Christmas Chocolates

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Milk Chocolate & Vanilla Caramel

My friend Charles emailed me asking various questions about caramels -- how much salt to use, how to infuse herb scents, how to enrobe them -- and then my friend Lulu mentioned that she was going to make truffles as gifts for family when she visited over the holidays. My answers to Charles touched on ideas I hadn't yet tried myself (using silicone molds and infusing various herbs by steeping) and so inspired by Lulu's ambition, I decided to do the same myself.

I got a pound each of three kinds of chocolate, all El Rey brand. White, a 41% milk, and a 70% dark. I bought two silicone candy molds. I brought my Le Creuset silicone pastry brushes back to Massachusetts with me. My idea was to paint melted chocolate into the molds to make the top shell, then fill each with a filling, then paint the feet on.

First I started with the white chocolate, melting it in a double boiler:

White Chocolate

I wanted to fill the white chocolate with a mint concoction, so I tried making a simple mint syrup, but overcooked it to 250F so when it cooled, it was much too solid to use as a filling. I relented and whisked in some butter and a splash of heavy cream to make a pretty standard buttercream. I wanted peppermint, but unable to procure the fresh leaves, used spearmint that my father graciously picked up and a splash of peppermint extract for intensity:

Mint Buttercream

I've been avoiding using artificial coloring, so it was nice to have the leaves themselves to add bits of color to what would otherwise be plain white-on-white (an unforgivably gauche fashion sin, especially at this time of year.)

The painting proved tougher than I thought, until my brother Kevin made an astute suggestion: don't freeze the molds after painting the chocolate, freeze them before. Since silicone has a very high specific heat (i.e. it's an excellent insulator), this worked well, because cold silicone can chill melted chocolate down very effectively. If I'd used those thin clear plastic molds, those would have just warmed up too fast. So, here I am, painting some chocolate (I think this is the milk chocolate, so this is not chronological) into some molds with the pastry brush:

Painting with Chocolate

The successful technique we arrived at was: freeze the mold, then paint in a thin layer of melted chocolate. Freeze it again, paint on a second layer. Freeze it a third time and it's ready to be filled. Fill it and freeze it just until the it's solid enough to paint on a final chocolate layer, the foot; one more (longer) stay in the freezer and they're ready to turn out of the molds.
Kevin's suggestion worked so well that I drafted him into servitude. He was actually very good at all the technique, and was painting molds, filling the chocolates, running molds to and from the freezer, and turning them out and trimming them down like a pro immediately. Here he is, turning out a finished mold of white chocolates:

Kevin, Turning out Chocolates

And here are those chocolates. We were pretty consistently overzealous about the amount of filling we packed into each, so the finished products didn't have flat bottoms and needed trimming down and cleaning up.

White Chocolates

The next batch we made were the dark chocolates. I filled those with a rosemary fleur de sel caramel:

Rosemary Caramel

Testing a suggestion I'd made to Charles, I used double the suggested amount of fleur de sel from this recipe, and I steeped several sprigs of rosemary in the cream / butter / salt mixture before adding it to the sugar syrup (removing the rosemary before that part, of course.) It worked out very well. Here's a gratuitous shot of the caramel, looking delicious:

Rosemary Caramel

The rosemary was very potent; it could have been more subtle, but with the dark chocolate it worked very well. And we added a few grains of fleur de sel to each shell before pouring the caramel in to give it an extra salt kick and crunch.

Dark Chocolate & Rosemary Caramel

Here's a mold of these guys, with the feet just painted on. So these will be done as soon as they are chilled enough to turn out without deforming and then trimmed up.

Painted Feet

Note that I did not use the hearts. Their sides are too steep and the shape is too detailed, which makes them hard to paint with chocolate and hard to turn out when they're done. Plus, it's Christmas, not Valentine's Day. Come on.

Here are a finished batch of the dark chocolates, turned out and ready for trimming:

Dark Chocolate & Rosemary Caramel w/ Fleur de Sel

Note that I did not attempt to temper this chocolate at all. I knew I'd be keeping them in cold storage (out on the porch; it's Massachusetts, it's cold up here!) and I also have never successfully tempered chocolate and if I ever learn I think it'll have to be by example from someone who's good at it. It sounds difficult and finicky. They looked and tasted quite good even if they could have been shinier.

