Do you make bonbons? No? Neither do I. Or neither did I until I met chocolatier Michelle Lomelin of Sweet Petite Confections in Clairemont. Lomelin, whose first career was in fashion design, began to pursue chocolate making in 2000. She launched her business seven-and-a-half years ago, starting in her home, then moving to a rental kitchen, where she made pastries as well as chocolates. A year ago she moved into her brick-and-mortar shop and decided to pare down to her core focus, making seasonal chocolates and holiday and themed collections, utilizing her merchandising skills to design eye-popping and imaginative chocolates and their packaging.
Currently, her spring collection, themed Flora and Fauna (above), is out, along with a gold-and-yellow First Anniversary collection (below). "I design my chocolate collections like clothing," she told me. "This isn't See's."
The retail/kitchen is a bright, sleek space--just what you'd expect from a fashion designer--even outfitted with a refrigerator decorated with a eye-grabbing huge pink rose graphic behind a mammoth marble island that is the kitchen's anchor. This is where she makes her stylish and addictive bonbons, meltaways, barks (love her best-selling Seaside Bark with Hawaiian sea salt and crisped rice), salted caramels, lollipops, and even custom chocolate business cards for retail customers and wholesale clientele, including The Lodge at Torrey Pines, The Hotel del Coronado, the Bahia, the Catamaran's spa, The Hilton Mission Bay, BMW, Hyundai, and the Farmers Insurance Open. It's also where she conducts classes and tastings. And soon she'll be introducing ice cream daily and pastries on Saturday mornings. Eventually, she said, she'd like to expand to offer cafe-style seating.
Lomelin invited me in to learn her techniques for making bonbons, specifically her tart cherry and Earl Grey tea-infused dark chocolate ganache bonbon she calls The Earl and the Tarts. I spent three enjoyable hours with her and found her to be a thorough, engaging, and patient teacher. For her, the classes, the tastings, and even the shopping are directed to one purpose: "I want people to come in here for an experience," she said.
Lomelin had the dark chocolate for the shell and the foot (the bottom of the bonbon) tempering in her tempering machine. You probably don't have one or need one, so follow the directions for tempering chocolate on a site she recommends, King Arthur Flour.
She also prepped the dried cherries. They were chopped and soaking in Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon in a small red bowl.
So, we got started making the ganache. The first step was to heat the cream with the Earl Grey tea leaves. The mixture reaches the boil, then she turns off the heat, covers the saucepan, and lets it steep for five minutes. After that she strains the leaves and adds back a little milk to return the mixture to the original weight.
Then Lomelin adds glucose syrup and reheats the scented mixture to the boil. At that point, she pours it over a combination of dark and milk chocolate pieces--she prefers Guittard chocolate--and lets it sit for a minute. If you want, you can give the chocolate a head start in melting by putting it in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. Make sure when you're working with the chocolate that you keep it away from unnecessary moisture. At its best, it can be difficult to work with. As Lomelin said, "Chocolate is like a fussy French chef in a bad mood. You have to yield to it."
With the chocolate warmed, you want to stir the mixture until it emulsifies. Lomelin starts in the center of the bowl and works outward in large circles.
Next, she adds the butter and incorporates the pieces smoothly into the mixture. Now you have ganache. Time to transfer it into a pastry bag. Lomelin has a nifty trick to do this pretty smoothly. Get yourself a large cup--along the lines of a 7-Eleven-size slurpie cup--and place a pastry bag or thick plastic ziplock bag inside, folding the top of the bag over the top of the cup. Now you can use both hands to pour the ganache into the bag.
Tie up the top of the bag and place it on its side while you move on to the next steps. If the ganache begins to harden at the tip (if you're using a plastic bag, you'll snip off the corner to create the hole), simply warm it up by gently massaging it.
From here you'll drain the cherries in a sieve and blot them with paper towels. Don't toss the liquid. You can enjoy it in cocktails or custards, or even reduced to a syrup to use over ice cream.
So, here comes the fun part. Putting it all together in molds. You can find chocolate molds at places like Michaels or Do It With Icing or online. Lomelin uses expensive thick polycarbonate molds.
