Presented by Robert Harwood, WA
I was attracted to working with modelling chocolate because although it doesn’t dry out, it sets very solid after a few minutes once it’s cool allowing sculpts to be built quickly. Best of all, edges blend perfectly so there are no seams and details can be remodelled and reworked, built up or shaved down repeatedly until they are perfect.
How to make perfect modelling chocolate and how to work with it.
I am in awe of the smooth detailed work done by cake artists like Liz Marek.
I noticed a lot of them were using modelling chocolate instead of fondant, or they were using modelling pastes that have cocoa butter, giving the paste the properties of fondant and modelling chocolate; pastes like Cake Duchess, Daisy Paste or Saracino.
I was attracted to working with modelling chocolate because although it doesn’t dry out, it sets very solid after a few minutes once it’s cool allowing sculps to be built quickly.
Best of all, edges blend perfectly so there are no seams and details can be remodelled and reworked, built up or shaved down repeatedly until they are perfect.
I experimented a lot to get a modelling chocolate recipe that performs well for me, is cheap to make and can be consistently and quickly made in large quantities to use on the same day.
The recipe I use is a simple ratio of 4.5:1 by weight of white compound chocolate to light corn syrup. This makes a very firm, all-purpose modelling chocolate.
I’ve found it’s easier not to use expensive couverture chocolate, a good white compound chocolate works best for texture and still tastes pretty good.
If the piece is designed for eating I use a 50/50 mix of Cadbury white chocolate and compound chocolate, this gives the best mix of flavour and texture, adding the eating white chocolate will make the mixture grainy and a lot harder to work with. I do also use all eating chocolate, but it is a lot harder to make and work with and a lot of eating chocolate is just not suitable.
I’ve found that in general corn syrup produces smoother, stretchier sugar products than glucose. Fondant I made with corn syrup was stretchier and smoother, than with glucose which seemed to be “shorter” and more brittle.
I found it was the similar for chocolate when I was testing my recipes. Karo corn syrup was the best, but it’s super expensive (it’s $17 at my local cake shop).
I experimented to find an alternative when a friend suggested Korean corn syrup. You can find Korean corn syrup at most local Asian grocers for a lot less, and nearly every Korean grocer will have it. I buy 5 litres for $15 and every brand I have tried has performed better than glucose, been a cheaper than glucose and performs as well as the more expensive Karo corn syrup.
Bulk compound white chocolate is the best way to lower the cost. You can get 15kg of Callebaut white compound chocolate for $90 on special at most baking shops and likely cheaper again elsewhere. This makes a moderately firm, easy to work with modelling chocolate that tastes really good. Mixing at a ratio of 4.5:1 means you can potentially make 18Kg of modelling chocolate for around $105.
Weigh the white compound chocolate out in grams, divide the weight by 4.5 and weigh out that amount of corn syrup.
If you have 600 grams of white compound chocolate, you will need to weigh out 133 grams of corn syrup.
Or an easier ratio: 450g white chocolate to 100g of corn syrup.
Weigh the chocolate and break it up into a clean, dry microwave proof bowl. Microwave in bursts of no more than 30 seconds stirring in between blasts. The time in the microwave will need to be reduced if you are working with smaller portions. I usually work in batches of 600 grams or more, so can put the chocolate in for longer stretches. 600 grams usually only takes a total of 2 minutes.
Do not overheat the chocolate. Ideally, use the residual heat from each interval in the microwave to melt the chocolate by stirring it. A plastic bowl can help to prevent “hot spots” that sometimes happen from a glass bowl getting too hot, but I like to use the residual heat from a glass bowl to finish melting the chocolate and have it in the microwave for less time.
Ensure the chocolate is completely melted and all the lumps are gone. Do not try to rush the melting. In a smaller bowl weigh out the correct amount of syrup for the amount of chocolate you’re using.
Warm the syrup in the microwave for a few seconds, do not overheat it and never boil. It just needs to be slightly warm to the touch, but not hot.
