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Chocolate making: Things I learned in my early months

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As a newbie here I thought, before piling in with my own questions, I'd pull together some of the things I've learned in my first months of chocolate making - in case this helps others who embark on the same path.  

 

Many of these learnings came from eGullet, some from elsewhere, and I'm very grateful for all the many sources of experience and insight.  Cooking technique is quite personal so of course not everyone will agree with my idiosyncratic list of course.

 

Most useful equipment so far

 

Cooking isn't really about the equipment - you can make fine chocolates with hardly any equipment - but here are the things which have helped me the most.

 

1. Small tempering machine.  This got me started on chocolate making with a superb easy path.  The ChocoVision Rev 2B (with the "holey baffle" which increases its capacity) just gets the tempering perfect every time.  Yes, I could temper in the microwave or on a slab, but it's great to take away any uncertainty about the final finish, by using this great machine.  Downsides: continuously noisy, doesn't have the capacity for large batches.

 

2. Plenty of silicon baking mats (Silpat clones).  I use these not just for ganache and inverting moulds onto, but also just to keep the kitchen clean!  Working at home, I create a lot of mess and found I could reduce the risk of divorce by spreading large sheets (60x40cm size) across the work surface.  So much easier to clean, and I can scrape unused chocolate back into the supply for next time.  
I get mine directly from China through AliExpress where they are about 1/3 of the local price.  Then, for a further cost saving I ordered a couple of sheets of stainless steel at exactly the same 40x30 size, from a hobbyist place, and stuck some rubber feet underneath. The silicon mat + steel sheet can then easily be carried to the cool room. I got metal bars made up by another hobbyist place (an eGullet suggestion) which was a cheap alternative to caramel bars.

 

3. Scrapers.  Life got better when I stopped trying to scrape moulds with a regular palette knife.  I found we had two Japanese okomoniyaki spatulas from Japanese cooking which were perfect!

 

4. Polycarbonate moulds.  Again in order to afford a bunch of these, I get them from China via AliExpress where they are £5-£7 each (including shipping) rather than £18 (+£10 shipping) locally.  If I were starting again I'd buy little squares and half-spheres first, because these are easy to decorate with transfer sheets and cocoa butter respectively; plus a bar mould for quickly using up some extra chocolate or making a snack for the family.  Magnetic moulds are not in my view essential for the beginner because you can just apply the transfers manually - but they are very easy to use.

 

5. Hot air gun - little Bosch paint stripper from Amazon.  Always kept to hand to sort out anything which crystallises too quickly in the bowl or on my equipment.

 

6. Fancy packaging.  We got some little boxes in bright colours with silver lining - great to turn your experiments into gifts. Quite expensive because you have to buy quantities, but worth it we felt.

 

If I were working at scale I think my top 5 would also include a vibrating table, but that's beyond my means.


Best sources of learning so far (apart from eGullet of course)

 

1. Callebaut website - fabulous range of videos showing how a master does the basic techniques.  Also Keylink (harder to find on their website - look in "knowledge bank") which is refreshingly straightforward.

 

2. Several books recommended on this forum.  Once I got past the basics, I delved into two masterpieces: Wybauw ("The Ultimate Fine Chocolates", a revised compilation of his previous books) and Greweling ("Chocolates and Confections"). These are just awe inspiring.


Most useful ingredients so far

 

1. Callebaut couverture "callets" in 2.5kg bags - quick to measure, easy to re-seal.  Everyone should start with 811 and 823, the "standards" ... but I soon moved to more exotic flavours.  Current favourites are Cacao Barry Alunga (rich milk), Callebaut Velvet (white but not as cloying as the usual one; lovely mouthfeel), and half a dozen Cocoa Barry dark chocolates which go with particular ingredients.

 

2. Boiron frozen fruit purees. These are just amazing.  I struggled with lots of different approaches to fruit flavouring until I discovered these.  The problem is that most liquid purees have a short life span and are quite expensive if you only need a little quantity - whereas the Boiron ones just live in a neat, stackable tub in the freezer.  Grab a flavour, pop it out onto a chopping board, slice off what you need, return the rest to the freezer.  And the range is fabulous.  So far I've particularly enjoyed raspberry, passion fruit, kalamansi (wow!) blackcurrant, and Morello cherry.  (I'm experimenting with banana but most banana chocolate recipes seem to need caramel which I don't find so easy to perfect.)

