Homemade chocolates – a wonderful gift
Making chocolates is a labour of love. They need time and patience – and practice. But just like any kitchen skill, the more you do it the easier it becomes. So persevere. They are great fun and very rewarding to give as presents.
Find a good book and follow the recipes. I use Auberge du Chocolat The Secrets of Fine Chocolate Making.
The enchanting aspect of making chocolates comes from the raw material itself – chocolate. Perhaps we never loose our adolescent amazement and delight for this miraculous product. It is still exciting and tempting to watch solid bars of chocolate turn into luxurious pools of liquid chocolate. But a word of warning, just as Willy Wonka’s factory held mixed blessings, so your bowl of melted chocolate can quickly become an unruly mass of dark stickiness. It will crawl from its bowl in blobs and splatters, creep over every kitchen surface, cling to your clothes and smear itself onto any exposed body part! Controlling, harnessing and containing this marvelous substance is the secret of chocolate making.
So get a stack of clean tea towels and make a start. The basic techniques are tempering chocolate and making a ganache.
Tempering is is the fundamental skill of making chocolates. If you melt a crisp and shiny bar of chocolate and let it set – it will be dull and soft. There is interesting science behind this phenomenon. Melting a chocolate bar causes the the cocoa fat crystals to fall out of alignment. What you need to do is to manipulate the chocolate over time and control the temperature in such a way whereby the crystal structure realigns to make the chocolate shiny and brittle again when it sets.
There are many ways to temper chocolate. I prefer the seeding method using a microwave to melt the chocolate.
What I learned about tempering:
- An unforeseen aspect of working with chocolates is the scale of operations. We are used to eating tiny amounts of chocolate as a treat – but to work with chocolate it is better to work with large bowlfuls. That means amounts nearer a kilo than the 100g bars sold in at the supermarket. So look out for a good deal and buy a lot of chocolate.
- Not all bowls are created equal. I worked with heat conducting plastic and microwave safe bowls and metal bowls. Each has its own effect on the temperature and cooling of the chocolate. It’s best to use non-conducting plastic as this creates extra heat which might take the temperature above tempering point.
- I normally rely on my thermometer for accurate indications of correct temperature. I began to think that working with chocolate would be easier under more precise temperature control. I found guidelines online but eventually realised that it was more of a hindrance. Temperature alone does not indicate when chocolate is tempered. The seeding method relies on adding broken chocolate to melted chocolate ‘until no more chocolate can be melted into the liquid’. This is a better guide than temperature.
- Keeping the finished tempered chocolate at a steady temperature to be workable is problematic. The books and recipes say nothing to help here (other than buying a hugely expensive tempering machine). I tried using a pan of oil set to 31C, but this is unreliable – any increase in temperature could simply ‘melt’ the chocolate again and require re-tempering. Some kind of thermostatic heating pad may be a cheaper workaround than a tempering machine. Otherwise, insulate the bowl and work quickly with just one or two set tasks. Have a break, then make more tempered chocolate.
I was quite happy making ganache, but was unsure about the variables. Some are made with raw eggs, others with cream, some with water, some with just liqueur. Other recipes call for liquid glucose, cocoa butter, and concentrated butter. While others require specialist ingredients such as, Marc de Champagne, praline paste, Dulche de Leche, or gianduja.
What I learned about ganache
- Don’t worry about special ingredients. My chocolates were all excellent made from standard flavourings and ingredients.
- The guidelines are from 2 parts chocolate to 1 part liquid or 1 part chocolate to 1 part liquid (for a softer ganache). However, I could not see how to convert a solid chocolate and liquid into equal parts. I researched online and concluded that 100g chocolate is roughly equivalent to 135ml – to be safe I used a measurement of about 155-160ml liquid.
- Only repeated efforts trying out different methods will reveal an ideal method. I found a harder ganache is best for truffles and a softer ganache better for molded and dipped chocolates.
- Getting liqueur or alcohol taste into the chocolate is difficult in small quantities and when heating the liquids (i.e. at a sufficient temperature to melt the chocolate). If you want a strong taste of liqueur, try eliminating cream and using liqueur alone in up to equal proportion to chocolate taking care not to overheat the liquid.
- I made six different flavoured ganaches and proved that it is possible to improvise any type of filling that takes your fancy. My most interesting were chilli, tequila and cinnamon, cherries, kirsch and brandy and rum and raisin.
Which was my best chocolate? Mrs WDC’s favourite was rum and raisin – my leftovers vanished without trace.
Cherries were sourced from Garsons Farm, Esher, Surrey.