One of the most magical things I learned in pastry school was how to properly dip chocolates.There's something about it that I find very soothing; maybe it's the precision required to get them to turn out just so, or the repetitive motion, or just the fact that when you're done you have a tray with rows of perfectly formed little chocolate-covered beauties. (Not to mention the couple of inevitably funky-looking ones that end up getting eaten. For the sake of quality assurance, naturally.)
For whatever reason, I still love doing it—even after paying my dues dipping truffles nonstop for days on end during the holidays at Roni-Sue. And this process can also be done quite easily at home—it doesn't require any special equipment, and you can dip anything you like; from an elaborate layered ganache or homemade caramel to store-bought snacks (chocolate-dipped Triscuits are delightful). Here's a visual guide to the basics.
Setup is really the most important part; having everything in place before you start guarantees that you won't have an "oh, crap" moment mid-dip, and have to run over to the pantry to grab waxed paper with your treat balanced on the end of your fork. This is a right-handed setup; if you dip lefty, laying it all out in reverse order will be helpful.
Starting from the left, you want to have a) the stuff you're going to dip. I have squares of salted caramel here, but any flat-bottomed item is fine—crackers, cookies, etc. (Round and odd-shaped items are horses of a different color, and will be addressed in upcoming posts.) To the right of those will be b) your bowl full of tempered chocolate (or compound coating, if you're not feeling up to tempering), preferably set up tilted towards you like so:
This shortens the distance your dipped treat has to travel from b) chocolate to c) parchment or waxed paper on a sheet pan, which is its final stop before your face.
So: undipped goodies, bowl of chocolate, sheet pan. Pretty straightforward. It won't hurt to lay a newspaper down if you're sitting at your table, just because chocolate has a tendency to get EVERYWHERE.
2. The Technique
Step one is pretty obvious: get the item to be dipped balanced on that fork! Then you can plop it right into the bowl of chocolate.
Use the tines of the fork to gently submerge the item you're dipping in the chocolate; then reach back underneath it and remove it.
Now you need to get rid of the excess chocolate so it doesn't form a "foot" (a little puddle of excess chocolate) when you put it down on the parchment. Your instinct might be to tap the fork against the side of the bowl; and while that works for some things, caramels and ganache tend to stick to the fork and not want to come off once you're ready to place it.
A technique I learned at Roni-Sue is to touch the bottom of the item to the surface of the chocolate a few times; almost like you're slapping the surface of the chocolate with the fork (no need to be that forceful; that's just so you get an idea of the motion). This gets the excess off without any jarring tapping, and will leave enough chocolate on the bottom for you to be able to slide the item off your fork onto the parchment.
If there's still a bunch of chocolate dripping off after you've done your slappin', go ahead and do a gentle scrape on the side of the bowl.
Because of potential stick-to-the-fork-iness, it's helpful to leave part of the item hanging off the edge of the fork; enough so that you can put one corner of it down and loosen it from the fork before sliding it off onto the parchment or waxed paper.
As you're sliding it on to the paper, push it forward with the fork; this will leave a nice, clean footprint and help mitigate the appearance of any excess chocolate on the sides.
As the chocolate is setting up, it's fun to add a garnish or make a little design on top. Just gently placing the fork tines on top creates a pretty wave pattern that looks all professional and fancy-like. Sea salt goes well on almost anything; or just do a dusting of your favorite spice, or maybe some malted milk powder.
That's all, Serious Eaters—you're ready to go. Now, what good stuff will you coat with chocolate this week?