Monday, February 13, 2012

Homemade Vegan Chocolates--Techniques and Ideas

Well, I've spent all week posting about homemade vegan chocolates, so I thought I'd do a summary post of how and why homemade chocolates can be a fun project, as well as list some general ideas of different directions you can go in.

Valentine's Day can can a tough day for singles, but it's even tougher when you can't even find comfort in the overflowing candy isles.  Being surrounded by a constant barrage of advertisements and enticements for treats you can't eat can be fairly torturous in a "water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink" kind of way.

So what's a hungry vegan to do when none of those huge cardboard hearts fit the bill? Make their own, of course.  Luckily you don't have to be a pastry chef or a master chocolatier to make something really good.

The best thing about making your own treats is you can customize them as much as you want. Need them to be low sugar? No problem, just substitute whatever sweetener you like. Got to have carob instead of chocolate? That's fine too. Gluten-free, nut free, and dairy-free (implied with the vegan of course) are all doable. And even better, you can customize them to your personal taste as well as your dietary needs. If you only make the kinds you like, there's no squinting into the box trying to figure out where the dreaded coconut is lurking. And you can make flavor combinations that aren't commercially available at all, such as raspberry hazelnut or perhaps mocha-cherry "cheesecake".

The sky's the limit, or rather, your patience is. You can make really simple or amazingly complex and impressive efforts, depending on how energetic you are. Or how deep in the doghouse you are. Homemade chocolates make a great gift/apology too. : )

Here are some options for homemade vegan valentine chocolates:

1.  Dipping various things in chocolate
The simplest form of homemade chocolate candy is probably just a basic chocolate covered fill-in-the-blank, made by melting chocolate, dipping whatever you want into it and letting it harden. There's really not much more to it. Some people like to add a little vegetable oil or shortening (or even wax!) to the chocolate to help make it shiny, or go to the trouble of tempering, but it's not totally necessary.

Chocolate Dipped Pretzels and Graham Crackers

Things that can be dipped in chocolate:
  •      fresh fruit (has to be stored in the fridge and eaten promptly)
  •     dried fruit or candied fruit (as well as candied citrus peel or ginger-yum!)
  •     candy (toffee, marshmallows, fondant, marzipan, sponge candy, brittle)
  •     cookies--ginger snaps, shortbread, basic tollhouse etc.
  •    nuts (regular, toasted, candied or spiced can be a nice touch)
  •    salty snacks (pretzels, crackers, potato chips)   

2. Clusters/Haystacks/Bark
This is even easier than dipping things, and works better for smaller items such as raisins. You just melt some chocolate and stir in some nuts, dried fruit, pretzels, cereal, coconut, or even some types of noodles. Then scoop up little clumps of the mixture and drop them on wax or parchment paper to dry.
If you just pour out your mixture onto a lined pan and cut it after it hardens, you can call it "bark" instead of haystacks.
White chocolate works just as well, and so does carob. I even have a peanut butter version with no chocolate at all.

3. Truffles--little vaguely round candies that are shaped like...well, fungus.  That probably isn't the best way to sell them. : )  There are a lot of different variations but one thing that is always true is that they are always very rich, with intense flavor and a soft, luscious texture. They veganize pretty well, too, as the chocolate is very much the dominant ingredient; if you've got a good vegan chocolate (or carob, even), you're pretty much set for truffles.

  • The most common form of truffle is based on ganache, a thick frosting-like spread. Traditional non-vegan ganache is a mixture of melted chocolate and heavy cream that can be shaped into balls after it cools and firms up. The balls can then be dipped in melted chocolate for a hard shell or, more commonly, rolled in cocoa powder (powdered sugar, sprinkles, nuts or coconut are also covering options).The main question for vegan ganache is what to replace the cream with. Coconut milk would be a very close (and rich) approximation, but just plain soy milk works better than you'd think. Homemade cashew creams and similar concoctions work fine too, and can add their own flavor. Whatever cream analog you choose can be enhanced with spices or extracts or even infused with coffee or tea if you like before it is mixed with the chocolate.   
  •  Sometimes instead of ganache, the center of a truffle may be filled with other things, such as cake or cookie crumbs mixed with frosting or vegan cream cheese. This type of truffle is usually dipped in chocolate rather than rolled in cocoa for reasons of structural integrity. Truffles may be filled with cookie dough as well.
Vegan Ganache based truffles