Finally, I made the milk chocolates. I wanted a more straightforward crowd-pleaser than the first two, so while I'd brought a bottle of rose water back with me from Austin, I decided at the last minute not to make rose caramel, but just a straight vanilla caramel. I used the same recipe, omitted the salt, added a scraped vanilla bean into the caramel as it cooked, and whisked some lemon juice in as it cooled. It was delicious. You can barely make out the vanilla specks in this photo:

Vanilla Caramel

My suspicion about the crowd-pleasing was confirmed: There were more milk chocolates than either of the other two, since it was our third batch and we had practice, so our yield was highest. And yet, as I write this, there are some dark and white chocolates left, a few, and all the milk chocolates are gone. I think it's because you can't really eat the white or dark chocolates in volume -- they're pretty intense -- but you can stuff your face with milk chocolate & vanilla caramel for hours before it gets old. At least, I can.

We cranked through a lot of chocolates in one day. All told, minus the ones we ate during preparation for "testing", we had 138 of them on the sheets at the end.

Finished Chocolates

White Chocolate & Mint Cream

I boxed a bunch of them up as gifts. Six to a box: Two of each kind. And I gave them out to family that showed up, and have a handful of boxes left for my parents' neighbors.

Gift Boxed Chocolates

The rest of them (and there were still quite a few) I handed out as mignardises after Christmas day dinner and put out on a platter later for dessert.

Overall, they were a huge success. None were botched, and it pretty much all worked out just like I'd hoped it would. The chocolate shells were nicely thin even though I used normal chocolate and not couverture; it was easy to paint the shells into the molds, fill them, and turn them out, and they looked good and the flavors worked together fantastically. I'd like to use exclusively peppermint next time, but you have to work with what you've got. And I'd probably use less rosemary next time in the caramel to make it a bit more subtle, but that's more a preference than anything else. It certainly wasn't overbearing.

The one difficulty I encountered that I'm not quite sure how to solve is that it took a while to get through all the batches of a given chocolate, during which the caramel would cool and need reheating to make it liquid enough to pour. Every time I reheated it, it crystallized a bit. The vanilla caramels had a good enough yield I had to reheat the caramel twice, and after the second time it was visibly grainy. Still tasted good, but the ones from that last batch were more like a sugar candy than a nice gooey caramel.

Anyone know how to solve that? I'm thinking maybe I should keep the caramel over a warm double boiler so it never solidifies, that maybe it was the fluctuation in temperature -- cooling then warming then cooling them warming -- that really spurred the crystal formation. I'm not quite sure.

That notwithstanding, these were a great success, surprisingly quick to make, and delicious. And thanks to Kevin for all his help!


At December 27, 2007 7:01 PM , Blogger Katy said...

I wish these chocolates were in Ohio, not New England.

At December 28, 2007 7:27 AM , OpenID clumsy said...

Bravo! Wonderful job on the chocolates!!

And yes, I think the double broiler would solve your caramel problems.

At December 28, 2007 10:51 AM , Anonymous Cacao Guy said...

'And yes, I think the double broiler would solve your caramel problems.'

Yes, but it may bee too warm for the chocolate (especially if you do Temper it). Add some Liquid Glucose or Corn Syrup in place of some of the sugar, this will result in much smaller crystals from the get-go.

When using Peppermint in molded chocolates, it will taint the molds (it's a very strong flavour).


At December 28, 2007 1:28 PM , Blogger brian said...

I've never had any problem with silicone absorbing any flavors, if that's what you mean by tainting the molds. I think it's pretty nonreactive and totally impermeable. I'm not entirely sure, though. The molds are cheap enough that it wouldn't be the end of the world. :)

As for the tempering, yeah, I have to admit I'm mildly afraid of tempering just because it sounds like such a finicky process. Not that making confections isn't, but I have decent intuition now for temperatures and syrups and whatnot, where I've never even seen anyone temper chocolate ever, and then you have to actually keep the finished product from getting too cold, right? Or the cocoa butter can decrystallize even in solid, finished chocolate? (I assume this is what causes sugar bloom in chocolate kept in the refrigerator.)

Fundamentally if I wanted well-tempered chocolate filled with caramel made with this method, I think I'd have to leave the caramel syrupy enough to be easily spoonable in the chocolate tempering range. Which I suppose means if I want solid-at-room-temperature caramel enrobed in chocolate, I have to mold the caramel and dip it afterwards instead.

