Christmas chocolates 2015

This year we made the best box of chocolates so far, and created a new flavour. As usual I worked with Callebaut, opted for a less sweet white, but kept the same cocoa solid percentages for the others:

  • milk chocolate 823NV, 33.6% cocoa solids, 21.8 milk solids
  • dark (semi-sweet) 811NV, 54.5% cocoa solids
  • dark 70-30-38NV, 70.5% cocoa solids
  • white CW2NV, 25.9% cocoa solids, 23.7% milk solids

Ran into  a lot of trouble with fat bloom, starting with the Toblerone.

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I paid it no mind and got to work.

Later I had switched to the Callebaut and got bloom 3 times in a row.

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WTF.

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I know how to temper.  What is going on here?  I think it was the heat in my home, we ended up opening all the windows, and after that the problem went away, so I just remelted all the chocolate without fillings or centres.

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Ah! Ever so much better! I just love those little ornament shapes.

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Tried a new flavour this year, white chocolate vanilla bean with matcha ganache.  It was good. I have embraced using a squeeze bottle to pipe my fillings now and does it ever work better than a piping bag.

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I was quite happy with the peppermints this year. I switched the centre to a milk chocolate peppermint ganache, and it came out very delicious and creamy. Much better than previous years.

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After a few nights of tempering and filling like mad, the boxes were all made up and ready for shipping to my family.

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I always have such fun making these.  Even though sometimes I want to throw all my chocolatiering supplies off the balcony…

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So now that I’m back to making chocolate again, and looking after my blog again, what I have planned for the winter of 2016 is mostly flavour experiments and review of new products I’ve tried and courses I’ve taken.

Where to get supplies:

Christmas chocolates 2014

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Have just finished Year 4 of making chocolates for Christmas. I’ve learned a lot since I started in 2011 and practice really does improve your skill. This is the quality I could create in the beginning, and this is what I make now.

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I was really excited about making chocolates again. Well actually, I’m really excited about working with chocolate at any time, but this year was the first year I could make 9 individual shapes, and mastered the fillings I wanted to create; something creamy and soft and delicious. This may be it, I do not foresee making any future changes to the recipe or the box contents.

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I like November because it’s time to secure the Belgian chocolate. Social invites are turned down with a hushed, “It’s chocolate-making season” and understanding nods. Chocolate paints the ceiling of my home. The fridge has no room for food. It is the month of having dinner delivered and an excuse to be quite lazy in some ways.

See quarter for scale:

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No worries Mom, your box will not contain any dark chocolate.

I used 4 types and for the chocolatiers out there here are the specs:

  • milk chocolate 823NV, 33.6% cocoa solids, 21.8 milk solids
  • dark (semi-sweet) 811NV, 54.5% cocoa solids
  • dark 70-30-38NV, 70.5% cocoa solids
  • white W2NV, 28% cocoa solids, 23% milk solids

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What started as a modest hobby has grown into a massive time-suck. And tears.

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Speaking of new fillings, there they are. They are liquid and delicious, instead of hard and dry. I abandoned icing sugar and evaporated milk, and turned to making ganache; heavy cream, Belgian chocolate, and concentrated oils. The raspberry cream, orange cream, and butter cream are made with white chocolate ganache. The peppermint and peanut butter cream are made from milk chocolate ganache. The caramel is a soft, liquid homemade stuff and I fear it has some mystery addictive quality.

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And it was time to re-draw the map again.

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I feel a great sense of satisfaction when they are all laid out.

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Where to get supplies:

Hazelnut milk chocolates

Everything goes wrong when you try to impress someone. Everything. I made these for someone who loves hazelnuts and I thought “This will be so easy! I’ll be done in half an afternoon.” Um, no. It’s now 3 days since I started.
The power went out while my chocolate was mid-tempered and I had to start over. I ran out of chocolate, overfilled half of them, have an entire tray that didn’t set, destroyed the perfect box I had selected while trying to assemble it, and everything smells like hazelnuts, which I can assure you is no longer a pleasant aroma.

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Moving on. This box is entirely milk chocolate. Around the edge we have roasted hazelnut pieces. The ones in the centre with the smaller ring are caramilks, and the wider ones are hazelnut butter – see the one in the 6pm position (which is similar to natural peanut butter; runny, smells like Toffee Fee), and I’m so impressed with myself I’m considering a name change to Archimedes.

Before getting started I made some more caramel which I won’t bore you with since we’ve suffered through 6 caramel posts together. Then I toasted the hazelnuts following the method on The Healthy Foodie. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F and line the tray with parchment paper. Roast 8 min, shake the tray around, and roast another 8 min, and bam, done.

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As soon as you take them out of the oven, place them in a clean dish towel, and jumble them around to loosen the shells.

