Pretty boxes: How to choose the right packaging for your chocolates

Box of homemade chocolate truffles

Chocolate packaging craft brown

If the popularity of Mast Brothers proves anything, it’s that we’re all suckers for pretty packaging.

But when you’re gearing up to sell your first box of chocolates, making wholesale packaging choices can seem really daunting. The options seem endless. And not only for packaging… You’ll be making choices about graphics, about liners, about trays, seals, labels… decision after decision. It’s overwhelming.

The following guiding principles will help you make choices you won’t regret later.

First, consider your brand.

For example, you might ask yourself:

  • Are my chocolates elegant or rustic?
  • Are my chocolates priced to be high end treats or everyday indulgences?
  • Does my business have a theme, and if so, how can I incorporate that theme into my packaging? (For example, if you’re known for bonbons with unusual flavor combinations, consider boxes as playful and creative as your flavors).

Homemade chocolate trufflesAnd here’s an anecdote from my own life.

My chocolate bourbon truffles (pictured) are elegant and modern, with clean lines and geometric patterns (thanks to my trusty transfer sheets), so I guess I could have packaged them in elegant boxes with shiny foil liners.

But… refined packaging is not my brand.

How did I know that? Well… I dip each of my chocolates by hand. I’m proud to use chocolate from a local small-batch chocolate maker. I steer clear of artificial ingredients and preservatives.

So I was looking for packaging that suggests my chocolates aren’t just pretty sweets to be mindlessly eaten. My packaging needs to make it clear that these are high quality, individually produced treats, made entirely by one person from simple, wholesome ingredients.

My packaging needs to feel PERSONAL. Because my chocolates are personal.

With that in mind, I chose simple craft paper boxes, each one tied with twine.

The resulting packages are modern, rustic, and elegantly simple. Just like what’s inside them.

Second, consider what packaging will best protect your chocolates during transit.

If you plan to ship your chocolates, you’ll need strong boxes, perhaps with plastic trays to keep each chocolate in place, and a protective foam layer under the lid. And you’ll need to seal your boxes well and stamp them with a sell-by date.

But if you’re hand delivering chocolates to a friend as I did, you can skip the trays entirely, opting instead for simple brown paper liners. Layers of gift tissue should keep the chocolates from moving around too much.

They won’t be sitting around long at your friend’s house, so no need to worry about an expiration date on these babies. 🙂

Craft chocolate packaging

Btw, I bought these boxes and liners on amazon, but wholesale packaging distributors are cheaper and offer a wider variety of customizable packaging. Shoot me an email if you’re looking for wholesale confectionary packaging distributors — I’d be happy to send you a few names.

Success: Aquafaba Mousse (Chocolate OR Vanilla)

Aquafaba mousse - chick pea liquid mousse

Aquafaba mousse - chick pea liquid mousse

A while back, I tried unsuccessfully to create chocolate mousse out of whipped chickpea canning liquid (aka aquafaba). I had such high hopes. But alas, after several failures in a row, I threw in the towel.

At the time I was making a lot of hummus and chickpea blondies (yes, they’re a thing), and I didn’t want to throw away all that (potentially) useful chickpea canning liquid. So… I saved it. Lots of it. And I tried again. This time, it worked.

What made the difference? I’ll share some tips further down in the post. But first, the recipe:

Recipe:

  • liquid drained from 15 oz can of chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup confectionery sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • optional: 1 tbsp cocoa powder (the dutch processed kind, if possible)

Directions:

Throw all ingredients except the optional cocoa powder in a bowl and whip with electric beaters on high for 6-12 minutes. Add the optional cocoa powder at the end, and be careful not to over beat it.

That’s it.

