Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Price of Labor and Love for Dulce de Leche Chocolates

So my friend April has got me hooked on making my own chocolate candies after I spent a Saturday making holiday chocolates with her last month. A few weeks ago, I was staring at a canister of dulce de leche I bought on my trip to Buenos Aires and wondered what to make with the milk caramel, and that’s when I decided to make dulce de leche-filled chocolate candy.

The process of making the chocolates is pretty simple, but like I realized when I was making the holiday candies with April, it’s tedious work. Making these dulce de leche-filled chocolates were even more tedious, and now I understand why artisan chocolates are so expensive. Those poor chocolatiers have to do a lot of work just to squeeze out those few morsels of chocolate gems, so of course they’re going to charge a lot just to make up for their hard work!

Below is a photo essay of the simple but arduous steps in making the chocolates. Maybe it might inspire you to make your own chocolate creations!

I started off by creating chocolate “shells” that I would fill with the dulce de leche. I used semi-sweet chocolate from E. Guittard, the family-owned chocolate makers that started in San Francisco and is now based in Burlingame. Their chocolates are very rich and not super sweet, which is more my tastes. To create the shells, I used candy molds I bought at Sur La Table and melted the chocolate in the fancy process called “tempering.”

I’m still not really clear about all the reasons for tempering, but that’s what all the chocolate people do, so I figure why break with tradition? First you melt the chocolate until it’s above 100 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Most traditionalists would say melt the chocolate in a double boiler, but April simply melts it in the microwave, and I even saw the Barefoot Contessa do that too, so that’s what I did. I threw about half a pound of chocolate in a bowl, and zapped it in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes. If you want them to melt faster, chop your chocolate chips into smaller pieces.

After your chocolate is melted, you then have to wait for it to drop to about the mid-90s. To do this, you can stir your chocolate to get some air in it to help the cooling process. When your instant-read thermometer gets in the neighborhood of the mid-90s, throw in a few pieces of chocolate. This is called “seeding.” April explained that this helps remind the chocolate what it should be like when solid. It also helps reduce the heat of your chocolate because you want it to reach about 86 degrees so you can start playing with it, either dipping things in it like truffles or strawberries, or in my case, pouring them into the molds to create shells.

So once my bowl of chocolate reached 86 degrees (you might need to fish out any of the “seeding” chocolates that didn’t fully melt), I carefully spooned a little into each chocolate mold, then used the side of the spoon to push the chocolate up the edges to make sure I had a complete shell with all sides. If there were too much chocolate in one hole, I’d just tip the whole mold by the side to let them drip out. Then I waited until the chocolate hardened. (A nice thing about making chocolates in the winter is that chocolate sets up nicely in cold temperatures. So my chocolate shells were ready in minutes. Note: Chocolate is not easy to make in humid or rainy weather. Cold or air-conditioned environments are best.)

Then I ever-so-carefully spooned my dulce de leche in each of my chocolate shell. (BTW, the dulce de leche was soooo good I could have just eaten it out of the jar, but I know that would have been so bad for me.)

Once I filled my shells with the dulce de leche (I had two molds and each mold created a dozen chocolate pieces), it was time to seal it by adding the final layer of chocolate. So I tempered another batch of chocolates (not that much since it was just for a thin bottom layer) and spooned a bit on top of the dulce de leche, making sure I had enough to seal in the caramel.

To make sure I had a nice even bottom, I used the back of a knife and just scraped it across the bottom of the mold. It makes everything look messy, but it also looks like some abstract painting, don’t you think? Then I just let the chocolate harden up, which again, didn’t take that long in the cold weather. (If you want it to set up faster, you could place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes.)

I loved my new molds from Sur La Table because all I had to do was just pop my chocolates out. They didn’t stick or anything. I used a knife to clean up the edges of the chocolate so it’ll look more presentable and then, voila!, I was all done.

