Unsurprisingly, candy and chocolate sales reached a record in 2021. We all deserve a treat. According to the 2022 State of Treating Report of the National Confectioners Association, chocolate sales grew 9.2% compared to the previous year.
There are many great places to purchase chocolate confections made from salted caramels or ganache-filled hearts. Justine MacNeil, a pastry chef and owner at Fiore Fine Foods, in Philadelphia, suggests that it is worth learning the basics of chocolate-making before you attempt to replicate the airbrushed bonbons in the store windows. It’s a science, first and second. The science must be understood.
It takes practice, research, patience, and a lot of practice to make chocolate. However, the end result–from dark chocolate-dipped marshmallows to mandarin-sprinkled mendicants –is worth it. To get their top tips, we spoke to chocolatiers and pastry chefs. We also learned the best equipment and proven methods to temper chocolate.
Use a heating pad to temper chocolate
There are many ways to temper chocolate, i.e. The slow heating and cooling of chocolate in order to make confections. Although there are many methods of tempering chocolate, such as a double broiler, microwave or oven, Erik Landegren (confections and founder, of Connecticut-based Bridgewater Chocolate) uses a unique technique to maintain his chocolate’s temper. He says, “Lay a heating pad under the tempered chocolate to maintain the temperature at 90 degrees. This is the ideal temperature for dark chocolate.”
Check the temperature of your lips
While it is not allowed in professional kitchens Christopher Curtin, master chocolatier, and owner of Eclat chocolate in West Chester Pennsylvania discovered a way to check the temperature of tempered cocoa while traveling in Europe. He says, “Put some on your bottom lip.” It’s similar to the old cliche of testing baby milk on your wrist – you can feel if it’s at the right temperature.
Baking chocolate candy requires patience, organization, attention to detail, and organization. Krystle Swainson, a pastry chef at The green o, Montana, says that the process of making bonbons is long and requires patience. It’s important not to rush through any stage and to take the time to complete each one.
Do not eat chocolate chips
Couverture is chocolate that has a higher percentage of cocoa butter. It’s essential to make chocolate bonbons. She says, “Use bars, chunks, or called and not chocolate chips.” Chocolate chips have thickeners like soy lecithin to ensure they stay in the chip form, even when heated in the oven. This makes the chocolate difficult to temper.
High-quality chocolate is worth the investment
Deirdre Maguire, a chocolatier at Gotham Chocolates, is adamant that she avoids using baker’s or chocolates containing added palm oils. Her suggestion is to use bean-to-bar chocolate. Hayes prefers to work with brands like Valrhona and Barry Callebaut. Swenson has added Guittard, TCHO, and TCHO to that list. MacNeil loves Domori and Amedei Italian chocolate brands, while Swenson adds Cacao Barry to the list.
Take a gentle dip
Dipping takes practice, says Erik Landegren. The chef suggests using a two-prong fork to make the confections easier to remove.
These tools should be kept in stock
To make homemade confections, you don’t need expensive equipment. According to Maguire, the essentials are a temperature probe, spatula and offset spatula as well as piping bags. She suggests that you use rubber silicone molds to make bonbons if you are just starting out, rather than plastic ones. The bonbons are more attractive and easier to work with. MacNeil also includes microwave-safe bowls, two-ounce ladles, and cheap paint brushes for those who want to start painting bonbons.
Keep coconut oil on hand
There will be mistakes! Landegren says that a simple trick to fix chocolate that has become too thick is to add some coconut oil to thin it.
Use your imagination when fillings
You don’t have to stick with vanilla buttercream. Create something new. Eclat chocolate bars include Coffee and Cardamom, Porcini, and Thyme. Krystle Swainson enjoys incorporating herbaceous and fruity teas into her chocolate. Ashley Robinson, Chicago’s 16 at Center uses fresh (and freshly-ground) spices. The key is to ensure that they are high-quality. She says, “If you are going to mix spices with chocolate you need to make sure that the spices can withstand the flavor.” “It’s not a good idea to waste good chocolate with bland, stale spices.
Maya Hayes, Ocean House’s pastry chef, creates ganache according to what’s available. For example, in winter she prefers dark chocolate couverture with white chocolate mint ganache. In spring, she steeps lavender flowers in the cream before adding the cream to the chocolate for the Ganache. My chocolate is also made with nuts and nut pastes. “If you haven’t tried gianduja chocolate bonbons yet, you are missing out!”
Pay attention to the climate
Krystle SWENSON says that tempering chocolate in high temperatures and high humidity can be difficult. She has found Montana’s dry climate far more comfortable than in California, Hawaii, or North Carolina. She says, “Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work or takes a few tries when tempering cocoa in warm environments.” If possible, turn off ovens and kitchen equipment that could heat your work area. Also, it helps to work at the coolest hour of the day.
Ashley Robinson suggests that you try different types of chocolate. This is the best part about the job. “Chocolate can be a complex and variable substance. Even though two chocolates may have the same percentage of cocoa, their flavor can differ wildly depending upon where they were grown and how they were produced. It is important to have a taste of the chocolates you prefer for your projects.
Chocolate candy does not have to be expensive. Deirdre Maguire suggests using ingredients you already have in your home to save money. She says that a simple caramel can be made from sugar, buttercream, cream, salt, and cream. “Jams and peanut butter make great fillings.”
Do not forget to clean up after yourself
Making chocolate can be messy. Justine MacNeil uses Dawn dish soap to clean up after chocolate making. She says, “Don’t buy store brands.” “Dawn is the queen of breaking down the fat in cocoa butter during the cleaning process.”