When you get a chance to quiz the Queen of Chocolate, you start with the burning question. No, not the secret to glossy glazes, or why Dutch cocoa is (mostly) a better choice or how to make the ultimate brownie. Or even how she was able to skip school as a teen and make cakes instead (true story!).
What we had to ask Kirsten Tibballs, who’s been baking since she was a child, has written two books about chocolate, travels the world as an ambassador for a leading chocolate brand, and believes that “chocolate is the key to happiness” was this: “Do you ever NOT feel like eating chocolate?”.
“No!” she says, as she settles in to talk all things choc with us.
Tibballs, the driving force behind Melbourne’s Savour chocolate and patisserie school, which she founded in 2002, has represented Australia at numerous international competitions, winning gold and bronze medals for her patisserie and chocolate skills at the Pastry Olympics. But while she’s right at home creating amazing chocolate sculptures for competitions, she’s just as much a fan of simple chocolate creations, too.
In her new TV show, The Chocolate Queen (starts June 3 on SBS Food), she shares recipes and techniques for everything from a next-level take on that childhood fave, the chocolate crackle, to her rich, rich chocolate brownie and what may be the ultimate way to eat condensed milk, her chocolate-filled toastie. “I don't think there's such a thing as too much chocolate,” she says as she whips up the indulgent dessert-for-breakfast, made with condensed milk, egg and cinnamon-soaked bread, fresh banana and oozing melted chocolate – look out for that one in the first episode! It’s a sentiment that she shares more than once through the show.
Tibball’s passion for chocolate and patisserie started early. At one stage, she was unable to attend high school, but that meant another opportunity: By the age of 12 she’d started a small cake business from home. “I loved baking from a young age. My mum used to sit with me while I attended cake decorating classes. I was not well and unable to attend school, so I made the most of my time at home by making and selling cakes. It was great because my mum always did the dishes!” she tells us.
At 15, she started her apprenticeship at a small patisserie in Mornington in Victoria, and began learning and polishing the skills that she now passes on – as well as appearances on TV shows including Masterchef, contributions to magazines, and her books, there’s also the 2500 or so students who attend Savour each year. Alongside Tibballs and local teachers, the school also features some of the best cooks and pastry chefs from around the world.
She’s also an ambassador for the Bulla dairy brand, and for premium chocolate maker Callebaut, a role she describes as a dream job. “I get to test and taste some of the world’s best chocolate and I create chocolate work to inspire other people to get creating and baking,” she says.
So as a chocolate ambassador, a chocolate teacher, an award-winning chocolate comp competitor AND the host of a show all about chocolate, that’s a lot of the dark stuff! “You say in the show that 'you can never have too much chocolate'. Has that been true all your life?,” we ask. Yes, she says - “I have always loved the indulgence of chocolate and the fact that it is a special ‘sometimes’ treat.”
But wait, is there a challenger for the crown of favourite? She also says, in another episode, that “you can never have too much caramel” (that’s when she’s making these irresistible pecan chocolate and caramel squares).
So we had to ask: if Tibballs had to choose a favourite, her ‘desert-island must-have’, would it be chocolate or caramel? “That’s like asking me to choose a favourite child! But if I had to pick it would be chocolate.”
In The Chocolate Queen, Tibballs shares a wealth of knowledge as she works through a huge range of recipes, making sure that even beginner cooks can successfully give them a go (although for those who want to stretch their skills, there are projects such as a banana split where even the banana is a chocolate creation!).
“When I developed the recipes for the show I wanted to show people how easy it is to create simple, yet impressive, chocolate treats,” she says. As well as more than 50 recipes, including home-made chocolate Freckles, a decadent peanut butter semifreddo, home-made chocolate hazelnut spread, butterscotch chocolate truffles, chocolate meringues and triple-chocolate lamingtons, she also shares a wealth of tips, including that glossy glaze we mentioned earlier (“One of the most common questions I'm asked is, 'Do you have a shiny glaze recipe?' And the answer is yes!” she says as she makes an indulgent chocolate mousse cake in episode 11, with layers of flourless chocolate sponge and chocolate mousse, and a glossy chocolate coating); and why Dutch cocoa is usually the best choice for baking. There’s everything you need to know to make marvellous marshmallows, great chocolate fudge and indulgent brownies.
So what’s the most important skill to master when working with chocolate?
“Do I have to limit it to just one? How to temper is important but also how to store chocolate, then we have how to melt It … I could keep going all day!”
Tibballs explains tempering in the show, and also shares three methods in her book (or watch this video, where she demonstrates one of the easiest ways to do it). As for storing chocolate, the keys are to wrap it well and not let it get too hot or cold.
“Chocolate is best stored in opaque packaging and sealed at all times to avoid it absorbing moisture,” she writes in Chocolate. “Ideally, chocolate should be stored between 15 °C and 23°C.
“Buy smaller quantities of chocolate so you’re not storing it for long periods… and finally, if your household is full of chocolate lovers, like mine, take care to hide it away from hungry kids and partners!”
So what does Tibballs do when she’s not deep in all things chocolate and patisserie?
“I have a property in the Yarra Valley that I love going to. It’s relaxing to walk around and explore the countryside. I also love dancing whenever the opportunity arises.” And of course, there’s family life. “I love cooking with my son Charlie, although now I usually end up just doing the dishes. He loves making pasta from scratch at the moment and he’s actually really good at it!”
And what can we expect next from the Queen of Chocolate?
“I’ve been working on a lot of exciting new recipes for our Savour online class platform that we’re really looking forward to releasing.”
It’s clear that whether she’s working with old-school classics such as fudge, or playing with new wonders such as the glorious pink ruby chocolate, for Tibballs, as she says in the show, “chocolate is the key to happiness”.
Join Kirsten Tibballs in The Chocolate Queen (6pm every day June 3 – June 15), part of SBS Food channel 33's Sweet Treats month. Episodes will also be available on SBS On Demand after they air.
Honeycomb is simple to make but there are a few tips to ensure you end up with a perfect result every time. When adding the bicarbonate of soda, just whisk it until combined or else you’ll knock out all the air. The honeycomb needs to be coated in chocolate shortly after it has cooled to avoid it absorbing moisture and going soft.
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