I made 24 pieces and it really felt like a lot of work. Not all of them turned out perfectly because some didn’t have a good seal on the bottom or a part of the shell was too thin, so I could see little bits of caramel oozing out. Those were the ones I HAD to eat right away. ;P

I tried to take a picture of the caramel-filled inside, but it was hard to cut or bite into the chocolate piece without the shell crumbling into little pieces. I guess the shell was too thin, but I liked the thin shell for eating purposes. But you get the idea; it was just this chocolate piece of creamy goodness. Yum.

Now, I could give you some of these, but I would probably charge you $8 for each ONE because of the time and labor involved. But they were all made with love.

Early Bird Chocolate Salon Registration

Speaking of chocolates, the Third Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon at Fort Mason takes place on March 21, 2009. This is a popular event that I’ve gone for the last two years and it draws crazy crowds of people moshing for a sample of the chocolates. (Vendors pass out free samples of their chocolates, which I guess is covered by the admission cost, and some offer discounts to boxes sold that day.)

I’m letting you guys all know that I’m going to sit out this year’s Chocolate Salon, taking a break from the crowds. So if you want to check it out for yourself, they’re doing early bird registration right now, and you have to register before Jan. 31 to get the $17.50 ticket (compared to regular price of $20). Click here for more info.

My advice is to go early and bring a small packed lunch to avoid getting overdosed by chocolates. And please don’t be one of those people who horde chocolates by bringing Tupperware and grabbing chocolates for later. That’s so uncool. Just go to enjoy the experience of trying different chocolates and please take time to chat with the chocolatiers and thank them for doing the show. I hope to read people’s posts about this year’s salon since I won’t be there!


David K. and Ann C.-K. said...

Can you save one of the chocolates for us?!? Pretty please?!?

Call Me Loretta said...

Oh, yum. YUM. those photos have me drooling. now I have to make some, just to see what they taste like. Oh and hey: the reason you must temper chocolate is that if you don't, it just won't set up again. Or if it does, it'll look all chalky and awful. Tempering ensures you get that nice sheen once your chocolate hardens, and a satisfying snap when you bite into it. congrats on making your first filled chocolate candies!

TasteTV said...

Thanks for the post Ben. This year we're in a space that's about 10 times larger than last year, so the Chocolate Salon attendees will have plenty of room to move about comfortably. We've also added Rigolo Cafe from Laurel Heights in SF, which will sell bargain price sandwiches, etc. for people who want to eat a little lunch, etc. while at the Chocolate Salon (

Thanks also for mentioning the tupperware. That was a new development from last year, and it was never seen in other cities like Chicago, LA, or Seattle. This year we're posting signage that anyone reported to be hoarding chocolate will be "exiled" from the Salon. It is very uncool to do so.

We've also added three new things:
Chocolate Art Gallery, a Chocolate Wedding, and A Chocolate Film Festival. The SF Chocolate Salon Film Festival can be seen on TasteTV on Comcast On Demand (Ch 1 - Get Local - TasteTV), and we have an open call right now for video entries.

Passionate Eater said...

I would definitely pay $8 for each of those, great job! And even despite the difficulty in photographing those beauties, they were still delicious-looking and gorgeous enough for me to drool like a panting dog at my screen.

Anonymous said...

You should probably mention that you need to seed chocolate with chocolate that's already been tempered.

Anonymous said...

yes chef ben your chocolates look beautiful! i took a chocolate truffle class years ago which gave me an appreciation for all the effort required... that dulce de leche did look good enough to eat out of the can!

Single Guy Ben said...

Oh, I probably could have made a pretty penny. Too bad I ate them all already! Argh! This is why I'm always poor. :(

"Loretta," thanks for explaining tempering. I forgot that it's important to make the chocolate look so nice and silky. So I guess that's worth all the trouble to get that right consistency, because I have had chalky chocolate and I don't like it!

Anonymous said...

Heck Chef Ben, those looked awesome, I would have paid to have some sent to me :) (now having a craving chocolate day...all your fault!)

Palidor said...

Oooooh, they look delish! It is quite the pain to make them. I have the molds and even just making them without any filling is a laborious task. You're awesome for doing the filled ones!

Anonymous said...

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