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Guide to chocolate skills

Whether baked into a cake, melted into a chocolate mousse or chopped into cookies, versatile chocolate is always a crowd-pleaser. Master the basics then try out some new chocolate skills and techniques that will have you looking like a master chocolatier in no time, from melting and marbling to showstopping mirror glaze.

  1. The basics

    Choosing chocolate for baking: Cocoa powder and chocolate bars are both made from cacao beans, but the cocoa solids in bars are mixed with sugar and cocoa butter so the flavour is less intense. Powder gives a stronger flavour but isn't sweetened, so is only usually used in bakes that already include sugar. Dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa mass and less cocoa butter than milk and white chocolate, which makes it more difficult to scorch or seize. However, milk and white varieties can still be baked and melted – just melt and cool them slowly or watch out for high temperatures when baking.

    What is blooming?: A ‘bloom’ is a white powdery coating or grey streaking that forms on the surface of chocolate. This can occur if the chocolate gets damp and the sugar crystallises, or if it gets too warm and the cocoa butter separates. It’s still very edible, just not as attractive to look at! To keep it at its best, follow our top tips on storing chocolate, below.

    How to store: Chocolate tastes better and is less likely to bloom at room temperature, so store it in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Once opened, keep in an airtight container to prevent it picking up other odours.

    When you should refrigerate chocolate: Although they may lose a little of their glossy shine, delicate decorations (such as chocolate curls or piped designs) will likely need to be kept chilled to hold their shapes unless the room is very cool. Store in a sealed container so they are protected as much as possible. In other cases when chocolate is mixed with fresh cream or dairy products, as in making ganache or truffles, then this will also need to be kept in the fridge to stop the dairy from spoiling or splitting.

  2. Melting

    Chop into equal pieces and put in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Don’t let the bowl touch the water. When almost melted, remove from the heat and stir until smooth (extra tip, it's best to stir melted chocolate in one direction to keep it super smooth). Alternatively, heat in short bursts in the microwave, and stir well between each to stop it catching.

    Melted chocolate can ‘seize’ (turn thick and grainy) if it comes into contact with water or high heat. Always melt over a low heat and add any liquids to the dry chocolate before starting. If it does seize, remove from the heat and stir in 1 tsp boiling water at a time until smooth.

  3. Marbling

    This is one of the most simple but effective decoration techniques for chocolate. Melt two or more varieties separately, apply a layer of one colour, then dot with the others and swirl together with a skewer or tip of a knife. Be careful not to swirl the colours together too much, or they’ll blend together and lose the effect. For the simplest way to try this technique, make our marbled chocolate puddles for an easy edible gift, or use to top a no-bake chocolate fridge cake.

  4. Ganache

    Chocolate ganache comes in many forms – a smooth, silky chocolate sauce when hot, or a dense and creamy spread when cooled and set. Ganache is made by mixing hot liquid with chocolate until it melts. Different liquids work best for different recipes; for example, cream gives an extra-rich result while fruit juices give a boost of flavour.

    For a basic ganache, gently warm 150ml double cream until just steaming then pour over 150g chopped dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids). Allow the chocolate to melt into the warm cream for a minute then stir until smooth and glossy. The ganache can be used straight away as a glaze for cakes and desserts, such as in this decadent triple chocolate cake recipe, or left to cool and thicken. It can then be whipped to make a rich, fluffy frosting or set and rolled into indulgent truffles – these salted caramel truffles are the perfect after-dinner treat.

  5. Decorative curls

    A gorgeous chocolate curl is the perfect way to top homemade cakes and desserts when you really want to impress. Any chocolate can be used to create a curl, so experiment with dark, milk, white and even flavoured chocolates depending on your bake – we love the zesty orange curls on this chocolate orange cupcakes

    Melt the chocolate then spread it out in a thin, even layer over something flat – an upside-down baking tray is perfect as it gives you a raised level surface. Allow the chocolate to cool until it has almost set but is still slightly soft to the touch. Carefully push a large, shrap knife or palette knife into the surface then push away from you at a 45° to form a curl. It can help to warm the knife slightly if the curls seem too brittle. Repeat to make as many curls as you need.

  6. Mousse

    Mastering a light-as-air mousse is easier than you might think and means you've always got a stunning dinner party dessert to whip up whenever guests pop over. 

    The core ingredients for a classic mousse are dark chocolate and eggs, and the trick to a fluffy mousse is how you mix the two together. The yolks are mixed with the melted chocolate first then the whites are whisked separately to an almost meringue-like texture before being added in stages – the first addition can be mixed in quite roughly to loosen the mixture, then the rest should be folded in gently with a metal spoon in 3-4 goes so as not to knock out all the air bubbles.

  7. Mirror glaze

    Once you’ve mastered some basic chocolate skills, have a go at perfecting a glossy mirror glaze. This is created by adding gelatine to a sweet chocolate sauce, which helps it set almost instantly to a glossy shine when poured onto a chilled surface. The technique takes some patience, but the results are worth it. Try it out on this mirror-glazed cheesecake for a seriously impressive dinner party dessert.

    Mirror glaze