Next time you forget about your wife's birthday or your anniversary don't panic. And when it suddenly dawns on your wife that you forgot...still don't panic. Sure things are going to get bad real quick. Sure she is going to kick you out of the house. Yet, if you act quickly you can turn this negative into a positive. I assure you that your marriage can be saved. Just stick this Instructable in your back pocket for that day.
Obviously at this point it is too late to run to the store and buy her a gift. That might have worked last year, but now you have established a pattern. That's not good. So, you know you have to do something big. So, that's why you are going to hand craft her some dark chocolate hazelnuts. What I mean by this is you are going to roast hazelnuts, smash them into bits and add it to some chocolate that you will temper and mold into the shape of hazelnuts. This might seem a little extravagant, but that's the point. The best part is that it is easier than it sounds.
Note: I chose hazelnuts because they seemed more special than the more common nuts like walnuts or almonds. For best results try modifying the ingredients to whatever is your wife favorite.
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
This project would best be completed in your kitchen, but if you were still allowed in the house you wouldn't need to bother with it. Fortunately with a little creativity it can all be completed entirely in your garage or shop. First gather your supplies.
- Plastic sheet, cheap table cloth, or place mats
- Cleaning supplies
- Raw hazelnuts
- Heat gun
- Heat proof container
- Food grade impression material
- Small flexible container
- Nail or stirring stick
- High quality dark chocolate
- Silicon baking mat or metal pan
- Putty knife
- Eye dropper
Step 2: Cleaning
Likely if you are the type of guy who forgets about important dates you also have a dirty workshop. The whole point of this project is for your wife to know how hard you worked for her gift, so she is going to know you made it. The last thing you want is for her to picture your filthy shop and imagine your chocolate tastes like the oil you spilled all over your shop last weekend. Plus, you are going to be using a few tools that aren't typically used in the kitchen, so make sure you go out of your way to create a clean work center. If your shop doesn't have a sink then just use the garden hose to wash everything and then place a clean sheet or place mates over your work bench.
Step 3: Roasting the Hazelnuts
You might be tempted to buy pre-roasted hazelnuts, but don't. Remember how much you love your wife and take the extra twenty minutes and roast them yourself. Freshly roasted hazelnuts have a much richer flavor that will help immensely in the finished product. Grab a handful of nuts and put them into the heat proof container. Roast more than you need for the chocolate because you will want to also give your wife some roasted hazelnuts. This also gives you a chance to eat a few along the way to make sure they are roasted to perfection.
Rig the heat gun to blow directly into the container. If you have a vice that would probably be the easiest way. I didn't, so I made a quick stand with some low melting point plastic. You want run the heat gun at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, but you don't need to be exact. Keep a close eye on the roasting nuts and stir occasionally. It should take about 20 minutes depending on the temperature, but you will know when they are done when they start to look slightly oily and dark brown. Taste a few to be sure. Expect to have to clean up all the flaky shells because they will blow around.
Step 4: Making the Mold
While the hazelnuts are roasting its time to make the mold for the chocolate. I happened to have access to free expired dental impression material, but you can get impression material at a reasonable price at hobby shops. Cut the plastic container to a height slightly above that of a hazelnut. Then dispense the impression material until it almost fills the container. Mix with a nail or stick. Place the hazelnuts around the edge and gently press onto the bottom. Don't worry if the first few nuts don't get covered because as you press all the nuts down it will displace enough of the material to cover them. If not then use the stirring stick to push a little extra over each nut. Once the material sets dislodge it from the container. Push on the material to locate the nuts and slice the mold open to extract the nut. Don't worry if your mold starts to feel weak with all the cuts or even if a corner breaks off. The strength will come from the plastic container. Cut some access holes into the top of the mold and then you are all done.
Step 5: Smash the Nuts
Use a hammer to smash the nuts. You can grind them into anywhere between a paste or large chunks depending on the desired texture.
Step 6: Tempering and Molding the Chocolate
This is the most difficult step, but is still very doable even if its your first time working with chocolate. The first thing to understand is why you would bother to temper it. Can't you just melt it and pour it into the mold? You could, but it would turn out poorly and your wife is worth the best. Chocolate is actually a moderately complicated material and has multiple states that it can end up in. There are six phases to be exact. This complication is due to the different ways the triglycerides in the cocoa butter can fit together. Each one has a different energy level and different characteristics. The ideal characteristics come from chocolates in phase V, which has a melting point of about 93 degrees depending on the chocolate. If you were to simply heat up the chocolate and then let it cool on its own you would end up with all the phases. This works ok if you are topping a cake or dipping a strawberry for quick consumption. For a chocolate that is going to win back your wife's heart you need as much of the chocolate in phase V as possible. Otherwise it could melt at too low of temperature or quickly develop that white chalky look you sometimes see with old chocolate.
So, what you are going to do is melt almost all of your chocolate. The goal is to get it to about 120 degrees, so if you have an instant read thermometer go ahead and measure it. Once all the chocolate is melted pour about 2/3 of it onto the mixing surface. Use the spatula to spread the chocolate around until it reaches about 82 degrees. One way to test this is to dab a little bit on your lip. It should be slightly cooler than your lip. Once you get the right temperature then mix the chocolate back into your container. If done right this will bring the temperature of the total chocolate to about 93 degrees. If not don't worry. There if you are close there is a cheat that will get you the rest of the way without effecting the end result. Chocolate has a crystalline structure, so you can seed it. This probably sounds familiar to chemistry class back in the day when you super saturated a solution by adding a bunch of solute to a solution at a higher temperature and then cooling it. The solution would be stable until you threw in an initial crystal and then it would start to precipitate out. It won't be visible, but if you throw in a couple of pieces of your unused chocolate it will cause the melted chocolate to start forming a phase V structure.
You will know if your chocolate is properly tempered because it will set in about 5 minutes and look similar to how it did before it started. If its in a lower phase it will stay melted unless its cold out.
Step 7: Molding the Chocolate
If you smash the nuts small enough you can add them directly to the chocolate, otherwise push them into the mold. Then use the eye dropper to fill the mold. As you are doing it tap the mold on a hard surface a few times to get all the air bubbles out. Also use the eye dropper to put a small amount of chocolate on the work surface. That way you will know when it sets. When the test piece is set gently remove the mold from the plastic and pop out your masterpiece.
Step 8: Presentation
Here is where all your labors come to fruition. Take a few minutes and write a card to your wife. Make sure to include a heartfelt apology and an extensive description of how much you love her. Maybe a poem would be nice if you are feeling inspired. Place your chocolates and roasted nuts in a decorative box. I'd recommend seeing if you could get your wife to come to the shop. That way she could see how much effort you put in as well as how clean your work space is. After she forgives you take her out to her favorite place for dinner. Marriage saved!