Six mistakes to avoid when making homemade chocolate

28 Aug 2020

Food + Drink

Homemade chocolate is a great way to spend a lazy Sunday – but don’t crack out the kitchenware till you’ve read our tips!

Are you thinking about whipping up some homemade chocolate creations? Perhaps you’ve been inspired by some of your Hotel Chocolat favourites and want to take your culinary skills in a new direction.

Homemade chocolates are perfect as an indulgent treat for a loved one or a gift to send a heartfelt message. Or perhaps you simply want a way to use up some chocolate that’s been sitting at the back of the cupboard, begging you to transform it into something spectacular. 

No excuses are needed; making homemade chocolates can be incredibly satisfying. Whether you’re considering a decadent ganache truffle, a chilled fruity fondant, a signature mould or some bark style chocolate topped with a scattering of your favourite ingredients, there are some common chocolate glitches that could turn your choco-creation into a choco-tastrophy. 

Melting chocolate on the hob

How difficult is it to make homemade chocolate?

Making homemade chocolate may seem simple… but do not be deceived! Chocolate is a challenging product to work with. Having some technical knowledge helps to understand the product and how to handle it, so that the smooth texture, glossy shine and chocolatey taste are the standout features of your chocolate creations. After all, the proof of the homemade chocolate is in the eating!

Homemade chocolate: mistakes to avoid

  1. Using the wrong type of chocolate
  2. Burning your chocolate
  3. Using the wrong temperature for tempering
  4. Using wet moulds
  5. Adding cold ingredients to chocolate
  6. Putting your chocolate in the fridge or freezer

The aim is to avoid any moments of head-in-hands devastation. We’ve all been there – your once beautifully glossy chocolate turns matt with visible white patches, or you go to break off a bit of your creation to taste-test and that reliable clean snap of cooled chocolate is replaced by a crumbly, gritty collapse. Preparation, attention to detail and how you handle the chocolate are the keys to homemade chocolate success. Read on to discover the six common mistakes to avoid when making homemade chocolates.

Homemade chocolate truffles

1. Using the wrong type of chocolate

Whether your creation involves the bitter, rich flavours of dark chocolate perfectly paired with sweet or zingy flavours, or the velvety mellow cocoa flavours of creamy milk or white chocolate, ensuring you’ve picked high-quality chocolate is essential to achieving homemade chocolate success.

Chocolate is essentially comprised of cocoa solids, sugar, milk powder and an emulsifier all within a rich fat; cocoa butter. Cocoa butter has a relatively low melting point, crucial to giving chocolate that melt-in-the-mouth character. Some lower quality chocolate confectionary may substitute real cocoa butter for vegetable oils and hardening agents. This alters the way the chocolate responds to the heating and cooling process. Although the result is edible, it is sub-optimal with a gritty texture and waxy feel on the palette. 

Using high-quality chocolate that contains real cocoa butter with no additives will give you the smooth, velvety texture you crave. Whether it’s dark, milk or white chocolate that’s destined to be central to your homemade chocolate masterpiece, our range of chocolate drops are perfect. They are ideal for cooking (or snacking!), contain real cocoa butter alongside cocoa solids, and contain nothing artificial, ever. 

Dark chocolate squares and cookies with melted chocolate

2. Burning your chocolate

Melting chocolate should be a straightforward task. But we’ve all been there when our gorgeous pan of glossy chocolatey heaven turns to a gritty, sticky mess and we rush to open doors and windows to let that unmistakeable burnt-chocolate stench escape! 

A typical error involves melting the chocolate too rapidly. Allowing the chocolate to reach too high a temperature causes the cocoa mass particles to burn, giving the chocolate a gritty texture and a taste that is far from chocolatey.

There are two common methods for melting chocolate: using a bain-marie (where chocolate pieces are placed in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of hot water); or using a microwave.

It’s important to remember that the glass bowls (typically used for the bain-marie technique) retain heat and so may heat the chocolate inconsistently, causing those pieces in contact with the glass to burn. Melting the chocolate over hot – but not simmering – water is key here, along with frequent stirring! If using the microwave, ensure the chocolate pieces are of a similar size to start with and heat the chocolate in 15-second intervals on a low-power setting and stir frequently.