 

3. IBC "Power Flowers" so I can mix my own coloured white chocolate with a wide palette of colours, for brushing or piping into moulds as decoration.  Quite tricky to scale down to the tiny amounts I need, but I found this far better than heating little bottles of cocoa butter and being restricted to the colours I had.

 

4. Marc de Champagne 60% - great for truffles.  My supplier sends it in a little chemical bottle which is a little un-champagne-like, but never mind.  Rose drops (oil-based) were also useful for truffles if you like that sort of thing.


Suggestions for learners (aka things I wish I had got right)

 

1. Start learning in winter.  There is a HUGE amount of cooling needed in chocolate making; once we had cold weather we could close off a room, turn off its heating, and create a cool room.  Made a big difference to productivity (and quality!).

 

2. Don't do anything involving caramel, marshmallows, turkish delight, or other temperature-critical sugar work until you are confident with everything else - or you will get demoralised quickly.  Or maybe I'm just rubbish at these techniques.

 

3. Learn simple decoration (cocoa butter colour, texture sheets etc) early on.  These make a big difference to how everyone will react to your work.

 

4. Don't rush.  Chocolate making takes a lot of (elapsed) time.  Give things time to crystallise properly.  I find there is always an endless amount of cleaning-up to do while I wait :-)

 

 

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- Most useful equipment so far

 

- EZtemper
- digital scale
- 8" taping knife
- a blue-removal filter for clearing the air when the chocolate gods decide not to smile upon me that day 


Best sources of learning so far (apart from eGullet of course)


I honestly don't have any serious source of learning regarding chocolate outside of eGullet... unless I decide to ask Kerry Beal my question on Facebook instead of here. 


Most useful ingredients so far

 

- chocolate
- cocoa butter


Suggestions for learners

 

- don't irritate Kerry Beal, you want her to not mind answering your questions  :D

- get an EZtemper if you can, want one if you can't, until you can

 



Learn simple decoration (cocoa butter colour, texture sheets etc) early on.  These make a big difference to how everyone will react to your work.

I've never found that to be an issue in my area, "plain" shells seem to sell just as easily as decorated with interest tending more towards what's inside... but knowing your market is important so this could very well apply to many.

 


Edited by Tri2Cook (log)
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Having an EZTemper when I was starting out would have literally saved me thousands of dollars, it’s an invaluable piece of equipment.

 

There are many, many wonderful and talented people here on eG, and they are more than willing to share their knowledge and expertise.   Being here on eG gives a user (new or experienced) the ability to network.  Regardless of how much experience one has, Chocolate will always rise up, smack you in the face, just to remind you that you should remain humble.  

 

If you can, get to an eG Workshop.  You are never going to match the ability to surround yourself with people like Kerry and Chocolot, for the cost.  Never.  

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I am curious if the quality of the Chinese polycarbonate molds is on par with the Chocolate World and similar molds?

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10 hours ago, Bentley said:

I am curious if the quality of the Chinese polycarbonate molds is on par with the Chocolate World and similar molds?

They seem a little lighter but they are proper polycarbonate moulds and as I can get 2-3x as many for the same money I am happy with these for my experimentation with lots of different designs.  For big production use I guess the Chocolate World ones may be more robust.  So far the chocolates have demoulded very well.  There have been two small problems: a mark on one chocolate bar mould, and a magnet which fell off a magnetic mould (easily fixed by glue although there are more magnets than really needed anyway).  The only downside is that you need to be patient because shipping takes 4-6 weeks. (The simplest solution is to order a little something every week, then after a delay you will receive a continuous stream of little surprises in the post :)).

