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Life’s like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna cook next


Story by Daisy Dow

e all have our back-of-the-pantry sweets we simply can’t live without. Chocolate may be yours lurking in the deep corners of your kitchen, tempting your sweet tooth every time you lay your eyes on it. This tasty treasure comes in various shapes, styles and flavors, some of which might surprise you. As they are often decorated by skilled chocolatiers, handcrafted chocolates prove that not all art is displayed in museums. Devour some of Hilton Head’s finest chocolate and get some tips on how to make your own.

Resident chocolatiers on Hilton Head have shaped the Lowcountry’s love affair with chocolate with unique designs and bold flavors. Nancy Paris is the Chief Chocolate Maker at Chocolate Canopy on New Orleans Road, and Max Wilhoit is the general manager of Kilwins Hilton Head Shelter Cove. If you are looking to answer your taste buds’ prayers, both of these stops are sure to have something you will love.
Since it opened on the island in 1982, Chocolate Canopy has been crafting sweet treats and show-stopping centerpieces that pair delectable ingredients with dexterous design. Between their signature chocolate alligators and their seasonal favorites like the solid chocolate Thanksgiving turkeys or Christmas sleighs, Chocolate Canopy values creating consistently tasty treats while taking advantage of the creative liberty of their medium. Paris explained how Chocolate Canopy places an emphasis on sourcing ingredients that enhance their chocolates.

“The base for all of our chocolate items is sourced from the Ivory Coast. We work with one of the major suppliers of cocoa who is committed to sustainability and improving the lives of cocoa farmers and their communities. We flavor our chocolates with a combination of oils, sugars and spices depending on the flavor profile.”

Like Chocolate Canopy, Kilwins Hilton Head Shelter Cove also sources its ingredients from regions across West Africa. Since the store opened in 2015, it has shared chocolate confections, caramels and hand-paddled fudges that have been made with certified USDA organic and Fair Trade ingredients. The chocolate-making process at Kilwins happens entirely within the company and gives the artisans in the Shelter Cove store an opportunity to add their own style to their products.

“Salt works wonders for chocolate. It actually enhances the sweetness of the chocolate while changing its texture. It’s also a huge favorite of our guests — sea salt caramels are our most popular item, and our Dark & Salty chocolate bars follow close behind. An unexpected combination that has piqued our guests’ interest is Sriracha. “Firestarter” is our homage to all things hot and spicy and features a Sriracha chocolate blend with a Turbinado sugar coating.”Nancy Paris

“The chocolate is made in house by Kilwins, and they mold it themselves in Michigan. I use it to dip, coat and decorate various items in the store myself,” Wilhoit writes. Choosing a pick-me-up from Kilwins or Chocolate Canopy means you are savoring ingredients from all over the world.

Every piece of chocolate has been conched, fermented, flavored and tempered to make for the perfect bite. Paris and her coworkers temper Belgian-style chocolate at their shop and design their own molds. Their knack for culinary sculpting is particularly useful for the custom designs they create for events and weddings. Wilhoit and the team at Kilwins use dark, milk and white chocolates to create a wide variety of options so guests are sure to find something that suits their palate.

If all this chocolate talk has made you eager to take a dive into the creative world of chocolate-making, check out these tips from the experts so your culinary creations are the best they can be.
“My favorite pairings with chocolate are citrus flavors like lemon and orange, peanut butter, peppermint and coffee. My favorite unexpected combinations are bacon, rose (if you’d consider it unexpected), and Earl Grey.”Max Wilhoit

From years of experience, Wilhoit has some wise words to avoid ruining your batch. “When working with chocolate, you want to use a double boiler so that you don’t expose the chocolate directly to the heat, which could cause it to burn very easily. You don’t want to get any water in [the molten chocolate] because it will ‘seize up’. Make sure you have it at the appropriate temperature to work with (86 degrees Fahrenheit for milk chocolate, 87 degrees Fahrenheit for dark chocolate, and 89 degrees Fahrenheit for white chocolate).”

