In my previous post, I touched a little on how chocolate can be used as an edible lace technique. However, it is probably the most popular ingredient used in Cake Artistry, since its creation.
It can be part of a cake ingredient, used for decoration, as part of a structure or topper, and of course, just as good, on its own.
If you do not like chocolate, then you are a very rare human being indeed, and I am very sad that you have no idea what you are missing out on.
You just need to go back and watch ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (the classic one, in which, Gene Wilder, starred as Willie Wonker– this will always be my favorite version), to understand what chocolate can do to those who love it.
Oh my, who can forget, that famous scene, where Augustus fell into the chocolate lake and sucked up into the large pipes? A scene that has always stuck with me, and I couldn’t wait, in my child’s mind, to grow up and go see the factory.
Well what do you know, I was so utterly disappointed when I grew up and found out that Willie Wonker and the Chocolate Factory was all made up. It doesn’t matter that a company has made chocolates branded with ‘Wonkers’, in my mind it is a poor way of trying to make up for all the heartbroken reality of false hopes. What a let down.
This is why when I decorate with chocolate, I try my best to re-live the wonderful ‘Chocolate Factory‘ experience all over again, and that is no fake.
Therefore, my post today, will portray how I create the most amazing, sweet sensations when decorating with chocolate, which I hope will help you further explore and enjoy in your own cake decorations.
No Special Skills Required
Like with all the other decorating/icing techniques, there are no special skills required when using chocolate in cake artistry. I believe that every cake decorator/artist has one or two techniques or medium which they specialize in. Chocolate is just another.
As stated before, I specialise in painting, but use every form of decorating to enhance the appearance of my cakes and using the analogy of music, “to be in harmony with the musical tune that my clients play”.
However, if you would like to specialise in chocolate itself or any other decorating medium/technique, but do not have the essential skills to do so, then I suggest you register for an online course.
Useful Tips – Before Decorating With Chocolate
Tools and utensils should be clean and without any oily residues, which may have an impact on how your chocolate icing/frosting turns out. Generally speaking, the following utensils should be readily available for use:
- Double Boiler – Stainless steel or glass bowl to be placed in a saucepan with simmering water (I prefer stainless steel).
- Heavy-ended Saucepan – I suggest this type, as it will not over boil water, the lighter ended saucepans do not heat evenly.
- Wooden Spoons – for stirring, I find wooden best, as it will not conduct too much heat causing separations.
- Silicon or Wooden Spatula – for placing melted chocolate into piping bags or spreading.
- Stainless steel icing spreader or large flat knife.
- Glad wrap/plastic film.
- Cake turntable.
- Cake slice baking sheets/trays – these are used together with an upturned bowl for ganache pouring. They are also used for chilling the chocolate decor in the fridge.
- Temperature gauge (optional).
- Food scale (electronic is the best for accuracy).
- Chocolate Pattern Mats or transfer sheets – if you are free styling your designs you would not need these.
- Acetate plastic sheets for piping designs onto and from which chocolate can be easily separated and removed
- Piping bags – I prefer to roll baking/parchment/wax paper rather than actual icing bags, so that I can just biff them in the bin – paper can be turned into piping cornets
- Piping tips – I do not use these – which is why I prefer using paper as piping bags
- Small paper scissors to snip piping paper to required tip size
- Microwaveable bowls
- Kitchenaid or similar brand stand mixer
- Food processor (optional)
Other Required Ingredients
- Eggs or an alternative ingredient.
- Butter – unsalted is best, for a fresher taste and will not affect the flavor, however it may not last outside of a fridge whereas salted butter can, but adds a slight salty taste (I do not find much difference, although some recipes are strict on which type to use). You can look at alternatives to this if you are dairy intolerant, however, the rest of the ingredients needs to be consistent also, if you do use an alternative, so that you ensure the right flavors come through.
- Full Milk/heavy cream (aka full-fat in NZ) – again look at the alternatives if you have food intolerance.
- Gelatin paper or powder or tylose powder (if gluten intolerant).
- Vegetable fat/oils and Animal fat – can be used instead of butter in some recipes.
