An exercise in nostalgia through chocolate
“I’m English and, as such, I crave disappointment. That’s why I buy Kinder Surprise – horrible chocolate, nasty little toy. A double whammy of disillusionment!” So said comedian Bill Bailey, summing up, I think, the attitude many of us hold towards the product that describes itself, perhaps uniquely for a piece of egg shaped confectionery, as “encouraging quality time between parents and children and helping to develop imagination and cognitive skills”. That is except for in America where Kinder Surprises are banned due to safety concerns and, thus I would imagine, have assumed the status of some sort of forbidden fruit, were fruit made of cheap chocolate.
The thing is, despite all this, Kinder Surprises hold a strong nostalgic attachment for me. Always more popular in continental Europe than here in Britain, the acquisition of a Kinder Surprise and the shoddily produced plastic toy (that here resembles nothing so much as a registered sex offender) were an integral part of family holidays to France in my childhood. Apparently the slim potential for delight contained within was enough to make us turn against the finest confectionery France had to offer in place of this barely chocolatey chocolate.
Despite what Bill Bailey suggests about the surprise’s inevitable disappointment, a Kinder Surprise in a child’s mind has a sort of Schroedinger’s cat quality. While the egg is intact, the toy surprise is simultaneously both awesome and appalling to a kid. It’s only on opening the strange little capsule that this illusion is shattered and the disappointment arrives. My memories of them are mostly more coloured by the eager anticipation of the limitless possibilities of the eggs’ contents than the eventual double whammy of disillusionment on opening.
It was this nostalgia that brought me to a desire to recreate that childhood excitement and make a Kinder Surprise of my own, one that would not just create the same sense of eager anticipation but actually fulfil my childhood desires of what such an egg should be. One of the things that I really enjoy in Heston Blumenthal’s TV shows is his desire to take food fondly remembered as a child and put the magic back in it by making a super enhanced new version for adults today.
On his Fantastical Foods series Heston promises to bring back the wonder of food and remind us how magical it can be. I decided to use this as my inspiration for making my own improved Kinder Surprise. Naturally with the resources on offer to me (not to mention my tiny kitchen), the monumental scale achieved by Heston was probably beyond me, but I still figured I could go well beyond what Kinder has to offer and produce my own Fantastical Foods style chocolate surprise egg.
What, then, are the essential elements of a Kinder Surprise? Fortunately, Ferrero, the company that makes the eggs as well as the ambassador’s choice of nutty balls, has already answered that question for me. According to their own marketing, what makes a Kinder Surprise is “its iconic egg shape and unique 3 in 1 experience of milk chocolate, milky white lining and stimulating toy”.
The idea that the “egg shape” of a Kinder Surprise is what gives it an iconic status and sets it apart from its competitors suggests Ferrero may be unaware of the wide range of other egg shaped chocolate products also available, but there you go.
Even in the Easter period it’s not terribly easy to buy a variety of chocolate egg moulds in the shops. The ones that you can buy are more the size of a typical large commercially produced Easter egg than a Kinder Surprise. Usefully, though, this suits my purpose of making a grander version. Upscaling in size is a key element of the Heston Blumenthal desire to recapture childhood magic.
Having purchased my egg moulds I now needed to temper the chocolate. Without proper tempering the chocolate won’t be shiny and smooth and will crumble rather than snap. Badly tempered chocolate is why you get that dusty white bloom on it sometimes. Tempering is cooling chocolate on a curve so you ensure that the correct, stable form of cocoa butter crystals are formed. Essentially it involves melting the chocolate, cooling it to 28˚C and then allowing its temperature to rise again, to 31˚C in the case of dark chocolate. The best way to do this is by pouring most of the melted chocolate onto a marble slap and using a scraper to spread the chocolate across the slab until you can see it thicken and the crystals forming. This works great, it also requires more equipment than I can afford (I did just spend £2.99 on an egg mould after all) or have space for.
