Chocolate Decorations are a simple and fun way to take your baked goods from ‘homey’ to ‘chique’! Whether you’re applying a simple heart or an intricate butterfly, a small chocolate shape is the best way to make any dessert look worthy of a professional display.
But anyone that’s ever worked with melted chocolate knows it’s a tricky task to master. If you fail to heat your chocolate properly, or heaven forbid a drop of water enters your bowl, you run the risk of getting the chocolate equivalent of cottage cheese. Yuck! Finding the balance between ‘too hot’ and ‘too cool’ requires practice, attention, and a bit of patience.
Don’t be scared though! As intimidating as it may seem, working with chocolate is FUN! Following a few simple rules and taking your time can save you from wasting a batch of expensive chocolate goodness. After spending most of my summers in my aunt’s bayside chocolate store, I’ve built an arsenal of tips and tricks at my disposal that will ensure you always get the perfect chocolatey treat!
So what’s the secret? How do these professionals make it look so easy?
It’s called tempering chocolate. You have to begin with the right chocolate, and that doesn’t just mean high quality cocoa (although I do highly recommend it). Tempering Chocolate is the process of slowly heating and cooling your mixture until it reaches the right consistency to work with. Whether you’re working with melted chocolate for dipping strawberries, covering candy bars, or making decorations for cupcakes, proper steps need to be taken. If you think popping some chocolate chips in the microwave is going to get you a quality dessert, you’re in for a nasty surprise!
The tempering method begins with the best quality chocolate you can get your hands on. Making sure your chocolate has few chemical ingredients will help your chocolate become smooth and glossy. Make sure the fat in your chocolate is primarily ‘cocoa butter’. This is the fat that’s naturally in the cocoa bean and it’s the best emulsifier for your mixture.
Your next step is to set up a double broiler. As fancy as it sounds, it’s just a glass bowl on top of a pot of boiling water. Don’t let the water boil too hot or you will overheat the chocolate surrounding the bowl. Also, in the name of all that is holy, do NOT heat your chocolate in a metal bowl. Metal conducts heat, burns your chocolate and you will not get the right texture. If you must use a plastic bowl, I can’t stop you, but if you have a glass bowl available use it! It’s the best container to heat your chocolate in.
After your double boiler is set up you want to add pieces of your chocolate into the glass bowl and allow it to slowly melt. This is where patience comes in. The longer it takes for your chocolate to melt the better your mixture will be. It might be hard to wait and you’ll be tempted to turn up the heat, but I promise a little patience will pay off when you’re gliding through a smooth ocean of chocolate. Once your chocolate is about two thirds melted, take the glass bowl off the boiling water and move it to the counter. Continue mixing it until the heat from the melted chocolate fully melts the remaining chunks.
Now judging on the texture and consistency of your melted chocolate you can decide whether or not to add more chocolate chunks. If the mixture is too hot, or burns your finger to touch, add a few more pieces of melted chocolate to bring the temperature down. That’s it! You’ve officially tempered chocolate.
If you want do it the ‘fancy’ way, completely melt ⅔ of your chocolate in the double broiler, remove the glass bowl from the double boiler, and add the remaining ⅓ of chocolate to the melted chocolate and fold until the whole mixture has melted. This is another method of tempering chocolate that most professionals use, but I’ve never noticed a difference.
Another trick? If you find out your chocolate isn’t reaching the right consistency, a few drops of oil may just save the day.
Now that you’ve properly melted your chocolate, and it’s reached the right temperature, you’re ready to start making your chocolate decorations! At this point I highly recommend using a Nonstick Baking Mat.
A Baking Mat is a Nonstick Silicone surface that lines the bottom of your baking pan. They’re mainly popular because silicone evenly distributes heat and enhances whatever gets baked on the surface. But they’re not just for baking!
The flexible silicone and non stick fiberglass surface is perfect for making chocolate decorations, and I promise you, that’s the trick that all these professionals are using to make such perfect chocolate shapes. Parchment paper is weak and tears easily while silicone baking mats are durable, sturdy, and NEVER stick to your chocolate. After a few minutes of cooling, your chocolate pops right off.
They’re also transparent! If you put a picture of a design you want to draw with chocolate under the mat, you can see the image and trace the design with your piping bag which really comes in handy.
If you invest in a Baking Mat, however, make sure you buy a high quality. I’ve heard so many horror stories from my friends that used cheap silicone baking mats, and they melted in the oven or found pieces of fiberglass chipped off on their food! The good ones are a bit pricier, but in the long run it’s worth every cent.
The one I recommend is a Silicone Baking Mat by Baking Buddy. In my opinion, this is the best one you will find on the market. The producer of it’s silicone is the #1 top rated silicone supplier on Amazon and it has a ton of useful information bakers need to know (measurements, metric conversions, cookie recipe, baking tips, etc.) printed on the surface. You can check out pictures of this thing in action on their Amazon listing.
Whether you’re using a baking mat, or parchment paper, start practicing by piping small and simple designs (if you’re a beginner). With a little practice you’ll get the hang of the process, and start creating amazing shapes in no time!