You can be a home chocolatier

Treats to send hearts aflutter

Chocolate Truffles

Working with chocolate can be tricky, but creating glossy, beautiful treats is possible in your own kitchen as long as you stick to a few key principles. Professional chocolatiers spend years mastering their craft and use expensive specialty equipment to melt and stir their chocolate to the perfect consistency. However, with a little science and some basic equipment, anyone can make stunning treats that will send hearts aflutter. 

Chocolate that is going to be drizzled or dipped into or poured into molds needs to be tempered so that it sets up shiny and firm. If not tempered correctly, the cocoa butter and sugar do not crystallize properly, resulting in a dull appearance, chalky texture and shorter shelf life.  Tempering can be done over the stove or in the microwave. Each method involves risks and benefits.  Placing chocolate in a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water is the traditional method and allows for the most control over temperature. There is a risk, however, of contaminating the chocolate with water. A tiny drop of water or even steam coming into contact with the chocolate as it melts can cause it to seize up.

When using a double boiler, or bain-marie, make sure the top bowl is completely dry. Away from the stove, place two-thirds of the chocolate you intend to use into the top bowl. Fill the bottom pot half full of water and bring to a rolling boil. Turn off the heat and place a small kitchen towel over the top of the pot to trap the steam. Place the top pot filled with two-thirds of the chopped chocolate over the bottom pot and allow to sit for one minute to begin melting. Use a thermometer to check the temperature and keep stirring until the mixture reaches 110-115 degrees. Remove the top pot with the chocolate and place on a kitchen towel. Let cool until it reaches a temperature of 100 degrees, then add the remaining chopped chocolate and stir until smooth, at which point it is ready to be used. 

This can also be done in the microwave, which eliminates the risk of water contamination. Chocolate (especially white and milk chocolate) can burn easily in the microwave however, so use caution. Place two-thirds of the chocolate (finely chopped) in the microwave and melt at 50 percent power for one-minute intervals, stirring in between each interval. Check the temperature after the second interval. Continue to microwave at 30-second intervals until the chocolate reaches 110-115 degrees (same as with stovetop method), then remove from the microwave. Add the remaining chopped chocolate in small batches, stirring to melt completely before adding more.  Once the melted chocolate has reached a temperature of 90 degrees it is ready to use. 

You can use a regular instant-read kitchen thermometer when tempering chocolate, which can be a bit cumbersome. Digital spatula thermometers are available online for less than $20 and are a wonderful tool to have on hand for jobs like this. 

Chocolate melted and tempered in this way is perfect for making chocolate-covered strawberries, drizzling over a nutty scone, or for dipping truffles or crisp shortbread cookies. If dipping strawberries or other fruit, make sure they are totally dry before dipping so the chocolate can adhere. 

Emulsions like chocolate ganache or lighter-than-air mousse are also easily created at home and are perfect recipes for a decadent night in. Similar to how mayonnaise or salad dressing is made, a chocolate emulsion is created by progressively incorporating cream or milk into the fat-rich chocolate. Initially when the liquid is added to the chocolate, the mixture will look curdled and unattractive, however, continuing to slowly add liquid while whisking continuously in the center of the bowl will ensure that the fat and water droplets are homogenized. 

Magic Chocolate Mousse, by Hervé This

Adapted from Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor, by Hervé This. Columbia University Press, 2008.

While it's true that water contamination is a disaster when tempering chocolate, chemist and father of molecular gastronomy Hervé This developed a deceptively simple recipe for chocolate mousse that relies on specific portions of water and chocolate emulsified together to yield this incredible mousse. 

10 ounces 70 percent bittersweet chocolate

8 ounces water 

Ice cubes

Unsweetened whipped cream, to serve 

Place the ice cubes in a large bowl with a little cold water. Nest a smaller bowl in the ice bath. 

Combine chopped chocolate and water in a small pot over medium heat and whisk until smooth, about two to three minutes.  Pour the melted chocolate into the bowl in the ice bath and energetically whisk the mixture by hand until it develops a thick, pudding-like consistency. Stop before it gets to your desired finished texture – it will thicken further as it sits. If the mixture is too runny, reheat and add a bit more chocolate, then whisk again in the ice bath. If too thick, reheat with a touch more water and whisk again.

Chocolate Truffles 

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons honey 

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped 

1 tablespoon soft butter 

2 tablespoons liquor of your choice, optional 

Cocoa powder, chopped nuts, coconut, or tempered chocolate for rolling/ dipping

Have the chopped chocolate ready in a mixing bowl.  Bring the heavy cream and honey to a boil in a small saucepan, then pour a third of this mixture over the chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is smooth and glossy, then slowly stir in the remaining cream mixture, mixing until smooth and homogenous. Stir in softened butter and liquor, if using, then set aside to cool to room temperature, about four hours. 

Use a scoop to portion truffles and use your hands to roll into balls. (This will be messy.) Then roll in cocoa powder or other toppings. To dip in tempered chocolate, freeze formed truffles until hard, then use a skewer to pierce each truffle and dip in the melted chocolate. Place the dipped truffle on a parchment-lined tray to harden.   

About The Author

Ashley Meyer

Ashley Meyer has been cooking as long as she has been walking. The daughter of beloved former Illinois Times food columnist, Julianne Glatz, Ashley offers a fresh, inspired take on her mother’s culinary legacy. Ashley studied winemaking at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand and recently achieved the...

Illinois Times has provided readers with independent journalism for more than 40 years, from news and politics to arts and culture.

Now more than ever, we’re asking for your support to continue providing our community with real news that everyone can access, free of charge.

We’re also offering a home delivery option as an added convenience for friends of the paper.

Click here to subscribe, or simply show your support for Illinois Times.

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment