Finger-licking fun

"Women don't want to get dirty, but the guys really get into it," says Israel of the two-hour chocolate workshops she offers

Just slipping on an M&Ms apron is a liberating experience, releasing the wearer from the stress of day-to-day life and sending him to a better place, someplace where chocolate pizza is being made. Sure, you could go swimming, take up chess or learn a new instrument, but learning how to make chocolate in one of the dozens of chocolate-making seminars now offered around the country by chocolatiers or shops selling chocolate-making equipment has one benefit those others don't have: You get to eat what you create. So there I was in Ronda Israel's kitchen, my culinary experience limited to Microwave 101 and the occasional barbecue, donning my apron and getting ready to dig in to a box of Kellogg's cornflakes on the first step to chocolate heaven. After filling up a pizza-perfect-size plate with the flakes, we turned to Israel's tempering machine, and I grabbed my spatula. "Scoop the chocolate into there," said Israel, who runs Chocolate Dreams, motioning to the plate of flakes. "Don't be afraid - take a good amount." Resisting the urge to lick some of the godly goo off my elbow, I reached into the tempering machine and got busy. "The tempering machine melts the chocolate down, then raises the temperature to 108 degrees," explained Israel as we scooped out what it was producing. "It separates the fat and the chocolate, then mixes everything together before it brings the temperature back down while we add other chocolate. Then it puts the fat back in and mixes it again so it comes out shiny and the proper temperature for us to work with." Some more advanced seminars offer lessons in tempering, enrobing, working with molds and other techniques as well, but I was keeping things relatively simple in my first class. "Get all the air out; bang the mold down," said Israel as we smacked the dish to eliminate air bubbles, an important part in any making of chocolate with molds. "You can also lick your fingers," she added, not getting any argument from me. Next were toppings. "You want pepperoni?" asked Israel enthusiastically, pulling out dried apricots that we used to play the part of the faux forbidden stuff. Raisins became our tomatoes for the pizza, which we sprinkled on happily before it got slipped into the "oven," or in this case, the fridge to cool and harden. Then it was time to make dessert. Israel handed me some biscotti she'd prepared ahead of time, whose ingredients included chocolate chips (as if it needed them), and handed it to me as we stood alongside the glistening contents of the tempering machine. Swinging it back and forth to coat the upper third of the scrumptious cake, I let the excess chocolate drip delectably off the biscotti, then placed my creation on a plate. Moments later we gave some apricots the same treatment, Israel guiding my hand so I didn't drown the fruit. "We need cheese on our parve pizza," said Israel, bringing in a cauldron of white chocolate that had just been melted down in the microwave. While pounding out the bumps in the creamy mixture with the back of a spoon, I resisted the urge to stick my entire face in the wonderful whiteness. Then she cut a tiny hole in a plastic baggie, filling it with the "cheese" and taught me how to wave my hand over the "pizza," creating thin lines of white across its length mimicking real pizza cheese. Grabbing a box from her huge collection of specially designed ones, my creation got slipped inside and marked "Chocolate Pizza," ready to be devoured by my more than thankful family hours later, as were the biscotti and chocolate-coated apricots. "Women don't want to get dirty, but the guys really get into it," says Israel of the two-hour workshops she offers to both visiting groups from abroad or just a grandmother and granddaughter celebrating the girl's bat mitzva. The cost is NIS 100, "and you take home a box of chocolate and have a really good time. I have a chocolate dessert waiting for you as I explain and then you get down and dirty and you do it." Still prefer swimming?