. . . and a bit of science, too

From a distance, chocolate sculpture might seem like magic as you wonder how simple chocolate can be turned into such spectacular shapes and colours. In the interest of helping you understand it a little better, I’d like to explain a few basics of chocolate sculpture.

Like a lot of art, chocolate sculpture has some science mixed into it. In this case, the science of “tempered” chocolate. Once you understand what tempered chocolate is and how to achieve it, creating a chocolate showpiece is relatively easy if you’re a “crafty” sort of person.

Tempered chocolate is the chocolate you buy in the store, the shiny hard snapping chocolate that doesn’t melt in your hands easily. It’s a complex emulsion of cocoa fat, cocoa mass and sugar melted, cooled according to a very specific set of rules to create a particular type of fat crystal. This crystal contracts when cooled and sticks similar crystals fiercely.

If you have ever melted chocolate, let it cool on your counter and noticed white powdery swirls form on the soft textured mass that feels greasy on your hands, you have experienced untempered chocolate. It doesn’t contract, doesn’t snap and will not shine because the fat crystals are the wrong type with the wrong shape, formed in a mixture at the wrong temperature.

The first thing that a chocolate sculptor has to do is to learn how to temper chocolate so that they can create the shapes needed for their piece. With this knowledge, a world of sculpting options are opened up.

A showpiece is a structure of chocolate pieces put together in such a way as to create an emotional experience, whether that be shock and awe or a profound “how did they do that”. In my experience, the best chocolate showpiece has a balanced composition: flow and movement are critical and colour and contrast are equally important.

There are two broad types of showpieces: competition level, all original structures fashioned by a true artist, a structure utilizing a vast array of techniques and custom hand fabricated moulds or intriguing pieces made quickly with commercial moulds and colour sprays. Either way, chocolate showpieces are surely an art form, and a great tasting one.

The photo galley includes some examples of chocolate showpieces created at The Dockside for various functions and you can look forward to another original creation to be unveiled on the Grand Mother’s day Brunch Buffet this Sunday.

Chef Simon James McNeil