I finished my Christmas Chocolates. The ones I'm giving as gifts, anyway. I'm still going to make some more for us, but I had to have the gifts finished and sent out by the Post Office deadline (to get packages from HI to the mainland by Christmas) today. And I'm happy to say that I got them done, wrapped and in the mail on time. The milk chocolate ones were rushed and kind of sloppy (Kerry Vincent would be appalled), and I got chocolate all over the counters, the stove, the outside of the microwave, my clothes (even though I was wearing an apron), my arms, my face, and the floor (which would probably explain how I got it between my toes) - but I got them all done.
I am pretty intense when it comes to making candy.
When I was a little kid, my mom's friend taught us how to mold chocolates. She used to make "gingerbread" houses out of chocolate. We never got that intense, but we did make lollipops for just about every holiday you can imagine. Christmas, obviously. Easter, for sure. Valentine's Day, naturally. St. Patrick's Day? Independence Day? Arbor Day? Yeah, probably. Birthday party, Halloween party, Graduation party, Girl Scout meeting... yes, yes, yes and yes. Any excuse to go to the chocolate store and buy a couple of bags of Mercken's. We'd get a couple of pounds of light, a couple of pounds of dark, and it would hang (in the shopping bag we brought it home in) from the back of one of the kitchen chairs across from the stove. Naturally, the bags would somehow end up open, and nibbling would ensue until the candies were made.
And the molds...oh, the molds! That was my favorite part about going to the chocolate store...looking at all of the molds. An entire store full of them! Flowers and bunnies and crosses and hearts and flags and cars and stars and Christmas trees and Santas and presents and snowmen and...well, you get the idea.
When I lived in New Orleans, I had a friend (who turned out to be a complete psycho, but that's beside the point) who decorated cakes. I mentioned to her one day that I used to make chocolates when I was a kid and that I was thinking about starting up again, and she told me about Szabo's, the party store over by the Westbank Expressway, that had all kinds of cake stuff and candymaking supplies. I wasn't into cakes as of yet, but it was beyond awesome to have a chocolate store to go to again. They didn't have as many molds as the store I grew up with in New York, but they had enough.
Now that I live in Hawaii, I haven't been able to find a candymaking supply store. Oh, they have the requisite Wilton stuff at Ben Franklin and WalMart and even a small sampling at the Exchanges, but I can't find a store that has the good stuff - the Nestle and and the Merckens and, oh my God, the molds. Although I probably have all of the molds I need (for now), so I just buy my chocolate on the internet.
Even though I have molds in the shape of flowers, hearts, Easter eggs, bunnies and even shamrocks, I only actually make chocolates at Christmastime. I just don't have that kind of time anymore! So as a rule, my chocolates are more about taste than looks - they are far from professional quality. I don't have the skills and I don't have the time to practice them. I am slowly getting better, though. Very, very slowly.
When I started back up with molding chocolates, I started simple - just solid candies. Then I started using the Wilton candy fillings that came in tubes (which seem to have been discontinued). And then, for some reason, one year I decided to make my own fillings from scratch. And I keep on coming up with more and more ideas, and now it's to the point where it's kind of like my Thanksgiving menu - absolutely ridiculous, but I can't bear to cut anything out. And every year I add more. (Although now that I think about it, I didn't make any with nuts this year, so I guess I did cut some out!)
The fillings that I made this year are:
- semisweet ganache (aka chocolate truffle)
- maple creme
- raspberry creme
- mint creme (aka peppermint patty)
- dark chocolate nougat
- peanut butter
Here are the recipes for the fillings:
I use a recipe I got out of Bon Appetit magazine. It calls for 9oz of bittersweet chocolate, but I found that when I used bittersweet chocolate, it was just too, well, bitter for me! So I used a 4oz bar of semisweet, a 4oz bar of dark (both Nestle Chocolatier) and a 1 oz square of Baker's semisweet (because I had some handy). I don't roll my truffles, I use a mold and fill them the same way I do the rest of the fillings - with a pastry bag.
Caramelize 1 cup sugar, add 3/4 cup cream and 1 tsp vanilla. Easy-peasy!
Creme fillings are basically a buttercream with half the butter/shortening, or twice the sugar (depending on how you look at it.) I used palm oil for the sake of longevity, but you could use butter (if the candies are going to be eaten quickly or kept in the fridge) or even - *shudder* - Crisco.
- 1/2 cup butter or shortening
- 1 pound (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
- 2 tsp (approx) water
At this point, I split the - um, dough? - into three containers to make three different flavors. I don't measure the flavorings, I just add them little by little until it tastes right. The ones I used this year were peppermint oil, artificial raspberry flavoring and all-natural maple flavoring. Both the raspberry and the maple add color as well as flavor, and both are DELICIOUS.
This one is also loosely based on a buttercream recipe. I used 2 tbsp of coconut oil, 2 tbsp of palm oil (shortening) and 1 cup of powdered sugar; then I added sweetened shredded coconut. Et voila!
Dark Chocolate Nougat
I started with this recipe, but had to do quite a lot of calculating, seeing as how I had neither a 12-oz bag of chocolate chips, nor a 7-ounce jar of marshmallow creme. (I had a 4-oz bar of Nestle Chocolatier dark chocolate and a 13-ounce jar of marshmallow creme.) What I came up with was this:
- 4 oz dark chocolate
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp marshmallow creme
Peanut Butter Cup Recipe
The official method for making filled candies is to fill the mold halfway, then use a brush to paint the chocolate up the sides. I've also seen it recommended to fill the mold all the way, let the chocolate start to set and then pour the excess chocolate out. I found it much easier and neater to just dip the paintbrush into my bowl of chocolate and paint it straight into the molds (without pouring any chocolate into the mold first).
As for making the bottoms of the candies smooth, I tried a new technique this year that I saw on Food Network - I think it was actually on Road Tasted with the Neelys when they went to see a candymaker (I remember Bananas Foster truffles...). Anyway. You pour a ton of chocolate into the mold and then scrape off the excess with a pastry scraper. I actually had better results with the back of a butter knife, since my molds are all warped.
I don't really know how to wrap this up, except to say...Merry Christmas! I hope that I've inspired you, either to try to make your own chocolates, or to go to the store and buy a box of the good stuff. :)