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pastrygirl

Confection shelf-life, and managing production

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I've been making chocolates in my spare time over the past few years, but have taken a few big steps lately towards shifting from pastry chef to chocolatier. I had packaging designed and made, cobbled together a website, rented space in a commissary kitchen, and am almost out the door at the restaurant. Yup, finally quit the day job!

I've done two pop-up shops and will be part of another on Saturday, and today I exhibited and sold at the Seattle Luxury Chocolate Salon. I'm learning a lot, but one thing I still need to figure out is how to determine shelf life and balance that with production. Products are filled bonbons, ganache truffle squares, bars with fillings or inclusions, caramels, and pate de fruits. My estimate of shelf life is around 2 weeks for bonbons and pdf, 3-4 weeks for truffles, and longer for caramels and bars.

I guess I don't have a specific question, more looking for insight on how other confectioners & chocolatiers manage to have efficient production. Do you date your product? Refrigerate/freeze it? How do you determine your sell by date? How many orders/boxes of an item do you usually make at once, and how long does it take to sell? How much of a window before the sell by date do you think people expect? Is it better to have an earlier sell by date and risk people thinking it might be bad when it probably isn't, or have a later date and risk people waiting too long and eating things not at their peak?

Your thoughts & experience are appreciated!

Andrea

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Congratulations on this new step in your career.  I recall your excitement from your recent popup and so am not surprised at this development.  Shelf life is a topic I have been concerned about of late--especially once I learned how long some recipients of my chocolates keep them!  Jean-Pierre Wybauw's third volume on ganaches deals with the subject at length.  I include a guide with each box explaining what the fillings are--and an ever-more-restrictive "best by" statement and warning that if the confections are going to be kept longer than two weeks, they should be wrapped well and refrigerated (on the theory of better a little condensation than a funeral!).  I have kept some chocolates for over a month and have never encountered mold, but others on eGullet have found mold, and the taste certainly suffers.

 

Here are links to a few discussions on eGullet about shelf life, proper ganache formulation, preserving chocolates, etc.:

 

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/147590-puréed-fruit-as-chocolate-filling-water-content/

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/63097-ganache-tips-techniques/

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/94070-shelf-stableshelf-life-of-truffles/

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/129934-shelf-life-of-homemade-confections/

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/114561-balancing-your-ganache-recipes-20/

 

You can find more discussion of the topic on www.thechocolatelife.com -- do a search under Forums.

 

Jim

 

Shelf life is a topic I have been thinking about quite a bit lately.  The ultimate solution is to purchase an aW meter to test all your confections, but--as you probably know--those devices are quite expensive.

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Thanks guys, I'll read up. It's kind of funny, because I've been harassing my new sous chef at the restaurant about freshness and not making too much and being super selective about quality, but yesterday not only did I find that the pate de fruits I was about to sell had gotten all weepy and syrupy in the box, but a customer e-mailed me when she got home that I had sold her a box of truffles with a use by date of today :( I'm sure they are fine or I wouldn't have sold them, but I should have been paying more attention. I think once I get production amounts dialed in better, shelf life will be less of an issue. I'll remind myself that even though most confections CAN spend some time on the shelf, doesn't mean they SHOULD.

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Jim D. you can also take some classes at Callebaut to learn about shelf life and other technical issues.

Chocolate Technology 1, http://www.chocolate-academy.com/us/en/calendar?oper=detail,courseDate=1719

Chocolate Technology 2, http://www.chocolate-academy.com/us/en/calendar?oper=detail,courseDate=1720,course_academy=21

I'm taking these classes this week.  We had a full day of lecture yesterday during which Chef made a number of ganaches using the same technique but changing one parameter.  We'll examine and taste the results today.  Tomorrow we start Chocolate Technolgy II.  It's very technical, but I'm expecting that I'll be working hard to get my centers "balanced" over the next few weeks if they aren't already.

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My impression from reading what others have said on eGullet is that they tend to use the phrase "best by" rather than "use by" on their products.  That gives you a cushion.  As I previously wrote in this thread, I became alarmed when some recipients of my chocolates told me how long they stretched out the eating process.  As if to underline the issue, yesterday I got a thank-you note from a recipient, informing me that he had just finished the last piece.  The problem is that because of an emergency situation, I had to ship the Easter batch on April 7, so that last piece was more than a month old--since, of course, I had to begin making the pieces well before April 7.  There is nothing one can do about such situations, but knowing about them does give perspective on shelf life.  And, as I said earlier, I am definitely including a "wrap tightly and refrigerate if you keep them longer than two weeks" statement with chocolates.  What more can one do?  Even corporations like Kraft can't make people put the mayo in the fridge.

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... I'm learning a lot, but one thing I still need to figure out is how to determine shelf life and balance that with production. Products are filled bonbons, ganache truffle squares, bars with fillings or inclusions, caramels, and pate de fruits. My estimate of shelf life is around 2 weeks for bonbons and pdf, 3-4 weeks for truffles, and longer for caramels and bars.

I guess I don't have a specific question, more looking for insight on how other confectioners & chocolatiers manage to have efficient production. Do you date your product? Refrigerate/freeze it? How do you determine your sell by date? How many orders/boxes of an item do you usually make at once, and how long does it take to sell? How much of a window before the sell by date do you think people expect? Is it better to have an earlier sell by date and risk people thinking it might be bad when it probably isn't, or have a later date and risk people waiting too long and eating things not at their peak?

Your thoughts & experience are appreciated!

Andrea

 

Andrea, from what I have seen when I have had a chance to get behind the scenes tours at chocolate shops, most of them freeze their product (and have good formulas). They produce a lot of their seasonal items far in advance and freeze. How they determine when to bring them back to room temperature and how much inventory at a time, I am not sure (but this is something that will vary shop to shop and perhaps day by day... just keep records and see if you can spot market trends). Also, I see them using best consumed by dates and including in their literature / flavor guides a note about not using preservatives and suggesting that the chocolates be consumed within a week or two of purchase.  I imagine that if you freeze your product (see Greweling's book for instructions on how to do this so that you avoid condensation and cracking) then you can produce when you have time and you will always have "fresh" product ready to be sold.

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Hi,

I am also wondering about shelf life. However, my product is a toffee baked popcorn. We have tasted it after 6 weeks and it is still crunchy, (I do use corn syrup) however, a distributor is interested in us and wants a longer shelf life. As my product is natural I was thinking of using soy lecithin. Is this something that would work to extend the life? also, I have no idea how to add it to boiling caramel or do I add it before the boiling starts? I have never used this product before.

Sorry for all the questions. My business has only been up and running for 3 weeks and we are in three local shops with re-orders, so I know our product could take off..thanks for your help.

Roselette

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Lecithin is good for keeping the kernels separate, but won't do much for shelf life. Your only issue would be moisture from the air, and possible rancidity from any nuts that might be in there. If it is air-tight, you should be able to get 6 months.

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Agree with Chocolot. Lecithin will help your fats emulsify but won't extend your shelf life. Add it with your fats. Not knowing your product or formulation, I'm going to assume that toffee baked popcorn is what I call caramel corn. To extend shelf-life you're going to need packaging with an excellent air/moisture barrier. Cello-bags; plastic are excellent options!

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