- Flavorings – Vanilla Essence (pure is the best for quality), caramel, rum, brandy, almond, peanut butter, hazelnut and mint are among some of my most loved favourites.
- Confectioners sugar/icing sugar/pound sugar.
- Left over chocolate cake from crumbing (well frozen and less than two weeks old) for using in structuring toppers or structures.
- Cacao or Cocoa Powder – sometimes this gives an extra chocolate boost (100% pure is my preference – for a richer flavor).
- Ground coffee – real rich coffee is the best.
- Chocolate liquor – which is also known as, unsweetened baking chocolate, (be aware: this is not chocolate liqueur, which is a very different product and should never be substituted for the other). Chocolate liquor, has no alcohol. It is made from grinding the nib, or meat, of the cocoa bean and is a thick, gritty, dark brown paste that liquefies when heated. Chocolate liquor incorporates half mixtures of cocoa butter and cocoa solids.
- Ensure that the working area is always clean and free of dust.
- Ensure that you weigh ingredients, unless of course, you are ‘near 99%’ accurate, in eye balling measurements, after many years of experience.
- If separation happens (hey, this happens to the best of us), just microwave for 30 seconds on high, and mix again for the right consistency.
- Make sure that ingredients are at room temperature before they are used – this will give the best results in mixture consistency.
Handling and Storage
Always make a good habit of applying, the food/health and safety rules for everyone’s assurance.
- Store chocolate frosted cakes in the fridge with a clean film or plastic wrap, to curb any cross-contamination or flavor influences from other neighboring foods in the same compartment, i.e. pet food etc., (I use a separate chiller/fridge so this, is not such an issue for me)
- Freeze any chocolate that has eggs or any other fresh ingredient – this can be stored for up to 3 months and reused
- Alternative natural/raw ingredients can be stored for up to 1 month, before they can no longer be used (this is because the taste of fresh ingredients diminish quickly and consistency changes). However, anything raw don’t last because they can be really, really delicious!
The Best Chocolate To Use For Cake Artistry
Okay, I learned the hard way, when I first started using chocolate for decorating, about which chocolates types are the best to use. Being a person that always puts flavor at the forefront of my creations, I mistakenly used a normal Cadbury’s milk chocolate once (a NZ favourite when it comes to chocolates) on a very hot day, to my shock and horror! the decorations started to melt, OH NO!
Yeah, this experience taught me that there are quintessential qualities, in various chocolates that need to be considered, when using them for cake decorating.
So what is the chocolate that I actually consider the best to use? Well, its a good question that cannot be satisfied with only one answer.
In fact, I have listed a few, equally excellent brands that have individual flavor and character. I suggest that you never use cheap brands, because some use not so good oils/fats, that give a ‘plastic’ consistency and a yuck taste. Believe me, I have tried and will never go back there.
The darker or higher the percentage of chocolate, the richer the flavor in cakes and in decorating.
The other things I look for, when choosing the right chocolates to use, is the way, they were produced and whether it was ethical/moral. I am a strong advocate of conservation and animal rights – so how, where, what and who was harmed in its, manufacturing process, are my constant measures for quality. The chocolate brand should be fair trade.
However, despite my personal standard, do not let that discourage you from choosing any chocolate brand that you want.
All I have added here, is a bit of education for each person to make an informed decision of their own, and also depending on your budget for cakes, you can still use non-ethical brands.
If you do want to use ethically produced chocolates/cocoa, the best way to check, is to research for yourself in Google by typing exactly the following text: “Fairtrade'”+”Cooking Chocolates” and it will come up with a good list.
As I had previously stated, here is my list of true and tried top chocolate brands to use for cake artistry:
- Lindt – Rich and beautiful flavor (also produce gluten free) – Fairtrade certified – aims to be 100% ethical with trace ability
- Ghirardelli – Fairtrade certified – Company is active in fair trade and helps to eliminate child labour
- Sunspire – Organic – Fairtrade Cacao Chocolate Chunks
- Wild Foods – 100 % Organic Raw Cocoa Powder – Fairtrade certified
- Bennetto Natural Foods Co – Fairtrade Certified
These are only, but a few that I have used, but you might find many more in the country that you are from. I find that, farmers markets are great places to find organic and ethically produced food products, which have been manufactured by small local producers, not known in the global market.
