You put all the effort into making a mouth-watering dessert, and now you just need a show-stopping finishing touch. These master-inspired chocolate shapes, elegant shards, and expert-level cupcake icing, are easier than you think and will land your creations in oooh-and-ahhh territory. They’re sure to impress even the fussiest of guests this holiday season.
How to Make Chocolate Shapes
You can turn any cake or cupcake into the perfect special-occasion dessert with easy shapes made with your favourite chocolate. Annegret Henninger has worked and trained in some of Europe’s top Michelin-starred restaurants and is currently a pastry chef with the Thompson Hotel Group. She regularly creates masterpieces with chocolate, and explains the easiest way to create some of your own chocolate shapes at home.
- Start by printing or freehand drawing a few pictures of shapes you’d like to re-create with chocolate. Some ideas: basic flowers, hearts or swirls.
- Next, place a baking sheet in the freezer to chill for later.
- Melt chopped chocolate using this technique.
- Allow the chocolate to cool slightly before adding a few drops of water or alcohol (such as Schnapps) to achieve a thin, smooth texture. It is very important to allow the chocolate to cool, or adding the liquid can cause it to seize. For 2 bars (200 g) of Excellence dark chocolate, expect to use around 5 to 10 drops. Add them a few at a time, until you achieve the ideal viscosity. The ultimate test: create a figure eight with the chocolate (dripping it in a stream off a spoon.) If the figure holds its shape, you’re ready to move on.
- Create a cornet (a piping bag made from a triangle of parchment paper) and snip a tiny hole in order to pipe the chocolate. Alternatively, you can use a squeeze bottle that allows you to cut your own small hole.
- Working quickly (you have about 10 minutes to complete the whole process), load your chocolate into your cornet or squeeze bottle and retrieve your chilled baking sheet. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place your prepared templates under the parchment paper to use as a stencil. Trace with your chocolate—be prepared to practice a few times before getting your handiwork just right!
- Once finished (your chocolate will eventually thicken to the point of being un-usable), place your baking sheet in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.
Keep in mind that chocolate figures will begin to melt again at room temperature, with white and milk chocolate melting the quickest.
How to Make Chocolate Shards
Culinary expert Jennifer Bartoli is the former Food Editor at Canadian Living, and co-owner of Sprig Creative. Here, she shares her tips for making chocolate shards at home.
- Start by tempering your chocolate. See our step-by-step guide here.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an offset spatula, evenly spread the tempered chocolate over the parchment until it’s about 1.5 mm thick.
- Let it stand for a couple minutes, until the chocolate has solidified.
- Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the chocolate into shards of your preferred size.
- Gently peel the chocolate off the parchment paper and garnish your dessert.
How to Ice Cupcakes Like a Pro
Prime your icing
The first step to beautiful icing is making sure it hasn’t been sitting out too long, which can leave you with an inconsistent texture. For an instant refresh, give the frosting a good whip in your stand mixer before applying it to your cupcakes. This will help get rid of any air bubbles and leave you with shiny, smooth results.
Spread like a pro
While using the back of a spoon is always an option, using an offset palette knife to swirl the icing onto each cupcake will help you achieve a polished look more easily. The knife helps you better control where the icing goes and creates straight, clean edges with perfect swirls exactly where you want them.
Invest in a piping bag
A reusable piping bag will give you the most professional feel and is a small investment that delivers great results. Practice with a large round or star tip first on parchment paper before you tackle your cupcakes (or any other dessert). You can even scrape up your practice runs and reload them into your piping bag.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
If your cupcake icing isn’t as perfect as you would like, don’t sweat it—use toppings to hide any imperfections. Grated chocolate, chocolate shards, ganache, sprinkles or a cherry on top are all excellent options.