The two key elements to producing a top-selling chocolate product involve creating an initial temptation and, after that, the fulfilment of the expectation. You simply will not succeed unless both these elements are addressed before you begin. So before you order in any chocolate or start working on recipe development, sit down and think about what will tempt your typical customer and what flavours, textures and appearances will have them ordering it again and again.
All that sounds very corporate, I know, and a million miles away from the concerns of the passionate baker who just wants to make something delicious and simple. Most of the time, a carefree approach works just fine, as the raw ingredients typically used in baking don’t cost that much. As soon as you start dabbling in the world of chocolate baking, however, the costs start mounting up, so a clear idea about what you’re aiming to make and the suitability of certain ingredients will help to avoid any unnecessary costs.
Creating a tempting chocolate cake or bar relies on being clear who it’s aimed at and what they want. A Trinidadian rum truffle bar is a cool idea for an urban pastry shop aiming to tempt a 20-something shopper, but if the audience is younger or more traditional, then it becomes a dud. An elegant double chocolate éclair might tempt more old-school shoppers, but leave the edgier ones non-plussed. And a mega chocolate caramel muffin is a brilliant temptation as a quick snack or after school, but has a Billy Bunter style that might not appeal to a health-conscious customer.
Really try to get inside your customers’ heads, think about what they, rather than you, would get excited about. Think about their income and expectations and then, armed with that knowledge, start to compose a component list for your recipe.
When I write recipes, I start by listing all the ingredients I’d ideally want in it. Let’s say I want to make a perfect after-school, slightly healthy chocolate ’something’. My list might be chocolate, flour, oats, seeds, honey, sunflower oil, a little butter or cream, dried fruit and some kind of brown sugar. From this component list I then start thinking of ideas based on how it will be eaten: is it something you hand-hold, how many bites, is it upmarket or simply casual? Don’t imagine all children are the same; with all the television they watch their tastes can be more unexpected and fashion-driven.
Returning to the healthy ideal for this baked product, wholesome attributes might be more important than provenance. So perhaps the seeds and oats should be prominent, even on the surface, while the source of the ingredients might be less of a concern. So I might leave the very expensive chocolate alone and go for a mixture of a lower grade, combined with cocoa, brown sugar and malt extract. So you can see how the recipe takes shape from this point, with the customer firmly in mind.
Using more expensive chocolate is only warranted if its inclusion will pay for itself. For example, the difference a customer is willing to pay for a Belgian chocolate muffin compared to a double chocolate muffin would be small, as the expectation will be that it’s a low-cost option that should in either case deliver a big flavour. The allure of a ’devil’s food cake’ compared to the relatively low ingredient cost without the chocolate might mean that using an exclusive chocolate in the recipe and marketing would inspire some people; to see a ticket that said ’Fairtrade devil’s food cake’ would get me to try it at least once.
When it comes to getting customers to buy, again it’s mostly about flavour and, where chocolate is concerned, more isn’t always better. Intense or strong dark chocolate flavours are good when they’re expected. A bitter chocolate torte comes with the expectation that it will have a bitter note to the flavour and that the chocolate will be quite intense and not overly sweet. But if I’m buying a choc-malt cupcake, I expect a cocoa flavour that’s more subtle and creamy, more Cadbury than dark Callebaut.
The all-round topping to finish cakes with is what the French call a ganache essentially made from melted chocolate and cream mixed together and left to cool, but often also containing unsalted butter, glucose or sugar syrup, sugar and alcohol. Here’s a recipe (opposite) that is a good base to start with.
Brown sugar piping ganache
The glycerine and glucose help to hold the ganache in a malleable form for piping. Keeps well in the refrigerator.
Enough to cover six cupcakes thickly
Dark chocolate, chopped250g
1. Boil the double cream with the sugar, then remove from the heat and stir in the glucose, glycerine, chocolate and butter.
2. Leave to cool off the heat then stir to combine.
3. Cool to 30C, stir in 15ml boiling water then beat the ganache gently by hand with a rubber spatula and it will start to emulsify.
4. Continue gently beating until smooth and glossy then leave again to cool to about 21C and beat again until it softly holds its shape. It can be thinned with additional boiling water at this point for coating more thinly.
Tips for making a good ganache
1. The glycerine softens the setting/hardening point of the chocolate at room temperature, so it doesn’t require the aeration usually needed to make it pipe-able. While some recipes recommend whisking the ganache, this also makes it paler and fluffy. By adding glycerine and working the mixture more gently you get rich dark colours and a more compact ganache.
2. Glucose adds to the softness of the ganache and gives a smoother ’mouth-feel’.
3. Brown sugar adds a caramel back-note to the flavour: we’re a country bought up on milk chocolate, and brown sugar adds to that ’homely’ flavour.
4. The most common fault is one of patience, and over-heating the mixtures. Try to heat chocolate just enough to melt it and the sugar, and don’t work it too much when it’s hot. A gentle stir will do. Then, when the temperature drops to 30C, you can work it more. Don’t give up if it sets too quickly; the glucose and glycerine combination will allow it to be worked back to smoothness if warmed slightly.