13 chocolate making tips for at-home confections, according to the pros

It’s no wonder chocolate and candy sales hit an all time high in 2021 – we all deserved a treat. According to the National Association of Confectioners 2022 Treatment Status Reportchocolate sales increased by 9.2% over the previous year.

While there are plenty of top places to buy fluffy salted caramels and shiny ganache-filled hearts, making chocolate confectionery at home is also a treat. However, before trying to imitate the perfect airbrushed candies you see in store windows, it pays to learn the principles of chocolate making, says Justine MacNeil, pastry chef and owner of Fiore Fine Foods in Philadelphia. “It’s really a science first and an art second, and the science has to be understood.”

Making chocolate takes research, practice, and a lot of patience, but the finished product — from marshmallows dipped in dark chocolate to mango-dusted beggars — makes the process worthwhile. We spoke to pastry chefs and chocolatiers for their top tips, including essential equipment and proven methods for tempering chocolate, as well as the most essential tool in your cleaning arsenal.

Here are some best tips and tricks for making chocolate

Tempering chocolate with a heating pad

There are several ways to successfully temper chocolate, i.e. the process of slowly heating and cooling chocolate to prepare it for confectionery making. While makers use multiple tempering methods, including a double boiler or microwave, Erik Landegren, confectioner and founder of the Connecticut-based company Bridgewater Chocolate, uses a clever technique to keep her chocolate in temper. “Place a heating pad under the tempered chocolate to help maintain the temperature of 90 degrees (32.22 degrees Celsius), which is an excellent reference temperature for dark chocolate,” he says.

Test the temperature on your lip

Although not allowed in professional kitchens, Christopher Curtin, master chocolatier and owner of Chocolate Radiance in West Chester, Pennsylvania, learned a trick for testing the temperature of tempered chocolate while working in Europe. “Put a dab on your bottom lip,” he says. “It’s like the cliché of testing baby milk on your wrist – you can feel if the chocolate is at the right temperature.”

To be patient

Making chocolate candy is akin to baking, in that it requires patience, organization, and attention to detail. “The process of making the candies, cocoa butter paint, shelling, filling and capping is a long process, and patience plays a big role,” says Krystle Swenson, pastry chef at the green o in Montana. “It’s important not to rush through any of the stages and take the time you need to complete each stage.”

chocolate dessert
Image Courtesy: Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Torie Cox / Accessories Styling by Lydia Pursell

Do not use chocolate chips

couverture, or chocolate formulated with a higher percentage of cocoa butter, is essential for making chocolate candy, says Ocean House Collection pastry chef Maya Hayes. “Make sure you’re using bars, chunks, or callets, not chocolate chips,” she says. “Chocolate chips contain thickeners such as soy lecithin so they can stay in chip form even in the oven. This will make the chocolate very thick and difficult to temper.

Invest in quality chocolate

Deirdre Maguire, chocolate maker at Gotham Chocolates (part of NYC’s Gotham Restaurant), avoid baker’s chocolate or chocolates with added palm oils. She suggests using bean-to-bar chocolate, noting that “the end result will be much better than using a commercial brand like Hershey’s.” Hayes likes to work with a brand like Valrhona or Barry Callebaut, while Swenson adds Guittard and TCHO to the list. MacNeil likes Italian chocolate brands Amedei and Domori and says Cacao Barry is also excellent and a bit more accessible.

Dip gently

Soaking takes practice, says Erik Landegren. “I suggest using a two-pronged fork and then placing the confections on parchment paper so they come off easily,” the chef explains.

Store those tools

You don’t have to spend a lot of fancy equipment to make sweets at home. A temperature probe, spatula, offset spatula, and piping bags are must-haves, according to Maguire. “Use silicone rubber candy molds at first rather than plastic molds,” she says. “The candy comes out better and is easier to work with,” adds MacNeil, adding microwave-safe bowls, a two-ounce ladle, and inexpensive paintbrushes, when you’re ready to start painting candy.

Keep Coconut Oil Handy

Mistakes will happen! A simple trick to fix chocolate that has become too thick, Landegren says, is to add a little coconut oil to thin it out.

Coconut
Image Credit: Photo by Greg DuPree / Food Styling by Ali Ramee / Accessories Styling by Christine Keely

Get creative with toppings

Go beyond vanilla buttercream and imagine something more imaginative. Eclat’s chocolate bars range from coffee and cardamom to Ceps and Thyme. Krystle Swenson’s chocolate making tips include mixing fruity and floral teas or herbal ingredients into her chocolate, and pastry chef Ashley Robinson of Chicago’s 16 in the center uses fresh (and freshly ground) spices. But the key is to make sure they are of high quality. “If you’re going to put spices with chocolate, you better make sure those spices can hold up the flavor,” she says. “There’s no point in wasting good chocolate with bland, bland spices.”

Maya Hayes of Ocean House creates a ganache based on what’s in season. In winter, for example, she likes a dark chocolate couverture with white chocolate and mint ganache, while in spring she infuses lavender flowers into the cream before adding it to the chocolate for the ganache. She also incorporates nuts and nut pastes into my chocolate. “If you haven’t eaten gianduja chocolate candy yet, you’ve missed it!”

Pay attention to your climate

“Working in high humidity and high temperatures can be quite difficult when working with chocolate,” says Krystle Swenson, who found Montana’s dry climate to be much easier than the old kitchens of Hawaii, California and from North Carolina to temper chocolate. “Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work or if you have to experiment a bit when tempering chocolate in hot environments,” she says. “Try to turn off any ovens or cooking equipment that might be heating up your workspace, if possible, and try to work in the cooler part of the day, that also helps a lot.” ?

taste test

Perhaps the most fun part of the job, Ashley Robinson recommends tasting chocolate varieties side by side. “Chocolate is an incredibly variable and complicated substance. Even if two chocolates have the same percentage of cocoa, the flavor can vary enormously depending on the growing region, production and many other factors. It is important to develop a palate for which chocolates you like for which projects.

To save money

Making chocolate candy doesn’t have to be an expensive business. One of Deirdre Maguire’s chocolate making tips recommends saving money by using toppings you already have in your kitchen. “For example, a simple caramel can be made with sugar, butter, cream and salt,” she says. “Plus, jams and peanut butter are fantastic toppings.”

Don’t forget the cleaning

Making chocolate can be quite messy. Justine MacNeil only uses Dawn dish soap for cleaning after chocolate making. “Don’t get store marks,” she says. “Dawn is the queen for breaking down fat from cocoa butter in the cleansing process.”

(This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com)

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