Creating chocolate confections for Valentine’s Day or Easter is child’s play for most bakers and candy-makers, but for some home cooks, it seems a daunting prospect best left to professionals.  On the contrary.  Once you get the hang of it, making professional quality chocolates is a wonderfully exciting experience you will treasure for a lifetime.

fine chocolate molten

To begin with, you’ll need a great quality chocolate.  Look for Couverture on the label and try such brands as Lindt, Sprungli, Ghirardelli, Scharffen-Berger, Callebaut, Guittard and Valrhona. There are many other brands, including a number of organic varieties. We tend to use Guittard, but the choice is purely personal. Look for the flavorings you like best and sample them for taste and texture.

Chocolate comes in varying degrees or percentages of cocoa. The higher the percent, the stronger the cocoa flavor will be. If you love the intense flavor of cocoa, then use a higher percentage, but if you prefer milder chocolates, use a lower number. You will also have to decide if you want dark, milk or white chocolates for your creations.

You will also need a few tools. Among these will be a candy thermometer, stainless steel bowls, a pot in which you can bring water close to the boil, various moulds for making the chocolates, spatulas and scrapers of various sizes and candy-making brushes. Other optional items can be found at The Baker’s Kitchen, an excellent supplier of all types of candy, cake and pastry making equipment.

Next, you need to learn how to temper the chocolate. For this we turn to a superb video produced in Australia. Note that the temperatures indicated in the video are in Celsius, not Fahrenheit, so adjust accordingly.

Tempering couverture chocolate gives it a glossy finish and a hard crisp consistency. If it is not tempered before use it will be poor streaky color and it may develop a bloom on the surface, making it look unappetizing.

To temper chocolate:
1. Break the couverture in small pieces into a bowl

2. Stand the bowl over simmering, NOT boiling, water and stir the chocolate – do no beat it – until it is melted.

3. Take the bowl away from the heat and stand in cold water whilst continuing to stir.

4. Return the bowl to the pan of simmering water and heat until it reaches a temperature of 88 degrees F or 31 degrees C then remove it from the pan.

5. Test a spoonful of chocolate by spreading it on a cool surface covered with grease-proof (wax) paper or on a marble slab. It should set within 5 minutes. If it does not set, repeat steps 3 and 4, testing the chocolate again at the end of the process.

6. While you are using the chocolate, keep it at a steady 88 degrees F or 31 degrees C.

Once you’ve selected the moulds for your candies, the process is somewhat simple and easy.

Now, we come to the fun bit: the recipes for chocolate candies. These are particularly well suited to Valentine’s Day.

Whether you want to fill an Easter egg or make a pretty box with chocolates, you will find that these recipes are far easier than you ever believed possible.

Orange Chocolates
16 ounces (455g) high quality semi sweet (plain) or sweet (milk) chocolate
8 ounces (225g) honey
12 ounces (340g) finely chopped or minced orange peel
4 ounces (95g) chocolate and hazelnut spread
3/4 ounce (22g) orange zest
12 ounces (340g) semi sweet or sweet chocolate for dipping

1. Melt the chocolate (see YouTube video) and warm the honey separately.

2. Stir the orange peel and chocolate and hazelnut spread into the melted chocolate, then mix in the orange zest and honey.

3. Line a baking tray with non-stick paper, then pour in the mixture. Roughen the surface with a fork and leave to set for 24 hours.

4. When it is set, cut it into different shapes. You can cut it into thin sticks or use small cutters to make crescents, hearts, ovals, etc.

5. Melt the chocolate for dipping then dip each candy into it using a fork. Leave to set on non-stick paper.

6. You can decorate them with small pieces of crystallized orange peel or piped chocolate.

Liqueur Chocolates
For this recipe you need small candy or chocolate moulds.

16 ounces (455g) sugar
8 Tablespoons water
Liqueurs of your choice, e.g. Cointreau, Kirsch, Grand Marnier

1. Put the sugar and water into a pan and boil until it reaches a temperature of 225 degrees F (107 deg C). Use a sugar thermometer to measure this.