Paris suggests keeping it simple and focusing on decorating for your first few batches. “While we work with real chocolate at the shop, most people are familiar with the chocolate buttons available at traditional retail stores. They are much easier to work with since melts do not require tempering, but the taste of melts varies dramatically from real chocolate.”

Chocolate is more than just a gooey substance to mold. In fact, its rich history has informed a wide variety of inventive flavor combinations. Ranging from fruit essences to nuts, to spices and beyond, unexpected flavor combinations can take your chocolate creation to the next level in taste.

Whether you are a professional chocolatier or just a passionate connoisseur, cooking with chocolate promises a little something for everyone. Discover new flavor combinations and find an artistic voice by molding, slathering and decorating your own creations. If you need some motivation before cracking into the art of chocolatiering, be sure to visit Chocolate Canopy and Kilwins Hilton Head Shelter Cove for some top-notch flavors and inspiring design.

Types of chocolate

Baking Chocolate: Perhaps the purest form of chocolate you might find on grocery store shelves, baking chocolate usually contains very little sugar. Its 100% cacao chocolate liquor retains the seed’s bitter taste. Uses: Use it in baked goods like brownies, cakes, and frostings.

Semi-Sweet Chocolate: Also known as bittersweet or dark, this is a chocolate liquor that has been mixed with cacao butter and sweeteners. While many countries have differing criteria for what constitutes dark chocolate, the United States classifies anything with over 35% chocolate liquor as such. Uses: Use it to make chocolate chip-cookies and other baked goods. Melt up a batch and dip fruit, nuts, sweets and even bacon to make your favorite foods even tastier. This chocolate’s flavor goes with mint, ginger, cardamom, jalapeño and Gouda cheese.

Ganache: Often used in truffles or to make a rich icing filling, ganache is a combination of heavy cream and chocolate. Balancing your ratio of cream to chocolate will affect whether your ganache is more pliable for decoration or more solid as a base. Uses: Use as filler in a cake, as a layer in a tiramisu, as a base for homemade truffles or to give a glossy top to your favorite cheesecake.

Milk Chocolate: A combination of cocoa, milk and sugar, this is the most common form of chocolate and a key feature in many candy bars. It tends to be sweet, smooth and easy to melt. Uses: Use it to flavor brownies, fill a pie or whip up a mousse. It goes well with caramel, honey, lavender, chai tea and coconut flavors.

White Chocolate: This kind of chocolate is made from cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, and vanilla flavoring. As it does not contain cocoa powder, it lacks the distinct brown coloration of other chocolate products. This rich chocolate goes well with citrus fruits and berries. Uses: Use it to garnish desserts, to enhance the texture of cookies or to give a sweet and smooth kick to biscotti biscuits. It pairs well with citrus fruits and berries, brie, hazelnuts, wasabi and pink peppercorn flavors.

Talk chocolate to me
Learn the lingo any chef needs to cook with chocolate

Cacao: A type of tropical evergreen tree that produces the beans we use to make chocolate products.

Cocoa: Name for the brown powder that is made from ground up, roasted cacao seeds.

Tempering: The process of heating and cooling chocolate in order to create a smooth and glossy finish.

Fermentation: Once the pulp-coated seeds are harvested from their pods, the seeds are placed in large boxes and covered with banana leaves. In this process, yeast, bacteria and other microorganisms work to break down the sugars in the seeds. These chemical breakdowns create heat, so a box might get to a temperature of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Conching: The process by which chocolate is heated and mixed with any other ingredients or flavorings. Ranging in length from a few hours to several days.

Winnowing: The process by which the outermost shell of the cacao bean is taken off and separates this husk from the nibs inside.

Theobromine: Along with caffeine, theobromine is one of the bitter compounds that give chocolate its alkaloid taste. Excessive consumption can prompt headaches, increased sweating and uncontrollable shaking.

Chocolate Thermometer: As tempering chocolate relies on staying within a tight temperature range, accurate thermometers are essential tools for perfect chocolatiering. Some companies have gone so far as to create spatulas with built-in thermometers so you can get an even read on the whole batch’s temperature.

Viscosity: A measure of melted chocolate’s ability to leave a thick coating when poured on another confection. Different types of chocolate have different thicknesses and material tendencies.