Friday, November 9, 2012

Harry Potter Party and Chocolate Frogs

It was nearly painful to not mention this beforehand, but last weekend I threw my sister a surprise Harry Potter party!
Well, the Harry Potter part was a surprise. The party was supposed to be but due to scheduling conflicts, we had to tell her.
In any event, it happened, and it was awesome!

My sister, my mom and I have read all the books and seen all the movies, repeatedly, and while I knew my sister hoped to one day throw a Harry Potter party for her kids, I knew it was mostly for her own sake! So when we decided to throw a party for her milestone birthday (I'm not telling what milestone!) I had a ready idea for a theme.

But, the catch, as with all slightly-obscure party themes, was going to be making sure that everyone felt included, even if they didn't necessarily get the reference.

So, it took a little bit of extra planning, but we put together a party theme which only Harry Potter fans would really get. A 'secret theme' party, if you will. That meant no direct references, no wands, no spells, etc.

The fun part was coming up with the obscure references! They had to be subtle, because while you can pass a lot off for a birthday party on November 3rd as simply being 'generic Halloween theme', a giant snitch would be a dead giveaway. Don't get me wrong, there was a snitch, but it was small, and hard to find, just as a snitch should be!

The Decorations:
A stuffed white owl on the mantle
A croaking stuffed toad on the bench seat
Black and Yellow streamers, napkins, etc (my sister did an online sorting and was put in Hufflepuff)
A golden snitch hidden among some house plants (I put paper wings on a ping pong ball using glue dots then spray painted it all gold)
A locket casually hanging off a shelf
We found a 'starry sky' vinyl wall covering which we hung on the ceiling of the sitting room (like the enchanted ceiling in the Great Hall)
A Goblet of Fire in the bathroom (a goblet with an LED tealight set in the bottom, with orange and red tissue paper 'flames' coming out of the top)
We also found brick-patterned decorative paper that we hung at the end of the hallway, set a trunk in front of it, along with an old corn broom with a cloak hanging off of it. For anyone who looked closely, they'd see that the broom actually had FireBolt written on the handle
I had also planned to make some giant spider legs to hang over the side of the fence, and some spider egg sacks to go along with that, but at the last minute I changed my mind since my niece isn't a huge fan of spiders.

For the kids:
A sword for my son to play with (try as I might, I could not find any with a ruby-embedded hilt!)
A 'diadem' favor for the little girls at the party
A ball toss game that looked suspiciously like a quidditch hoop... (a hula hoop taped onto a broom handle and then spray painted gold entirely)
My oldest boy was dressed in a red sweater with a gold stripe on it (Griffyndor)
My youngest boy was dressed in blue and bronze, as was I (Ravenclaw)
My niece was dressed in green (Slytherin)

The Menu:
Meat Pasties (really, just sausage rolls from M&Ms)
Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans (actually just Jelly Bellies - I didn't want my grandma to get a pepper flavored one!)
Sherbert Lemons (from a local British Candy Shoppe)
Licorice wands (black licorice)
Pumpkin Juice (Orange punch served out of a bowl set in a hollowed out pumpkin)
Butterbeer cupcakes
Chocolate Frogs

There were a few things that I wanted to do that didn't work out (either I ran out of time/energy, I couldn't find them in stores, etc):
I looked everywhere for a gold ring with a big black stone and couldn't find one!
I was going to make glowing orbs like the prophecies in the Ministry
I was going to get my cat-loving aunt to dress up in a pink dress-suit like Umbridge
I tried to get some treacle fudge and clotted creams but the candy store was between shipments from their British supplier

And, as with every good Harry Potter party, I had to have at least one invitation in the form of an acceptance letter to Hogwarts! I gave this to my sister when I arrived at her house before the party. It read:

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore (Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

Dear Mrs. C-----,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Diagon Alley is in a present state of disrepair, so we have made alternative arrangements for our students at this time. You will find many items that you need in the wizarding world throughout the course of the afternoon. (Do try the Sherbet Lemons – they’re delightful!)
Given the close proximity of many Muggles, we request that you adhere to the rules laid out in the International Statute of Secrecy. We have taken pains to ensure the Muggles will not notice anything amiss in the presentation of the wizarding world artifacts – to them it will appear as standard Muggle fun.
Term begins at 2:00. We await your owl no later than 1:00.
Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress

I found a copy of the Hogwarts crest online that adorned the top of the page and tried to make the font and style match the letters in the movie as much as possible.
For the guests that guessed the theme, I had this written on little strips of paper:

Congratulations! You are part of the wizarding world! Spot as many Harry Potter references as you can – you’ll be surprised where you find them!
Oh, and don’t tell the Muggles! *
*in accordance with the International Statute of Secrecy

And now... the chocolate frogs!

