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Behind the Scenes in a Top Chocolate Kitchen

Behind the Scenes in a Top Chocolate Kitchen
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One of the highlights of the past year was introducing Yankee’s first annual Editor’s Choice Food Awards in our November/December 2013 issue. We love having the opportunity to bring attention to the many wonderful products being made all over New England, from cheeses to jams to chocolates.

One of our winners, EH Chocolatier, wowed us with their bonbons (a catch-all term for any small piece of candy covered in chocolate, as opposed to a truffle, which is technically a soft ball of ganache that’s rolled in cocoa powder or coconut or some other coating). In our writeup for the article, we raved about “all the little details that make their bonbons perfect: using fresh herbs, French fruit purées, and Rishi teas to flavor their ganache and chocolate.”

A sampling of EH Chocolatier's bonbons
Photo/Art by Michael Piazza
A sampling of EH Chocolatier’s bonbons

So when proprietors Elaine Hsieh and Catharine Sweeney invited me to their Somerville, Massachusetts workshop for a bonbon-making class, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see how, exactly, all that magic happens.

We gathered around one of the stainless steel tables where Elaine, Catharine, and their team tackle each precise step in the chocolate-making process. We sampled some of the different chocolates bases that they use in their candies: some for the ganache fillings (a mixture of chocolate, cream, and flavorings), some for couverture (the cocoa butter-rich chocolate that covers the bonbons), some for their bars and other confections. Then Catherine demonstrated how they make their ganache.

The process is pretty simple. You take finely shopped chocolate and pour hot cream over it. You can add flavors to the cream by, say, steeping tea leaves into it or adding orange zest. But it’s an easy process. Then you stir.

Catharine stirs the ganache Catharine stirs the ganache

For extra flavor and better texture, Catherine also adds good quality butter.

20140311_190443_South St Butter makes everything better, doesn’t it?

But how do you get from that nice, gloppy chocolate to an architecturally sound square of ganache dipped in a micron-thin chocolate shell?

First, you pour some chocolate into a metal frame and spread it around.

These steel bars are heavy enough to stay put, thought they're not attached to each other. These steel bars are heavy enough to stay put as Catharine spreads the ganache, thought they’re not attached to each other.

Then you smooth it out as much as possible with a knife.

20140311_190659_Clark St

Cover the ganache and let it sit overnight to firm up and the next day, you have a perfect square.

Elaine unwraps yesterday's ganache square. Elaine unwraps yesterday’s ganache square

Now it’s time to think about cutting and coating the ganache. Because dipping any filling in chocolate tends to coat the top and sides of the candy more than the bottom, you need to get your bottom layer set up before you cut and dip the candy. Catherine and Elaine spread a thin layer of tempered chocolate on the ganache, which will serve as the bottom layer.

Coating the top of the ganache, which will become the bottom of the bonbon. Coating the top of the ganache, which will become the bottom of the bonbon.

As with the ganache, the square will be covered and allowed to set up at room temperature overnight.

Next, the ganache is cut into perfect squares using a device called a guitar cutter.

20140311_191503_Windsor St Elaine cuts the chocolate lengthwise, then turns it 90 degress and cuts it once more to form perfect squares.

Now the chocolate is ready to be dipped and decorated. Elaine and Catharine used to do this work by hand, but as their business has grown, they’ve been able to invest in this wonderful coating and tempering machine, which they named Lucy after the famous chocolate factory episode of I Love Lucy. Yes, that is a continuous stream of chocolate coming out of that faucet.

Oh Luuuuuuuucy! Oh Luuuuuuuucy!

For our class, we did the dipping by hand.

20140311_194155_Newton St

Have you ever wondered how chocolatiers paint those pretty designs on their chocolates? Turns out, they press them on using thin plastic sheets that are printed with colored cocoa butter. Elaine showed us how to lay a square on each chocolate and press it on with a paintbrush.

20140311_194239_Tremont St

20140311_194713_Newton St This was my bonbon.

Once the chocolate sets, you simply peel the plastic off and the image remains. And that’s how you end up with beautiful chocolates like these.

A sampling of EH Chocolatiers' Valentines collection A sampling of EH Chocolatier’s Valentines Day collection

With our lesson completed, we were invited to sample some of Elaine and Catherine’s other confections. If only every class could end so well!

20140311_195541_Charlestown St Assorted confections and bars, including caramels, pecan clusters, a caramelized white chocolate bar, a peanut butter crunch bar, and a BeerNut bar (made with caramel enriched with a local ale).

For more information, or to order chocolates, visit

Amy Traverso


Amy Traverso


Senior lifestyle editor Amy Traverso oversees Yankee's Food and Home & Garden departments and contributes articles to the magazine. Amy book, The Apple Lover's Cookbook (W.W. Norton), won an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook award for the category American. Follow !
Updated Thursday, March 20th, 2014

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