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Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Chocolatier

The Craft of the Chocolatier

The Craft of the ChocolatierMaking Chocolates Introduction

Refined to a specialist culinary art, making chocolates by hand blends the best ingredients available to mouthwatering perfection. Texture, aroma, presentation and above all taste have to be just right to make a chocolate irresistible.

Origins of Chocolate

Cocoa was first brought to Europe from Mexico and parts of South America by the Spanish invaders and later from West Africa, Ghana and Nigeria in particular. Cocoa was first drunk in Spain 400 years ago. But it wasn’t until the early 19th century that a successful formula for making solid eating chocolate was discovered.  

Since then, the craft of the chocolatier has become refined into a specialist culinary art. French, Belgian and Swiss chocolates in particular are renowned worldwide.

Basic techniques of Chocolate Making

Cocoa plants – Cocoa tree thrive in the hot, wet climates of West Africa and South America. The fruit of the tree, or bean pod, contains the seeds, called cocoa beans. The beans are removed from the pod and put out in a dry warn place. The initial stages of fermentation and drying and the subsequent factory processes of roasting and mixing are important as it is these that give the final product its chocolate colour.  

While the beans are roasted, to develop flavour and aroma, the shells are winnowed (removed). Inside the beans are nibs. These are ground into two products, chocolate liquor (ground particles) and cocoa butter (the natural oil of the cocoa bean). From these, various types of chocolate are produced.

Dark chocolate – More cocoa butter is added plus sugar and a tiny amount of lecithin ( an emulsifier to make the chocolate smoother and easier to work) and vanilla. A cocoa percentage of 55%, with 45% sugar, makes strong, expensive chocolate.  

Milk chocolate – More cocoa butter is added, plus sugar, condensed or powdered milk and a tiny amount of lecithin and vanilla. A cocoa percentage of 40%, with 60% sugar and milk, makes a strong milk chocolate.  

White chocolate – The chocolate liquor is removed. Sugar, condensed or powdered milk and a very small amount of lecithin and vanilla are added. So it’s hardly chocolate at all.

The couverture – The chocolate used by chocolatiers is known as couverture. It has slightly more butter added, to make it more fluid and easier to work.  

Working with chocolate requires a lot of practise. Under a microscope one can see that cocoa butter consists of crystals (not sugar but fat crystals) which can be in several shapes and sizes, ‘Tempering’ chocolate (i.e. heating and cooling it to specific temperatures) ensures as high a proportion as possible of one specific, stable form of crystal. This will give a uniform shiny, ‘snappy’ chocolate.

This stable crystal arrangement is easily upset, spoiling the whole look and taste, so the chocolatier must be extremely careful. Heat and moisture are the main elements which the chocolatier must handle with extreme care. Too much heat will produce a grey, speckled, mottled appearance known as ‘fat bloom’. Moisture will irreversibly affect the structure of the crystals (not the fat crystals) to re-form into larger shapes.  

Storing chocolate correctly is particularly important. ‘Sugar bloom’ (when white spots appear on the outside of the chocolate), can appear due to moisture. This may happen, for example, when chocolates are stored in the fridge.  

Making chocolates by hand is an expensive business and very labour intensive. It’s important to get the shine, no air holes and just the right thickness. Corners are cut, but the product won’t be as good; even the inexperienced taster will detect the difference.  

Making the chocolates – There are two methods of making chocolates: the enrobing method which makes chocolates with a smooth, creamy, but slightly firm filling and a covering of tempered chocolate; and the moulding method for soft fillings.  

Making ganache – Ganache is a smooth, creamy filling made by heating chocolate, double cream and a little butter. The proportion of each ingredient will vary according to the preferences of the maker.  
The key to a delicious ganache lies in the subtle flavouring which is blended into this rich mixture. To discover the perfect balance of ingredients needed to create a sensational mint, coffee or fruit flavouring can take months if not years of experimentation and practise. Flavour is not all, the ganache also must be of a smooth but firm consistency.  