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@Anonymous, I agree with most of what you initially wrote about learning to make chocolates. I also think using attractive packaging goes a long way toward getting one's product accepted and even valued. I noticed the difference once I bought custom packaging, developed a logo and started using it all the time. At least in the U.S. decorating chocolates has become the norm. "Too pretty to eat" is what one hears all the time. I myself think colored cocoa butter (especially white) has an offputting odor and taste, but so far not a single customer has ever mentioned it. I gather you are in the UK, so I am a bit surprised that you mention decorating. From anecdotal and video evidence, I had thought that in Europe decorating was unusual. I too think the Keylink videos are very helpful--and they are rarely mentioned in people's lists of how to learn the trade. In those videos the man who does the teaching (with the wonderful accent) does decorate chocolates, but they are rather subtle decorations compared, for example, to those done by someone like Salvatore Martone in Las Vegas or Norman Love in Florida (allegedly the one who started decorating chocolates).

 

Like you, I have a Chocovision Rev2 machine, which I use for dipping chocolates and for very small batches, but upgrading to the Delta machine made all the difference in the world. I can get so many other things done while it is tempering away. There is a new tempering machine supposedly coming out this year from Choklat in Canada that will be more programmable and will not have the style of baffle other machines use (and therefore molds can be emptied into it without making a mess).

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On 1/13/2018 at 5:01 PM, Tri2Cook said:

- Most useful equipment so far

 

- EZtemper
- digital scale
- 8" taping knife
- a blue-removal filter for clearing the air when the chocolate gods decide not to smile upon me that day 


Best sources of learning so far (apart from eGullet of course)


I honestly don't have any serious source of learning regarding chocolate outside of eGullet... unless I decide to ask Kerry Beal my question on Facebook instead of here. 


Most useful ingredients so far

 

- chocolate
- cocoa butter


Suggestions for learners

 

- don't irritate Kerry Beal, you want her to not mind answering your questions. 

- get an EZtemper if you can, want one if you can't.

 



Learn simple decoration (cocoa butter colour, texture sheets etc) early on.  These make a big difference to how everyone will react to your work.

I've never found that to be an issue in my area, "plain" shells seem to sell just as easily as decorated with interest tending more towards what's inside... but knowing your market is important so this could very well apply to many.

 

 

You know that it is really hard to irritate me with chocolate questions don't you?

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On 1/13/2018 at 9:30 PM, Bentley said:

I am curious if the quality of the Chinese polycarbonate molds is on par with the Chocolate World and similar molds?

Chocolat-chocolat sells some of the Chinese molds - I find them quite on par in most cases. I've had more issues with some Italian molds being lower quality, thinner, providing poor release, etc.

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10 hours ago, Jim D. said:

@Anonymous, I agree with most of what you initially wrote about learning to make chocolates. I also think using attractive packaging goes a long way toward getting one's product accepted and even valued. I noticed the difference once I bought custom packaging, developed a logo and started using it all the time. At least in the U.S. decorating chocolates has become the norm. "Too pretty to eat" is what one hears all the time. I myself think colored cocoa butter (especially white) has an offputting odor and taste, but so far not a single customer has ever mentioned it. I gather you are in the UK, so I am a bit surprised that you mention decorating. From anecdotal and video evidence, I had thought that in Europe decorating was unusual. I too think the Keylink videos are very helpful--and they are rarely mentioned in people's lists of how to learn the trade. In those videos the man who does the teaching (with the wonderful accent) does decorate chocolates, but they are rather subtle decorations compared, for example, to those done by someone like Salvatore Martone in Las Vegas or Norman Love in Florida (allegedly the one who started decorating chocolates).

 

Like you, I have a Chocovision Rev2 machine, which I use for dipping chocolates and for very small batches, but upgrading to the Delta machine made all the difference in the world. I can get so many other things done while it is tempering away. There is a new tempering machine supposedly coming out this year from Choklat in Canada that will be more programmable and will not have the style of baffle other machines use (and therefore molds can be emptied into it without making a mess).

Wonder if Choklat will ever actually come out with that machine? I think Brad's first mention of it was in 2013.

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16 minutes ago, Kerry Beal said:

Wonder if Choklat will ever actually come out with that machine? I think Brad's first mention of it was in 2013.

I know what you mean. I am on his list to be notified about developments but have heard nothing lately. It did sound good. He is a very confident man. :D Supposedly he used it exclusively in his shop during the 2017 Christmas season.