So, I used the easy, cheat’s method known as “seeding”. To do this all you need to do is melt two thirds of the chocolate then take it off the heat and stir in the other third. This doesn’t have the accuracy of proper tempering, but it is quick and easy to do. Properly tempered the chocolate should stick around the sides of the mould, setting quickly rather than staying liquid in a lump at the bottom. It should be a lot easier to turn out once it’s set as well. While not perfect, I did manage to get a reasonably tempered chocolate on most of my efforts. The advantage is that if your chocolate doesn’t turn out right it can be re-melted as many times as you want, so it’s something I could get wrong a few times to get right in the end.
The chocolate layer outside and white layer inside is the key element of the Kinder design. I wanted my Kinder Surprise to have some quality flavour that the original slightly plastic chocolate never had, so I used a strong, dark chocolate for the outer layer and a proper white chocolate for the inner. After Sunday’s discussion of whether white chocolate counts as real chocolate I was slightly dubious about Ferrero’s reference to the “milky lining” of their Kinder eggs. Presumably this means it doesn’t really have any cocoa fat in it, so I was definitely able to go one better with a genuine white chocolate made with over 20% cocoa butter.
Inspired by Kinder’s orange and white packaging I also wanted an orange flavour to the chocolate, so I added a little Cointreau, enjoying the more grown-up alcohol element to the revised children’s chocolate egg. The only thing is – adding liquid to melting chocolate is another tricky thing. If the liquid itself isn’t warm and the chocolate is then the chocolate will seize and become powdery (as I did intentionally with the chocolate soil on last week’s cake). It worked OK on the robust dark chocolate, but my first attempt at white, always much harder to work with, didn’t work at all, meaning I just went with an orangey flavour to the outer layer.
Another difficulty the white layer presented was in how, on my first attempt, it was still warm enough that it melted the not yet properly set dark layer, merging the two together rather than giving a distinct coloured stripe. I decided to put my next attempt at the dark layer in the freezer to make sure it was solidly set enough that the white wouldn’t melt it and that came out just fine.
Now for the final element, the surprise. Firstly, what I wanted was to create a genuine surprise in something where the element of surprise is not usually present. People expect a toy in a Kinder Surprise, so really to beat their expectations the egg itself needed something surprising, an unexpected texture or flavour element. Given the original inspiration came from Heston Blumenthal, there could be no better food surprise than his perennial favourite – popping candy. As the white chocolate set, I scattered some of Heston’s chocolate coated popping candy into it so that, when people bit into the chocolate of the egg, there would be a fizzing sensation that would genuinely take them by surprise.
Of course, there still needed to be that “stimulating toy”. Even though I’d scaled the egg up, it still only had room inside for quite a small object, especially as I’d also upscaled the thickness of the chocolate. When it comes to toys that have a genuinely creative, constructive and educational benefit, Lego is blocks ahead of the rest and, as an even more significant part of my childhood, would perfectly tap into the egg’s nostalgia value. Most of Kinder’s actual surprises turned out to be creepy figurines like the one in the picture before. These days Lego provides the perfect alternative. Its Minifigures range contains figures that bring the world of kind of weird stereotypes to the adorable Lego form (I’m particularly keen on the copyright avoiding generic names for these figures, even the Little Red Riding Hood is cheekily styled “Grandma Visitor”). The way the Minifigures are packaged in bags like football stickers means you’re never sure which one you’re going to get. Perfect for the surprise toy in my egg.
So, what was the result? Well, my giant Kinder Surprise certainly managed to give a sense of excitement not often seen since my childhood. On eating it, the chocolate was a little too thick thanks to there being two layers, with the orange taste of the Cointreau just not obvious enough. But the combination of dark and white chocolate worked great and so did the pop of the popping candy. And the surprise? Probably the most appropriate Minifigure to hatch from an egg.
Professor Plum in the Dining Room: I can eat a lot of chocolate, but these eggs still lasted us a good week each. They were just so dense! I couldn’t really taste the Cointreau in the dark chocolate, but the chocolate popping candy went really well with the white. And we both love our lego in this house 🙂