By David Latt
Instead of buying candy to serve at home or give as gifts, flex your culinary muscles and make your own. It's easier than you think.
For years, a close friend has always given gifts she makes herself. She believes strongly that a homemade gift expresses the character of the giver so much more than a store-bought gift.
Making chocolates requires a few specialized tools, some of which may already be in your kitchen. A double boiler or two saucepans that can fit together is essential. A Silpat or nonstick sheet is also very important. A silicone spatula is better than a rubber one.
Making individual chocolates is infinitely easier and more elegant if you invest in hard plastic or silicone molds.
If you want to make chocolates, be prepared to do a lot of tasting in your search for good quality, bulk chocolate. Before you buy, read the label. Look for natural ingredients. Avoid chocolate with artificial flavorings and additives.
Good chocolate is going to be more expensive than lesser quality chocolate, but it is worth the price. This is an instance when it's worthwhile to splurge.
Less is more is certainly true with chocolates. Almond slivers were better than a whole almond in the small chocolate bars I was making. Barely a quarter-teaspoon of finely chopped crystallized ginger was more than enough to flavor a mini chocolate bar.
If you have parchment paper or a Silpat sheet, you can make a beautiful chocolate sheet, studded with bits and pieces of dry roasted nuts or flavorings like crystallized ginger.
If you want to make individual chocolates, you will need hard plastic or silicone molds, which come in dozens of fun shapes: stars, hearts, rounds, squares, unicorns, horses, leaves, flowers, jewels and - my personal favorite - mini-candy bars.
Once you have made your chocolates, store them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator, using waxed bakery tissue between layers to prevent sticking.
If you want to give your chocolates as a gift, many kitchen and professional restaurant supply stores and Websites, sell candy boxes that are perfect to box up your treats.
¼ pound good quality milk chocolate
¼ pound good quality dark chocolate
¼ cup raw, slivered almonds
1 teaspoon sugar
Use two double boilers or 4 saucepans to separately melt the two chocolates. Fill the bottom part of the double boiler or one saucepan with water, being careful that the bottom of the top or second saucepan doesn't not touch the water.
Break up the chocolate and place the milk chocolate into one saucepan and the dark chocolate into the other. Stir occasionally as the chocolate melts.
Lower the temperature for 5 minutes, stir and then raise the flame again so the water simmers as it did before. This will temper the chocolate so it achieves a good finish. Be careful not to over heat the chocolate. That will granulate the chocolate and make it bitter. Keep the water in the bottom pan gently boiling so the chocolate stays in a liquid state. Add water as needed.
While the chocolate is melting, place the almonds in a frying pan on medium heat. Toss and sprinkle with sugar. Keep the pan moving as the sugar liquefies. Coat the almond slivers, remove with a silicone spatula and let cool on a Silpat sheet or parchment paper.
To make one, large chocolate sheet, pour dark chocolate onto the nonstick or parchment sheet placed on a cookie sheet. Press a flat knife against the sides of the chocolate to create a rectangular shape. Sprinkle the almonds on the top. Pour the milk chocolate over the almonds. Use a clean, flat knife to keep both chocolates in the rectangular shape. Let the bottom layer be larger than the top so there is a colorful contrast between the two chocolates.
Place in the freezer uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove and refrigerate until ready to serve. If any chocolate in the saucepan is unused, use a silicone spatula to remove the chocolate from the sauce pan, place in an airtight container and refrigerate to use at a later date.
To store the chocolate sheet, peel off the nonstick sheet and place into an airtight container. To serve, place the chocolate sheet on a platter and accompany with ice cream or whipped cream.
To make individual chocolates, use a silicone baking or candy-making mold. Pour a small amount of one chocolate into each mold section, drop in 2-3 almond slivers and layer in the second chocolate. Place the mold on a cookie sheet, put in the freezer 10 minutes until the chocolate sets. For storage, remove the individual chocolates from the mold, place in an airtight container with waxed bakery tissue between the layers to prevent sticking and store in the refrigerator.
The chocolates can be served either cold, straight from the refrigerator so they are crisp, or allowed to come to room temperature so they are soft. Serve on a decorative plate or platter.
Zester Daily contributor David Latt is a television writer/producer with a passion for food. His new book, "10 Delicious Holiday Recipes" is available on Kindle. In addition to writing about food for his own site, Men Who Like to Cook, he has contributed to Mark Bittman's New York Times food blog, Bitten, One for the Table and Traveling Mom. He continues to develop for television but recently has taken his passion for food on the road and is now a contributor to Peter Greenberg's travel site and the New York Daily News online.
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