Okay, we have finally reached the different types of chocolate icing techniques and although,they are not technically difficult to master, are sometimes confused by what they actually mean.
Chocolate frosting is the most generally used decoration of all icings, because it is quick and tastes good (the proof is in what the kids eat off a cake). It is often the ‘go to’ for a child’s birthday party, when you need to whip up a convenient icing.
A basic chocolate frosting recipe includes:
- Icing Sugar (pound/confectioner’s sugar)
- Milk or Water
- Vanilla Essence
- Cocoa powder
As you see, these are the usual products that are found in many household kitchens and explain why a chocolate frosting is so convenient.
I use Lauren’s latest basic recipe it is easy to follow and has lovely pictures to show her process. This same frosting is great for cupcakes also – and you can add a sprinkle, of colorful decorations to glam them up, and you are done.
What is chocolate Ganache?
According to EVS, Global translations, the definition of ganache might have been a contrived 19th Century culinary folklore, but it effectively goes something, like this: Ganache is the French word for “fool” and only appeared for the first time, as a type of confection in the 1922 issue, of the world’s first illustrated weekly news magazine.
Interestingly by contrast, a blogger in Quora, says that its meaning is “lower jaw”. In a humorous twist, a commentor known only as ‘french baker’ quickly responded by refuting this definition, and wrote that the true legend came about, because a young cooking student had poured hot cream into chocolate bits by mistake. His angry Chef called him a ganache (meaning ‘moron’ in French). However, this mistake resulted in a lovely outcome, so the name ‘ganache’ stuck.
I actually believe that ‘french baker’ is correct and backs up the first definition of ‘fool’.
There are two different decorating approaches to using ganache as an icing. I have described them below under their own headings.
Ganache Frosting Technique
As we just learned, ganache is made by mixing half-and-half of both, heavy cream and melted chocolate together, to create a luxurious icing spread or chocolate drip. This is easily applied by hand using a spatula and/or piping bag.
I like how this icing results in a thick yummy layer of chocolaty smoothness in your mouth, the taste is heaven! The other thing I like about it, is that it turns out very thick, and the cake remains very moist, even after three days, if it is not refrigerated.
Now, my one issue with this chocolate technique, is that you need to work very quickly when spreading the icing, or it can become quite sticky and you end up tearing some cake. To resolve this, I always have a tea towel and hot boiled water in a large bowl handy, so that I stick my spreader or knife into it and wipe with the tea towel/paper towel, while I smooth the ganache consistently over the whole cake.
For this icing, I follow a recipe used by Rose Levy Beranbaum Signature Series these are quite old-fashioned videos, but I like how she explains everything in detail as she decorates. Also, I love how she makes processes so easy. Watch this video as she creates a ganache frosting in a few seconds with a food processor. Very educational!
Mirror Glaze Ganache Technique
Now Mirror Glazing is in a league of its own. It has become a new decorating sensation. Mirror glaze, has a mirror or glass like look and is not only limited to just chocolate alone. It can be created in any, array of flavours and colors. Mirror Glaze can incorporate fruit and makes a perfect top layer for cheese or mousse cakes.
There are many recipes and each varied, according to how its used or who created it. My favourite chocolate mirror glaze recipe is from Road to Pastry blog.
Although I like YouTube videos, I am still quite old-fashioned in many ways and choosing to follow written recipes is one of them. That’s because I can print, or scroll the screen up and down without the frustration of replaying or pausing.
If I do watch a video, I still write everything down, rather than just follow it by view.
The beauty of adding chocolate garnishes, is that they can enhance beauty for any cake. I find this, especially true, when matching them with a plain, pastel colored buttercreamed cake.
What you can make into chocolate garnish, is far-reaching and I can only give you a few examples to get you excited:
- Chocolate lettering/messages (block or script – written/traced)
- Outline drawings of bows, butterflies, flowers etc.,
- Chocolate swirls
- Chocolate Patterns
- Chocolate easter eggs, Christmas trees
- Lace/Filigree patterns
- Chocolate cages/baskets/nests
Most of these garnishes are easy to make, just melt the chocolate and place in a paper piping back, cut the tip off and start drawing outlines – even the mistakes make extraordinary and unique designs. Once they have hardened you stick them onto your cakes, desserts and even ice creams 🙂
A small tip: If you do not know how to follow your own creative design then just print some off Google and place it under a waxed/baking paper and use the print to trace your chocolate lines (and no-one will be the wiser).
