Several years back, when I was in my honeymoon phase with San Francisco and needed to try EVERYTHING, I went on a tour of the Charles Chocolate factory in Emeryville, California, which for most of you who don’t know, is Just 10 minutes over the Bay Bridge across from San Francisco. Charles makes delicious chocolates and were at one point, the original chocolatier of Google. I applied to be the official puppeteer of Google, but was quickly rejected.
I want to tell you about my favorite part of the tour and that was when all of us tour goers were invited to make our very own chocolate clusters with a cornucopia of ingredients, but the most important being “tempered chocolate” a.k.a melted chocolate.
I left there swearing that I was going to go right home and make every variety of chocolate cluster I could imagine because it was so easy. I have made them once since the tour.
I am sorry that I have held out on you for so many years. You too can become a chocolate cluster master. The possibilities are truly endless.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
1. Start with good chocolate. I used Guittard semi sweet chocolate chips. You may use Toll House if that is all you can find. You may also use solid chocolate, but then you have to chop it up and who wants to do that?
2. Choose what cluster combos and ingredients you want to try. Go nuts! Pun intended or go cereal… the possibilities are endless.
Here are some suggestions:
- NUTS: Walnuts are great because you don’t have to toast them, but any nut or seed will do.
- DRIED FRUIT: Tart cherries, blueberries, strawberries, raisins, currants and chopped apricots are great.
- BACON: Crisp bacon up, soak up extra grease and crumble…
- POTATO CHIPS: Why the heck not? Crumble up your favs and then make a cluster.
- BROKEN PRETZELS: This is not a new concept.
- MINI MARSHMALLOWS, WALNUTS AND PEANUT BUTTER CHIPS: Rocky road action.
- BROKEN GRAHAM CRACKERS AND MINI MARSHMALLOWS: Smore time
- POPCORN & CANDIED PEANUTS: No brainer.
- SEA SALT: Nice for sprinkling a few crystals on top.
3. Set up your work space. You will need one or more clean bowls… I like glass/Pyrex. They must be bone dry. Water will kill your chocolate. You will need some wax paper or parchment paper and room in your fridge to “set” the chocolate. Spoons to stir your chocolate and to form the clusters.
HOW TO TEMPER/MELT CHOCOLATE IN THE MICROWAVE
Place 1/2 cup of chocolate chips in the bone dry microwave safe bowl. Heat chips at 15 second intervals on high. Begin to stir chips when they glisten. I give them a stir after the first 15. Heat for another 15, remove and give a stir. After the third 15, feel the bottom of the bowl… if it is hot, you will not need to put the chips in any longer. Simply stir gently until the chips all melt together.
MAKE SOME CLUSTERS
1. Dump some ingredients in the bowl. Use common sense. You want to be able to coat the ingredients all the way and have enough chocolate so that
they can form clusters. When measuring nuts or any filler, use just under the amount of chocolate chips. Start with less nuts/fruit… you can always add more.
2. Gently stir the chocolate and ingredients, folding from the outside so you don’t break up delicate pieces.
3. Scoop up the size of cluster that you prefer using one spoon and then us another to shape and help plop onto wax paper.
4. Once you finish the scooping, lick the spoon and put the clusters in the fridge for no more than 15 minutes. You want them to set, not get wet. They will keep for up to a week in a box, but we all know they won’t last a day.
5. You will need to begin the process from the beginning for each new flavor combo, unless you have a friend over to make another batch simultaneously. Come to think of it, this is a great party idea.
DID YOU NOTICE HOW PRETTY THE PHOTOS ARE… TAKE A MOMENT, IF NOT.
I was lucky enough to have food photographer and foodie extraordinaire, Margaux Axelrod, shoot my cluster-making process. With a name like Margaux Axelrod, how could you not one day have your own coffee table book? It was a great experience for me as a former Art Director to have a cool creative mind come in and make things even better. I hope she has time to shoot some more blogs with me before she hits the big time. Thank you Margaux!
One of her photos was featured in Zagat’s “10 Must try Fall Dishes in the Bay Area”. Hers is the best, the one from Starbelly.