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9 hours ago, Kerry Beal said:

You know that it is really hard to irritate me with chocolate questions don't you?


Yeah, I definitely know that. If I haven't managed to by now, I'm not sure anybody can. I was thinking more in a general sense than specifically in regards to chocolate. :D

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9 hours ago, Jim D. said:

I know what you mean. I am on his list to be notified about developments but have heard nothing lately. It did sound good. He is a very confident man. :D Supposedly he used it exclusively in his shop during the 2017 Christmas season.

'Confident' - that's a tactful word!

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On 1/14/2018 at 3:30 AM, Bentley said:

I am curious if the quality of the Chinese polycarbonate molds is on par with the Chocolate World and similar molds?

 

I did a back to back comparison with two half circle molds I got from aliexpress and two half circle molds from Chocolate World. Aliexpress was 1/4 the price of Chocolate World and that's with living very close to CW. Table tempered my callebaut 811 and shelled the molds and left them to  completely crystallize. I wanted to see if there was a shine difference, ease of demolding..etc..

I didn't fill them on purpose.

Immediately when I was scraping off excess chocolate, I noticed the aliexpress molds scratched very easily and plastic actually scraped off. After an hour or so, the shells in the CW molds had almost entirely released when I checked them. The aliexpress were not released at all. So, I left all four molds in my chocolate room of 16C for the rest of the night. Next day, the shells in the CW molds slipped out without one single release mark or resistance. The aliexpress molds still didn't show that the chocolate had shrunk away from the mold. Turning them over and tapping them, released maybe one or two shells. I put it in the fridge for 5 minutes, still no movement in the shells. I put it in the freezer for a few minutes, and still nothing. At this point, I applied the heat gun to it to just soften the chocolate and I'd clean it out with my fingers. While the surface of the chocolate was  very slowly melting, I put my finger in to clean it out and the plastic had actually softened as well as the chocolate!

I talked to my mentor where I went to pastry school about it and he said he had heard of the melting happening as well.

I've also had issue with one Italian brand mold, but never ever melting, just poor and inconsistent release.


Edited by julie99nl (log)

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15 minutes ago, julie99nl said:

 

I did a back to back comparison with two half circle molds I got from aliexpress and two half circle molds from Chocolate World. Aliexpress was 1/4 the price of Chocolate World and that's with living very close to CW. Table tempered my callebaut 811 and shelled the molds and left them to  completely crystallize. I wanted to see if there was a shine difference, ease of demolding..etc..

I didn't fill them on purpose.

Immediately when I was scraping off excess chocolate, I noticed the aliexpress molds scratched very easily and plastic actually scraped off. After an hour or so, the shells in the CW molds had almost entirely released when I checked them. The aliexpress were not released at all. So, I left all four molds in my chocolate room of 16C for the rest of the night. Next day, the shells in the CW molds slipped out without one single release mark or resistance. The aliexpress molds still didn't show that the chocolate had shrunk away from the mold. Turning them over and tapping them, released maybe one or two shells. I put it in the fridge for 5 minutes, still no movement in the shells. I put it in the freezer for a few minutes, and still nothing. At this point, I applied the heat gun to it to just soften the chocolate and I'd clean it out with my fingers. While the surface of the chocolate was  very slowly melting, I put my finger in to clean it out and the plastic had actually softened as well as the chocolate!

I talked to my mentor where I went to pastry school about it and he said he had heard of the melting happening as well.

I've also had issue with one Italian brand mold, but never ever melting, just poor and inconsistent release.

 

Interesting!

 

Chocolat-choclat in Montreal sells some molds that they have made in China and I'd say they are on par with any of the CW molds for quality. I guess it argues that you need to know who you are buying from. It would certainly make me hesitant to source via Aliexpress.

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I just bought three of the inexpensive molds made in China from different sellers on Amazon. They ranged from $12-18. Will post once I am able to give them a try, hopefully this weekend. One of them is fairly close to an elusive almond-shaped mold that was discussed here before, as well as a heart mold and a half sphere. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is fun to have a selection of a few interesting molds for making novelty chocolates (like the big dragon or the cute frogs and horse heads), but for the bulk of what I make, I need to choose a few simple shapes and get several molds of each.

