Making Chocolates at Home
This article will probably be a work of several parts as Marie and I learn the skill of making chocolates at home, along with the intricacies of tempering, making ganache, fancy chocolates and the many aspects of this fascinating craft. We decided that we wanted to do something better for our kids and grandkids this Easter than buy the second-rate waxy pseudo-chocolate confections available at the local mall. We knew we weren't going to save money by doing it ourselves, but we were sure we would enjoy learning this and the finished result would be purer, healthier and more delicious.
So after watching several how-to videos, reading a couple of books and getting lots of advice, this is our adventure into the world of chocolate. We hope it will inspire you to give it a go, it's alot of fun and you get to eat your mistakes!
"It's so confusing - all these types of chocolate!"
At first glance it is very hard to figure out where to start when first confronted with the vast range of chocolates available and the incredible range in prices. Generally the higher the cocoa content, the purer the chocolate and the more expensive it is. In Europe, high cocoa content, dark chocolate is far more popular than it is here in North America, where we tend to prefer lighter tasting milk chocolate which contains sugar, milk and other additives. Some North American manufactured chocolate barely qualifies as being a true chocolate product.
Your home-made chocolates are going to be superior in flavour and quality to most factory produced products if you buy your raw chocolate wisely.
We made our first chocolate shopping trip at 'Bulk Barn' - a Canadian supplier of everything from dried fruit to nuts, flour and spices in bulk. In our area they have the best assortment of basics for the budding chocolatier.
The chocolate is available in many varieties from 70% cocoa dark chocolate, to Belgian milk chocolate 'wafers', white chocolate wafers and other coloured chocolates. Wafers are basically small round disks of chocolate and are specially formulated for chocolate crafting.
As complete novices, we purchased a kilo of Belgian milk chocolate wafers, deciding that we could always learn more about the heady world of true rich chocolate later, while indulging in chocolate making with a popular product that wouldn't bankrupt us if we made mistakes. I must mention that you can't use regular grocery store chocolate chips for chocolate moulding - they contain too much fat, sugar and other ingredients.
We started with a couple of basic moulds to make some Easter chocolates for the grandkids. There is a fantastic array of moulds available made of clear plastic and they work extremely well and will last for years. Shown here is a mould to make chocolate 'Loonies' (the Canadian $1 coin) and one for making chocolate lollipops.
The moulds must be clean, extremely dry, and must never be greased with butter or oil. The shinier the interior of the moulds, the better the finish on the finished chocolates - some cooks use damp cotton balls to shine the interior of the moulds after use, we haven't really found this to be necessary.
Most chocolatiers tell you to use a glass bowl sitting above a saucepan of water, or a double boiler. My fear with a double boiler is that the metal pan will allow the melted chocolate to cool too fast and also give less control of the heat when melting. After watching Raymond Blanc make an exquisite chocolate teacup and saucer on TV, using a glass bowl, I decided to follow the expert and use a glass bowl for the chocolate. It is important that the glass bowl must have no contact with the water below, so I found that we had to use our double boiler with the holed steaming insert for the second level, which then held the bowl comfortably above the water.
The water must not be allowed to boil too vigorously or it will scald the chocolate and cause it to separate.
This is the part that terrifies new chocolate makers. (Look away now!)
Firstly, why temper the chocolate?
If you simply melt the chocolate and pour it into the moulds it will remain soft, fudgy and dull in appearance. Tempering aligns the fat crystals in the chocolate to elevate it to a crisp, shiny, more delicious product. Temperature is the all-important key to successful tempering, and experience will make it as easy for you as, say, driving a car; which is difficult at first but then becomes second nature. Having said all this, our first batch wasn't tempered properly and the resulting batch of chocolates was soft and unusable. (No problem - just remelt and start again!) However the second and subsequent batches we made were perfect!
We were advised to buy a candy thermometer (pictured above) but this turned out to be useless. You need to use a proper chocolate thermometer that gives better readings for lower temperatures. It turned out that our digital meat thermometer from Loblaws was perfect for the job. (Just ignore the temperature advice for beef, poultry, etc.)
The chocolate is now tempered and ready for use.
Any unused chocolate that has cooled and hardened (along with failures) can be re-tempered for re-use, along with additional wafers to increase quantities. There really is no waste.
Pouring, or casting:
Now that the difficult part is over, you simply fill your moulds with the melted chocolate.
This can be done using a disposable plastic piping bag, a plastic nozzled bottle (but how would you clean it?), or simply a small ladle, as shown. With the lollipop moulds, the sticks are already in position and you simply pour the chocolate around them.
Any minor spillage is really not a problem.
Place in the refrigerator for 12-15 minutes to cool.
Do not chill for too long as this will cause the chocolate to fracture or become coated with condensation!
Removing from the mould:
Gentle persuasion and flexing will remove any properly-tempered chocolate pieces with no problem. The parts of the chocolate still attached to the mould look darker, as can be seen in the middle coin in the photo.
The finished chocolates can be trimmed using a craft scalpel knife, if necessary.
Storage & Presentation:
Do not refrigerate your finished chocolate products as this will cause condensation that will spoil your results.
Coins can be wrapped in thin gold foil, pressed to reveal the coin's contours, while the lollipops are better presented in small cellophane bags with a small ribbon to tie the bottom.
White chocolate wafers are available in several colours which can be used to decorate your chocolates. This is done by painting the melted and tempered coloured chocolate into the moulds before casting the main body of the chocolate. There is no need to rush between painting and casting - we found it took about 2 or 3 coatings of colour to get enough depth of colour. It really doesn't work to attempt to paint the chocolates after moulding, with the exception of small dabs of chocolate for areas such as the chick's eye (above).
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