Tips & Suggestions:

  • Chill the liquid before you attempt to whip it.
  • Use the highest setting on your electric egg beaters. If you own powerful electric beaters, you should have stiff peaks in 6-7 minutes (if your electric beaters aren’t so powerful, this may take you 10+ minutes, but it will work… eventually).
  • Use real sugar. Liquid sugars like honey and agave might also work, although I haven’t tried them so I can’t say for sure. But don’t use stevia — it tastes awful in this recipe. Trust me on this one — this is chickpea liquid we’re talking about, it already has a weird aftertaste and stevia seems to accentuate it.
  • Flavor with vanilla extract, even if you’re making chocolate mousse. Vanilla masks the chickpea flavor quite well.
  • Don’t try to bake these. While I know numerous vegan bloggers (and the New York Times) have claimed that these can be baked into meringues, I’ve tried several times with no luck. I’m pretty much convinced it’s impossible. The “meringues” will melt into puddles after just a few minutes in the oven. Low heat, high heat — it doesn’t seem to matter, they deflate into sad little puddles. Then they burn. They smoke. They stink up your whole house. Your husband will shake his head in bemused resignation as he disables the smoke detector (again). Skip the meringues.

 

  • If adding cocoa powder:
    • Add the cocoa at the very end, after you’ve already whipped up a nice mousse. Also, since the cocoa powder will devolumize your mousse, you’ll need to eat this immediately.
    • To prevent over-mixing/deflation (see pics below), make a cocoa paste by adding a little chickpea liquid to the cocoa powder and stirring until smooth. Then FOLD the paste into the mousse using a spatula or wooden spoon. Don’t use electric beaters to do the mixing — you’ll deflate your mousse.
    • Use dutch processed cocoa powder, which is less acidic and dissolves more easily than the natural (undutched) type. Use only the bare minimum amount necessary to develop chocolate flavor (~1 tbsp for this recipe, give or take).
    • Try this recipe with real dark chocolate rather than cocoa powder. Melt the chocolate gently in the microwave (you can follow these instructions) and gently fold it into the whipped chick pea liquid. Then chill the mousse for a couple of hours to give the cocoa butter in the melted chocolate time to harden. The resulting mousse will be much longer lasting (and tastier) than the cocoa powder version. Just my $0.02.
Chocolate aquafaba mousse - chick pea canning liquid
Immediately after gently incorporating the cocoa powder
Chocolate aquafaba mousse - chick pea liquid
Over-whipping: 2 minutes later
Chocolate aquafaba mousse - chick pea liquid
Over-whipping: 5 minutes later

My personal feelings about aquafaba mousse? If you’re a vegan and have a killer craving for chocolate mousse, this recipe is for you. Otherwise… my honest opinion is that egg whites are a better foundation for a mousse. Even when pasteurized, egg whites whip faster, plus they hold their shape better when baked.

Intro to layered chocolates: caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond truffles

Caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond truffles

Caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond ganache

Full disclosure: I meant to write about this months ago. Seriously, I think there was still snow on the ground when I first made these delicious, creamy, double-ganache truffles. But at the time I was frantically trying to complete my chocolatier school coursework and didn’t really have time to pull this post together.

Anyway, enough with the excuses. Here it is (finally).

This was my first attempt at making layered truffles. Back in those early days of my chocolate education, I wasn’t exactly working with professional equipment… basically I owned a whisk, a candy thermometer and a lot of patience. I actually used Tupperware containers as my molds because I hadn’t bought a professional ganache frame yet.

ChocoVision Mini Rev Tempering MachineOh but I did own one very fancy piece of very fancy equipment: a brand new (at the time) ChocoVision Mini Rev tempering machine, which I absolutely LOVE and still use pretty much constantly. If you have any desire whatsoever to make your own chocolates, I highly recommend you invest in one of these bad boys. The 1.5 lb capacity model shown below is by far the cheapest small batch home tempering machine on the market.

But more on the ChocoVision Mini Rev in a later post.

Anyway… for this particular truffle recipe I made a caramelized white chocolate ganache for the bottom layer and a dark salted almond ganache for the top. I poured one over the other, smoothed them out with a spatula and let the layers set up at room temperature overnight.

Letting ganache set for 12-24 hours in a cool room (<68 F) gives it a chance to crystallize, which results in a more stable ganache that has lower water activity. To refresh, the lower the water activity, the less water (from the cream) is available to grow pesky microbes and the longer the truffles will last at room temperature before they mold.