 

As as far as suggestions for newbies (for the record, I’m probably one small step above that category - been at it for a while but very limited time to play), if you are serious about making chocolates, as either a hobby (like me) or a business, I would recommend the EZTemper as soon as you can justify the cash outlay. I have always had very inconsistent results with tempering, even when I was meticulous about temperatures. Since getting the EZTemper and getting some reliably sourced cocoa butter for silk, I have not had a bad batch (knock on wood). I would have avoided a lot of frustration by getting it earlier, and would have made a lot fewer chocolates suitable for the “back room” thread.

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2 hours ago, tikidoc said:

I just bought three of the inexpensive molds made in China from different sellers on Amazon. They ranged from $12-18. Will post once I am able to give them a try, hopefully this weekend. One of them is fairly close to an elusive almond-shaped mold that was discussed here before, as well as a heart mold and a half sphere. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is fun to have a selection of a few interesting molds for making novelty chocolates (like the big dragon or the cute frogs and horse heads), but for the bulk of what I make, I need to choose a few simple shapes and get several molds of each.

 

As as far as suggestions for newbies (for the record, I’m probably one small step above that category - been at it for a while but very limited time to play), if you are serious about making chocolates, as either a hobby (like me) or a business, I would recommend the EZTemper as soon as you can justify the cash outlay. I have always had very inconsistent results with tempering, even when I was meticulous about temperatures. Since getting the EZTemper and getting some reliably sourced cocoa butter for silk, I have not had a bad batch (knock on wood). I would have avoided a lot of frustration by getting it earlier, and would have made a lot fewer chocolates suitable for the “back room” thread.

Tell me more about this elusive almond-shaped mold?

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Almond-shaped mold

 

I’ll play with it this weekend. Just got molds today. They are a bit lighter than the ones I have from the North American companies but no scratches or cracks.

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6 minutes ago, tikidoc said:

Almond-shaped mold

 

I’ll play with it this weekend. Just got molds today. They are a bit lighter than the ones I have from the North American companies but no scratches or cracks.

Ah yes - love that shape - Dallas does such beautiful stuff with them over at the Chocolate Lab!

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Just now, Kerry Beal said:

Ah yes - love that shape - Dallas does such beautiful stuff with them over at the Chocolate Lab!

Was that the gorgeous blue one with the stripe that got everyone obsessing about masking tape? I think this may be a slightly plumper almond, but quite similar.

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1 minute ago, tikidoc said:

Was that the gorgeous blue one with the stripe that got everyone obsessing about masking tape? I think this may be a slightly plumper almond, but quite similar.

Yup - that's the one. I don't see it fitting well in a box though.

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11 minutes ago, Kerry Beal said:

Yup - that's the one. I don't see it fitting well in a box though.

Is it the same as the Chocolate World #1673 mold?  Called a quenelle by some people. I bought 6 of these and was not thrilled. They are rather long, but don't hold a lot of filling. They are probably better with two fitted together (and they have the holes to help with that).

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I love the shape of #1673, but only have 16 cavities per mould is a pain in the backside when you're making a lot.

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I’ve been trying to learn chocolate making on and off for some years now.  I have no aim to do this professionally, just to be competent enough to create a few bonbons for friends and colleagues.  I’ve been reflecting on what has helped me so far, I would stress that I am still very much at the start of the learning curve!

 

First, Kerry Beal’s DVDs are hugely useful because the information is there and can be returned to again and again.  She posted them to me in the UK ignoring all my requests to pay postal charges.  They are inexpensive when compared to books, they focus on what a beginner needs to understand and following the advice they contain can help beginners to avoid expensive wasted chocolate and time.  

 

Second, Mycryo cocoa butter.  For me, (as yet) unable to justify an EZTemper this product takes (some of) the stress out of tempering.

 

Next, polycarbonate magnetic molds.  As a beginner I stick to simple shapes without sharp corners.  Circles rather than squares make it easier for me to create an even and complete modded chocolate.  I began with silicon molds but results were unpredictable and the molds grew a white bloom however carefully I cleaned and stored them.  I now use those molds to freeze inserts for pastries, herbs for adding to cooking etc

 

Also worth a mention: clingfilm and disposable gloves.  I use film to cover everything within range when working with chocolate and find the gloves indispensable to avoid spoiling the few nice shiny chocolates I turn out with unwanted finger marks.  

