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Finicky chocolate needs a little extra TLC. [Photographs: Liz Gutman]

What is the best way to store chocolate? I get asked this question so frequently, I'm actually pretty amazed that I haven't thought to post about it yet. I guess I tend to forget that not everyone spends their entire day around chocolate. (Rough life, right?) So, as we enjoy these last balmy weeks of summer, here are tips on how to best store your chocolate treats.

While there are different rules of thumb for each kind of chocolate, keep these general guidelines in mind:

  • The shelf life of most milk chocolate is one year; for most dark chocolate, it's two years.
  • Chocolate keeps best between 65 and 70°F, away from direct sunlight, and protected from moisture.
  • When refrigerating or freezing chocolate, make sure it is sealed in an airtight container—refrigerators are very humid. Always thaw frozen chocolate in the refrigerator; if it goes straight from the freezer to room temperature, condensation will form and alter the appearance and texture.
  • Always allow chilled chocolate to come to room temperature before enjoying it; cold chocolate doesn't melt or disperse flavor as nicely.

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Solid (Bar) Chocolate vs. Bonbons

Bar chocolate is the most stable kind of chocolate treat. Really, all you need to do is keep it from getting too warm—above 75°F or so. If you have to store it in the fridge or freezer, a Ziploc-type bag is the way to go—just get as much air out as possible before you seal it, to minimize the possibility of freezer burn.

But I've always heard NOT to store chocolate in the fridge. Why are you telling me I should?

Well, ideally, you shouldn't. You'd store at room temperature—if your room temperature was around 65°F. If it's the middle of the summer, and/or you don't have air conditioning, that's not the case. Storing chocolate in the fridge or freezer will keep the heat from melting your chocolate and ruining the temper (that whitish coating on melted and re-hardened chocolate is the cocoa butter coming to the surface).

Generally, the reason you're told not to keep chocolate in the fridge is either because a) it doesn't have a very long shelf life and should be consumed in short order—which can be the case with bonbons (see below); or b) that, when you take it out of the fridge, condensation will form and cause sugar bloom. (Sugar bloom looks like dull blotches and spots that are rough to the touch; chocolate that is sugar bloomed cannot be re-tempered. Don't worry, though—it can still be used in baking, sauces, and pretty much everything else.)

The former issue is addressed below; as for the condensation issue, the slower you let chocolate come to room temperature, the lower the chance of condensation forming. If you have chocolate in the fridge, and it's 80 degrees out, I'd recommend wrapping the (already wrapped) chocolate in a dish towel or some other insulating barrier; this will disperse the chill from the chocolate more slowly, and minimize condensation.

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As far as bonbons go—it really depends on how they're made. If they're shelf-stable—Russell Stover, say—you can treat them the same way you'd treat solid chocolate: make sure it doesn't melt, and put it in the fridge or freeze it if you need to.

However, if they're of the handmade variety (and I sincerely hope they are, because, yum), refrigeration is probably as far as you want to go. Some ganache centers are perfectly ok if frozen; but fondant (cream) and caramel centers tend to get grainy when pushed to extreme temperatures. Again, make sure they're well-protected from humidity, and let them come to room temperature slowly before you enjoy them. When in doubt, ask the counter person at the store—they'll know the individual chocolates the best, and have the best advice for storage and shelf life.

Of course, all this is a moot point if, like me, your chocolates don't last more than a day or two. Let me know, though: What questions or tips do you have regarding chocolate storage?

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