New Years Eve is just a few days away! One thing is certain, from reading Twitter, Facebook, and the net in general – melted chocolate is factoring into celebration plans in a BIG way!
In preparation for this blog entry, I put out the call for questions on Twitter and Facebook – and you guys had some good ones! Chocolate can be an incredibly finicky thing, so I’m happy to be able to provide some answers!
”Can I use chocolate chips in a chocolate fountain, or do I have to use special chocolate?” – Vanessa (Manitoba, Canada)
Yes! Actually, you have several options for either fountains or fondues – let’s take a look at the main types.
1. Candy Melts.
These are most popularly sold under the “Wilton” brand, and… aren’t really chocolate. They’re disk shaped wafers of candy, usually used for melt-and-pour molded candy. They’re full of all kinds of additives to address various finicky chocolate issues (they’re a bit heartier on temperature, a bit more resistant to seizing, etc), but as a result, they don’t REALLY taste like chocolate.
As an example, here are the ingredients for the “Dark Chocolate” style candy wafers: “Sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil palm kernel, palm), cocoa powder processed with alkali, nonfat dry milk powder, glycerol lactic acid esters, soya lecithin, salt, artificial flavor”.
These wafers are great for some things, and there are Wilton-brand fondue pots on the market specifically for these… but I can’t recommend using them for fondue. The taste is too sweet and too fake, for me. With a fondue, you really want the true chocolate flavor, and to highlight the flavor of your dipped items. With Candy Melts, you’d really mask it all.
2. Chocolate Chips
I am FINE with the use of chocolate chips for fountains and fondues, so long as you use the better brands. Paying even $1-2 extra can make a huge difference in taste, texture, and quality.
3. Baker’s Chocolate Squares
Baker’s Chocolate Squares work well for fondue and fountains, they just require a little extra work, over chocolate chips. The 1oz squares should be chopped into reasonably small pieces before melting.
4. “Proper” Bar Chocolate
If you have access to slabs (or pieces) of Belgian chocolate, or other high end bars of actual, proper chocolate – by all means, use them! Using a high end couverture chocolate (with high cocoa butter content) is the ideal situation for chocolate fountains.
”I’ve heard that you need a special preparation or type of chocolate to keep chocolate fountains from clogging. Is that true?” Maran (Florida, USA)
As I received the same sort of question about fondues, let me tackle both subjects here. I’m about to give some advice that goes against a lot of the advice out there (usually from the instructions included with the fondue pots / chocolate fountains), but bear with me here.
Generally speaking, I like to have my chocolate prepared a bit more thickly for a fondue, than I would for a fountain. To get the proper “sheeting” of chocolate for the fountains requires a fairly thin chocolate mixture. That’s not required for fondues, so why bother?
I like to make a proper chocolate ganache for chocolate fondue pots. I prepare them in a pot/bowl separate from the fondue pot, pouring in only when it’s melted, smooth, and ready to go. Yes, many pots recommend melting everything in the fondue pot itself – but you do run the risk of burning it. In my eyes, it’s worth the extra couple of dishes to avoid that.
Well, “fountain” chocolate needs to be a fair amount thinner. Most fountains will recommend using vegetable oil to thin it out, using about 1/4 cup of oil per 2 – 2.5 lbs of chocolate used. (This is assuming better quality chocolate, with high levels of cocoa butter. Lower quality chocolate will require more oil). Also, smaller chocolate fountains will require a higher proportion of oil, simply due to the physics involved.
If you can use higher end chocolate in your fountains, it really does make a difference. (You have a lot more room to fiddle with chocolate fondue, than with chocolate fountains!)
Now… I’m not a fan of using vegetable oil, if at all possible. Coconut oil is definitely preferable, if you can get it. I gives a much better flavor, and I like the texture better than vegetable oil. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, but can be measured 1:1 for the vegetable oil called for.
Another alternative to vegetable oil – though more expensive and less readily available to most people – is cocoa butter.
Much like for fondues, I prefer to prepare my melted chocolate mixture separately from the fountain, only adding when it is fully melted and smooth.
”Why do people even think the oily mess in a chocolate fountain is edible? The only time I’ve ever had chocolate fountain chocolate, it was milk chocolate melted and mixed with an amazing quantity of oil. ” – Leah (Delaware, USA)
Why do people think that Velveeta is edible? I don’t know!
Just kidding. If a decent quality chocolate is used – and especially if coconut oil or cocoa butter is used to thin it – it’s not nearly the “oily mess” that it could be.
”What fruits hold up best to being dipped in chocolate? What else can you put in chocolate ?” – Laura (New York, USA)
Well, you can serve pretty much anything you’d like with it! I like pretzels (either rods or twists), cookies (chocolate chip, coconut macaroon, Oreo, whatever!), dried fruits, potato chips, Rice Krispie squares, and all of the traditional fruits – apple slices, banana chunks, strawberries, pineapple wedges, etc. For fruit, I like to dab a paper towel over it all, to absorb any extra moisture – which can cause the chocolate to seize.