Scrape the syrup into the melted chocolate and gently, but thoroughly fold through using a spatula. Scrape the chocolate off the sides and bottom folding through carefully until there are no large streaks of unmelted chocolate left. Ensure nearly all the chocolate has been mixed through, it is crucial at this stage not to over stir. The chocolate will begin to seize up very quickly. It only takes a few strokes through the chocolate and in just a few turns the mixture will lose its shine start to look rough and slightly crumbly. Do not stir any further, or the fat will separate, it’s better to stop stirring earlier.
Transfer the mixture to a large zip lock bag and press flat.
Other recipes suggest the chocolate should now be wrapped and put aside to cool and set overnight, but I rarely have the time so I speed up the process – interestingly, my impatience and need to speed up the process resulted in a better product.
I usually make and use a large quantity of modelling chocolate on the same day. The only way to do this is by using a freezer. Once mixed I spread the mixture into a thin sheet inside a very large zip lock bag (or a couple of them) and lay the slabs of chocolate in the freezer for 10-15 minutes, or until most of the mix is firm and leathery.
Once the chocolate has fully set it will be very firm and a little crumbly, knead it until you have a smooth plasticine like mixture. If the chocolate is too firm to knead, pop it in the microwave for 3 or 5 seconds to soften it up slightly. If the mixture has a few small lumps you can work them smooth by pinching them flat with your thumb against the work surface, melting them a little with the heat from your hands and working through the modelling chocolate. If there are a lot of lumps, pop the whole mix in the microwave and heat gently for a few seconds at a time until the mixture is soft, knead it just enough to mix the now slightly melted lumps through and again set the chocolate aside in a zip lock bag to set up before using it.
Occasionally I have had to repeat this process a couple of times to remove lumps or because I have overheated/overworked the chocolate with my hands at the kneading stage, which makes the oils start to separate, but the freezer fixes everything.
Using a combination of the microwave and freezer I can get excellent modelling chocolate made in well under half an hour while I’m doing other things.
NB: When you are making the modelling chocolate, if the oils start to come out of the mixture, you have likely overheated the syrup or the chocolate or over stirred the mixture or kneaded it too much while warm. When you see oil come out of the mixture, stop immediately, transfer it to a zip lock bag and put it in the freezer and repeat the setting and kneading process until the mixture is smooth, or if you’re working on a piece and it starts to get oily stop and let it cool down, or pop it in a fridge for a few seconds before continuing. Some recipes recommend squeezing the oils out of the chocolate and soaking them up with paper towel – Do not do this, the cocoa fats/ vegetable oils are what makes modelling chocolate so amazing to work with, if you remove it you have not made modelling chocolate, you’ve made sugar paste, it will not smooth and blend as well as real modelling chocolate.
The main and most important two things to remember when making or working with modelling chocolate are to never overheat and never overwork the mixture when it’s warm. Additionally, use tools instead of hands where possible and have a shelf in the freezer set aside so you can pop the piece/pieces you are working on in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up before you continue to work on it. Be careful not to leave the piece in the fridge/ freezer to get too cold as you’re working or it might start to sweat, if too much water gets mixed through it won’t set as well.
Mix a small amount of firm modelling chocolate into fondant to create a modelling paste with similar properties to Saracino, Cake Duchess or Laped Daisy modelling paste. Weigh out ready to roll fondant then knead in roughly between one fifth and one quarter the fondant’s weight in modelling chocolate. It will depend on the fondant used, as to how much chocolate is needed. Do not add any additional tylose or the mix will become very rubbery and unusable.
Counterintuitive texture fix
I often make white modelling chocolate with “real”/eating chocolate, made with cocoa butter instead of vegetable fat. This results in a dryer, rough textured paste. A couple of drops of water kneaded in smooths the mix out and makes it easier to work with. This is particularly useful with dark chocolate and occasionally even some brands of compound chocolate. Just a few drops of water will smooth the mix and make it less crumbly. Do not add the water until the mixture is made, and be very sparing with the amount of water added, you can always add more, but can’t remove it.
Modelling chocolate takes gel paste colours extremely well. I get more vibrant and dark colours in modelling chocolate than I ever have with fondant. A few drops of gel paste colour will work through easily and give a very vibrant result. However, for very dark colours like bright reds or black it can help to mix in a bit of fondant, it’s not essential, it just allows the chocolate to take a lot more colour without getting soggy. For bright white modelling chocolate add a few drops of Americolor white, some food grade titanium dioxide colouring powder or just use compound chocolate, it tends to be whiter.
