We’re pleased to share with you the fourth (and final) installment of our collaboration with Megan Giller of Chocolate Noise! We created a series of chocolate infographics called the Life and Times of Chocolate. In case you missed them, check out the first infographic in the series that called How Chocolate is Born, the second infographic called How Cocoa Beans become Chocolate, and the third infographic called Anatomy of a Fine Chocolate Bar.
Our goal in creating these infographics is to simplify understanding about where chocolate comes from and the skill of those that make it and work with it to create the bars and bonbons we all enjoy. We hope to tell story as simply as possible, and while we may not capture all of the nuances of post-harvest, factory and kitchen processes, we hope people remember the image.
The fourth infographic in the series is called “The Making of a Bonbon”. With Valentine’s Day less than a week away, we know many of you will be buying and eating bonbons and other types of chocolate confections in the near future! This image gives you a glimpse into the processes and talent that goes into making something that most of us pop into our mouths and devour in one bite.
What is a bonbon?
What exactly is a “bonbon”? We used this French term for any filled chocolate in order to differentiate filled chocolates from chocolate bars or confections such as lollipops, marshmallows, turtles, caramels (not covered in chocolate), etc. when developing our curriculum for the Professional Chocolatier Program in 2002. Using the term “chocolates” got confusing when we were talking about “chocolate” in the same sentence, so we decided to use “bonbon” to differentiate when we were specifically talking about filled chocolates. Its been a life saver in clarifying the differences between chocolate products.
The “filling” in a bonbon (i.e. a filled chocolate), can be created from a number of different recipes. Your bonbon could be filled with a truffle recipe, which is typically a cream and chocolate emulsion called ganache, but could also be made by emulsifying chocolate with fruit puree, caramel, olive oil or even just plain water. Then the chocolatier might just call it a truffle (but again, its a filled chocolate so to us it would also be called a bonbon). Other filling recipes include caramel, creams, fruit purees, nut pastes, praliné (a paste of nuts and caramelized sugar) and more – even multiple layers of multiple goodness. The imagination of the chocolatier brings these flavors and textures to life in each tiny bonbon bundle!
The Making of a Bonbon
Now back to our infographic “The Making of a Bonbon”. It’s important to note that this image only shows ONE of the many ways to decorate a bonbon. This is just the beginning of where the art, skill and individuality of the chocolatier comes into play. Before making the actual physical bonbon, there is a whole process to develop the recipe – choosing a chocolate for the outer shell, and deciding what kind of filling would pair well with that chocolate. The flavors and textures of the filling or fillings have to balance well with each other and with the chocolate. Then comes the craftsmanship of making the bonbon to ensure that each and every piece is perfectly made. And then decorating is another opportunity for the chocolatier to showcase their individual style. Some chocolatiers choose not to decorate their bonbons at all, particularly if they have a really intricate and pretty mold, or the simple perfectly enrobed square. Or some chocolatiers decorate with something else, and there are almost endless possibilities, such as gold leaf, or edible flowers. We all know that we eat with our eyes first, and it’s often visual beauty of a piece of chocolate that first attracts our attention before we even take a bite. Different decorating techniques are one way for chocolatiers to differentiate themselves – a way to make your salted caramel look different from everyone else’s.
As you can see from our bonbon infographic, there are many steps to crafting a perfect bonbon. You might think that decorating the outside would be the last step, but it’s actually the FIRST step in some molded chocolates! Many chocolatiers use a special gun that sprays colored cocoa butter into their chocolate molds. Some may use more than one color to create a layered effect that is really pretty.
Then the mold is filled with a layer of chocolate – chocolatiers will fill the mold cavity with chocolate and then tip it upside down so that all the excess chocolate runs out and you are left with a perfect outer shell that is not too thick or too thin. After the chocolate shell has hardened, the filling is added but not quite to the top leaving room for the capping. Sometimes there are multiple layers, such as a ganache layer and then a caramel layer. Every layer adds to the level of difficulty in creating a perfect piece. Then the cap of chocolate is added (it’s really the bottom of the bonbon) and the excess chocolate is scraped off, and again, the chocolatier wants to make sure that the bottom is not too thick or too thin.
If you want to see some more beautiful examples of bonbons, check out our blog post about some of our favorite chocolate Instagram accounts!
What should you look for when you’re shopping for Valentine’s Day chocolate?
You are heading into the fray to buy some bonbons for your sweetheart, BFF or even you! What should you look for? First of all, we think this goes without saying, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention it – support your local chocolatier or chocolate maker! In most cases you will be getting a product of much better quality. Anything you can find on the shelves of a supermarket is probably full of preservatives and not made with the best chocolate. Remember, a small box of good chocolate is better than a huge box of not so good chocolate.
Ask for a sample – any chocolatier or chocolate maker will be more than happy to let you try a sample before you buy!
Look for perfectly crafted pieces – no leaking fillings, no scratches or dents, no air bubbles on the outer shell, etc.
Ask questions – again, any chocolatier will be happy to talk to you about the type of chocolate they use, where it came from, and any other ingredients they use in their pieces.
Need help finding a chocolate shop near you? Check out chocomap.com or download our mobile app to help you find chocolate wherever you are!
As always, thank you to Fernanda Frick for the awesome illustration. Happy Valentine’s Day!