Anyway — by the next morning the ganache was firm enough for me to unmold in one solid piece…

…and cut it into 1″ x 1″ squares with a sharp knife.

Here’s where the fun began (and, yes, the mess…)

After tempering some of Undone Chocolate’s amazing two-ingredient chocolate, I dipped each square (this process is called “enrobing”) in the bowl of tempered chocolate, fished it out with two special enrobing forks (although regular forks will work too) and sprinkled it with kosher salt.

I wasn’t working with professional couverture chocolate here, and as a result you’ll notice my shells turned out a little thick — but really they’re not so bad, especially considering my less-than-ideal tools (Tupperware, anyone?) and general inexperience..

Close-up of hand made chocolate truffles

Ever since I started making my own truffles, I’ve started noticing how many low and mid-range chocolate grands produce bonbons with really thick shells. Seriously — check it out for yourself the next time one of your colleagues leaves an old box of chocolates in the pantry at work. If nothing else, it’ll make you feel better if you’re having trouble achieving those wafer-thin chocolate shells that professional chocolatiers love so much.

My official tasters (aka my husband and stepson — and a rotating group of friends) went wild for these truffles. They got raves, which made me really happy. But personally I preferred the salted almond chocolate truffles (on the left in the picture above) to the fancier layered truffles. I just really loved their strong, undiluted almondy taste. But it’s really a matter of personal taste  — they’re both delicious.

Two layer truffle: caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond

 

Homemade salted chocolate truffles

 

 

FAIL: Chocolate Chickpea Water (Aquafaba) Mousse

Chocolate aquafaba mousse

Aquafaba chocolate mousse

After this NY Times article came out last week, those of you who know me well may have guessed that it was only a matter of time before I attempted to make chocolate mousse using canned chickpea liquid.

If you’re COMPLETELY lost right now, let me back up.  Chickpea canning liquid — fancy name aquafaba — has been used by vegan cooks as an egg white substitute for decades. It whips up (or so I’ve been told) into a frothy white foam that looks exactly like meringue. It would be so cool — if it worked.

I’d heard of aquafaba before, mostly as a good substitute for eggs in vegan marshmallow fluff. But, quite frankly… fluff is disgusting. So I’ve never attempted that recipe — or anything else involving canned chickpea liquid, for that matter.

And then the Times article came out, and everything changed. It looked so versatile. So magical. So… weird. I had to try it.

The Times article suggests making meringues or vegan mayonnaise with aquafaba, and maybe those would have worked better. But me being me, my mind immediately went to… chocolate mousse. Because… chocolate mousse.

I did not, however, go about this experiment in a very organized fashion. Instead, one morning last week I got up, dumped chickpea canning liquid into a bowl, added a couple spoonfuls of cocoa powder and confectionery sugar, and started whipping.

Chocolate aquafaba mousse just wouldn't whip

15 minutes later, I had a little foam. I kept whipping.

Chocolate aquafaba mousse just wouldn't whip up

And whipping.

Chocolate aquafaba mousse

Nothing. Just a little froth that immediately deflated when I poured it onto a baking sheet (at this point I’d given up on mousse and was hoping to salvage the foam by making pavlova). Honestly, I couldn’t even bring myself to take a picture of the mess. It was too depressing.

So, back to the the drawing board I go.

I have a few thoughts about what to do differently next time. I could try adding cream of tartar as a stabilizer, just like you would with traditional egg whites. Another thought I had is that I might have screwed up by adding the cocoa powder early. While cocoa powder contains only trace amounts of fat, it is not fully fat free. Egg whites won’t whip up if they are contaminated by even a drop of oil, and maybe aquafaba is the same way.

If I ever master the technique, I’d like to try incorporating real chocolate into the aquafaba instead of cocoa powder. The problem with using actual chocolate in this recipe is that the chocolate will seize when it comes into contact with aquafaba because of the temperature difference. I haven’t quite figured out a solution to that issue yet, but my wheels are turning. I might be able to incorporate the aquafaba into the chocolate slowly, in several batches. If you have any other ideas, please send them my way.

