As I might have mentioned before, the group that usually ends up eating the cakes I make aren't terrifically fond of fondant, and I personally am not terrifically fond of putting things on a cake that people aren't going to eat. Sugarpaste (also known as gumpaste), for example, is a lovely useful thing, but once it dries seems about as appetizing as a lightly sugared roofing shingle.
As a result, I tend to use a lot of chocolate: pouring it, molding it, coloring it. While it is, in some ways, more fragile than fondant or sugarpaste (and at a certain degree of risk in a warm room), at least the hordes enjoy eating it.
Typically, I used two types of chocolate when I'm baking:
Bakers chocolate, which I've found in unsweetened, bittersweet, semi-sweet, and German chocolate varieties in groceries stores. It comes in handy one-ounce cubes, which makes it pretty easy to measure out.
This is my go-to for any kind of chocolate that's going in something--the cake, frosting, filling, ganache.
For decorations, however--shapes, molds, any kind of free-standing, all-chocolate item, particularly anything that has to be a color other than white or brown--I've always used Wilton Candy Melts. Craft stores like Michaels or A.C. Moore tend to carry them in a variety of colors, as well as light and dark chocolate.
Now, in a household where there are a certain number of, ahem, snackers with a particularly strong sweet tooth, anything even remotely chocolate-like can be in constant danger. After another attack on the Candy Melt stash, the cranky culprit wanted to know what was so very super special about the candy melts. Why not just use regular chocolate for shape making?
Certainly, "normal" chocolate can and is used to make shapes and molds and candies--Godiva certainly doesn't use Candy Melts.
However, real chocolate can be trickier to work with, because it contains cocoa butter--unlike something like the Candy Melts, a variation on compound chocolate that is made with vegetable oil. Real chocolate, when melted, needs to be tempered. The short version of tempering is that is re-establishes the cocoa butter crystals when the chocolate is melted, meaning it won't separate from the chocolate. Without tempering, once the chocolate re-solidifies and sits for some time, the cocoa butter will come to surface, resulting in a white- or gray-ish color (also known as bloom). While bloomed chocolate is still safe to eat, the appearance and texture can be off-putting.
(Unless, of course, you're trying to replicate something like this rock in chocolate. Which is a pretty cool effect.)
(Anyways, I digress.)
When real chocolate melts, the temperature at which it melts determines how it will re-solidify. This following chart, from Wikipedia.org, provides a brief summary of the types of cocoa butter crystals that can form within chocolate after it has been melted:
|I||17°C (63°F)||Soft, crumbly, melts too easily.|
|II||21°C (70°F)||Soft, crumbly, melts too easily.|
|III||26°C (78°F)||Firm, poor snap, melts too easily.|
|IV||28°C (82°F)||Firm, good snap, melts too easily.|
|V||34°C (94°F)||Glossy, firm, best snap, melts near body temperature (37°C).|
|VI||36°C (97°F)||Hard, takes weeks to form.|
When chocolate is tempered, it must be heated hot enough to melt all six types of crystals, and then cooled to allow crystal types V and VI to form (although typically, VI will take too long--you'll end up with mostly type V). A process of agitating, reheating, and re-cooling follows to first encourage the growth of type V crystals, and then eliminate type IV crystals. Excessive reheating, however, will destroy the temper.
Bear in mind, the temperatures during the tempering process are different for white, milk, and dark chocolate.
For really great-tasting, beautiful chocolate forms, tempering is really the best way to go, but in cases where the chocolate is going to be consumed immediately (chocolate that is not going to sit for more than 24 hours does not need to be tempered), or--in my particular case--time is limited, tempering can be a hassle.
Candy Melts, any other type of melting chocolate, or compound chocolate is made with vegetable oil, which does not have the same crystallization-and-bloom risks of real chocolate. It can be melted, shaped, and let to harden again without problem.
Therefore, hide your Candy Melts, or at least foist the thirty-minute drive for replacements onto the Sneaky Snacker.
Cheers, and happy chocolate-ing!