For race-car red or jet-black knead in about 1.5-2 teaspoons of gel colour to 150g of white modelling chocolate then set it aside in a cool place or the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up again before kneading to use. The colour darkens after a few minutes resting.
Hot hands/hot climate
If you have extremely hot hands and want a more stable mixture that needs to stay flexible for longer, then add a little fondant to the mixture, just keep the ratio to or below 5:1 modelling chocolate to fondant. Modelling chocolate mixed with fondant in a roughly 5:1 ratio has some interesting and handy properties: it can be smoothed and joined seamlessly by applying gentle heat or with little water, it’s also easier to paint with liquid colours or lustre dust/alcohol paint than straight modelling chocolate and it holds its shape longer before melting when you are modelling pieces with your hands.
Other ratios to use for modelling chocolate
I prefer a very firm setting modelling chocolate, often stabilised with a little fondant because I have super hot hands, and I live in Perth WA, where the weather is insanely hot nine months of the year and it’s still hot inside for the other three months because everyone else in the house actually feels the “cold” and insists on heating the house… I don’t want my figures to droop in the heat or melt too quickly while I am trying to shape them, so I make a much firmer mix than most people would. For firm white modelling chocolate: the ratio should be between 4.5 and 5 parts white chocolate to 1 part corn syrup. Medium setting white modelling chocolate: 3.5-4 parts white chocolate to 1 part corn syrup. Soft white modelling chocolate: 2.5-3 parts white chocolate to 1 part corn syrup.
Firmer modelling chocolate is more structural, I prefer using a 4.5:1 ratio as it provides the structural integrity I like and is still just soft enough to be able to add detail to and smooth the surface. I would only ever make soft modelling chocolate if it is going to be used to very thinly cover another surface or a firmer part of a figure, the softer chocolate is easier to smooth, and easily takes a lot of detail but it is not useful for structural parts or pieces. Medium to soft setting modelling chocolate is nice to cover cakes with instead of fondant. Ratios for dark modelling chocolate: I use Cadbury Old Gold dark chocolate (40% Cocoa product) for best taste and smoothness, and because I don’t have much call to make a large amount of dark chocolate modelling chocolate.
• Firm: 3-3.5 parts chocolate to 1 part corn syrup
• Medium: 2.5-3 parts chocolate to 1 part corn syrup
• Soft: 2 parts chocolate to 1 part corn syrup
Tips for working with Modelling Chocolate
The key rule is to not work on warm modelling chocolate. Once it’s warm stop moving/sculpting it, leave it alone or the oil will squeeze out. Chill or leave to rest for a while if the surface becomes greasy or oily while working to stop too much fat from escaping.
Modelling chocolate can be rolled very thinly, just dust the surface and the rolling pin with cornflour to stop it sticking. This is perfect for making letters with Clickstix and Tappits, dust the chocolate and the cutters with cornflour and they’ll pop out easily, place them in the fridge to set and they will release from the moulds more easily. Use a gas gun or barbecue lighter with a focussed flame to gently warm the back of the letters they will then stick firmly to fondant, chocolate or modelling chocolate. You can get a focussed flame (wind proof) gas lighter from a hardware store, they work like a mini crème brûlée torch, but they’re a lot more accurate and gentle for detailed chocolate work, and they’re cheaper.
Surfaces can be shaved down, built up and smoothed with your hands or very basic tools, once the surface is near smooth it can be further smoothed by applying gently heat with your hands or by passing a mini blowtorch over the surface a few times quickly then use hands or tools to finish smoothing. Once the surface is very smooth passing a torch over the surface a few more times will bring fat to the surface and start to crystallise the sugar in the chocolate forming a tough shiny shell.
Impression mats and moulds work well with modelling chocolate, and most are a lot faster and easier to use with modelling chocolate than with fondant. Dust the mould with cornflour, press the chocolate in with a palette knife, smooth off the excess with the knife then peel/pop the piece out. Freeze more complex or detailed work for a few minutes to make removing the mould easier.
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