For unique yet inexpensive gift giving, mold chocolate and make chocolate bark.
We all want to stand out with the gifts we give. Baked goods and cookies are an inexpensive fall back when you need lots of gifts for teachers, neighbors and other special people, but they are overused as gift items. Still, you need to stay within your gift giving budget. Molding chocolate in fun themes and colors is economical, fun and unique.
Melting the Chocolate:
Melting chocolate is simple. All that is needed is a double boiler. A double boiler is a pan that sits inside another, larger pan filled with water. The food you want to cook is placed inside the top pan. This distributes heat evenly around the food (in this case, chocolate), indirectly heating it so it does not burn. If you do not own a double boiler, place a small pan or clean tin can inside a larger pan filled with water, it works adequately as well.
To melt chocolate for molding, chop a block of chocolate "Almond Bark" into small pieces, or use chocolate melting disks available through craft suppliers, specialty stores and candy making retailers. Place the chocolate inside the top pan of the double boiler. Heat over medium to high heat, stirring frequently, until all the chocolate is melted and of a heavy, creamy, syrup-like consistency. Remove from heat.
Chocolate can be melted in the microwave as well, but requires vigilance to keep the chocolate from burning. Place disks or chunks into a microwave safe bowl and heat for one minute to start, then stir. Continue heating at thirty second intervals and stirring to eliminate hot spots.
Molding the Chocolate:
For the simplest of molded chocolate projects, simply pour the melted chocolate into the chocolate molds. Be careful not to drip any water from the bottom of the pan into the melted chocolate. For easier pouring, you may choose to first pour the chocolate into a spouted measuring cup, specially designed chocolate pouring funnel, candy crafting squeeze bottle or other device that will make accurate pouring easier. Once poured, gently tap the mold against a counter or table top to encourage air bubbles to rise to the surface and pop. Let the chocolates set until completely hardened and flip onto wax paper to remove. If chocolates do not readily drop out, place the mold in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes and they should easily fall out of the mold.
Chocolate molds are available through craft and candy making supply retailers in a vast variety of fun and interesting themes. You will easily find themes that match any interest, hobby, or holiday. Chocolate molds are inexpensive and will last for many, many pours.
Decorating the Chocolate:
For more detailed chocolate mold creations, color white chocolate or purchase colored white chocolate disks. Be sure any colorant used is labeled for use in chocolate crafts; regular food coloring will ruin the texture of the melted chocolate and you will be left with a curdled, chunky mess. Paint details of chocolate molds with colored chocolate using a new, clean craft brush and let dry (for very small dots, skewers and toothpicks work well, but be careful not to scratch the mold). Let the painted details set before pouring the mold the rest of the way to fill.
There are other ways to easily create great looking molded chocolate pieces. Before pouring, sprinkle the bottom of chocolate molds with sprinkles or non-pariels. Mold and remove chocolates and drizzle with colored or contrasting chocolate. Chocolates can be poured in two layers, starting with one flavor, letting it set until hardened and then topping with another. Another option is to pour two colors together and run a toothpick through the still warm chocolate to create a marbled effect.
Making Chocolate Barks:
One other very simple but great tasting chocolate project that makes great gifts is making chocolate barks with nuts. This is a very simple process that requires only melting the chocolate (the same as for molded candies) and pouring over nuts spread across a cookie sheet. Let the chocolate set until hardened and break into randomly sized pieces. The most popular nut used for this project is almonds (hence the name of the melting chocolate, 'Almond Bark'). Walnuts, peanuts or any other nut can be used, too.
For more chocolate treats, try dipping some of your favorite foods. Fruits like strawberries and bananas are popular, and pretzels, cookies and graham crackers are well liked in dipped chocolate, too.
Molded chocolates, Almond Barks, or dipped goodies are easily packaged in decorative treat bags or mason jars. Wrap them in plastic wrap and give them in an attractive basket, or give them along with other favorite treats in a gift bag or basket. Gifts of chocolates are appreciated and well liked, and your personal flair and thematically molded candies are sure to be a hit.