4. Filled chocolates- Little shells of chocolate encasing various sweet and creamy things. These are the ones most associated with the big cardboard hearts. When it comes to the homemade version, you've got two basic options: making the filling a bit on the firm and dry side and simply dipping pieces of it in chocolate, or making the filling more soft and liquid and pouring it into shells of chocolate and sealing it off. Both methods have merit, with some ingredients working better with one or the other. If you don't have chocolate molds to use for the second method, you can get the came effect with paper mini muffin liners.

Types of fillings:   

  •  Cream--Actually most "cream" fillings are made with fondant (see below). Some homemade chocolates however do involve things like cream cheese and other dairy or faux dairy products to make white fillings. These are usually pretty simple to substitute. Both these fillings and fondant ones can achieve a variety of flavors through extracts and add-ins, such as vanilla, mint, coconut, citrus or other fruit flavors.
  •  Fondant (cooked or uncooked)--Fondant is form of white candy that is almost entirely sugar, and is actually the "cream" in most cream filled chocolates. Most of the time it is cooked with a candy thermometer and kneaded laboriously. There are a number of recipes that veganize very well. They don't modify at all well for low sugar cooking though. There are also a few uncooked fondant recipes that involve kneading small amounts of liquid into a large amount of powdered sugar.
  • Jam or fruit filled--There's something terribly gourmet about a tiny cup made of dark chocolate, filled with raspberry jam. Other fruit-and chocolate combinations can be equally fancy. Sometimes the fruit works well straight, sometimes a cream-type filling is added as well, as in chocolate covered cherries.
    Vegan Chocolate Covered Cherries
  •  Nut butter filled--Peanut butter is probably the most common. There are quite a few vegan Reese's peanut butter cup recipes on the net.
  •  Caramel- The combination of caramel and chocolate if the basis for several of the most popular commercial candy bars. There's something about the flavors and textures that just work together.
    Various Caramels
  • Ganache--This would a truffle-like effect in a different form

5. Fudge--Like any recipe that is 90% sugar, traditional fudge recipes veganize just fine.  Non-traditional recipes that get their texture from specific un-vegan ingredients such as sweetened condensed milk rather than old style sugar-cooking techniques may not. I've tried some that did work, however. You can make fudge look extra good for Valentine's Day by sprinkling red or pink sprinkles or crushed starlight mints over the top before it hardens. Pink tinted coconut would be pretty too.

Uncooked Carob Peanut Butter Fudge
6. Shaped chocolate--Plain chocolate can be formed into interesting and festive shapes in a variety of ways.
  • Molded--Chocolate can be pour into special molds in all kinds of shapes: hearts, eggs butterflies, pi.
  • Piped--It takes a certain amount of skill (more than I have!) but melted chocolate can actually be squeezed through a piping bag and used to draw simple or elaborate designs.
  • Scraped--Various techniques can be used to scrape hardened chocolate into curls or shavings. There's a particular method that creates long tubes that used to be called "chocolate cigarettes." I think maybe chocolate telescopes or something would probably be a better name in this day and age if you're serving them to kids.

7. Candy bar imitations--If you're missing a particular commercial treat, there's no reason not to try to replicate it specifically. For example, if you poured a layer of caramel over a shortbread cookie and dipped it in chocolate, you'd get something very like a Twix bar. Caramel with nuts covered in chocolate would be like a Baby Ruth. Chocolate with crispy rice cereal mixed in would resemble a  Nestle Crunch.
You just have to try and deconstruct the particular elements and figure which ones you can replicate. It could be a fun challenge.

Well, that's about all I have to say on the subject of chocolate!

Here's the week's chocolate recipe roundup, if you missed any:

Vegan Rocky Road
Vegan chocolate Covered Cherries
Vegan Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles
Vegan Chocolate Covered Caramels, and Chocolate Covered Caramels with Peanut Butter Fudge
Chocolate Dipped Pretzels and other miscellaneous things


1 comment:

  1. Yum....chocolate!! Wonderful Valentine's tips and recipes. Chocolatier catering in your future?