Working with Chocolate

Chocolate is not only fun to eat it is also fun to use as a decorating tool. You can create not only fine decorations but also use chocolate in place of other inedible products. However, working with chocolate is not as easy as it looks.

Techniques for Working with Chocolate

Chocolate has many uses. Some choco-decorations have no melting involved. However, many of them require that you get the chocolate in a more pliable mood. That means melting chocolate. You can use then the melted chocolate to make shapes.

Chunks of chocolate to melt and strawberries.

Melting Chocolate

It is easy to melt chocolate as long as you follow some simple rules. How well it melts depends on many factors not the least of which is the makeup of the chocolate itself.

  • Cut chocolate into smaller uniform pieces
  • Melt over low heat
  • Stir often
  • Use a double boiler - even a makeshift one is better than nothing - or the microwave

It takes a while for chocolate to melt. But, just as quickly as it melts it will also set up again once away from heat. With that in mind, if you are using molds for your chocolate creations, have them ready to go.

If you are looking to create your own chocolate sweet treats at home, here are a few tips on getting started.

How to Melt Chocolate

So, what are you using chocolate for? Whether it is a cake, fudge, candies or something else delicious, there are chocolates made for the task. In the store, you'll find blocks or bricks of chocolate in the spice aisle. You can't just grab a bar of chocolate candy and melt it.

Chocolate can be melted in the microwave oven or over hot water, using a double boiler. The key is to go slow and steady so you don't have a mess on your hands.

Once you've bought the chocolate bricks, there are specific instructions on the side of the box that tells you what to do. Before melting anything, the chocolate has to be prepared. Trying to melt an entire brick of chocolate is a no-no. It's just like cooking a thick steak at a high temperature. The outside will be charred and unpalatable before the inside is cooked at all.

Chocolate needs to be chopped into small pieces. This way, there is more surface area available to the heat and the chocolate will melt uniformly. Don't add any water. We always want to add water to things to make them creamier or melt better. It works with a lot of foods but not chocolate. The water makes it harder to work with later, essentially ruining it. You can melt chocolate with liquids like milk. The other ingredient lowers the melting point of the chocolate so it melts faster. But, resist the urge to use higher temperatures as it can ruin the chocolate.

Use low heat. It will take a little while but the results are well worth it. To know if your chocolate is melting, stir it. Chocolate will remain looking like a block even when it is fully melted. Tap the pieces to see if they have begun to melt. Stir frequently from that point on until the chocolate melts to the consistency that you like.

Microwave Melting

If you need your chocolate quick, you can use the microwave. Even those people who blow up hot dogs in the microwave can learn to melt chocolate. Start by reducing your cooking power to half or fifty percent. You will still cut up your chocolate into small even pieces.

Ceramic bowls work well in the microwave. The idea is to have a container that will stay cool even while the chocolate is heating up. Plastic containers get too hot and can ruin your chocolate and your fingertips. Microwave one minute for each ounce of chocolate, using one-minute cycles. Chocolate is considered ready when most of it is melted.

Decorating with Chocolate

Once you have melted your chocolate in the microwave or double boiler, is where you get to be creative. As we said, chocolate doesn't take long to solidify once it is removed from the heat. So, you have to get working.

Chocolate block and chocolate shavings to melt and decorate.

Chocolate Shapes

One thing that you will need is parchment paper. Parchment paper provides a non-stick surface for your chocolate shapes.

If you are making a particular shape like a leaf, you can use actual leaves (washed and dried of course) as your template. Use a pastry brush to paint the leaves with the melted chocolate. Let them harden on a piece of parchment paper. Once ready, peel them away from the leaf.

For cutouts, spread your melted chocolate on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Be sure that the chocolate is smoothed out so there are no bumps or uneven areas. Once the chocolate has set up, you can use your cookie cutters to press the shapes. Starting with the ones closest to the edge of the parchment, peel them up and place them on your cake, cupcakes or wherever you need them.

Some shapes require a more delicate touch than a pastry brush. For those, you can use melted chocolate in a pastry piping bag. This bag is used with different tips to make decorations with icing. If you don't have a pastry bag, you can use a Ziploc bag and cut a small hole in the bottom corner or one end.

The chocolate will be warm so be careful. If you are tracing shapes, draw them darkly on one side a piece of parchment paper. Flip it over and make sure you can still see the image. Cut the corner of the bag (if not using a piping bag) and begin to trace the shapes with the chocolate. Try to make as thick a line as the design will allow. Thinner chocolate pieces are more prone to breaking when peeling and placing. The piping bag can also be used to apply melted chocolate designs to the tops of cakes, cookies, muffins, pies and the like.

Chocolate Buying Tips

The baking aisle in the supermarket is filled with all types of chocolate from milk chocolate morsels to flavored morsels to block chocolate to gourmet varieties. What you choose depends on why you need it. Not long ago, all you used to have to do is check out the candy aisle for some great-tasting chocolate. But, chocolate comes in many forms not just to eat but to bake and create. The next time you are buying chocolate for your recipes, use the following tips.

Semisweet morsels – Everybody loves chocolate chip cookies. They are a favorite after-dinner or party-time treat. So, what chocolate do you reach for? Most people reach for the semi-sweet chocolate morsels or chips. They hold their shape and are not bitter. Once you bite into them, they melt into sweet goodness. Use them also for muffins and pancakes.

Semisweet chocolate bricks – This is primarily baking chocolate. It can be cut up and melted for chocolate candy, chocolate cakes and icings.

Unsweetened dark chocolate bars – Unsweetened chocolate is used for recipes that call for other sweet ingredients like sugar or honey to offset the bitter taste. Many unsweetened dark chocolate bars don’t contain anything but cocoa solids so they are safe for those with food allergies.

Dark chocolate or milk chocolate bars – With or without the nuts or fruit pieces, these are great for eating. If you are trying to get your daily dose of chocolate, eating a dark variety without the nuts or fruit will be the best overall as far as calories. Dark chocolate has many health benefits. Milk chocolate is creamy but the added milk also adds calories and fat. Eating a specialty or gourmet chocolate bar will yield a smoother taste. Depending on the chocolate manufacturer, you may get a different taste with each brand you try.

Cocoa powder – This is where the chocolate begins as a presscake once the cocoa butter is removed. The presscake can then be packaged as cocoa powder for hot chocolate and also for baking. Unsweetened baking cocoa is best for recipes. Hot chocolate has other dried ingredients added like sugar and dehydrated marshmallows. It is just for drinking.

Gourmet chocolates - Each specialty chocolate is usually made from one single type of cocoa bean, which can concentrate the flavor, while normal chocolate is a mixture of several cocoa bean varieties. Different gourmet chocolates are made from different types of cocoa beans and they are found mainly in blocks.

Get to Work

Keep a variety of chocolate products on hand so that you are always prepared to whip up something good when the mood hits you. If you are an avid baker, try different types of chocolate to make your creations.

Chocolate has many uses even decorating. Turn your desserts into a feast for the eyes and taste buds by decorating in chocolate and, now you now how to melt chocolate to perfection, the next time you want to make a chocolate fondue, or simply make a cake icing, put these tips into practice for the smoothest melted chocolate you can get.