Update 7/12/16: I was finally able to make a successful aquafaba mousse! Check it out here.

 

 

 

 

Recipe: Chocolate Water Mousse (single serving, two ingredients, vegan)

one-ingredient chocolate mousse
Untitled
Image: Amber Latner

This two-ingredient mousse tastes like a fluffy, whipped, lightly sweetened, extremely intense chocolate bar. In a bowl. Need I say more?

Traditionally, chocolate mousses are made using cream or egg whites, and their volume and thickness is achieved by whipping air bubbles into them. This chocolate mousse, however, achieves its fluffy texture via an altogether different mechanism: the chemistry of cocoa butter.

Cocoa butter is solid at room temperature. But if you get the proportions just right, you can create a perfect mousse-like texture by adding just enough water to melted chocolate so it only partially solidifies as it cools, creating a mousse-like texture without the help of air bubbles.

I would actually classify this as a whipped water ganache rather than a mousse, if I were going to get technical about it. If you think of regular chocolate ganache as, say, a cappuccino, then water ganache is black coffee: strong, dairy free, slightly bitter and super stimulating.

Recipe: Two Ingredient Dark Chocolate Mousse

Adapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe for the New York Times

Makes one generous serving

Ingredients:

2 oz  good dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces

1.6 oz hot water (approx. 3 tbsp + 1 tsp)

Optional variations: I recommend adding a pinch of sea salt to the hot water before melting the chocolate. Alternatively, try flavoring the mixture with a few drops of peppermint oil or vanilla extract, or substituting coffee for the water to get a nice mocha flavor.

Serving recommendations: This would taste great over fresh berries, with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche on top. But it’s pretty great on its own, too.

Measuring ingredients for chocolate water ganache
Image: Amber Latner

Instructions:

Mix the chocolate and water in a small bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir. If the water feels hot to the touch and the chocolate is melting easily, you’re done with the microwave. If you still notice chunks of chocolate in the water, microwave the bowl for another 10-20 seconds. Whisk until the chocolate is completely dissolved and no graininess remains (this step is very important for a silky result).

Place the bowl of liquid chocolate in a shallow ice bath.

Melted chocolate water ganache in an ice bath
Image: Amber Latner

Using an electric whisk or egg beaters (an immersion blender would probably work too, although I haven’t tried it), whisk the chocolate as it cools. After a few minutes you should begin to see its texture thickening modestly.

Whisking chocoate ganaceh in an ice bath
Image: Amber Latner

Stop mixing and remove from ice bath once the mousse has reached the thickness of softly beaten egg whites.

single serving chocolate mousse on counter with whisk
Image: Amber Latner

Serve immediately.

one-ingredient chocolate mousse
Image: Amber Latner

Btw: If the chocolate mixture cools too much it will develop a texture like that of chocolate frosting (you can see an example of this in the picture below). If you accidentally over-thicken it, try whisking in another teaspoon of hot water.

Water ganache gets thick like chocolate frosting when too cool
This is what happens if you leave the mousse in the ice bath for too long!

 

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Gianduja (aka healthy Nutella)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32140431
Smooth, creamy homemade Nutella
Photo credit: Allyso/Shutterstock via MMN Recipes

That’s right, another gianduja recipe…

I know, I know, enough with the gianduja already! I promise this is my last post about the chocolate-hazelnut deliciousness known as gianduja for, well… at least a week.

My recent recipe for Gianduja Crunch Truffles included directions for making your own gianduja (a wholesome, less processed version of Nutella) at home. Shortly after publishing that post, I was contacted by a happy reader who had made gianduja for the first time. He was spreading it on toast and mixing it into everything imaginable (he warned against mixing it into coffee — seems like good advice!). Anyway, the reader loved homemade gianduja so much that I was inspired to make it easier for readers to locate my gianduja recipe without sifting through lengthy instructions on truffle-making and chocolate tempering.

