its better-known relative, “sugar pastillage.” It's almost as strong and easy to work with and, most importantly, it's just as light. This allows for larger accent pieces to enhance showpieces, better flow and motion, and rigid textured pieces for adding fine detail. And as a bonus, it’s not pure white like traditional pastillage. In short, it’s chocolate’s answer to sugar — differing from colored or airbrushed pastillage, as well as from “robo-couped” chocolate, yet light enough to be very flowing and elegant in appearance.
Could it be used for centerpieces that call for only covertures? Obviously not, but for most competitions in the United States the rules simply are not that clear. Anytime you cause the judges to pause for a moment to consider if a product survives a rules challenge, or you use something that they are not familiar with, you’re pushing the envelope (even if just ever so slightly!).
To reformulate the pastillage, I started with the addition of a sizeable quantity of cocoa powder — keeping in mind that fat was being added, weakening the structure and that the product would be a lot lighter in color once it dried. The gelatin, vinegar, cornstarch, powdered sugar and water all had to be adjusted to achieve the correct balance. Then, of course, it had to be tested over and over.
Chocolate pastillage works best when just a little on the stiff side — not enough to cause cracking, but just enough to keep it from being overly sticky and difficult to release. Patience is required too, for it takes a bit longer to dry than does the traditional counterpart. The upside of using it is that I now have another medium to add to my chocolate centerpieces that makes possible new creations that couldn’t be done previously. And outside of sharing this concept with other chefs, I have also used it to add something unique to my teaching sessions and demonstrations.
So in answer to our opening question, I ask “Why not use chocolate pastillage?” While this unique medium may never enter the realm of centerpiece giants like sugar and couverture, it will certainly remain in my repertoire of pastry techniques that support my on-going efforts to create beautiful centerpieces that are both intriguing and visually appealing!
Pastilage Chocolate Metric Revised