Happy Endings

There's something very special about an Easter basket filled with carefully crafted eggs, unique goodies that are chosen to fit the recipient's personality and homemade chocolates. If you've never tried to mold your own chocolates at home before, you're in luck. This month's column is all about that very subject. And, what's more, it covers all of the steps involved -- from grocery cart to Easter basket.

Purchasing Chocolate When purchasing chocolate, a quick browse through the chocolate section in grocery store, candy shop, or gourmet shop will show you that there are many types and brands of chocolate available. Even within types of chocolate, the flavor, sweetness, and color can vary from one manufacturer to another. Try several different brands and settle on the one you like best.

To check the quality of a chocolate, look for a glossy appearance and a chocolaty aroma. The chocolate should break with a snap. Also, it should melt on your tongue without waxiness or graininess.

Depending on your tastes, you may want to purchase a variety of chocolate to mold into candies. Some popular favorites include:

  • Dark Chocolate
  • Milk Chocolate
  • White Chocolate

A combination of the above types of chocolates will add an extra depth --of both flavor and appearance --to an Easter basket.

Storing Chocolate

Chocolate should be tightly covered in a cool, dry place before it is used. Since the temperature should be between 60° F. and 78° F, you may want to refrigerate the chocolate in hot weather. But, before refrigerating the chocolate, wrap it tightly in aluminum foil and seal it in a plastic bag to prevent the chocolate from absorbing any odors from other foods. When bringing the chocolate to room temperature, leave it wrapped so moisture doesn't condense on the chocolate and cause lumping when the chocolate is melted.

Melting Chocolate When melting the chocolate, make sure that all of your equipment is completely dry. Any moisture on the utensils or in the container may cause the chocolate to stiffen. If this happens, stir in 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of melted shortening for every ounce of chocolate.

Before melting, chop the chocolate bars and/or squares into smaller pieces. Always stir chocolate and melt it over low heat to avoid scorching.

Below are some methods for melting chocolate:

  • Direct Heat: Place the chocolate in a heavy saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly until partially melted. Immediately remove from the heat and continue stirring until the chocolate is smooth.
  • Double Boiler: Place enough water in the bottom pan of a double boiler so that the top of the water is 1/2 inch below the upper pan. Place the chocolate in the upper pan. Then place the double boiler over low heat. Stir the chocolate constantly until it is melted. The water in the bottom of the double boiler should never come to boiling. If you don't have a double boiler, you can use a large saucepan in place of the bottom pan and a small metal bowl or saucepan that easily fits into the bottom pan as the upper pan.
  • Microwave Oven: Place 1 cup of chocolate pieces or 2 ounces of chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl or glass measuring cup. Micro-cook, uncovered, on 100% power (high) for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes or until the chocolate is soft enough to stir smooth. Stir once every minute during heating to help the chocolate heat evenly.

If you are new to melting chocolate, using the double boiler method is usually the easiest and produces the most consistent results.

Molding Chocolates Before you begin molding chocolates, it is important to have the proper tools on hand. These include:
  • Melted chocolate mixture
  • Plastic sheet molds of your choice
  • Spatula
  • Wooden toothpick

Flexible, plastic sheet molds can turn candy into all sorts of fun and fancy shapes. These molds can be filled with melted chocolate, various colors of confectioner’s coatings, or even fudge. If sweets are not what strikes your fancy, you can also use them to mold elegant pats of butter or other spreads for dinner parties.

The molds must be clean and dry before filling. Greasing is not necessary when you’re filling the molds with melted chocolate, and could ruin the appearance of the finished candy.

When molding melted chocolate, spoon the melted mixture into all of the cavities in the mold. If necessary, use a spatula to spread it evenly in the cavities. Tap the mold gently several times on a countertop to remove any air bubbles. You may need to use a wooden pick to remove any of the air bubbles on the surface of the candy.

Chill the mold in a refrigerator or freezer until the candy has hardened. To unmold, invert the plastic sheet mold and gently flex or tap the mold and the candies will fall out. Hold the mold close to the counter to avoid breaking the candies.

Packaging Chocolates Once the candies have been unmolded, they are ready for packaging. If they are going to be used within a day or two, they can be loosely wrapped in clear or colored plastic wrap and tied with ribbon for a pretty presentation. Otherwise, follow the general guidelines above for storing chocolate in the longer term. Additional Resources

Below are two websites that provide everything from plastic sheet molds for purchase to special recipes to use for making chocolate candies:

Have a Happy Easter!