Notes about this recipe:

I love this gianduja recipe because it’s so simple and so wholesome. If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients on a jar of Nutella, you’re aware that there’s nothing healthy about that mixture of sugar and palm oil (ew). So it was important to me that this recipe include only the highest quality ingredients: roasted nuts and super dark chocolate. No fillers, and no added sugar (the only sugar in this recipe is what’s already in the dark chocolate).

A quick note on substitutions: If you want to eliminate sugar from this recipe completely, try substituting 8 oz. unsweetened chocolate plus your sugar substitute of choice for the dark chocolate. After blending the other ingredients, add the sugar substitute to the food processor slowly, tasting until it’s sweet enough. As I’ve mentioned before, I personally like stevia as an alternative sweetener, and stevia works well to sweeten nut butters so it might actually be a good choice for this recipe (I’ve never tried it though, so don’t quote me on that). Other sugar substitutes (honey, xylitol) and noncaloric sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame) would likely work as well. You could also substitute cocoa powder and sugar (or a sugar substitute) for the dark chocolate in this recipe — if you try this, please let me know how it tastes!

So here you go: a super simple recipe for making your own delicious, addictive, healthy chocolate-hazelnut spread using nothing more than your oven/toaster, a microwave and a food processor or Vitamix.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Hazelnut (Gianduja) Spread

Makes 13 oz gianduja (about 1 2/3 cups)

Ingredients:

5 oz dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa*) chopped into small pieces (can substitute bittersweet chocolate chips, or even milk chocolate for a sweeter gianduja)

8 oz whole hazelnuts

* The higher the % cocoa, the lower the relative % sugar in your gianduja

Instructions:

To roast the nuts: On a baking tray on the center rack of your oven, toast the hazelnuts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until they’re fragrant and golden brown (but not burnt). Wrap them in a clean dish towel to cool on the counter. Once cool, use the towel to rub off the skins, removing any stubborn skins with your fingers (leaving the skins on won’t ruin the gianduja, but they do taste a little bitter).

To melt the chocolate: Melt 8 oz  dark chocolate in the microwave. To do this without burning the chocolate, place the chopped chocolate pieces in a plastic container (glass or ceramic will retain too much heat) and microwave for 2 minutes, stirring every 45 to 60 seconds. Continue microwaving at 10 second intervals, stirring well after each interval. To avoid burning it, stop when the chocolate is 80% melted — its residual heat will melt the remaining solid chocolate pieces as you continue to stir. The whole process should take less than 5 minutes.

To make the gianduja: In a food processor or Vitamix, blend the hazelnuts into a paste, scraping down the sides as needed. The consistency should be like that of creamy peanut butter. Add the melted chocolate and blend until creamy.

Store the gianduja in a tightly sealed container away from sunlight for 1-2 months, or in the refrigerator for 6-12 months.

Note: if you store gianduja in the fridge, you’ll need to microwave it (or leave it at room temperature for a couple of hours) to bring back its soft, spreadable consistency.

 

Recipe: Gianduja Crunch Truffles

Gianduja Hazelnut Crunch Truffles
Gianduja Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles
Image: Amber Latner

This truffle was inspired by Perugina’s Baci, those addictive Italian chocolate-hazelnut confections that have started showing up in American supermarkets everywhere.  I wanted to add some texture to the classic round truffle by pressing a whole hazelnut into its center. The result is delightful; the hazelnut provides a wonderful textural contrast to the otherwise uniform creaminess of the gianduja.

And since we were talking about sugar-free chocolate last week, here’s another cool thing about these truffles: other than what’s already in the chocolate, there’s no added sugar in these. The ingredients are nuts and dark chocolate. That’s it. As noted in a previous post, homemade gianduja is so much more wholesome than Nutella. You could almost consider these truffles… healthy?

Two ways of decorating Gianduja Crunch Truffles
Don’t want to temper chocolate? Roll them in nuts instead.

I decorated the truffles using a piping bag filled with tempered milk chocolate. It’s a really fun technique — I felt like I was in kindergarten art class. But feel free to skip this part. In fact, you can make these truffles without any tempering at all! Dip the truffle centers in untempered chocolate (melted in the microwave as described below) and then roll them in chopped hazelnuts, sugar, crushed corn flakes or whatever else you think of. Nobody will know the chocolate shell is untempered if it’s hidden this way.

