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.

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

 

 

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

Intro to Gianduja

Hazelnuts
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b9/Gianduiotti.jpg/1280px-Gianduiotti.jpg
Photo credit: Clop

Before Nutella was a household name, and way before Perugina’s Baci were widely available in the U.S., Italians had gianduja.

I had my first bite of gianduja (“jon-doo-yah”) seventeen years ago, and to this day almost nothing makes me happier than this creamy chocolate-hazelnut confection.

Gianduja ranks right up there with pesto as one of the many mind-blowingly delicious culinary inventions gifted to the world by Italy. And like pesto, gianduja is pretty easy to make. It’s really just chocolate and hazelnuts. But something transformative happens when these two ingredients are ground together, something almost alchemical.

I was thinking about this recently… Who was the original gianduja alchemist? Who woke up one morning and thought, “Today would be a good day to toss a bucket of hazelnuts into the grinder with my cocoa nibs — YOLO.”

So, chocolate nerd that I am, I decided to find out. My research led me all the way back to the Napoleonic era, to the Great Cocoa Bean Shortage of 1840 (I’m making that up. But there really was a cocoa bean shortage, and it did happen in the early 1800’s, and it could have had a scary name).

A predecessor to gianduja was invented in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. During Napoleon’s occupation of that area, a British naval blockade obstructed cocoa bean imports from reaching coastal towns in northern Italy, so the price of cocoa beans skyrocketed. To maximize their limited supply, Piedmontese chocolate makers began diluting their cocoa beans with ground hazelnuts, which grew locally and were much cheaper. The new combo product turned out to be a big hit.

But it still didn’t have name.

Turin Municipality
Turin Municipality

Then in 1865, Turinese chocolate manufacturer Caffarel came out with Gianduiotto, a creamy chocolate-hazelnut confection that the company still makes today. Gianduiotto got its name from its shape — it’s supposed to resemble the hat of a Turin Carnival marionette named Gianduja. Gianduiotto was very popular with the locals, and the name stuck.

To this day, traditional Piedmontese chocolate makers like Venchi and Novi consider gianduja to be one of the four classic styles of chocolate (the other three being dark, milk and white).

Novi Italian chocolate bars in gianduja (hazelnut), fondente (dark) and latte (milk)

 

 

 

 

Using transfer sheets to decorate truffles

Chocolate truffles decorated with transfer sheets

Dark Chocolate Truffles Decorated with Transfer Sheets

Last weekend I spent Sunday afternoon holed up at Union Kitchen with a professional chocolate maker and a former chocolatier*.

The mission: make chocolate truffles out of Undone Chocolate.

The plan: make a ganache out of Undone’s salted 72% chocolate bars, pour into a frame and let it cool in the industrial refrigerator, then cut it into squares and dip it in tempered Undone Chocolate.

The twist: decorate the truffles with chocolate transfer sheets.

Chocolate transfer sheets are like temporary tattoos for truffles: you press them on when the chocolate is in liquid form, and when the chocolate hardens and you peel them off and the pattern of the colored cocoa butter remains on the surface of the truffle as if you’ve used a stencil and spray paint. (Non-toxic spray paint, naturally).

Transfer sheets can also be used with specialty molds. We actually did consider using molds for these truffles but quickly realized it was unworkable — the chocolate was simply too thick for small molds and wouldn’t spread evenly into the corners.

Why is Undone Chocolate so thick? Well, that’s just what happens when you make two-ingredient chocolate. Most chocolate makers add additional cocoa butter to the other ingredients (primarily cocoa mass and sugar) before grinding and refining them. Undone skips this step. The resulting chocolate is potent, thick and intense, and it won’t easily spread into the crevices of molds (this is also a characteristic of “high viscosity” chocolate).

Anyway… we opted for hand dipping the ganache squares in chocolate, and we added some additional cocoa butter to it to make the enrobing process easier. This turned out to be a good call. The extra cocoa butter produced a couverture-like chocolate that tempered well and left our bonbons with nice thin shells.

Using transfer sheets to decorate chocolate truffles

I cut the transfer sheets into squares and pressed one onto each enrobed truffle while the chocolate shell was still wet. Chocolatiers with fancy equipment skip this part — they can cut the entire slab of ganache at once using a guitar cutter**, after which they send the pre-cut ganache squares through an enrobing machine (it’s like a chocolate shower) hooked up to their tempering machine.

In any event, the transfer sheets worked beautifully. I recommend them to home chocolatiers attempting to create professional-looking truffles without colored cocoa butter or fancy molds. I bought these particular transfer sheets from Chef Rubber, but you can buy small quantities of them cheaply on Amazon.

 *Chocolate makers are the people that roast raw cocoa beans and grind them into chocolate. Chocolatiers take a chocolate maker’s product and turn it into confections, like truffles.

