If the sudden blooming of pastel colors and abundance of palm fronds has you thinking of chocolate bunnies for Easter, why not head over to Bread and Butter at Borgata Casino & Spa in Atlantic City to pick up a 14-inch white-chocolate one - as inspiration for your own project.
Borgata's executive pastry chef, Thaddeus DuBois, of Absecon, says making the hollow candies is a "pretty complex" process, but it combines his two favorite things.
"I like pastry because it's technical, and I'm kind of a technical person. It sounds dry but pastry also can be very creative, and I like to be creative and technical," DuBois says. "You might not think they go together, but they do in this case. It's like with musicians, they have to be very technical with some aspects but still very creative in making music."
In addition to his diploma from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., DuBois is a classical pianist and composer with two bachelor's degrees in music from the University of Montana. But you don't have to be a technical genius to learn to temper chocolate, he says. He even offers some tips for making chocolate bunnies and eggs at home.
First, buy good-quality, tempered chocolate, or couverture. High-quality chocolate has more cocoa butter in it, which makes it more fluid and easy to use. Cheap chocolate will be too thick to coat a plastic mold and won't release properly, causing frustration and shoddy-looking results.
DuBois uses clear, poly-carbonate hard plastic molds, which cost more than soft-plastic molds, which are available online and in craft stores. But the quality of the mold isn't as important as the quality of the chocolate, he says.
Next, and this may seem confusing at first, temper the tempered chocolate.
"Chocolate is tempered when you buy it, but when you melt it, it becomes untempered," he explains. "Tempering is the hardest part. A lot of people think it's possible to melt chocolate and they never really temper it. But then it won't come out of the mold and they can be frustrated."
To temper "coating" chocolate - which comes in bars, bricks or coin-size discs - melt it over a hot water bath until it's a hot liquid. Remove about 2/3 of the liquid chocolate and agitate - move it back and forth using a spatula - over a clean stone or stainless steel counter until it cools but remains fluid. If you don't have a marble or granite countertop, DuBois suggests buying a cutting board-size piece of the material.
To check if the chocolate is tempered, stick a metal knife in it and place the knife on the counter. The chocolate should set on the blade within two minutes. If it remains liquid, it's not tempered yet. But don't despair, just re-melt the chocolate and try again.
"Just because chocolate is not tempered, doesn't mean it's not edible," Du Bois says, adding tempered chocolate can be stored in a plastic container at room temperature up to six months.
Return the tempered chocolate to the bowl with the remaining melted chocolate and mix it all together. Then pour 10 to 14 ounces of chocolate into a clear plastic, inverted mold; press the two sides of the mold together and turn the closed mold in your hands as if lightly tossing a ball so the chocolate coats all sides.
Place it in the refrigerator for 5 minutes and then begin checking on it. A 14-inch bunny mold should take 5 to 15 minutes to set, depending on your fridge's temperature. The chocolate will pull away from the mold when set, and you should be able to easily pop it out of the mold, which can be reused.
For the truly ambitious, a little fat-soluble food coloring brushed inside the mold can highlight certain parts - such as fur or a colored sweater - in pastels. Avoid water-based coloring because it will make the chocolate thicken and become grainy and unworkable.
"Chocolate has to flow, it has to have some viscosity or fluidity to it," DuBois explains. "Water will thicken the chocolate and it won't flow into the mold. It's called seizing, and you don't want that. Seizing is bad."
You should always buy more chocolate than you need, DuBois says. Figure about one pound per child (or adult) you will be creating the candies for. DuBois does not recommend mixing children and tempered chocolate. Instead, try making solid chocolate eggs, with simple coating chocolate.
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