- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

Every holiday, Falls Church resident B. Keith Ryder makes dozens of truffles to add to his gift boxes for family and friends “You can avoid preservatives manufacturers put in chocolate. If you care about a higher quality, you can make sure you use gourmet ingredients,” says Mr. Ryder, a chocolate and cake-decorating instructor for Fairfax County Public Schools Office of Adult and Community Education. “It lets you come up with your own flavor combinations, too.”

Mr. Ryder, owner of a home-based bakery, BCakes by BKeith, ventured into chocolate making to add chocolate work into his cakes and experiment with flavor ideas. Flavor, he says, is the most important decision when making chocolate, followed by presentation, shape and size.

“Then after that, it’s how many,” says Mr. Ryder, president of the International Cake Exploration Societe (ICES), a society of sugar artists based in Monroe, Mich.

Learning to make chocolate confections — such as truffles, solid chocolates, filled chocolates and chocolate-covered berries, pretzels, graham crackers and other edibles — at home is easier than it looks and requires just the basic kitchenware, say chocolatiers and chocolate-making instructors.

The kitchenware they recommend includes a saucepan, glass or plastic mixing bowl, thermometer and rubber spatula or wooden spoon, along with molds for making molded candies that can be purchased at craft and at cake and candy supply stores.

Molds come in hundreds of shapes and sizes, such as animals and holiday decorations, and can be used for different types of candies, including truffles, bonbons, mocha spoons and dessert cups.

Chocolate can be purchased in bulk in a variety of flavors, including dark, milk, white, semisweet and bittersweet.

“You can make such a wide variety of things. Your imagination can go crazy with it,” says Van Billington, executive director of Retail Confectioner’s International, a trade association of retail manufacturers in Glenview, Ill.

Two grades of chocolate are used in making chocolate candy. Couveture or real chocolate is made with cocoa butter and requires tempering, a process of melting chocolate into a liquid state and manipulating it so it can set hard and shiny. Confectioner’s coating, a lower-grade chocolate made of fats, does not need to be tempered, chocolatiers say.

Tempering can be done in a variety of ways, but the most common method is melting two-thirds of the chocolate and, after it is melted, adding the rest of the chocolate, Mr. Ryder says. As the chocolate is melting in both steps, the temperature is raised and lowered in intervals, giving the chocolate short exposures to heat, and the mixture is continuously stirred, he says.

The first heating is to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, says Peter Greweling, professor of baking and pastry arts for the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He is the author of “Chocolates & Confections, Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner,” which is scheduled to be published in February.

After it is heated, the chocolate then is cooled to 80 degrees, stirred and rewarmed to 89 or 90 degrees, Mr. Greweling says.

The chocolate either can be heated in the microwave in short intervals or over a water bath, which consists of a heated pot of water used to heat a container on top of it, he says.

Mr. Greweling warns against using excessive heat and getting water on the chocolate. Overheating the chocolate thickens it and causes it to become grainy, while water causes it to thicken and prevents it from flowing and coating properly, he says.

As such, tempering chocolate can be challenging for a beginner and requires practice to perfect, says Sarah Tenaglia, senior food editor of Bon Appetit, a food and entertainment magazine in Los Angeles. Getting the right temperatures and working quickly are essential to the process, she says.

“There’s all of these variables that might prevent it from looking as pretty and shiny as a professional might get it to look,” Ms. Tenaglia says.

Mock or quick tempering is an alternative, a method of melting the chocolate to 110 to 115 degrees, then refrigerating it until 15 to 20 minutes before serving, she says. Chilling prevents the chocolate from blooming, or getting spots on top of the chocolate and streaks from cocoa butter coming to the surface, she says.

Once the chocolate is tempered, it can be used to make a variety of chocolate candies.

For truffles, the chocolate can be used to form the exterior shell and to make the filling or ganache with the addition of lukewarm heavy whipping cream and bourbon vanilla, says Cheryl Sandberg, owner of An Occasional Chocolate, a company in Roseville, Calif., that provides chocolate-making supplies and classes.

Purees, fruit creams, caramel and other liquids also can be used to flavor ganache, which is a mixture of chocolate and a liquid, Mr. Ryder says.

“Make sure anything that has chocolate give it a pinch of salt. It’s a flavor enhancer and makes the chocolate more chocolaty,” he says.

Truffles can be made in a variety of methods.

For instance, the ganache can be made with a truffle scoop to form the chocolate into balls of a uniform size, Mrs. Sandberg says. The balls then are dipped in real chocolate for 10 seconds until completely covered and are placed on waxed paper or another nonstick surface, she says.

Tempered chocolate can be poured into a mold shaped like a half-sphere and the remainder dumped out, Mr. Ryder says. After the chocolate firms, the ganache is poured into the shell, leaving enough room for a top coat of tempered chocolate that will seal the candy, he says.

The chocolate takes about 10 minutes to set during each step, he says.

Another candy that can be made out of chocolate is bark.

Melted or tempered chocolate is spread in a thin layer, about 1/8th- to 1/4th-inch thick, on a nonstick surface, says Theresa Souther, pastry instructor at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg. While the chocolate is still wet, peppermint, coconut, dried fruit or nuts can be sprinkled on top, then it is put in the refrigerator to harden for breaking or cutting into pieces, she says.

“I would say start with truffles, bark and things you can do by hand and work your way up from there,” Mrs. Souther says, adding, “It’s always fun to have something you can share and show off all of your work.”



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