I am by no means a chocolate expert, but I do have my preferences from experience with various sources and types of chocolate.
Skip down to ganache recipe at the bottom of the page if you’re not interested in my ramble, or check out my tips for melting chocolate right above it.
So what kind of chocolate do you like, aninoag?
I’d like to start off by stating that I prefer dark chocolate; typically, I’ve found 72% to be my sweet spot (hehe, get it?). My sister prefers the next level up, the 85%, but it gets a bit too bitter for snacking and/or decorations. (The sweet tooth I inherited from my dad won’t allow it.)
At present, my chocolate of choice is Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bar of 72% dark chocolate. It melts and hardens beautifully, isn’t too sweet, and it’s affordable and pretty easy for me to obtain.
I will emphasize that I’m no expert, but the actual definitions for what dark, bittersweet, milk, or white chocolate do vary between brands and even specific products, so I just try them out one by one.
What about milk chocolate? Or white chocolate?
On the flip side, most milk chocolates are too sweet for me. Again, I’m generalizing to store brand chocolate chips and “baking bars”, which is another thing to mention in a bit. The slight color difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate is good to note when making decorations, however.
White chocolate is honestly something I avoid. It tastes very creamy, but the consistency is too soft to make decorations. Other than a bit for peppermint bark for contrast, and my dad’s obsession with white chocolate macadamia cookies, I don’t really see much hope for them.
In regards to making decorations with chocolate, what about chocolate chips? Or “baker’s chocolate”? Or even candy melts?
Ah, this is something I realized when decorating the sciencey cookies. The melted chocolate chips were disastrous; they stayed in an amorphous form and never really set properly. I suspect the chips were intended for chocolate chip cookies rather than decorating. Regardless, piping was a mess because of how viscous and lumpy the chocolate was. (And this was testing a couple different brands, with various added oils.) I’m a firm believer in just using the chocolate bar.
I haven’t had too much experience with baking chocolate or candy melts, but I am convinced that “baker’s” is just the brand name and candy melts are something of a scam. There’s really nothing special? Like the chocolate chips, it tends to have added oils and not enough cocoa butter that just don’t cut it for me. Below, my friend superlark & I attempted to decorate some butter cookies with melted semi-sweet and white chocolate chips.
THEY WERE TERRIBLE. The consistency was lumpy and rather thick when we were piping, and the resulting look was akin to toothpaste. I do not recommend, but try at your own risk. Let me know if something really works out for you, please!!
Final note on temperance
You might’ve heard about properly tempered chocolate. (Or you might not. Either way, I’m gonna talk about it.)
Without boring too much, chocolate is a mixture that solidifies into several slightly different states, referred to as polymorphs. The ideal polymorph of chocolate snaps at room temp, melts in your mouth, and doesn’t have weird white streaks of cocoa butter in it. This is also known are properly tempered chocolate, and takes just a little bit of work to get it right. The polymorph of chocolate that goes to something like a ganache won’t matter, but you do want to properly temper chocolate for decorations. For more on polymorphs, Compound Chemistry has a great infographic you should look into.
Chocolate for decorations
Melting the chocolate: it seems that many recipes use the double boiler method to melt down chocolate. Which is great, but I find that it’s easier to just melt chopped chocolate with a few zaps in the microwave. There’s less of a chance to seize the chocolate, which is the creepy clumps and lumps that form when you drop water into melting chocolate. Definitely not what you want when making chocolate decorations, so be sure to use dry bowls and tools. Chop up the chocolate for melting and place into a clean, dry microwave-safe bowl. Reserve a bit for tempering, and zap the chocolate in the microwave for 15 second bursts. After each burst, be sure to stir the chocolate. If there are a few lumps left, it’s perfect; we don’t need to have all the chocolate melted. The residual heat will melt those down. Add in the reserved bits of chocolate, and stir until the melted chocolate is smooth and glossy. And now you’re ready! But wait, what were these bits of chocolate for? Assuming the chocolate you started out with was properly tempered, the reserved pieces function as “seed crystals” to help set your final chocolate decorations into the tempered form of chocolate. (Easy right?) When the chocolate cools a bit, scrape into an appropriate piping bag and pipe your desired decorations onto wax or parchment paper. Let the chocolate cool slowly to room temperature; rushing the chocolate into the refrigerator or freezer may force solidification, creating ill-tempered chocolate and slightly off-putting white streaks into your pieces. Then, you’re done! Carefully lift the pieces off and add as a final touch on whipped cream, or eat them as is! Whatever you want!
Chocolate decorations as an alternative to icing
Personally, I’d rather eat chocolate than royal icing, and I love working with chocolate! Unfortunately, it requires patience and a steady hand, so I have a lot to work on. But it doesn’t mean I can’t try to have fun! They are great for decorating cookies, such as gingerbread (recipe post coming soon):
A photo posted by Nina Gao (@aninoag) on Dec 12, 2014 at 6:01pm PST
Last, but certainly not least, chocolate ganache!
I prefer using a ganache to finish cupcakes and cakes over thick, hyper sweet frostings. (But maybe that’s because I’ve yet to make a frosting that I like. Stay tuned?)
Dark chocolate ganache, adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe:
- 8oz of chopped dark chocolate (Trader Joe’s Pound Plus 72% for me!)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp instant coffee granules
Combine all 3 ingredients in a glass bowl placed above a pot of boiling water (double boiler), and stir until everything melds together into a beautiful, smooth ganache.
Alternatively, you can try heating up the cream in a pot, but not to boiling! Stir in the chocolate and instant coffee until smooth.
Want to see how I use chocolate ganache? Check out my dino cake post.