You could do a “smores” station, with graham crackers and marshmallows.
Also, you can use stuff like cakes, brownies, and more crumbly items like that. Don’t set them up for actually spearing/dipping, though – have a small ladle set up near your fountain, to spoon the chocolate over these items.
Also fun is to have a set up of toppings. Little bowls of finely chopped nuts, coconut, smashed up candy canes, sprinkles, etc. It’s a fun little “extra” to have on hand. Try dipping a chunk of banana in chocolate, then in some coconut or peanuts! Yum!
”What do you do with leftovers, and how long can you keep them in the fridge?” – Naila (Ontario, Canada)
While the chocolate is still warm and flowing, pour into a microwave safe bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap. Allow the plastic wrap to rest right on the surface of the chocolate, as this will help prevent it from drying out / forming a skin. If the bowl has a tightly fitting lid, affix that after the plastic wrap.
I wouldn’t leave it more than a week or so, as chocolate is pretty good at picking up other fridge smells. To reuse it, CAREFULLY melt it in the microwave, in 15 second increments. Stir after each blast in the microwave – you do NOT want to burn it!
”Is there a way to rescue it, if it’s scorched or dries out? I have a tea light fondue pot” – Shirley, Ontario Canada
There are a few things that can go wrong with chocolate, and SOMETIMES it can be rescued.
Chocolate can’t handle high temperatures. If it’s heated too fast, too close to a heat source, or just not stirred often enough – which is likely what happened, with a tea light pot – it will burn. Unfortunately, you can’t rescue it once it burns.
If it was a really great chocolate that you’d be heartbroken over throwing out, try saving the chocolate that wasn’t at the center of the scorch. Chop it up, use it in a batch of brownies!
Drying out is a condition that CAN be rescued, usually.
If it was a ganache, heat up a bit of heavy cream, just to the boiling point, pour over the dried out chocolate. Wait a few minutes and stir the mixture until it’s melted and smooth. If there wasn’t enough cream used to re-melt the chocolate, you can CAREFULLY reheat it in the microwave, at this point. 10-15 seconds at a time, stirring after each.
If it was an oil based chocolate fountain mixture, add a little more oil – or cocoa butter – and carefully re-melt it.
If you store it as described in the earlier “leftovers” question, though – it shouldn’t dry out.
“Seizing” is what happens when you piss the chocolate off. You think things are going nicely, and then all of a sudden the chocolate gets grainy and lumpy, firming up to a thick, ugly mess. Generally speaking, this is a moisture issue.
Water is chocolate’s enemy. Be very careful to use a dry bowl, dry utensils, and to not allow any water to fall into your chocolate. Even a tiny drop of water causes melted chocolate to “seize”. For this reason, you should never use a lid when melting chocolate (condensation will occur, and drip in!), and you should always be careful when using a double boiler.
Liquid added to chocolate must be warm. Pretty basic rule – cold liquid added to melted chocolate will cause it to seize. Warm liquid will not – this is why it’s important to heat up the cream mixture before adding it to the chocolate. Do not skip this step!
If your chocolate seizes, it can *sometimes* be rescued by adding a small amount of shortening. Use about 1 Tbsp of shortening for every cup or so worth of affected chocolate. Stir the shortening in gently, until chocolate has loosened up.
Now, this chocolate will NOT be ideal for dipping, but it can be used in recipes that can for melted chocolate – brownies, cakes… you can even make hot chocolate from it.
Should I be freaked out about public chocolate fountains? Germs and whatnot… or should I just get there before others?” Alex (London, UK)
Well, that depends. When “public” is a party, wedding or other such event… I wouldn’t worry too much – especially if the fountain is manned by a professional attendant.
I have noticed, however, that at least one chain buffet restaurant here in the USA is advertising that they now feature a chocolate fountain. THAT, I wouldn’t go anywhere near.
The thing is, chocolate cannot take the kinds of temperatures that are required to kill off bacteria, without scorching. While you have nothing to worry about from the chocolate itself – it’s NOT a “high risk” food, on its own – what you do have to consider is the bacteria that is being introduced from the outside. The biggest concern, as far as that goes, is people who put their hands (or faces – I’ve seen both happen!) right into the fountain. “Double dipping” can also introduce bacteria into the chocolate stream. This is why it’s a really, really good idea to have chocolate fountains supervised by an attendant.
Those buffet restaurants? I have no idea if they’re supervised or not, and I have NO idea how long the chocolate fountain runs before it is thoroughly cleaned out. It doesn’t seem worth the risk to me – and I am NOT a germaphobe at all. A never ending stream of people, no idea how sanitary they’re being with it, coupled with the chocolate remaining at that risky temperature potentially all day? No thanks.
Whew! Long entry! Hope this answers YOUR questions about melted chocolate service!