You don't need those but they were cool to work with. She showed me how to decorate them with colored cocoa butter. First we did some finger painting, dipping a finger in the "paint" and then smearing the mold's interior. Then we did some spray painting.
You probably aren't going to do this, but what you can do after the the bonbons are made is use luster dust, an edible decorating powder, or confectioners glitter--both of which I found on Amazon.
Add a little vodka to a small bowl. Lomelin uses vodka for three reasons--it has no flavor or color and the alcohol evaporates. Using a blush brush, dip it lightly in the vodka, lightly in the glitter, and then lightly brush it on the bonbon.
Okay, back to the process. Remember that tempered chocolate? Well, you're going to pour that into the mold over the paint and then drain the excess (that's why you need to temper so much more chocolate than you'll actually use; save the rest by pouring it on a cookie sheet. Once it hardens break it up and put the pieces in a ziplock bag to store.)
Now you have shells. They need to crystalize or harden. You'll know when they're ready for the next step when they go from shiny to matte.
At that point, get the ganache in the pastry bag and place a dot of it into each cavity. This allows the cherries, which you add next, to stick. Then you'll pipe in the ganache for real, leaving space for the foot.
By the time you fill each cavity, the chocolate will have hardened a bit, so Lomelin warms it up with a heat gun (alternately, use a hair dryer) so the foot will adhere seamlessly. Now you'll add more tempered chocolate to create the foot, sluicing off excess with a scraper.
Okay, almost done. The mold/s go into the refrigerator for about an hour to crystalize. When they're hard, gently tap the mold to release the bonbons.
I bet you think that's it. But not quite. You want to put them in a pretty package, right? Lomelin taught me a nifty trick for getting the chocolates securely into those little paper cups. Use your thumb and index finger to slightly spread open the cup. Place the bonbon squarely in the middle above the cup and lower it until you feel it hitting the cup. Release your fingers, then swiftly but gently press down on the bonbon. It should actually click in. Don't worry if you don't get it right away. This will take a bit of practice, but it's so satisfying when it works.
The Earl and the Tarts
from Michelle Lomelin of Sweet Petite Confections
Yield: 66 12-gram bonbon pieces
175 grams heavy cream
10 grams earl grey tea leaves
Whole milk (as needed)
55 grams glucose syrup (available in San Diego at Do It With Icing--or substitute with corn syrup)
155 grams 64% dark chocolate, roughly chopped if not already in pieces or discs
240 grams 33% milk chocolate, roughly chopped if not already in pieces or discs
30 grams butter, softened and cut into pieces
100 grams dried tart Montmorency cherries (available at Trader Joe's), minced
100 grams Bourbon (Buffalo Trace) or spirit of choice
2 pounds72% dark chocolate, tempered (King Arthur Flour explains the process well.)
To make ganache: In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and tea leaves just to a boil. Cover and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Strain leaves from cream and return to original weight by adding milk. Add glucose syrup and reheat to just a boil. Place the dark and milk chocolate pieces in a bowl. Pour the mixture over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Using a spatula, stir mixture in small vigorous circles in the center of the bowl until it emulsifies. Stir outward in larger circles to spread the emulsion throughout the bowl. If necessary, heat the ganache for 5 seconds at a time in the microwave until all chocolate is melted. Once all chocolate has melted, add the butter and stir until incorporated. Transfer to a pastry bag.
In a small bowl, combine the minced cherries with the spirit and let reconstitute for 1 hour (or more if desired). Drain through a mesh sieve and lightly pat dry. Save the remaining liquid to enjoy in cocktails or reduce and make a syrup to pour over ice cream.
Prepare the bonbon mold as desired. Using tempered 72% chocolate, create a shell and allow to crystalize. Once chocolate has crystalized, pipe in a dot of ganache, then sprinkle in approximately 1.5 grams of cherries per cavity. Pipe in ganache, leaving approximately 1/8 inch for the foot. Using a heat gun or hair dryer, warm the mold slightly and add the foot. Place in cooler for 1 hour to crystalize. Gently tap mold to remove chocolates.
Sweet Petite Confections is located at 3582 Mount Acadia Blvd. in San Diego.