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This took longer than expected. Way longer. It was really boring.

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Eventually you’ll get them to look like this.

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Process the hell out of them.

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Stop and stir periodically, it will turn into this.

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I didn’t realize the contents would start to steam. I AM PROMETHEUS!

Meanwhile, temper your milk chocolate. (Wasn’t enough chocolate, had to re-do 3 times.)

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And coat your chocolate moulds. I always enjoy this part.

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After the outer shell sets, it’s time to fill the moulds.
And don’t do this. These are filled way too high.

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In retrospect I’m glad I discovered this now before it was the weekend of Trials & Tribulations. I ruined this entire tray. When I tried to seal the first one I realized my error, the chocolate was pushing the filling up and out and made a mess. I tried to save the tray by taking a tiny spoon and removing some of the hazelnut butter, but it didn’t work out very well, so these are still sitting in my fridge pissing me off.

Onto prettier things. Here are the hazelnut pieces.

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Finally! Something came out exactly as planned. I fed some to Boyfriend Unit since I cannot judge if something with nuts is good or bad. He says it’s good.

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I boxed them up. In a week or so I’ll find out if hazelnut butter goes rancid.
Pray you don’t die. ^^

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McCall’s Pure Chocolate Workshop review

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This week I attended the Pure Chocolate Workshop at McCall’s School of Cake Decoration with Boyfriend Unit. I was hoping to learn more about making good creamy fillings for my chocolates. I rank my knowledge level close to intermediate, I know how to temper by hand, I dabble in recipe crafting, but so far my creations lack a certain “oomph”. I was really excited to learn from a professional. And what I made after I got home, well… you’ll see.

Cost: $75 per person

Course length: 3 hours

What did we learn:

  • introduction to couverture chocolate and how to handle it
  • melting and tempering
  • working chocolate (tabling) on a marble slab
  • dipping chocolate
  • types of fillings and shelf life
  • storage and temperature
  • moulding and filling

If you’re in the GTA, McCall’s is on Bloor St West between Kipling and Islington, we walked up from Kipling Station. This course is offered once per season. I’ve never been to McCall’s before, and the inside is a lot bigger than you can tell from the street view. There is a retail shop in the front and a teaching kitchen in the back. It was filled with all sorts of glorious machines and tools that I wanted to cart home.

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Our instructor was Kay, who has 30+ years industry experience. She was very knowledgable, and funny. She spent some time talking about different brands of fine chocolate, the conching and tempering process. I have tempered on stove top via double boiler, and in the microwave, and with a professional tempering machine. I have never tabled chocolate on a marble slab before and that is the method we learned.

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^ the box of everything we made in the course

I’m glad I got to try tabling chocolate, but never again! We screwed up the milk chocolate twice before she intervened. How embarrassing. We got to work with polycarbonate moulds, and learned some different techniques to get pretty designs on the chocolate.

I learned a lot, and had a great time. I’d recommend this course to anybody who wants to learn more about working with chocolate.

What I made when I got home:

When she showed us how to coat a mould, everybody said “Ooooh” at the same time, and I decided to try it out on my silicone moulds.

After you temper some chocolate, pour it into your mould until it overflows. Don’t worry about being neat or even. Now whack it on the counter to remove air bubbles and ensure the entire cavity is filled.

You turn it upside down so all the chocolate drips out onto the parchment paper (see top right) and use a palette scrape to pull the excess away.Turn it and shake it a bit to get an even coating, and don’t throw the excess away, once it sets, it is easily peeled off the parchment paper and you save it to re-temper.) You end up with moulds coated in chocolate with hollow centres.

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This will set in under 20 minutes, and then IT IS TIME.
Pipe in the homemade caramel sauce!

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Tap to settle it, and top up with more tempered chocolate. Again scrape away the excess.

And in about half an hour, you have this!

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Tah-dah!

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I mean, just look at it!

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Glorious! This is so much better than the hard caramels I’ve made before. I am so excited to send this to my family in December.

Faux Louis

After I wound up with very malleable chocolate buttercream, I wondered if I could make a homemade Jos Louis. For the uninitiated, a Jos Louis is a Canadian pastry sold by Vachon; two layers of red velvet cake, filled with vanilla cream, covered in a milk chocolate coating. I’m not sure why they are so good, but: they are.

(Spoiler alert: yes, I can make them.)

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I didn’t realize until I was writing this up that they’re made with red velvet, so I made another batch of devil’s food cupcakes. Oh well.

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Was careful to avoid overfilling this time. ^^

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After slicing horizontally, a thin layer of chocolate buttercream was applied. A real Jos Louis uses vanilla creme but I had no plans for this icing and the consistency was right so I went for it.

I melted more Callebaut Belgian chocolate and dropped one in. Whee!