Btw, this recipe can easily be doubled or halved. The important thing is that there be a 1:1 ratio of chocolate to hazelnuts in the gianduja filling. If you’re on the fence, I would make a larger batch rather than a smaller one… gianduja keeps for several months at room temperature and much longer in the fridge, so having some extra around to spread on toast or drizzle on pancakes wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world…

Gianduja Crunch Truffles
Image: Amber Latner

Gianduja Crunch Truffles

  • Makes approximately 30 truffles.
  • Shelf life: at least two months at room temperature; up to six months in the refrigerator.

Ingredients:

Gianduja crunch centers:

  • 8 oz dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces (I used DeZaan’s 64% dark couverture, but any bittersweet chocolate will work — or use milk chocolate for a sweeter truffle)
  • 12 oz whole hazelnuts

Truffle shells:

  • 8 oz tempered dark chocolate for enrobing (optional)
  • 2-3  oz tempered milk chocolate for decorating (optional)

You can also can skip the chocolate shells entirely and roll the centers in chopped hazelnuts, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, crushed corn flakes, sugar, ground coffee beans — be creative!

Instructions:

To roast the nuts: On a baking tray on the center rack of your oven, toast the hazelnuts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re fragrant and brown but not burnt. Wrap them in a clean dish towel to cool on the counter. Use the towel to rub off the skins, and remove any stubborn skins with your fingers. Leaving the skins on won’t ruin the gianduja, but I think they taste a little bitter.

To melt the chocolate: Melt 8 oz chopped dark chocolate in the microwave. To do this without burning the chocolate, place it in a plastic container (glass or ceramic will retain too much heat) and microwave for 2 minutes, stirring every 45 to 60 seconds. Stir well.Continue microwaving at 10 second intervals, stirring well after each interval. To avoid burning the chocolate, stop when it’s 80% melted — the residual heat of the chocolate will melt the remaining pieces as you stir. The whole process should take less than 5 minutes.

To make the gianduja filling: Reserve 4 oz toasted hazelnuts. In a food processor, blend the remaining 8 oz hazelnuts into a paste. The consistency should be like that of peanut butter. Add the melted chocolate. Blend until creamy.

Congratulations — you’ve just made gianduja!

Hand made gianduja
Image: Amber Latner

You can stop here if you want, storing the gianduja in a tightly sealed container away from sunlight for 1-2 months, or in the refrigerator for 6 months or more. Note that if you store gianduja in the fridge, you’ll need to leave it at room temperature (or microwave it) to bring it back to a soft, spreadable consistency.

Or, continue on to the next step to make truffles with it.

Note: If the gianduja is too soft immediately after making it, refrigerate for 30-60 minutes before rolling it into balls. Just remember it’s very important to bring the balls to room temperature before enrobing them in tempered chocolate.

To enrobe the centers: Melt and temper the remaining 8 oz chocolate. One at a time, drop each truffle into the chocolate and scoop it out with enrobing forks (a kitchen fork will work in a pinch). Place them on parchment paper to set. If you chose to use untempered chocolate for this step, you’ll need to roll the balls in a bowl of chopped hazelnuts (or your coating of choice) before the chocolate has a chance to set.

To decorate the enrobed truffles: Melt and temper* the milk chocolate and pour it into a large plastic sandwich bag. Twist the end of the bag to push the chocolate into one of the bottom corners. Using scissors, snip off the tip of the corner  (ta-da — you have a piping bag!) and, squeezing from the twisted end of the bag, pipe milk chocolate stripes, swirls or dots onto the truffles. Work on parchment paper for easy cleanup. Fun, right?

*Milk chocolate should be tempered at a slightly lower temperature than dark chocolate, so my seeding instructions won’t be that helpful for this. For now I recommend you check out the instructions for tempering milk chocolate on Ecole Chocolat’s website.

Decorating truffles with piped chocolate
Image: Amber Latner