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Valentine's Day: This Cartoon Tells You Everything You Need to Know Before Buying Chocolate

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Bonbon. It's a short, cute little word (and it sounds even better if you say it with a French accent). You can pop a bonbon in your mouth and -- snarf! -- like that it's gone. But it turns out it takes a ton of skill, effort, and time to make one of those little guys.

That's why Ecole Chocolat and I put together a four-part series called "The Life and Times of Chocolate." So far we cartoonized how chocolate is born, how cocoa beans become chocolate, and what's in a fine chocolate bar. This week we're exploring the making of a bonbon. We hope to tell the story as simply as possible, and while we may not capture all of the nuances of the process, we hope people remember the image.

Since Valentine's Day is upon us and we're all buying chocolates for our loved ones (hint, hint), here are a couple things to consider about bonbons before we get to the cartoon.

What the Heck Are Bonbons?

I used to call all round things made out of chocolate "truffles." But if you want to be technical about it, most of these little round shapes are actually called bonbons. That distinguishes them from other confections like marshmallows, turtles, caramels that aren't covered in chocolate--you get the idea.

A proper truffle is typically filled with ganache, a delicious mixture of cream and chocolate. Bonbons, on the other hand, can be filled with chocolate mixed with fruit puree, caramel, nut pastes, and so on.

What's the Difference Between a Chocolatier and a Chocolate Maker?

Usually on Chocolate Noise I write about chocolate makers, people who buy whole cocoa beans and roast, grind, and smoothens them into bars in their own factory (or some variation of that process). Think of a chocolate maker as an engineer, creating chocolate from the raw materials. Meanwhile, most of the time, the people who make bonbons are called chocolatiers. Most of the time chocolatiers buy premade chocolate, melt it down, and use it to make their own bars and confections. Once in a while they make their own chocolate and use that to create confections. Think of a chocolatier as a chef who uses a premade ingredient to create his or her own masterpieces.

The Cartoon

There are lots of ways to make bonbons, but we've highlighted how to make molded bonbons: First chocolatiers decorate molds with colored cocoa butter (many chocolatiers use a special gun that sprays colored cocoa butter into their chocolate molds). Then they pour in tempered chocolate to make a shell. Usually chocolatiers will fill a mold with chocolate and then tip it upside down so that all the excess chocolate runs out and you are left with a perfect outer shell that is not too thick or too thin. Next they add the filling (like ganache or caramel) and last close up the molds with more chocolate (called "bottoming"), making sure to scrape off the excess chocolate.

Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of different ways to make bonbons, and that's where a chocolatier's skill and artfulness come into play. Some chocolatiers choose not to decorate their bonbons at all, particularly if they have a really intricate and pretty mold. Or some chocolatiers decorate with something else, and there are almost endless possibilities, such as gold leaf, or edible flowers. But a good bonbon will always have a thin, even chocolate shell; balanced flavors; and no air pockets.

Okay, Okay, Enough Talking, More Eating

Here are a few tips for buying Valentine's Day chocolate candies and confections:

  • Buy locally made chocolates. This doesn't always guarantee it's better, but it's nice to support our local communities, don't you agree?
  • Look for perfect pieces. You shouldn't see any leaking fillings or air bubbles on the outer shell.
  • Ask questions. Any chocolatier will be happy to talk to you about the type of chocolate they use, where it came from, and any other ingredients they use in their pieces.

(As always, thanks to Fernanda Frick for the amazing illustration!)

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