Chocolates Archive

Ancho Chili-Cinnamon Chocolate Bark

For the past holiday season I had planned on making several batches of various interesting chocolate barks as a giveaway gift. Wrapped up nicely, it would make a cute gift for neighbors, acquaintances or hosts of a party.

I completely failed to make any chocolate bark before Christmas, unless you count the odd Peppermint Crack (which I don’t). I finally got my act together after Christmas and picked out the two most interesting (and easy) recipes. The first one was the winner of the “Your Best Edible Gift” contest on Food 52. Dark chocolate, smoky, warm spices, and nuts and cherries. It sound like there might be a lot going on, but I made it anyway. It’s quick to make and really delicious. It’s very different and I kept taking bites so I could pick up on all the flavors going on in there. Plus it’s got a liberal amount of salt in it.

The second version I made was much simpler and more traditional, with walnuts, cherries and candied ginger. It’s also good and even easier to make, but if I had the choice I’d keep coming back for the ancho version.

  • Ancho Chili-Cinnamon Chocolate Bark (Food 52)
  • Dark-Chocolate Bark with Walnuts & Dried Cherries (Food & Wine)

This isn’t my usual type of post, but I’m making a special exception for my favorite chocolate maker. I’m a huge fan of Amano and have used it quite a bit in cooking and making chocolates (I buy Ocumare in bulk but I think my favorite is their Dos Rios). My favorite use for Amano chocolate is to deliver it directly to my stomach via mouth.

Anyway, Amano is giving away a year’s worth of chocolate (that’s 10 bars a month for a year!) in their Guess the Origin Contest. I for one can’t wait to try it, whatever it is!

My next assignment was to make a caramel, which was really exciting for me because I love everything caramel. Especially salty caramel. I knew I was going to make a pretty much straight-up caramel, but with smoked salt added. I was given a recipe for caramel in my course, but the Good Eats episode on salty sweets aired the night I was going to make it, and I decided to use Alton Brown’s recipe for Dark Salty Caramels instead. His recipe includes the addition of a bit of soy sauce, which I found interesting. I thought it would work well with the smokiness of the salt and the Amano chocolate.

This is a wet caramel, and it includes the addition of cream of tartar and corn syrup to help reduce crystallization. The sugar mixture is cooked to 350 degrees and a nice amber color before adding the cream, soy sauce and butter. The trick with caramel is not to overcook it. I tend to judge by color rather than by temperature, but I monitor both.

Once the cream, butter and soy sauce were added, I poured the caramel into a pan to set up. After 30 minutes, I added smoked salt to to top of the slab. It kind of bounced around but eventually sank just barely into the top of the caramel.

I let the caramel set up overnight. The next step should have been to coat the bottom with a thin layer of tempered chocolate – but I forgot. Not a huge deal, but it makes it easier to dip into chocolate. Next, I cut it into 1-inch squares. Next time, I’ll cut it into even smaller squares. The caramel is delicious just like this. I set some aside to give away, plus ate a bunch of them because I just can’t resist.

I’ve become even better at hand-dipping and this went pretty smoothly. The chocolate was tempered really well and these turned out beautifully. And I was right, the soy sauce added a nice umami component to the smokiness of the salt and chocolate. I topped them with a little smoked salt. I brought a bunch of these to work and everyone loved them. I’ll definitely make these again.

Kind of a silly name, yes, but the filling for these chocolates is really terrific – just dark chocolate (Amano Ocumare 70%) and mango puree (I used Perfect Puree). This was my second attempt at making a molded chocolate, and while I saw some improvement, I still was not successful. I first set about tempering the chocolate for the molds. I used leftover chocolate that I had previously tempered and poured into a plastic container for storage. Check it out, beautifully tempered chocolate – smooth and shiny and no trace of bloom!

Again, I filled the molds (square this time) with chocolate and let it set up before pouring out the excess. I can already tell that I’ve got issues, the shells are still too thin and haven’t pulled away from the mold at all. And for some reason I have a couple that lost temper, no idea why (notice the bloom).

I melted some of the chocolate (no need to temper) and then added the warmed mango puree a bit at a time until I got the flavor I was looking for. Larry thought the filling would make a great chocolate mousse, and I agree.

I let the mango-chocolate mixture set up a little before piping it into the molds, then let the molds set up some more. I was very careful to be conservative on the amount of filling and not overfill.

Once the filling had set up, I ladled more tempered chocolate onto the molds to form the bottom of the chocolates.

I then cleaned off the molds as much as possible and waited for everything to set up.

Once everything was set up, I inverted the mold and tapped on it to try to get the chocolates to release. Used a little knife to help ease them out. Put them in the refrigerator for a while to get the chocolate to contract. And nothing really came out, I did get some of the bottoms to pop out. We scraped some of the filling on top of the nicely tempered bottoms, and it was delicious. So I’m on to something flavor-wise, just need to master the execution!

I emailed my tutor for the course and got some really good specific tips about how to get the chocolate to come out of the molds. I was on to something with the refrigerator, because that was one of her suggestions. I’m looking forward to trying it out, but not for the class – my requirement for attempting two molded chocolates is complete. Even though neither one turned out, I still learned a lot in the process.