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Used dipping prongs to turn it around and set it on parchment paper for an hour.

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I was lazy and didn’t temper the chocolate, so just stuck them in the fridge. And voila!

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Verdict:

Definitely good. Not exactly a Jos Louis but not bad. Until reading up on Vachon’s website, I didn’t actually realize it was red velvet with a milk chocolate coating, I just knew I liked them. Now I’m curious how close I can get to a real Jos Louis.

After I get over this chocolate fatigue I’ll try this again and see what I can do. But not for awhile, I’m so over chocolate for August.

Playlist:

Nelly – Shake Ya Tail Feathers

Devil’s food cupcakes with chocolate buttercream

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So these were delicious, if not quite as expected. I’ve made these before and went for the double chocolate experience this time. I skipped most of the pictures for this one since I’ve done it previously.

The cake and frosting recipe are included in Good Housekeeping Chocolate!: Favorite Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Pies, Puddings & Other Sublime Desserts which is available on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca and one day I swear I’m going to test every frosting recipe inside.

As usual, go big or go home. I used Callebaut Belgian chocolate for this.

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Time required: 2 hours

Yields: hopefully 24 cupcakes

Cost per cupcake: $2.16

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $42-$52 depending on the quality of vanilla extract and the chocolate

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • KitchenAid mixer
  • incorrectly sized-muffin tin! (don’t do this)

Cake ingredients:

  • 2 C flour
  • 1 C unsweetened cocoa
  • 1½ TSP baking soda
  • ½ TSP salt
  • ½ C unsalted butter (one stick), room temp
  • 1 C golden brown sugar, packed
  • 1 C granulated white sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temp
  • 1½ TSP vanilla extract
  • 1½ C buttermilk  (or add 1 TBSP of vinegar to regular milk, stir and let sit)

Frosting ingredients:

  • 2 C icing sugar
  • 1 C butter, softened (2 sticks)
  • 3 TBSP milk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla
  • 6 ounces semi-sweet Belgian chocolate, chopped

Cake instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 177°C / 350°F. Place cupcake liners in trays.

2. In a medium bowl combine: flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

3. In a mixing bowl at low speed, beat: butter, brown sugar, and white sugar, until blended. Increase speed to high: beat 5 min until it’s light and fluffy.

4. Reduce speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time.

5. Beat in vanilla.

6. Add the dry mixture and buttermilk alternating like so: half of the flour, all the buttermilk, and the rest of the flour. After each addition beat until just combined. Scrape the sides a few times and make sure the batter is smooth.

7. Bake about 18 minutes for full-size cupcakes or 14-15 min for minis. A toothpick inserted should come out clean.

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UGH WHY!! Not again. What the hell is this? This is what happens when you use a small muffin tin instead of the right size pan. Ugh.

8. Let cupcakes cool in pan one minute before removing from pan and placing on rack.  Cool before frosting. Judiciously select which ones to use in final photo.

Frosting instructions:

1. On low heat melt the chopped chocolate, stirring occasionally, then set aside to cool 5 min.

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2. Beat together until smooth: icing sugar, butter, milk, vanilla.

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3. Add chocolate and keep beating until well-combined. Beat on High about 2 min.

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Scrape down the bowl every 30 seconds.

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It lightens up quite a bit.

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Verdict:

I love this devil’s food recipe, it’s delicious. There are lots of ways to frost it and this is my first go at chocolate buttercream. It tasted great. I was surprised how soft this frosting was, it’s not runny, but it’s not suitable for piping. It is delicious however.

I’m not sure what happened to my cupcake pans, must have misplaced them in the move. This muffin tin is too shallow. I was conscious of not over-filling them and they still went kaboom.

I’ve been toying with the idea of reverse-engineering a Joe Louis for awhile and this frosting consistency has convinced me I can do it. Stay tuned.

Playlist:

Type O Negative – Love You to Death

 

Chocolate-covered bacon (redux)

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“Boyfriend Unit? We’re invited to D’s birthday party. What does he like?”

“Meat.”

“Surely he likes other things than meat. What is he interested in?”

“Meat.”

“You’re a lot of help in gift planning. OK; wanna make him chocolate bacon, a big box of it?”

“If we make that I want to EAT IT.”

“Well you can’t. It’s a gift. You’re cooking the bacon.”

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(Because dear reader, I don’t cook bacon. I don’t clean ovens either.)

“Wuah you didn’t clean the stove, I will have to photoshop it!!”

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“Look. perfectly tempered chocolate!”

“What time is his party starting?”

“Uh, 7pm? 7:30pm? Lemme check… SHIT.”

“What??”

“It started at 5.”

“We don’t have enough time to temper the white chocolate.”

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“Or the milk chocolate.”

