Chat Leftovers: Wedding SOS

BIGSTOCKPHOTO - Properly tempered chocolate will look smooth and shiny.

Happy day-before-Valentine’s Day. Since you’re being bombarded with pitches about chocolate anyway, I thought this was the ideal time to tackle the same topic. But more about that later. First, here’s what’s new in Food: It’s sandwich week!

David Hagedorn tells you where to get five good pastrami sandwiches in Washington and Baltimore.

VIENNA, VA, JANUARY 9, 2013: Winter salad of shaved cucumber, radish and endive with lemon vinaigrette. Dishware courtesy of Crate & Barrel. (Photo by ASTRID RIECKEN For The Washington Post)

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That’s a lot to take in, but I know you’ll still have time for today’s Free Range chat, right? Bring your questions about Valentine’s Day food or anything else that strikes your fancy.

That’s at noon sharp! And in the meantime, here’s a leftover question from a previous week’s chat:

I’m making my own chocolate wedding favors to put in little boxes for guests to either enjoy or take home. I plan to make our initials and, naturally, a Maryland blue crab. I want to start making them a couple weeks before the wedding and freeze them. I have all the molds but am concerned about making sure I get the right chocolate. I don’t want to use that chocolate sitting in craft stores, but I can’t really afford super high quality. Do you have a chocolate recipe that would hold up to molding and still taste good?

Custom-molded chocolates can cost big bucks, and making your own can mean significant savings for a budget-minded couple. So, good idea! But I’m concerned about one thing:

Are you aware that your chocolate must be tempered? In other words, it must be taken to a series of fairly specific temperatures before it will harden into the shiny, snappy chocolate you probably had in mind when you first visualized your wedding favors.

Or as local chocolatier Jason Andelman told me, “If she just melts chocolate and pours it into molds, they’re going to look terrible.”

Chocolate that isn’t tempered will be soft and chalky and is prone to develop whitish-gray streaks called “bloom” that are caused by unstable crystallization. It might look good at first when you pour it into the molds, but within several hours it will take a definite, and very obvious, turn for the worse. Tempering chocolate realigns the crystals and makes everything firm and pretty.

To give you an idea of the process: If I were tempering semisweet chocolate, I’d have to heat it to about 115 degrees, then take it down to about 80 degrees, then heat it back up to about 89 degrees. And I’d have to hold it at that last temperature while I was working with it, not letting it cool too much.

Chocolate pros like Jason, who owns Artisan Chocolates in Arlington and in the new Mosaic District, use machines to do the job, but you can accomplish it at home. “Tempering isn’t really that difficult,” Jason says. “You can look on YouTube and find out how to do it, or Google it. There’s lots of resources online.”

You’re right not to be looking for craft-store chocolate, he says: “I wouldn’t even call that chocolate, really.” He says you should be able to buy perfectly acceptable and affordable chocolate at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s — probably Ghirardelli or Callebaut brand, which you’ll find sold in large chunks wrapped in plastic.

After tempering, Jason says, your wedding favors will be shelf stable — no freezing required. “So she can just package them up right away and store them at cool room temperature for a couple weeks.”

You know what would be a lot easier, and wouldn’t require you to temper the chocolate? Chocolate truffles! You can turn out batches of them in a few hours. But those probably would need to be refrigerated, and they wouldn’t be in the shape of your initials (or a crab).

Whatever you decide to do, good luck! And congratulations on the wedding.

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