Because chocolate is such a precious ingredient, I always want to make the most of it. And sometimes that means making a dramatic presentation with a small quantity of chocolate. I wanted to make a pretty, delicate chocolate container that was not too difficult (or time consuming) to make and did not require special equipment of molds. A lacy pattern seemed like just the thing for individual desserts for a couple of reasons. First, because the effect is so unusual in food (and impressive). Secondly, because you can make a container with very little chocolate. (My dessert cups are half an ounce each.) This is desirable not just to be thrifty, but because a huge hunk of chocolate is usually not what you want stuck in the middle of your dessert plate. But a delicate form you can shatter into shards offers a pleasant textural contrast to a dish-- much like you get with a mint chip or stracciatella ice cream.
It took a few trials for me to hammer out a technique that works, but I finally found a winner. First, I made a template for a parchment form, which gives you the shape of the bowl. Then the lace pattern is made by piping loops of tempered chocolate out over the back of the form. ( And don't worry if you don't have a clue how to temper chocolate-- I give details on a microwave method that will give you tempered chocolate in under ten minutes.) Let the chocolate set and then peel away the parchment . Voila! A stunning, (and simple!) bowl made entirely of chocolate. I’ve even attached a pdf of my template so you can make your own bowl forms in a snap. The bowls work perfectly for serving ice creams, mousses or chilled fruit.
The full project writeup is also available on my blog, along with a writeup on tempering chocolate including tips and troubleshooting.
Step 1: Assemble your equipment.
All your tools should be spotlessly clean and dry. The first two steps (which involve cutting and shaping parchment paper) can be done ahead of time, but once the chocolate is in temper, you’ll only have a limited time to work with it, so it is imperative that your necessary tools will be within reach.
To temper chocolate in the microwave:
at least 3 oz. high quality chocolate* (makes four bowls). White, milk or dark chocolate will all work equally well.
metal spatula (substitute butter knife if you don’t have one)
metal dough scraper (substitute metal spatula if you don’t have one)
small glass or ceramic bowl
To make lace bowls:
template (a pdf of my template is attached)
plastic lids (optional) These are used to make an extra-flat bottom for the bowl to stand on. If you want to plate your dessert with the bowl tilted to one side this is unnecessary. The tops of plastic containers work well.
*There is a great instructable on how to temper chocolate using the seeding method. The method I describe works best for small quantities of chocolate. If you want to temper more than 8 oz. you should check out the stovetop seeding method!
Step 2: Make cornets.
A cornet (pronounced core- nay) is a little parchment paper cone that pastry chefs use to carefully pipe out small, delicate lines. It takes a little practice to make and use cornets, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s absolutely the easiest way to work with small amounts of chocolate or frosting.
Roll out and cut a section of parchment paper that is about square, or just slightly rectangular, with the width of the roll being the longer side. Cut the rectangle along the diagonal.
Roll into a cone:
Roll the triangle into a cone, with the tip of the cone at the center of the longest side. There are three corners that you want to align: the bottom, the middle corner and the top. Line up these three layers, and your cornet will have the right proportions.
Tighten the cone by pulling down on the outermost layer of paper while pushing up on the innermost layer with your thumb. The tip of the cone should close completely.
Fold over the flaps of the cone to lock the cornet together. Make a few cornets at a time and have them ready to go before you start. For this project, you'll want at least two.
Step 3: Make a parchment bowl form:
The pattern from the template onto parchment paper.
along the solid lines.
Fold & Tape:
Fold the parchment over so the edge of one flap lines up with the dotted line. Tape this seam in place (You should be taping on the inside of the bowl). Tape the other two seams together in the same manner and flip the bowl over.
One small batch of tempered chocolate can make up to 4 chocolate bowls, so if you want to make more than four, I recommend making four bowl forms, and then repeating with a second or third batch or chocolate (the parchment forms can be reused).
Step 4: Temper your chocolate.
Your tempering will go more quickly and smoothly if you chop your chocolate very finely. In fact, this method depends on it. A serrated knife makes quick work of chocolate. Chop your chocolate very finely so that no chunks are larger than a lentil.
