How to make chocolate candies at home, according to a pastry chef

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Joshua Cain, pastry chef and chocolate expert, molds displays made from chocolate. (Photos: Caribe Royale)

I’ve been cooking on and off both professionally and at home for 15 years, but chocolate has never interested me. It always seemed like too capricious, too demanding, too capricious a food to deal with. Outside of melting down a Ghirardelli bar for my husband’s favorite chocolate pecan pie every Thanksgiving, I’ve stayed out of it.

But when the opportunity arose to spend a few hours in the kitchen with Executive Pastry Chef Joshua Cain making molded chocolate, I couldn’t pass it up. Cain runs the sweet side of the remodeled kitchens at Caribe Royal in Orlando, Florida, a newly renovated mega resort near Walt Disney World.

It is also a chocolate nut.

Cain’s passion for creating spectacular molded chocolate sculptures and desserts with molded chocolate elements is well known. He previously created chocolate masterpieces like an 11-foot Saturn V rocket to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing, which included 4,000 pounds of chocolate in total.

Cain and his team recently created a version of the Orlando skyline, including chocolate sculptures of the Ferris wheel at ICON Park and Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World.  (Photo: Holly Kapherr)

Cain and his team recently created a version of the Orlando skyline, featuring chocolate sculptures of the Ferris wheel from ICON Park and Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World. (Photo: Holly Kapherr)

When I walked into the kitchen area that will soon be used for a special chocolate experience guests will be able to book in the coming months, Cain and his team were working on a 250-pound replica of the Orlando skyline for an upcoming conference. . I asked if he used any molds he ordered and he told me he made his own from household and kitchen items. The Ferris wheel located at ICON Park in Orlando was one of the elements of the sculpture. Cain let me in on the secret: the giant wheel of chocolate was poured using one of those classic Tupperware pleated lids. Mind blown.

The pastry kitchen at Caribe Royale is now ground zero for chocolate making, with a chocolate bedroom which houses Cain’s dipping machine, marble slabs for casting and cabinets filled with silicone and plaster molds, including a head of Michael Keaton…for a Batman centerpiece he created once.

Last year, Cain wowed guests with a 32-foot chocolate Christmas train displayed in the hotel lobby. This year it will add a life-size Santa Claus, sleigh and reindeer. The display will go up right after Thanksgiving and stay on throughout the holidays. At the hotel’s recently reopened fine-dining restaurant, The Venetian Chop House, Cain has created a chocolate sphere-shaped molded dessert that’s ignited with caramel liqueur when brought to the table. He has also just returned from a week in Paris, where he formulated bespoke chocolate bars to be exclusively sold and used at the hotel.

The chocolate holiday train created by Cain last year for the lobby of the Caribe Royale.  (Photo: Caribe Royale)

The chocolate holiday train created by Cain last year for the lobby of the Caribe Royale. (Photo: Caribe Royale)

During my visit, we tasted 15 different types of chocolate and Cain explained to us which ones are best for certain preparations, including molding. His biggest tip for those who want to try this at home? “Get the best quality chocolate you can find,” he says. (Cain’s two favorite premium chocolates, Callebaut and Valrhona, are available on Amazon.) Without good quality chocolate, he says your molds are doomed from the start. Fondant candies, available at most craft stores, will work well, but won’t have a depth of flavor close to what you can get from quality chocolate.

Chocolate requires tempering in order to achieve the ideal texture and temperature for molding. But if you’re molding at home, chances are you won’t have a fancy tempering machine like the one in the Caribe’s kitchen, or a marble slab, needed to temper by hand. The next best thing, according to Cain, is to melt the chocolate very slowly in the microwave – not over a double boiler as I originally thought. “Just 10 seconds at a time, then stir a bit,” he told Yahoo Life. “It may look like it’s not melting, but things are happening in the chemical makeup of the chocolate that starts the process, so distributing the heat while stirring is key.”

This chocolate sphere-shaped dessert, created by Cain for The Venetian Chop House, is lit on the fire table with caramel liqueur.  (Photo: Lisa Wilk)

This chocolate sphere-shaped dessert, created by Cain for The Venetian Chop House, is lit on the fire table with caramel liqueur. (Photo: Lisa Wilk)

Preparing your mold is also key, according to Cain, who uses Everclear (a high-strength grain alcohol) to polish his molds before each use. “Any type of dirt or imperfection on your mold will make it incredibly difficult to remove the chocolate from the mold,” he says.

Once you have poured the melted chocolate into the molds, be sure to remove any air pockets from the chocolate by lightly tapping the mold on a hard surface until you see bubbles rise to the surface and to burst. Cain’s machine has an agitator setting that helps with this, but the same can be achieved with a few hits on the kitchen counter.

The ideal temperature for hardening chocolate is around 65 F, but it is essential that you remove the chocolate from the mold as soon as it is completely hardened, usually overnight at room temperature. “Chocolate will shrink and curl as it cools, so it’s important to remove the chocolate from the mold before this happens,” Cain explains. When you are ready to unmold the chocolate it will start to pull away from the mold, this is the point where you can squeeze the chocolate out right away.

Stand mixers, equipped with an attachment that helps Cain and his team coat things like nuts and truffles with chocolate.  (Photo: Holly Kapherr)

Stand mixers, equipped with an attachment that helps Cain and his team coat things like nuts and truffles with chocolate. (Photo: Holly Kapherr)

Store your chocolate at room temperature to ensure the chocolate maintains the correct texture. “If you keep your chocolate in the fridge, it’s ruined,” says Cain. Humidity in the fridge can cause “sugar bloom”, which means that sugar rises to the surface and discolors the chocolate. Chocolate also tends to absorb odors from anything around it, so if you store chocolate around onions, you might end up with light onion (or garlic or fish) chocolate.

“I love chocolate because it’s such a versatile medium,” Cain says. “You can mold it, you can sculpt it, you can make bars, candies and desserts. I love where it comes from, how it’s grown and how it becomes chocolate – it’s so complicated, scientific and fascinating from the beginning the cocoa pod in a bar.”

I’ll add another reason to love chocolate to Cain’s list: it just makes you happy.

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