Food & Drink

Handmade, personalized chocolates are a sweet Valentine treat

Homemade chocolate bars for Valentine's Day photographed in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, February 3, 2011. Charles Bertram | Staff
Homemade chocolate bars for Valentine's Day photographed in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, February 3, 2011. Charles Bertram | Staff

A box of chocolates is a sweet way to say "I love you." But if you really want to impress your loved one this Valentine's Day, (it's Monday, by the way) create personalized chocolate bars.

At Chocomize.com, customers choose a chocolate bark base (dark, milk or white) and then add ingredients. The bars start at $3.85 and increase in price depending on the selected ingredients.

This idea is easy to duplicate at home. Unless you're an experienced chocolatier, your candy bar probably won't taste quite as good as the ones made by professionals, but your sweetheart will love you for your creativity.

Chocomize co-founder Fabian Kaempfer said the company uses high-quality chocolate that has to be tempered properly before it can be poured into a mold.

"If you are really careful, you can do that on a stove with a thermometer, but the risk for failure is really high," he said. "The temperature has to be really exact, or otherwise your chocolate bars will look gray and flaky."

You could buy a tabletop tempering machine, but they're expensive. And there's a lot of trial and error involved.

If you don't want to attempt Chocomize's tempering process but you like the idea of customizing chocolate bars for Valentine's Day, here's how to do it the easy way.

Buy your favorite chocolate — dark, white or milk — and a variety of ingredients. Here are some ideas from Chocomize. They recommend choosing five.

■ Nuts and seeds: hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecan halves, walnuts, roasted pistachios.

■ Fruits: cranberries, banana chips, coconut flakes, dried raspberries.

■ Herbs and spices: sea salt, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, mini chipotles.

■ Candy: caramel pieces, mini marshmallows, Gummi Bears, jelly beans.

■ Decorations: edible gold flakes, crystallized rose petals, candy sugar hearts, message hearts.

■ Other: ground coffee, Cheerios, graham crackers, mini pretzels, coffee beans, vegetarian bacon.

To make chocolate bars, you'll need 8 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water. Stir until chocolate is melted and completely smooth, 4 to 6 minutes. Mix in half the chosen ingredients. Immediately pour small amount of chocolate into foil mini-loaf pans, about ¼-inch thick. (To help spread chocolate, tip foil pan side to side.) Sprinkle with remaining ingredients. With a piece of waxed paper covering the entire surface, press in gently (paper prevents hands from sticking to candy and chocolate). Chill until firm, 20 to 30 minutes (no longer, as candy will begin to soften). Peel off waxed paper. Unmold. Wrap as desired and store at room temperature in an airtight container, as long as a week.

To microwave, place 8-ounce 53 percent cacao dark chocolate baking bar, broken into small pieces in small, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on high power (100 percent) for 45 seconds; stir. If pieces retain some of their original shape, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until melted. Stir in 1/4 cup selected ingredients.

Pour into mini-loaf pan. Sprinkle with remaining ingredients. Tap pan several times to spread chocolate and settle nuts. Refrigerate for about 1 hour or until firm. Unmold. Wrap as desired and store in airtight container at room temperature.

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