Set aside one third of your chopped chocolate (It's okay to eyeball this measurement). Place the rest into your ceramic or glass bowl. Microwave on high for 40-50 seconds.* Let the chocolate sit, undisturbed for 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the microwave. Using a flexible spatula, stir the chocolate chunks (which should now be just starting to melt). Keep stirring, until the chocolate is melted. If the chocolate has not melted after stirring for a minute, return the chocolate to the microwave and heat for an additional 10 seconds. The chocolate should be completely melted and smooth, and the bottom of the ceramic bowl should feel warm, but not hot.
All at once, pour in the reserved third of your chopped chocolate. Gently stir the chocolate until all of the chunks are dissolved. (This will take a few minutes of patient stirring.) At this point your chocolate should be smooth, slightly thickened and feel just barely cool to the touch. If there are still chunks left in your chocolate after a few minutes of stirring, you can heat the bowl again in the microwave for 5 seconds. Then stir until all the chunks have disappeared. Be very careful not to overdo it at this point- your chocolate needs to be fluid enough to work with, but if you overheat it, you’ll undo all the tempering work you just did. If you reheated the melted chocolate, stir it for an additional minute before you start to shape it. Be sure to scrape any chocolate from the sides of the bowl into the center while you are stirring-- all of the chocolate needs to be exposed to agitation to achieve a smooth, tempered finish.
*this time is an approximation based on tempering 3 oz. of dark chocolate. The melting point of milk and white chocolate is lower, so I would recommend decreasing this time by around 5 seconds. If you are tempering more chocolate, you can increase the initial heating time a little, but never make it longer than one minute. If you are in doubt: heat for less time, stop and stir. You can always heat the chocolate for another 10 seconds, but there is no way to rescue burnt chocolate.
Step 5: Shape chocolate.
Place a cornet tip down into your jar. Use your spatulas to carefully scoop and scrape melted chocolate into your cornet-- try to avoid getting any chocolate on the top 2 “ of the cornet. (I find if you pour straight from the bowl it is very easy to make a mess.) Fill the cone about one third to one half full of melted chocolate. Do not overfill- it might seem like it will save you time, but really you'll just make a mess. Pick up the cone and hold it with the seam facing you. Gently squeeze the chocolate down toward the base of the cornet. Try to get all of the chocolate out of the top two inches of the cornet. Fold over the ends of the cornet away from you. Then begin rolling the end of the cornet away from you, like you would a toothpaste tube. When you are piping with the cornet, keep using this rolling motion to squeeze the chocolate out.
Snip the tip off of your cornet. Squeeze a little chocolate out to make sure that it is flowing well and in nice, even lines. If the lines are squiggly, cut a slightly larger hole from the end of your cornet. Squeeze out the chocolate in a loopy, overlapping pattern until you have covered the surface of the bowl form. Make sure that you use lots of overlapping lines-- even though the pattern should be delicate if it is too delicate, the bowl will break very easily. Continue piping out all of the chocolate until you have covered all of your bowl forms. If you run out of chocolate before you are done, simply temper another batch of chocolate and pick up where you left off. It will not matter if the chocolate from one bowl was piped out from two different batches.
If you want to make flat bottoms to help the bowl sit upright, then after you have finished piping the lace gently place a piece of flat plastic on the top of your bowl form (what will be the bottom of the bowl). This gives the bowl a flatter, more stable surface to sit on.
Leave chocolate to set:
If the chocolate was properly tempered, it should start to set up in a few minutes, but it is very fragile at this state, so resist the temptation to touch it. The first indication of chocolate setting is that it will lose its wet-glossy sheen and taking on an even matte finish. It is best to leave the chocolate to cure at room temperature for at least an hour, but if you are in a rush once the chocolate has started to firm, you can pop it in the freezer for one minute. Don’t forget it in the freezer, though. Condensation that forms as it warms up will damage the chocolate.
Step 6: Finish & serve.
Remove bowl form:
Once chocolate has set, gently flip the bowl over. With a very delicate hand, peel the parchment away from the chocolate. Try to avoid touching the chocolate, and just touch the parchment. Once you have removed the parchment, the bowl is ready to use. You can plate a dessert with the bowl standing up, or tilted to one side.
You can store tempered chocolate for several weeks. Just make sure it is in a cool place and stored in a plastic container so it doesn’t get dusty. I set bowls in basket-shaped coffee filters to keep them from getting scuffed.
Place chocolate bowl on a dessert plate and fill with the cold or tepid dessert of your choice. I designed the shape of this bowl so that it can be plated either propped to one side (like a nest) or sitting upright. Enjoy!