For my chocolatier course, my final assignment was to create five different centers. I was given specifications on what the centers should be and how they should be finished and decorated. My second center is a flavored nut-based center, piped into a mold. I got a lot of great advice from Chocovision on tempering, so I bumped up the temperature and chose a different tempering setting on my machine this time. What I learned from this exercise is making molded chocolates is really hard.

Next, I decorated the mold with a bit of tempered white chocolate and luster dust, using my finger.

Just to be safe, I checked my temper before ladling the chocolate into the molds. Looks great!

After ladling the tempered chocolate into the mold, I scraped the extra chocolate off the top and let the molds sit for a bit, filled with the tempered chocolate.

Once the chocolate had set up a bit, I turned the molds upside down to drain, forming the shell. I cleaned up the molds as good as possible so the shells would release from the molds once they dried.

For the filling, I mixed store-bought marzipan with Gentleman Jack whiskey. Great combination! I added enough to make the marzipan kind of liquid and then piped it into the dried molds. I filled them a little too much and when I ladled more tempered chocolate on top I noticed that some of the marzipan filling was mixing in – not a good sign.

Once the bottoms were dry, I found that I wasn’t able to get the chocolates to release from the molds. Not a success, but a learning experience anyway! Part of my assignment is to give each confection a name. These are called Gentleman’s Agreements, although they proved to be less than agreeable.

This was my first attempt at actually making a filled chocolate, and I had mixed success. After agonizing and fretting over what sort of center I was going to make and how I was going to create and decorate the truffle, I finally settled on a gingerbread-flavored ganache, enrobed (hand-dipped) and decorated simply with a bit of candied ginger.

The ganache is milk chocolate with molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove. I tempered the milk chocolate then added the flavorings and spread the filling in an 8×8 pan to set up overnight. I cut the filling into 1-inch squares for enrobing.

I had some success hand-tempering, but was nervous about having to maintain the temper by hand while trying to dip, so my expensive hobby got a little more expensive with the purchase of a simple home-tempering machine. Well, seemingly simple. I’m happy with the purchase, though. I used a dipping fork to dunk the ganache centers into Amano Ocumare 70%.

It took some practice to get all of the excess chocolate off of the centers. I found that a combination of tapping and using a second fork was helpful.

The trick to hand-dipping is to get the finished chocolates onto the surface without making a mess or creating a “foot” (pool of chocolate under the center) or a “tail” (trailing off the back). I tried a bunch of different methods and began to get the hang of it.

Note the messy smears of chocolate at the top of the photo below – that was my first attempt. As I set chocolates on the pan liner, I added the candied ginger.

As the chocolates dried, it was clear from the dull appearance and bloom that formed that I had a tempering problem. The chocolate was still pretty firm so it wasn’t a complete failure. A lot of the chocolates went to my co-workers, who were kind enough to ignore that they didn’t look pretty. They tasted great (bloom doesn’t affect taste) and several people came back for more.

I contacted Chocovision support for help with my tempering issue, and of course it was primarily user error. Chocovision support was fantastic – Chef Joe talked with me by phone and gave me very specific instructions for the Amano chocolate. Higher melting temperature, seed the chocolate, and use the “difficult temper” button. The Amano is a little finicky due to the high cocoa butter content, but that’s what makes it have such a great texture.

This is part two of my first hands-on exercise for Ecole Chocolat. Previously I tempered the chocolate by hand using the tabliering method. This method is called the seed method, and involves using properly tempered chocolate as seed crystals for a mass of untempered chocolate. As before, the exercise starts with melting the chocolate in a double boiler.

I used the chocolate from the previous exercise. Notice that some of it has bloom on it – this means that my chocolate was knocked out of temper when I left it to cool as a mass, likely due to residual heat within the thick mass. No big deal, as long as the chocolate isn’t burned due to excessive temperatures and hasn’t been exposed to water or steam (which will cause it to seize) and doesn’t have any other ingredients in it, it can be re-tempered over and over.

I’m using Amano Ocumare as my bulk chocolate, and just to be safe, I’m using chocolate direct from the manufacturer as my seed chocolate – since there’s no question it’s been properly tempered. Amano just announced they’re about to run out of Ocumare stock for a while, so I ordered another kilo just to be safe. It’s great chocolate and will definitely get used up.

I used 2.25 pounds of chocolate for melting, then set aside another 25% of my total mass (3 lbs) seed for tempering. I just used the discs as is from the manufacturer, but I think I probably would have had a better result if I would have grated the chocolate first. I didn’t feel like grating a bunch of chocolate, though! Here’s my 3/4 pound of seed chocolate.

Once my chocolate mass melted to 110 degrees, I took it off heat, began stirring, and started to slowly add the seed chocolate a bit at a time. This brings the temperature down, and introducing the tempered chocolate helps form the desired V Form crystals.

It took a while to get the temperature down to 88-90 degrees, and I had a couple of stubborn chunks of seed chocolate that wouldn’t completely melt. This is where the grated chocolate would have given me a better result. I didn’t use all of my seed chocolate – I ended up using about 2/3 of it. Once I brought the temperature down to 88-90 degrees, my assignment was to hold the temper for 20 minutes. This involved constant stirring and monitoring the temperature. If the temperature started to drop too much, I just put it over the simmering water for a short time.

I took samples of the chocolate at four intervals. Sample one is untempered chocolate, from the 110 degree mass. The result is dull and it doesn’t break with a snap. Test two was taken as soon as the chocolate hit 88 degrees. Samples three and four were taken in ten minute intervals as a test to see if I was holding the temper for 20 minutes.

The last three samples turned out beautifully. Very shiny and they break with a good snap. All three look the same. Once I’m done, I spread the chocolate out on parchment to cool.

This is an example of a broker temper. The bloom on there is an indication that residual heat from the thick mass broke the temper. Notice that on the edge, where the mass is thinner, the chocolate is shiny and still in temper. This isn’t a big deal, the chocolate will be re-tempered again and it isn’t an unusual problem. Of course I’d love it if my chocolate came out in a beautiful shiny tempered blob, but I’m happy with the outcome anyway.

This method of tempering is less complicated and easier than tabliering, but can be less reliable. I think my results turned out better than in the tabliering method, though.

My current project is learning how to make chocolates. I’m taking an online course that I’ve been thinking about for several years. It’s called Ecole Chocolat, and it has a great reputation. It’s geared towards people who want to make chocolates for a living. I might like that, but I’m sure the drop in income wouldn’t be something I like. Making chocolates seems kind of technical – which is probably why I like baking, I’m technically minded.

My first hands-on assignment was to learn to hand-temper chocolate. There are two methods, and I’ll cover the first one here – tabliering. This is the classic French method and I didn’t get it right on the first try.

At this point, I’ve already learned quite a bit about making chocolates – sourcing bulk chocolate was fun and interesting, and so was learning about the equipment I’d need. I settled on a terrific chocolate from Amano Chocolate, their Ocumare 70%. It was recommended to me by one of the best chocolatiers I’ve ever visited, Chris Blue of Chocolatier Blue. Chris’s chocolates are outstanding.

The first step was to melt three pounds of the bulk chocolate. I used a double boiler to melt the chocolate.

It didn’t take long to melt the chocolate. My first attempt, I wasn’t paying enough attention and let the chocolate get up to 130 degrees instead of the recommended 110. I was worried that I had ruined the chocolate for tempering, but my online tutor assured me that as long as it didn’t look or smell burned, it’s fine to re-use. It can always be re-used as ganache, anyway.

Heating the chocolate to this point destroys all of the crystals, so now the chocolate has to be re-tempered. Why go through this when the chocolate comes from the manufacturer already tempered? Because in order to use the chocolate in a mold, it has to be melted. But melting the chocolate destroys the cocoa butter crystals required for tempered chocolate (called V form crystals). Tempered chocolate is shiny and has a nice snap. I set aside a small sample of the chocolate at 110 degrees.

Next, I ladled out about 2/3 of the chocolate onto my granite slab. Granite works well because it’s got a smooth surface and a cool temperature.

Working quickly, I began to stir the chocolate. The agitation is important in the formation of the V form crystals. I used a pallet knife to stir, all the while checking the surface temperature of the chocolate. I found that using an infrared thermometer works great for this – the temperature reading is accurate since the chocolate is constantly being stirred, and pointing a thermometer is much easier that sticking a probe into a thin layer of chocolate.

For my first attempt, I got to this point and let the chocolate get too cold. It thickens as it cools to 79-80 degrees. At this point, the chocolate is tempered but the temper needs to be maintained in order to use it in molds. To do this, the temperature is brought up slightly, destroying any of the unwanted crystals that have formed.

But I let the chocolate mass get even cooler, and it started to clump up. I took another sample at this point, but shortly realized that I wasn’t fast enough and had to start over by re-melting the chocolate. The second time around, as soon as the chocolate hit 80 degrees, I quickly set aside a sample, put the chocolate into a warm metal bowl, and brought it back up to 89-90 degrees using small amounts of the still-warm chocolate on the double boiler. I set aside samples again after 10 minutes and then 20 minutes, to check to see that I had maintained the temper.

Success! My second Test 2 sample turned out beautifully. My checks at 10 and then 20 minutes also turned out nice, maybe not quite as shiny as the first. What I learned is that hand tempering is a delicate balancing act, takes a lot of attention and coordination, and makes me want a tempering machine! The last step is to spread the blob out on to parchment paper to cool off, for use in the next assignment.

I had hoped that the mass was thin enough and in perfect temper. I added the rest of the leftover warmed chocolate, so I’m sure that didn’t help – the residual heat plus the thickness of the blob caused unwanted crystals to form, and my chocolate was no longer perfectly tempered. It’s still got a nice snap, but it’s formed a grey bloom in some areas. No matter, it will be melted down again soon.