Giving Mom a box of chocolates on her special day can be a fine way to show your love. Even more so if you made the chocolates yourself.
Relax. It’s easier than it sounds and we’ve written up a foolproof plan for making all of the mothers in your life a special box jammed with a delicious variety of chocolates.
To keep it manageable, we broke the process up into a two-afternoon project that produces five 15-piece boxes of mixed filled and decorated chocolates, such as chocolate-dipped fruit jellies, dipped caramels and buttercreams. The only special equipment you’ll need is a candy thermometer; they are inexpensive and available at kitchen and hardware stores.
Craft and baking supply shops will be your best bet for boxes and wrappers. Once made, the chocolates can be kept in a cool and dry place for up to a week.
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For the fruit jellies, we used passionfruit nectar and black cherry juice, but use whichever juice you like, including grape, pomegranate, apricot or blueberry. Just be sure to use 100 percent juice made from one fruit, not a blend.
When making the buttercream filling, use whichever flavor you like. Strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon are common flavors used for chocolates. Mint, vanilla, butter rum, ginger, maple and anise also are good. If you’d like to color the filling, gel food coloring can be stirred in with the extract. To make more than one flavor, simply divide the unflavored buttercream mixture into bowls and flavor them individually.
Prepare the fruit jellies
Sugar, for dusting
1 1/4 cups fruit juice
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 cups sugar
Two 3-ounce envelopes liquid pectin (sold with canning supplies)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Coat a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Dust the pan with sugar, then tap to coat evenly and tip out any excess. Open the packages of pectin to have them ready to use.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the juice, applesauce and sugar. Stirring constantly, heat until the mixture reaches 238 F on a candy thermometer. Add the pectin and return to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 minute.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top with a thin layer of sugar. Allow to set, at room temperature, for at least 2 hours or overnight. They can be left at room temperature.
Source: Jellies recipe adapted from Peter P. Greweling’s “Chocolates and Confections,” Wiley, 2007
Prepare the caramels
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Line a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with foil. Lightly spray the foil with cooking spray.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, half-and-half and corn syrup. Bring to a simmer cook until the mixture reaches 244 F on a candy thermometer, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla, salt and vinegar. Pour into the prepared pan and allow to sit at room temperature at least 3 hours, or overnight.
Gather your dipping ingredients
1 pound chocolate candy melts (available in the baking section of the grocer)
12-ounce bag milk or dark chocolate bits (or half of each)
3/4 cup roasted unsalted nuts (single variety or a mix)
1/4 cup finely chopped dried fruit (such as apricots, cranberries and cherries)
Prepare the buttercream filling
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cool
2 cups powdered sugar, divided
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 to 2 teaspoons flavoring extract (variety of your choice)
Gel food coloring, if desired
Line a baking sheet or other tray with waxed paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy and no lumps remain. Add half of the powdered sugar and beat on low until incorporated. Add the cream and the other half of the powdered sugar and beat again until smooth. Add the flavorings and color, if using.
Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag or a zip-close plastic bag. Snip off the tip or one lower corner to make a 1/2-inch opening. Pipe the filling into 3/4-inch mounds onto the prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the freezer to harden the fillings. Chilling the fillings will make them easier to handle when covering with chocolate.
Assemble the fillings
Begin with the fruit jellies. Overturn the pan onto a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, trim the edges so they are squared. Cut the block into neat 1-inch squares. Dust each cube, especially the cut edges, with more sugar. The fruit jellies can be added to the box of chocolates as is, or dipped in chocolate. If you plan to dip the fruit jellies in chocolate, skip the sugar dusting step.
To prepare the caramels, using the foil, lift the sheet of caramel out of the pan onto a cutting board. Peel the foil off the back. Using a sharp knife, cut the caramel into 1-1/2-inch squares. The caramel will soften and lose its form, so do this just before dipping in chocolate. Alternatively, individual caramels may be wrapped in squares of waxed paper, twisting the ends to seal.
Remove the buttercreams from the freezer.
Dip the chocolates
Line two baking sheets with waxed paper.
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the candy melts and chocolate bits. Microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring between each, until melted and smooth.
Select a filling – fruit jelly, caramel or frozen buttercream – and rest it on a fork. Lower the filling into the melted chocolate until completely submerged. Lift the filling out and tap the handle of the fork on the edge of the bowl allowing the excess melted chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Move the dipped candy onto the prepared baking sheet and gently slide off, using another fork if necessary.
Repeat to coat all of the fillings. As desired, top some of the fillings with nuts and/or dried fruit. This must be done as soon as the fillings are dipped and the chocolate has not set. Whole nuts can be pressed onto the surface of the caramels before dipping, if desired.
When all of the fillings have been covered, dump any remaining chopped nuts and dried fruit into the bowl of melted chocolate. Mix to coat, then use a tablespoon to scoop out and form fruit-and-nut clusters on the prepared baking sheets.
Refrigerate the dipped chocolates on the baking sheets for 10 minutes to help the chocolate set. Arrange the chocolates in gift boxes, then store at room temperature for up to five days. Do not refrigerate, as this will cause moisture to form on the chocolate.