 

I haven’t bought many books.  I do use Frederic Bau’s L’essential du Chocolat although some of the recipes are less than wonderful it makes for a good guide to basic techniques.  I bought Greweling after reading recommendations here but I haven’t made anything from that book yet.  Perhaps too advanced for me.

 

Having read this thread I guess I will be looking again at a small tempering machine.  I hint to my husband that he might make me one (are you reading this RB) as a newly retired Control Engineer it might be a good project for him and he has indicated an interest in such from time to time.  I know he has joined eGullet so might read this....  I sometimes use my dough proofing oven to melt chocolate, it is sold with tempering as one of its functions but it takes a long time.   The proofer has transformed my bread making but that’s another topic!

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On 2/14/2018 at 5:35 AM, julie99nl said:

 

I did a back to back comparison with two half circle molds I got from aliexpress and two half circle molds from Chocolate World. Aliexpress was 1/4 the price of Chocolate World and that's with living very close to CW. Table tempered my callebaut 811 and shelled the molds and left them to  completely crystallize. I wanted to see if there was a shine difference, ease of demolding..etc..

I didn't fill them on purpose.

Immediately when I was scraping off excess chocolate, I noticed the aliexpress molds scratched very easily and plastic actually scraped off. After an hour or so, the shells in the CW molds had almost entirely released when I checked them. The aliexpress were not released at all. So, I left all four molds in my chocolate room of 16C for the rest of the night. Next day, the shells in the CW molds slipped out without one single release mark or resistance. The aliexpress molds still didn't show that the chocolate had shrunk away from the mold. Turning them over and tapping them, released maybe one or two shells. I put it in the fridge for 5 minutes, still no movement in the shells. I put it in the freezer for a few minutes, and still nothing. At this point, I applied the heat gun to it to just soften the chocolate and I'd clean it out with my fingers. While the surface of the chocolate was  very slowly melting, I put my finger in to clean it out and the plastic had actually softened as well as the chocolate!

I talked to my mentor where I went to pastry school about it and he said he had heard of the melting happening as well.

I've also had issue with one Italian brand mold, but never ever melting, just poor and inconsistent release.

 

 

I’ve found that you have to be careful which AliExpress sellers you use. Some are just very slow to send their products and some actually misrepresent their products. The melting problem may have been due to receiving a low-density PE (polyethylene) mold instead of the PC (polycarbonate) type.

 

You also get better prices when using the mobile app instead of the website.

 

Most of the better PC molds seem to be made by Shunda, with a few stores offering rebranded boxes. I’ve ordered a bunch of molds from the “Dcrt pastry tools store” and they work well. The quality is quite good, but I have received the occasional one with a poor finish, especially on the edges (I used emery paper to cleanup excess plastic on the upper surface that would have been curled off using my scraper).

 

Searching for “polycarbonate chocolate mold” will avoid most of the silicon ones. “pc chocolate mold” is also a good filter. If you want dome molds add “2124B” to the search; these are the larger size (29mm, 11-13g/⅓ oz), similar to a CW2116/2295 but at a limited number of stores. The “2124” (no B) is available from more stores but is smaller (8g/¼ oz) size (I like these for liquid centers).

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Posted (edited)

Something I'm learning as I start into a new (to me) area of the chocolate experience... simple, not elaborate or artsy, polycarbonate bar molds in the 60 - 75 gram range are incredibly difficult to find other than the break-apart-rectangles type, which isn't really what I had in mind. I'm close to admitting defeat and using that type anyway.


Edited by Tri2Cook (log)
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    • By artiesel
      I have Volumes 1 ,2 and 4 of Jean-Pierre Wybauw's Great Chocolate books are for sale.
       
      The books are in great shape!  There is some tape on the corner of the front of volume 1 that I used to keep it together after a drop.  Volume 1 is also autographed by the author (See pics below).
       
      I'm asking $150 for the lot OBO.
       
      Let me know if interested or if you have questions
       
       
       



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