2. Immediately pour the syrup in to air tight jars which should be sealed quickly to prevent the mixture crystallizing.

3. Doing just one jar at a time and working quickly, open a jar, pour in the 2 tbs of the liqueur you are using. Seal immediately. Shake the jars gently to mix the liqueur with the syrup.

4. Coat the moulds with melted chocolate (use the same method as making Easter eggs), allow to set.

5. Carefully fill the chocolate cases, while they are still in their moulds, with liqueur flavored syrup. Leave about an 1/8 inch clear at the top. Allow the syrup to set, about 24 hours.

6. Using melted chocolate, fill up the 1/8 inch above the liqueur filling with piped chocolate (use a piping bag and fine nozzle). Use a palette knife over the soft chocolate to flatten and seal.

Mint Crisps
Although this recipe uses peppermint, for other flavors of crisps you could substitute coffee (mix 1 tsp of instant coffee and a little water to a stiff paste), or grated rind of one orange or 2tbs of chopped preserved ginger.

8 ounces (255g) high quality semi sweet (plain) or sweet (milk) chocolate
4 ounces (115g) brown sugar
2 teaspoons peppermint oil

1. Melt the chocolate (see YouTube video). When it is melted, stir in the brown sugar making sure it well mixed.

2. Stir in the peppermint oil, again making sure it is well mixed.

3. Allow the mixture to cool a little then spread it on non-stick paper and leave it until it is nearly set.

4. When it is set, cut it into different shapes. You can cut it into thin sticks or use small cutters to make crescents, hearts, ovals, etc.

5. Cut out shapes using various shaped cutters. You can also cut it into small squares or sticks. You can remelt any remnants and then follow steps 3 to 5 again.

6. If you prefer, instead of spreading it on paper than cutting out shapes, you can pour the warm chocolate and peppermint mixture into shallow moulds, then allow to set before turning out.

Springtime Chocolates
16 ounces (455g) white chocolate
Food colorings, springtime colors like pale yellow, pink and green

1. Melt the chocolate (see YouTube video) then divide it in separate bowls. Mix one different coloring into the chocolate in each bowl, making sure that the color is even throughout the chocolate.

2. Prepare small candy moulds. Pour one colored chocolate into each mould, filling it to about one third its depth. Then fill each mould by another third with a different color, then fill the mould with a third color. Leave to set.

Pistachio Fudge
1 Cup plus 1 Tablespoon (9oz/250g) sugar
13 ounces (375g) can of sweetened condensed milk
1/4 Cup (2oz/50g) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces (115g) semi-sweet (plain) chocolate, grated
3/4 Cup (30z/75g) chopped pistachios (or nuts of your choice)

1. Grease a square of oblong cake pan and line with non-stick paper.

2. Place the sugar, condensed milk and butter into a saucepan and heat gently. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the ingredients are well combined and smooth.

3. Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring from time to time, until the temperature of 240 deg F (116 deg C) is reached. Either use a candy thermometer or test the mixture by placing a teaspoonful in a cup of iced water. It should form a soft ball.

4. When the soft ball stage has been reached, remove from the heat and add the nuts, chocolate and vanilla extract. Beat until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed and smooth.

5. Pour it into the cake pan and smooth the top. When it is almost set, mark it out into small squares. When it is completely set, cut into the marked squares.

Once your chocolate candies are set and ready to unmould, clean up any untidy edges with a sharp, small knife. Put your chocolates into the decorative box of your choice with wrapping tissue as a liner. Make sure the chocolates do not touch each other or lay in an irregular pattern to insure they will be intact when opened.

Making the actual moulded confections is simply a matter of practice. Here’s a wonderful video by our friend Jacques Torres showing the simple techniques needed to create your own chocolate delights.

The final step… enjoy!

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