Tempered chocolate, is melted gently over a low heat, then cooling the chocolate while it is being stirred. This puts it into temper. It leaves a smooth and flawless appearance, once it is cooled to the right temperature. When you touch it, it should feel firm but gives a nice ‘snap’ when broken off. When eaten, it should melt slowly to leave a long-lasting end flavor.
What is Tempered Chocolate Used For?
It is useful to create toppers with and is very good for making your own home-made chocolate (lovely gift ideas).
Another great idea, for tempered chocolate is when making ice-cream birthday cakes – cover it with tempered chocolate and it is like having a nice ‘topsy’ topper.
The Science Behind Tempered Chocolate
The chocolate needs to cool enough to the point of hardening. The process can take long if not done properly. Tempering, needs to be repeated until it reaches that point.
The melting temperature must never reach above a certain level, for each type of chocolate or the stability of the cocoa butter crystals will begin to melt and you lose the temper:
- 92°F, for the dark chocolate
- 88°F for the milk and white chocolate
- Remove the bowl from the hot water (double boiler) and keep stirring to disperse the heat evenly.
- Test the chocolate on your skin to make sure it is still cool.
- Use chocolate bits or buttons for quicker melting.
- Avoid using short cuts, such as using the microwave or freezer/chiller, the end results may not be satisfactory
- If you are going to do something then you need to do it well
Toppers & Poppers
Tempered chocolate can also be created into small toppers using molds or free styled by-hand:
- Baby shower ornaments (shoes, baby bottles, babies etc)
- Twigs and nature themed items
- Wedding themed figurines
- Sports themes (balls, tennis pats, bicycles etc)
- Cheeky adult or romantic themes(I will not go into detail as already some of you, have your imagination already running wild with vivid imagery)
- Political Themes (some can make really good statements, when you don’t wish to say it verbally)
Poppers are small cake/chocolate balls stuck on to lollipop sticks or short wooden/bamboo skewers. They are very popular with the kids and at any large gathering, where you need to feed extra people or when your one cake is not enough to feed a large crowd.
Another great use for poppers, is when you need a quick ‘go-to’ recipe for the children’s school fundraisers – make a hundred and sell them at $2 each. That will make the kids happy, the school happy and yourself proud.
Poppers are fun and are easy to make, by using popper moulds. Pour them in and stick the small sticks through the holes and decorate with some 100s & 1000s or little clown/comic heroes”s faces, place them into the chiller and voilà!
I have always been interested in the structural techniques involved, with using chocolate. Although I have never personally created any large chocolate structures as part of my cake artistry (only for the fact, that there has never been any reason to do so, considering the effort and costs involved, and that it will be devoured, within an hour of its creation), I aspire one day to achieve it. Well maybe not in the scale that some people have done, as you will see in my list below.
I am thinking about ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ again here (Big Grin).
Did you know that the world’s largest chocolate Easter Bunny in the Guinness book of Records was built out of 3014kg of brick chocolates? The company who sculpted it, Craft Corner built it on behalf of Duracell.
I have listed some examples of the most fabulous and world record-breaking chocolate structures, that I have ever seen:
- Mayan Temple
- Chocolate Trains
- A chocolate replica of Burj Khalifa
- The largest chocolate bar in the world
Okay, these could be a little too big, but at least you now, understand how using chocolate has no limits to what can be created, whether small or large.
From simple poppers to enormous structures, we can see how, chocolate is not only delicious to eat, but very versatile in its use within cake artistry.
I encourage you to use ethical chocolate, where possible to help make this world a better place.
I hope you enjoyed my post and that you are inspired to try a few, of my sweet sensations when decorating with chocolate.
If you do so, please feel free to come back and share. Should you have your own tips or techniques or just want to leave a question, I am more than happy to answer any comments.
Thank you for visiting,