Confectionary guitar
Confectionery guitar

 

**Btw… that guitar cutter is a $2000 piece of equipment. And tempering machines with enrobing attachments can cost ten times that. Of all the barriers to entry faced by aspiring chocolatiers, the initial capital investment in equipment is probably the most difficult to surmount. But I digress.

 

Truffles with dark chocolate mint ganache

Molded dark chocolate bonbons

Molded Dark Chocolate Bonbons

A couple of years ago I bought an indoor herb garden as a birthday present for my husband. We grow basil, cilantro, dill, parsley and mint, but mint is the one we seem to use least frequently — so I was excited when I realized I could use all that mint to flavor my ganache.

I won’t get into too much detail about how I made these because the process was very similar to how I made the lemon ganache truffles a couple of weeks ago. The only difference was that this time I infused the cream with mint while the cream was still cold. Being short on time, I thought it would be more efficient to blend them up together in my Magic Bullet.

Fresh mint whipped cream
Fresh Mint Whipped Cream

Well… it turns out you can make really fluffy whipped cream in a blender! I had no idea. Green whipped cream too. Whoops.

Despite this accident, it turned out beautifully. I used 70.4% dark Callebaut. Not too sweet, and the ganache had just the faintest hint of mint.

At the last minute I second-guessed myself and added a drop of peppermint oil. I wish I’d skipped it. The subtlety of the mint had been refreshing, but the peppermint oil made these truffles taste like Andes Candies — which are tasty, but not very original. I’d really hoped the fresh mint flavor would come through.

Whisked Chocolate Mint GanacheSigh.

Still, the truffles came out so shiny and pretty — I couldn’t have been happier with the result (aesthetically, anyway).

Plus, now I know how to make green whipped cream in a blender. Which will come in handy… never?

First attempt: ganache-filled chocolates

Molded dark chocolate truffles

Molded dark chocolate bonbons

Over the weekend I tried my hand at making molded chocolates for the first time. I was dying to use my new chocolate tempering machine (more on that in another post), so when I found myself with a whole free Sunday and a sweet tooth, I decided to go for it.

I whipped up some lemon ganache, poured it into a piping bag, tempered a pound of deZaan 64% dark couverture chocolate, and got to work (for full instructions, scroll to the bottom of this post).

Molded dark chocolate bonbons

Here’s what I learned:

  1. One pound of chocolate is NOT a lot to work with when making bonbons. I barely had enough chocolate for one mold sheet.
  2. It’s very challenging to get the chocolate out of the tempering machine and into a piping bag without letting the chocolate get too cold (and therefore thick and hard to work with). I’m still figuring out the best way to do this — suggestions are welcome.
  3. Make sure you have a good (wide) spatula or scraper on hand, as well as some kind of wide receptacle to catch the chocolate runoff (a clean sheet pan might be perfect for this). If you try to pour chocolate from your mold tray into a 12″ mixing bowl, you’ll leave half of it on the floor (um, yes, that happened).
  4. Put down some newspaper! Or a tarp! And wear an apron, for the love of god. Or a hazmat suit. You will get dirty.
  5. Work fast so your chocolate stays close to 90 degrees. If you let the chocolate cool too much, you’ll end up with very thick chocolate shells and less room for ganache.
  6. Clear plastic molds (rather than opaque silicon trays) have the advantage of allowing you to see when the chocolates are ready to come out of the fridge. To check them, take a peak at the bottom of the mold. When the chocolate has hardened, it will visibly pull away from the plastic (this is one of the many useful things I learned while helping out at Undone Chocolate).
  7. Don’t be like me and forget to tap the air bubbles out of the molds (whoops).

    Making molded dark chocolate bonbons
    What a mess!
  8. Don’t be like me and wait too long to scrape the excess chocolate off the top of the mold tray. If you let it harden on the tray, it will be a lot harder to remove the chocolates. Trust me on this one.

Instructions for making molded chocolates:

  1. Fill a piping bag (or a ziplock bag with the corner cut off) with tempered chocolate and pipe it into the molds (fill them completely).  Then flip the mold tray upside down, letting the excess chocolate drip into a large, clean bin or tray (you can remelt it later).
  2. Scrape the front of the tray clean with a spatula, leaving a thin coating of chocolate inside each mold. Tap the tray (right-side up) on the counter a few times to remove air bubbles. Flip it upside down and stick it in the fridge for a few minutes to set.
  3. Once the chocolate shell has hardened, pipe ganache into the molds. Leave a few millimeters at the top — it’s better to under fill than overfill.
  4. Seal the molds with a thin layer of chocolate (you may need to gently reheat your chocolate at this point, or temper a new batch if you’ve run out).
  5. Repeat step 2.
  6. Gently flip your tray upside down onto a dry surface. The chocolates should drop right out. Wearing latex gloves for this step will prevent finger prints (if you care). If necessary, trim the edges with a sharp knife.
  7. Try one! Or, um… four, if you’re like me. But who’s counting.

Anyway — I hope you have a great time making your own chocolates. Please let me know how it goes!