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“That’s ok, I can totally temper chocolate on the fly, watch this.”

(later)

“Happy birthday D! Here!”

“EVERYBODY BACK UP, IT’S MINE.”

(later)

“I’d say that was a success, wouldn’t you?”

Toblerone truffles

So, my plan was to pipe Toblerone ganache into truffle shells, and dip them into perfectly tempered semi-sweet Belgian chocolate. I was envisioning something like a Lindt chocolate. After all, I had done this successfully before under the guidance of Hobby Victim and I was confident I could produce something worth keeping.

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Do you have any idea how annoying it is to pipe ganache?  Seriously? It sucks. It starts out simply enough. Take some truffle shells and dipping tools.

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Wrangle the ganache into a piping bag like a champion.

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Plan to snip a tiny corner off, and overdo it.  “Pipe” ganache into the shells.

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And by pipe I mean try to at least get some of the god damn stuff into the shell. At one point the chocolate shot out of the bag and got *everywhere*.  On the 3rd tray I got fed up and stopped.

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Now, dipping the first one looks so neat and contained. A perfect little truffle waiting to be enrobed in Belgian chocolate.

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However, all good things come to an end and after you’ve filled about half the tray, dripping chocolate starts to get everywhere. But after enough of them are dipped, a sense of pride starts to build. Smile at what you have wrought.

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After all, the tiny imperfections are the charm of homemade chocolates! They tasted pretty good, but the fillings hardened the next day, so I’m going to put some more experimentation into how to get a Lindt-like centre. Need a little more time at the drawing board for these but overall a success.

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Playlist: Celldweller

 

Ganache gone wild – WTF just happened

Ugh. On Sunday I spent 2.5 hours making a perfectly emulsified ganache for an experiment. I let it chill overnight, and it solidified. I am so steamed.

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Ganache is typically equal parts scalded cream to chopped chocolate, in this case Toblerone.  To achieve a proper ganache that doesn’t crack or separate, you need to emulsify it.  Emulsification is the process of combining two or more liquids, which normally don’t combine, into one. (Basically you stir and rest, stir and rest, chill, pass Go, collect two hundred dollars.) It was all going so well…

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I poured the heated cream onto the chocolate and let it sit for bit, and then stirred every 15 minutes, for 2 hours.

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The hell with stirring by hand. I’ll let Nemo do the work for me. After all that is what I have a stand mixer for, who wants to stand there the entire time? I have video games to play.

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After 2 hours, it had lightened considerably, and had a smooth texture. All okay so far.

So I covered it with saran, and stupidly forgot to press it down to the surface, so the surface hardened.

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I intended to use it on Monday but I was busy. I took it out of the fridge today, and lo and behold.

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What. Is. This? I tried to save it by reheating but the fat started to separate. Wuah! This is no good.

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I figured it might be salvageable if I could stir heated cream into it, and miracle of miracles, it seemed to recover.

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Alright, we’re cooking with gas now. As to what I made this for, well, just stay right there and find out. Next year.

“The charm of homemade chocolates!”

That phrase is code for “something went wrong”.

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The first time I poured chocolate into molds, they had lots of air bubbles. I complained to my sister who wisely explained it’s like Ed Norton’s glassware in Fight Club, the little imperfections show it was hand-crafted and it’s just the charm of homemade chocolates. So now every time something untoward happens while I’m chocolatiering, you will hear an indignant curse from me, followed by a soothing assurance from Boyfriend Unit, “It’s the charm of homemade chocolates, don’t worry.”

And what goes wrong when you are making chocolates, pray tell? Air bubbles, cracks, bloom (cloudy spots), smudges, melting, seizing, fillings not centered, fillings exploded,  misprint on map, et cet. But I no longer care. Because I know, when people open the box…

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… and eat one, they are all “OMFG”. And that makes me smile.

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We make a 9 piece box, with one dark chocolate, three milk chocolates, and five semi-sweet chocolates. This year Boyfriend Unit experimented with a sea salt dark chocolate since he hates raspberry cream. He really liked the result.

Using a full-sized block of chocolate was a new experience. This is a 5 kilo or 11 pound block of Barry Callebaut Belgian chocolate, classified as a well-balanced bitter cocoa taste, 53.8% cocoa solids. This is the base of all my semi-sweet chocolates.

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I was so excited to open this!

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Just look at that! That is a lot of chocolate.

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My mother asked recently about my weekend plans.

“Making chocolate.”

“Oh hunni? Could you maybe send less dark chocolate this year?”

“Mom, there is one dark chocolate per box!”

“Oh hunni, that’s too much! I don’t like dark chocolate.”

“Ok Mom. No dark chocolate in yours.”

Stay tuned for how this was made and where to get supplies.