At December 29, 2007 5:25 AM , Anonymous Cacao Guy said...

Hi Brian,
I take your point about the silicon molds, perhaps my statement was a bit sweeping :-)

Tempering chocolate is really not as scary as it seems, as long as you don't burn the chocolate during the initial melt, you simply start over if it doesn't quite work out.

Once you start using tempered chocolate the use of fridges and freezers goes out of the window. If you dip a knife tempered chocolate it will harden within a couple of mins at room temperature (around 20 deg C). The tricky bit is keeping the chocolate at the right temperature while you are using it.

The answer here is to do far more than you need, it will maintain it's temperature for longer (I pour the excess onto a plastic tray, let it cool and break it up for next time).

Sugar Bloom is actually the sugars in the chocolate coming to the surface although a similar thing can happen with the Cocoa Butter. In both cases the filling should be as close to the temperature of the chocolate as possible and cooling (very important) should be as 'even' as shock cooling and definatly no fridges (unless they're the special air cooled type).

Dipping is the way to go to begin only need temper the chocolate once!!

I'd love to see you give it a go, you will be so impressed with your results.

Good luck,


At December 30, 2007 2:30 PM , Blogger Amy said...


At January 1, 2008 4:29 PM , Blogger Katia said...

The chocolates are lovely...great idea for Valentine's day also. The rosemary sounds delightful, I might try lavender also.

At January 7, 2008 7:01 PM , Anonymous chris said...

Wow looks wonderful.I want to try this chocolate.

At February 28, 2008 9:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have made chocolates in molds but was trying to find information on molding caramels directly into a mold. These are firmer caramel not the liquid center kind. Thought it would be fun to make different shapes with the caramel. I imagine you would need to use either silicone mold or a hard plastic mold or metal one due to the heat of the caramel unless you let it cool down a bit. I was mostly wondering about how to get it to release from the mold successfully. I was planning on dipping them after. Any suggestions?

At June 27, 2008 3:56 AM , Blogger Marius said...

Tell your brother I say thanks for the freezer idea, it makes 100% sense to me now - I made the same mistake last night (freezing after I painted the chocolate) when I tried to make filled candies for fun.

I'm definitely going to use his method instead. BTW, those candies you made looks brilliant.

It also gave me an idea looking at your photos- drizzle different flavours of chocolate over the mold beforehand- it should make some lovely designs on the surfaces of the chocolates?

Thanks again for the tip

At June 30, 2008 2:53 AM , Blogger Marius said...

Just thought I'd let you know the chocolate drizzling thing works like a dream- although it looks a bit boring...

So what I did was to drizzle a different colour over the finished ones that came out of the mould.

A tip I can give you on this though is to wait until the candies is room temperature first, otherwise the drizzled chocolate hardly sticks when it solidifies (I think it has something to do with the water condensation forming when you pop them out right after they come out of the freezer).

Keep well ;)

At June 30, 2008 2:54 AM , Blogger Marius said...

This post has been removed by the author.

At December 18, 2008 7:16 AM , Anonymous Lana Petfield said...

Your chocolates are beautiful! I am a Pastry Arts instructor in Virginia, and recently told my students about your website - we love the great pictures! Here's a tip to make truffle making easier: To coat the molds with chocolate, its quick and easy to freeze the mold, then use a small ladle to fill each mold completely with chocolate. Let sit, filled, for 1 minute. Then, turn the mold over the bowl and dump out the excess chocolate. Use a metal dough scraper to go over the surface of the mold to remove excess chocolate. Then proceed as usual. Hope this helps, and keep up the great cooking!

At February 9, 2009 2:35 PM , Blogger How To Eat A Cupcake said...

Mmm I wanna make these for Valentine's Day. I just spend like $60 on Guittard chocolate and a ton of molds!

At May 19, 2009 8:12 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At July 6, 2009 7:50 PM , Blogger kitschykitschen said...

Hi, I'm a chocolatier and I'd LOVE to teach you how to temper chocolate. ;)

Also, in addition to the PA instructor's comment, I find it faster to fill with a ladle, scrape off the excess with a palette knife (I use a plaster scraper) and then knock it on the counter 2 or 3 times to omit air bubbles. Then tilt back over the bowl and giv'er a knock with the ladle again to really thin the shells out.

If you temper your chocolate, you won't have to go back and forth to the freezer, they will set in no time!

Mmmm. They look so yummmmmy.


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