This mixture needs to be turned into slabs so that it can be cut into individual pieces. To do this, the molten ganache is poured into stainless steel frames sitting on greaseproof paper. The ganache is smoothed flat with a palette knife and covered with greaseproof paper. It then goes into the cold room to set or several hours. Once set, if the ganache is not to be used immediately, it is covered with cling film in order to retain moisture.

Once ready to use, the ganache slab is cut with a special guillotine into squares or rectangles (a knife may be used). Other shapes like stars can be formed using shaped cutters, or rounds can be fashioned with the hands – provided one is working in a cool room!  

Enrobing – The next stage is the coating, known as the ‘enrobing’. It is important in this final stage, that the chocolate is well tempered.  
To do this, a bain marie is used (or a pan on top of a second pan which contains boiling water). There must be enough melted couverture to allow the ganache squares to be completely covered. A minimum depth of four inches of chocolate is therefore needed.  

If dark chocolate is being worked, it must be heated carefully to 45ºC, unless the instructions indicate that a higher temperature (up to 55ºC) is acceptable.  

The temperature can be tested with a thermometer, or by rule of thumb using a palette knife dipped into the molten chocolate and put to the lip. If it’s warm to hot, but not scalding, that’s about right. It is impossible to produce a shiny, snappy finish on chocolate which has been overheated.  

The heat is then reduced. The chocolatier does this by pouring the molten chocolate onto a marble slab. He then spreads the mixture out across the cold surface using a metal slice, then gathers it back into a small chocolate lake. Once it is cool enough, the viscous mass is swept back into the bowl.  
The temperature is raised again slightly, to bring the chocolate to a workable state, and enrobing can begin.  

A piece of ganache is put in the coating chocolate. A special fork with long, thin prongs is used to manipulate the ganache in the chocolate. When the ganache is completely covered, the fork is tapped lightly on the side of the pan to get rid of the excess coating, and the fork is scraped over the rim of the pan to remove the excess chocolate from the base. The ganache must be completely covered, as this coating acts as an insulator and prevents it from going off. The chocolate is then transferred to a sheet of greaseproof paper.  

Any decoration is done at this stage while the chocolate is still molten. A raised diagonal line is created by laying the side of the fork on the chocolate, then lifting the fork slightly and sliding it off the chocolate. Whirls or button shapes can be created with a piping bag. White chocolate piped the length of a dark chocolate is effective, as is milk chocolate piped onto a dark chocolate.  

A very shiny finish can be obtained if the tempered chocolate is in contact with a hard, smooth surface when setting, such as when plastic moulds are used.  

Soft Fillings – For chocolates with a liquid or liqueur filling, the moulding method is used. For this a set of moulds is required. The individual moulds are filled with tempered chocolate. The moulds are then tipped upside down to get rid of excess chocolate and to shake out any air bubbles. Once the chocolate has set, the liquid centre is poured into the thin shells of chocolate.  

The fillings, if not liqueur, usually contain more cream than sugar and less chocolate than those suited to the enrobing method. A little room at the top is left in order to pour on tempered chocolate for the base. When the chocolate is set, the filled chocolate shells are tapped out of the mould – chocolate shrinks when setting. The shells cannot be too thin, or they will split, but they should not be too thick either or they will mask the filling and prevent one from savouring it to the full.  

Equipment and Ingredients – Professional equipment is expensive to buy and is usually only available through specialist suppliers. But the beginner will find most of the essential equipment already to hand in the kitchen.  

To make chocolate on a small scale you will need a bain-marie, heatproof bowls, a sharp, strong bladed knife, wooden spoon and greaseproof paper. A wooden frame can be made for the ganache. Make sure you cover the wood with cling film before you start. Couverture is bought from specialist suppliers, but less refined (and less expensive) cooking chocolate can be bought from most supermarkets.  

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