One of the most repeated movie quotations of all time has to be Forrest Gump‘s pearl of wisdom: ‘Life is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get’. Well, prepare to gain a little foresight. This is a guide to the rich, creamy, crunchy, gooey, fruity and alcohol-laced delights most often found in a typical box of chocolates.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s likely that many of us will soon be receiving boxes of chocolates. But in the midst of indulging in such a gift, have you ever stopped to think about how the chocolates are made and, indeed, what it is you’re enjoying? By answering those questions, this guide to boxed chocolates will help ensure you know what you’re going to get — and how to make some of them at home.
It may have a fancy French name, but a ganache is simply a mixture of melted chocolate and cream. The ratio of these ingredients depends on what consistency is required; for example, in a runnier form it is used to coat cakes and other confectionery. If it’s listed in the contents of your box of chocolates, however, it’s probably a form of truffle — named differently due to having an appearance unlike that of a typical truffle.
Everyone loves a rich, velvety truffle don’t they? Despite being named after their resemblance to a fungus (yes, the ones pigs sniff out and dig up), they are one of the most universally loved chocolates for their smooth simplicity. That said, truffles are also the most versatile of chocolates — in boxed chocolates especially, all kinds of flavoured variations exist; many containing different forms of alcohol.
And the best thing about truffles? You can easily make them at home with this simple recipe:
1. Melt 400g high-quality cooking chocolate (white, milk or plain) and 150ml double cream together in a glass bowl, set over a small pan of simmering water on the hob.
2. When melted, stir in 1tsp vanilla extract and put mixture in the fridge for three hours to cool.
3. When firm, use a melon baller (or any small spoon) to scoop out the mixture and form balls.
4. Roll these balls in your chosen coating: this could be cocoa powder, flaked chocolate, chopped nuts or anything else finely ground.
5. Place on a baking sheet and leave in the fridge until needed.
Of course, the truffles found in chocolate boxes are often fancier than this basic version — incorporating liquors (such as brandy, kirsch or rum) in particular. To do this at home, just replace the vanilla with one or two teaspoons of your chosen liquor — easy!
In its simplest form, caramel is just lots of sugar heated to around 170°C until it’s a golden-brown liquid — if left to cool, this forms a hard, brittle substance. Doesn’t sound familiar? That’s because the soft caramel that oozes out of boxed chocolates is mixed with liquids to soften it’s consistency: whether cream, condensed milk or some form of syrup (golden, maple, treacle or honey). Increasingly, sea salt is being added into this mix to create Salted Caramel — a piquant, salty-sweet kiss for your taste buds.
Toffee and fudge
Like caramel, toffee is mostly sugar – the difference is that toffee contains butter and is heated to a higher temperature to make it harder, either chewy or crunchy. Fudge takes toffee’s sugar/butter combination and adds milk into the mixture, for a crumbly, melt-in-the-mouth texture. Commonly found coated in chocolate, both can be combined with flavourings such as vanilla, and contents such as fruit and nuts.
Commonly found in seashell shapes (for the irrelevant reason that they’re pretty, I presume), the praline is loved worldwide by all those without a nut allergy. But how do chocolatiers transform nuts into that creamy, sometime-smooth, sometime-crunchy substance that features in so many chocolate boxes? Well, praline comes in different forms depending on where it’s made. The element central to all of these is pralin — finely ground nuts that were previously roasted and coated in sugar syrup that has hardened. The nuts used are most typically hazelnuts, but almonds, pecans and others create slightly different-tasting variations. The pralines found in boxes of chocolates, at least in the UK, typically combine pralin with a chocolate ganache to create a grainy, nutty-flavoured chocolate truffle, which is then encased in hard chocolate. Textures vary depending on how finely the nuts were ground.
Fruit and peppermint creams
The funny thing about this commonly spotted chocolate is that, despite its name, it doesn’t contain any cream. The gooey, or sometimes firm, substance found within the hard chocolate cases is typically a mixture of icing sugar, water and egg whites, which is then flavoured with fruit extract, peppermint essence or whatever flavour is desired. The fancier versions of fruity chocolates often contain actual pieces of the specified fruit — gorgeous.
So there you have it – an explanation to what goes in to the treats most frequently found in a box of chocolates. Interesting, yes — but let’s face it, nobody really minds what goes into them when they’re so irresistibly delicious.