They were the highlight of the party! Whether you are familiar with Harry Potter or not, you'll still enjoy a chocolate frog!
At first, I tried looking for a local supplier. Chocolate frogs have been popping up in gourmet chocolate shops all over so I didn't actually have a hard time finding some... but I did have a hard time with the fact that they were $2.50 a piece! For a gift for my sister, that would have been fine. But to have enough that everyone at the party could try one? Not so much. Instead, I looked online for a mold and found one, that after shipping cost around $5. Next, I bought two big bags of bulk chocolate - it wasn't super high-end, but better than your typical melting wafers or waxy chocolate chips. I bought a bag of semi-sweet and a bag of milk for a total of $11. My plan was to make the chocolate go as far as possible by filling the majority of the chocolates. I didn't worry about buying anything for the fillings - I figured I'd make it up as I went.

My next hurdle was the fact that I've never actually molded chocolates before! I'd never even attempted to temper chocolate! So I did some research and found a website that described a method of tempering which was little more than stirring some non-melted chocolate into some pre-melted chocolate. It's a little more detailed than that, but seemed a lot easier than the more drawn out method I've seen done. I put in some forethought to my process and decided to try some solid frogs first with a slightly higher ratio of milk to semi-sweet. I discovered very quickly that I need a new candy thermometer. It's hard to keep chocolate at a consistent temperature when you don't know what temperature it's at to begin with! I took pains to brush a thin layer of chocolate into each mold first so I could be sure that all the grooves were filled. Then I poured in more chocolate, brushed it around evenly and tapped the mold gently on the counter to try to get the air bubbles out. Once the molds were filled I set them in the fridge to quick-set my chocolate. After about two minutes I pulled the chocolate out while it was still soft, and I sprinkled pop rocks on top of each mold! I then let them set completely, popped them in the freezer quickly for a better release from the mold, and then turned them out on a plate. The pop rocks were on the bottom of the frogs of course and they looked fantastic! I was a little worried about my tempering process not working out so well, so I upped the ratio of semi-sweet to milk chocolate since semi-sweet has a slightly higher melting point.

For all of the filled chocolates, after I brushed in my first layer of chocolate I popped the molds in the freezer quickly before I filled them. For my liquidy fillings I then popped them back in the freezer just until the filling set before I sealed the bottoms with more chocolate. This worked really well!
What fillings did I use? Whatever I had in the house! The first couple I actually stuffed with gummi worms because my sister loves chocolate-covered gummis. Then I remembered a leftover jar of some Pampered Chef Chocolate Raspberry dessert sauce in the fridge. I did a tray of those and then started wondering what to do next... until I opened the freezer to grab out some molds and saw a bag of leftover red wine ganache in there! I made the ganache for some fancy desserts a few months back and put the remainder in the freezer to use when I had something it would go with. I softened it quickly with some warm water and filled another tray with that! I had enough chocolate for one more tray, and I remembered that I had some little individually-wrapped caramels in the cupboard that I've been meaning to use up. I heated them in the microwave with a good bit of whipping cream and then stirred them til they were smooth. I ended up with a nice, stringy caramel. Those were the first ones to go at the party. They were absolutely devoured.

I did get the comment that while they were wonderful, the frogs were quite rich, except for the solid pop rocks ones oddly. If I had been more sure of my tempering it would have been better to keep the higher milk chocolate ratio apparently. But honestly, who is going to really complain about a chocolate frog? They loved them!

Overall the Harry Potter Party was a success! It would be fun sometime to do one without needing the theme to be discrete, but this was a great challenge too!

And now I have another challenge before me... How to remake a soup I pulled from the freezer. It was a taco chicken soup, but it lost too much moisture in the freezer. I added a can of tomatoes, some chicken broth, black beans and corn, but I'm completely out of cumin or taco seasoning! Looks like I need to get creative!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)