Regardless of your chosen method for melting, it’s good practice to stop heating when the chocolate is 80% melted, as the remaining 20% will melt when mixed with the rest through a good stir! Remind yourself of the best way to melt chocolate with our blog.

3. Using the wrong temperature for tempering

Tempering is necessary for making smooth, glossy, chocolate that has a satisfying snap when you bite into it and retains that melt-in-the-mouth quality. Tempering essentially means heating and cooling your chocolate at a controlled temperature throughout the process.

This is important to ensure the crystallisation of cocoa butter happens at a predictable rate so that evenly-sized crystals are produced. The result is snappable, evenly coloured chocolate. Chocolate which is dull, with a greyish waxy texture is typical of chocolate where the tempering process has gone askew.

But how do you know what is the correct temperature? And what is the best way to temper chocolate at home? The technical answer to this first question lies in the detail.

The melting temperatures of cocoa bean products reflect the geography from which they originated – beans produced near the equator have very different melting temperatures to beans produced in mountainous areas. However, most of us need something to work with without researching the bean origin of our chosen raw product!

As a guide, the melting point for dark is chocolate is 31-32℃, milk chocolate 30-31℃ and white chocolate 27-28℃. There are several ways to know you’ve hit the right spot at home.

Tempering machines are a sure-fire way to achieve that glossy, smooth delight, albeit at a cost. Using a chocolate thermometer and a slab of marble is a technique worth reading up on, although it is time and labour intensive. Another option is to heat the chocolate very cautiously (using a microwave or bain-marie) and remove it from the heat before it looks melted. Then place it on a cool countertop and stir very slowly for 10 minutes until it reaches the desired temperature.

Tempering chocolate on a marble counter

4. Using wet moulds

If your homemade chocolate creations involve using a mould, make sure they are completely dry. Chocolate and moisture do not make good companions! Moisture causes the chocolate to seize – this is where the chocolate becomes a solid, dull, grainy mass due to the water dissolving the sugar and the cocoa particles fusing. It is possible to retrieve this chocolate by adding a small amount of warm water, but the result is less-than-perfect watered-down chocolate which may be OK for some uses but not for your unique homemade chocolates!

If you’re making several batches and need to re-use your moulds more than once in the day, you can avoid the risk of introducing wet moulds by wiping them down with a clean, absorbent cloth instead.

5. Adding cold ingredients to chocolate

Perhaps your homemade chocolate creations involve a beautifully chilled centre. It’s worth considering how to introduce the cold ingredients to your tempered chocolate. If the difference in temperature between the two is significant, the cold ingredients could make the cocoa butter in the chocolate harden immediately, giving it a gritty texture.

Try to bring the cold ingredients up to room temperature and cool the chocolate a little so that the temperatures are as closely aligned as possible. The result will be something special.

6. Putting your chocolate in the fridge or freezer

Once your chocolate creations are together and all that is left is waiting for them to cool, it can be tempting to pop them in the fridge or freezer to speed up this final step in the process. Take heed – there’s nothing worse than getting to this stage and stumbling at the last hurdle! Allowing the chocolate to cool too quickly will undo the tempering process and result in disappointingly dull-looking chocolate.

Instead, place the chocolates in an airtight container in a cool room, ideally at 18 – 20℃. Ensure they are away from moisture and odours. Once they’ve cooled, all that is left is to package them in some beautiful homemade wrapping. Then await the look on the recipients face when they receive this bundle of homemade chocolate joy!

Delicious homemade chocolates

For when you don’t want to make it yourself

Making homemade chocolates can be a labour of love – and time, which is often a scarce resource! If you find this is true for you it may be that, on this occasion, selecting some of our delightful Hotel Chocolat creations is the perfect way to treat a loved one, send a message through a gift, or simply have some indulgent me-time.

Our divine Simple Milk Chocolate Truffles are a true classic with a soft whipped chocolate cream centre in a thick chocolate outer and are bound to be a hit with most. Or perhaps you know the recipient is a nut-lover, a cake-lover, has a weakness for fruity desserts or perhaps even the odd tipple… Have a look at our Fruit & Nut Chocolate Slab and Chocolate Carrot Cake Selector for inspiration. Or maybe our Lemon Chocolate Cheesecake Selector and Rum Truffles

Whatever you’re after, the chances are we’ve got you covered!