Q. Why does chocolate sometimes look like it has a chalky surface?
A. It’s called “bloom” when the cocoa butter content of the ingredients in chocolate rises to the surface. If the surrounding environment becomes too warm, it throws the chocolate out of “temper” (tempered chocolate has a shiny surface and snaps when broken). If you see chocolate that looks dull and is sticky to the touch, most likely the humidity and a rapid temperature change has affected the chocolate. This is called “sugar bloom.” In both cases, the chocolate is still edible, but just not as aesthetically pleasing.
Q. What is "tempering?"
A. It’s the process of taking melted chocolate to different temperatures in stages so that the chocolate sets up correctly. A chocolatier must show extreme patience when working with chocolate because of how temperature and humidity affects the process. Some days, chocolate will temper quickly and other days, after it has rained outside, it may take a bit longer for it to stabilize at the proper working temperature due to humidity in the air.
Q. What is “enrobing?” What is “ganache?”
A. Enrobing is when the ganache, fruit, etc. is covered in chocolate. The term "enrobing" can mean that something has been dipped, covered by hand, or machine covered. Ganache is a mixture of heavy cream and chocolate and is usually at the center of a truffle or is sometimes used as icing on a cake.
Q. What is “couverture?” How is it different from "Melting Chocolate?"
A. Couverture is high-quality chocolate that requires tempering before it is used. Quality-wise, melting chocolate is on the other end of the spectrum. It is typically found in hobby stores and is a quick fix if quality chocolate is not available. Melting chocolate does not require tempering, contains additives and artificial flavors, and the high-quality cocoa butter component in couverture has been replaced with ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oils.
Q. Is white chocolate actually chocolate?
A. White chocolate is sweeter than milk or dark chocolate because of the amount of sugar, milk solids, milk fat and lecithin added. It contains no cocoa solids, so technically, it is not chocolate.
Q. What's the percentages that you see on some bars of chocolate?
A. The percentage number refers to the amount of cocoa solids and cocoa butter (both of which come from the cacao bean) in relationship to the amount of sugar added. Dark chocolate has a higher percentage number than milk chocolate because more sugar has been added to milk chocolate to sweeten its taste. Typically, people consider a higher percentage as more bitter to the taste as the number rises; however, some higher percentages can be misleading because it all depends on the cacao fruit used for the bar. Neighboring plants, such as banana trees or grasses, can also influence the flavor of raw chocolate. Chocolate is very susceptible to scents in the air.
Q. Where does chocolate come from?
A. It grows on (Theobroma cacao) trees in tropical areas close to the equator. The name "Theobroma" translates to "food of the gods" for obvious reasons.
Q. What’s the best way to store chocolate after I buy it?
A. Contrary to your first instinct to throw it in the refrigerator, your chocolates will survive in a room temperature environment (around 72º F or cooler) just fine. It’s when you add a few more degrees (+80ºF) and humidity that you begin to see effects. Direct sunlight will melt chocolate even through windows. We keep our shop cool and use dehumidifiers to store our creations in a hospitable environment until they’re available for purchase or sent off to customers.
Q. How long should I keep these chocolates around before eating them?
A. We don’t use any preservatives in our truffles, so it's best that they be consumed within a two week period. Because most of them contain dairy, they will eventually spoil. As far as solid chocolate shapes or bars, they can last up to a year. Most people tell us that their purchases won’t survive long enough to see the day’s end – because they want to enjoy their freshness immediately.
Q. Is The Hot Chocolatier a franchise chain? Where did the brand come from?
A. The Hot Chocolatier is a one-of-a-kind Chattanooga-grown business. We are locally owned and operated since 2008 with the owners still on-site much of the time. The brand is the concept of Wendy and Brandon Buckner. Brandon created the logo in 2008 as the concept of the business was still just a little nugget of an start-up.
Q. Where did you guys come up with your name?
A. A play on words using “hot chocolate” for starters and a special “hottie” truffle (with ancho, cayenne, and chipotle peppers) helped us settle on our name from pages and pages of brainstormed scribbles and crossed-out possibilities. We have around 20 different hot chocolates on our drink menu, so we feel we've risen to the challenge we've given ourselves with a name such as "The Hot Chocolatier."
Q. So where did you learn how to work with chocolate? You guys must watch a lot of those shows on Food Network!
A. While Wendy was in school at the French Pastry School in Chicago, she worked under some of the pastry chefs you’ve seen as judges and competitors in those Food Network challenges and competitions. There's even a documentary called, "Kings of Pastry" that features two of the chefs who started the French Pastry School. After school, Wendy also managed a prominent chocolate kitchen in a busy North Carolina vacation city.
Q. You used to have chocolate sculptures on display in the shop; do you still make chocolate sculptures?
A. When the occasion calls for it, we'll design and create custom sculptures out of chocolate. After re-locating to Market Street, we have been a bit too busy to advertise that we can create custom work specifically tailored to events. If it sounds like something you're interested in, please call to discuss details. To give you some idea of pricing, sculptures typically fall within the $200-600 dollar range - because we have to shut down production of other items while they're being designed and built.
Q. Does The Hot Chocolatier ship?
A. Yes and No. It depends on the time of year and temperature outside. Sometimes, the heat of summer will not allow us to ship or receive certain items.
Q. If I am trying to raise money for an event or cause, do you ever donate items for auctions or as gifts?
A. We allot an amount for a couple of causes we donate to yearly, so we are not always able to commit to donation requests. We wish we could give something to everyone who asks. However, given the sheer number of requests we receive throughout any given week, we would not be able to stay afloat as a business if we provided something at no cost to everyone. We are a small locally owned and operated business with many overhead costs to operate our one-and-only downtown facility. Thanks for understanding. If you wish to provide some information about your organization or even, you can visit our Donation Requests page and we'll try to respond as soon as possible.
Feel free to contact us with any other questions you may have, and we'll try to answer as soon as possible.