Ever get a fancy dessert at a restaurant and admire the fancy presentation? Perhaps it was a special sauce, a dollop of cream, or some edible chocolate curls. Every dessert can be dressed up with a few finishing touches. You have probably heard the saying. “You eat with your eyes”, which means we make a decision of how good something is even before it reaches our palate. One easy way to enhance your presentation is to finish it off with a variety of chocolate designs.
While it is true that you can purchase premade chocolate curls, shavings, and long thin curls sometimes called chocolate “cigarettes”, it is also true that most people can easily make their own from home. The purchased curls are generally machine made and will all be pretty much alike while the ones made in the kitchen will likely have some variance or personality. With some melted chocolate, a flat surface, and a chef’s knife or bench scraper, you can make your own decorative chocolate curls and shards.
Although the tools and ingredients are minimal, there are some caveats when curling your own chocolate. For some, it takes a bit of practice before the curls are the size, shape, and tightness desired. There are many options when choosing which tool and method works best for you. Options are plentiful, so you might find one method preferable over another. Read on to learn about tools such as a cheese slicer, handheld rotary grater, various knives, and a bench scraper. Additionally, we will highlight types of chocolate and the difference between using a marble slat vs the back of a cookie sheet to make curls.
Chocolate is one of my favorite mediums to work with. One of my memorable professional cookbooks had a photo of a cake on it that was finished with chocolate curls and shards. It was stunning and I knew I had to recreate that cake. I set out to learn the various techniques and methods to creating chocolate fans, shards, curls, ribbons and ruffles. Though my first attempt did not result in a replica of the cake in the photo, I was thrilled that I now had one more trick to increase the “WOW” factor in my presentation.
What Kind of Chocolate Should I Use to Make Curls?
You can use either real chocolate or chocolate wafers to make chocolate curls. Most people choose chocolate chips as their chocolate of choice. If you choose chips, you will need to add a little shortening to you melted chips. (see this article about thinning chocolate) The purpose of the shortening is not just to thin the chocolate, but also to make it more pliable so it will curl when coaxed, rather than shatter. Chocolate chips are formulated so they retain their shape when baked and so melted chocolate chips tend to be a little thicker than chocolate bars for baking. If you are familiar with tempering, you can use a higher quality couverture as your base.
What Tools and Equipment Are Needed to Make Chocolate Curls or Shards?
There are many tool options for curling and shaping your chocolate for decorations. Choosing a tool will be dependent on what you have in your drawer, the size and tightness of the curls desired, and your comfort in working with various tools. For instance, a popular tool for curling chocolate is a bench scraper. A chef’s knife will work just as well, but if you are not comfortable with the knife, or are concerned that it would slip, then the knife would not be a good choice for you.
There are several hand tools for sale that are marketed specifically for making chocolate curls. Examples include chocolate shavers, a rotary handheld device, or a cheese/chocolate slicer that resembles a “hook”. They are available at specialty kitchen shops as well as internet sites. A wide vegetable peeler can do the trick as well if you have a block of chocolate that you can peel.
In addition to a curling tool, you will need a flat surface to spread your melted chocolate. A common suggestion is using the back of a cookie sheet. It is widely available and can easily fit into the refrigerator for cooling. Another recommendation would be to use a piece of marble (12’x 12”) purchased at a big box home improvement store. It is heavy, retains the cold, and can double as a trivet and cutting board. It is worth the investment if you intend to work with chocolate more than a couple of times a year.
The last handy kitchen tool to have is a long straight spatula, sometimes called a frosting spatula. It is used for spreading your chocolate evenly into a thin layer. A sanitized 12” plastic ruler would work as well.
How Do I Form Curls and Other Chocolate Decorations?
Before throwing your chocolate into the microwave (see this article about melting chocolate), there are a few tips to keep in mind. First, your chocolate decorations can be made well ahead of time and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator. And second, most people need a few practices before they are able to produce the size, quantity, and quality of their decorations. The wonderful thing about chocolate is that you can remelt any “mistakes” or “misshapes”. Then again you can destroy the evidence by eating the less than perfect curls!
The temperature of your chocolate is the most important factor in producing curls, shards, or other variations. Start with melting 6 oz (1 cup) of semi-sweet chocolate chips with 1 teaspoon of vegetable shortening in the microwave or in a small double boiler. Be certain not to get the chocolate too hot- melt on low heat and stir often.
Spread the melted chocolate on your flat surface. Use your straight spatula or ruler to spread it out in a thin, even layer. Depending on the temperature of your chocolate, your kitchen, and the surface you are using, the chocolate will most likely need to spend a few minutes in the refrigerator to set up. When you begin to sculpt your curls, you will be able to note whether it needs more time in the cooler, or a minute to warm up on the counter.
A damp kitchen towel placed under your cookie sheet will help to keep it secure. Use your tool of choice to scrape the chocolate toward the center of the chocolate layer until it curls to your satisfaction. If the chocolate “breaks” it is likely too cold and will need to sit a moment to warm up. If your chocolate does not curl but bunches up instead, it is not cool enough. Expect some trial and error. Your completed designs should be picked up with a toothpick or skewer and placed in a container and into the refrigerator for later use.
How Can I Use Curls, Shards, and Other Chocolate Decorations to Enhance My Presentation?
Curls, shards, shavings, and flakes are often seen on the side of a cake. Not only does this add wow factor, but it also is delicious, and covers up any bumps in the frosted cake. It also adds texture. With regard to cupcakes, chocolate decorations are placed on top which creates the illusion of height as well as anticipation. Any plated dessert such as cheesecake and pies will be enhanced with chocolate decorations, especially if atop some contrasting whipped cream. Besides baked goods, a few chocolate curls placed on a milkshake, or in a cupcake wrapper aside a mug of hot chocolate will greatly enhance your presentation and the eating experience.
Curls and similar decorations made with chocolate will greatly enhance the presentation and anticipation of a sweet. With a little practice and a few tools, it is possible to create over-the-top desserts that you would be excited to eat and proud to serve.
About THE AUTHOR
Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.Read More About Lori Gilmore