When I started Shoko Chocolates with a couple of friends some time ago, it was on a budget. We didn’t have fancy tempering machines or even chocolate melters. With some bowls, spatulas, a microwave and some polycarbonate moulds, we were up and running. Below is a list that we’ve compiled about the tools required for different types of chocolate work. Note that these lists cover the absolute basics (this is just a fraction of the tools that you would find in a professional, production shop). Also, for the sake of brevity, we have omitted common items that you would typically find in the kitchen (scales, ladles, scissors, whisks, spatulas, etcetera).
Heat Source – Microwave or stove top/induction: you will need a heat source to melt your chocolate. The choice between these options is a personal preference, but also depends on the amount of chocolate you are working with.
Bowls – Glass, stainless steel, or plastic: you’ll need some bowls to melt your chocolate in. From my experience, stainless tends to lose the temperature too quickly while glass retains heat much longer than the other two; plastic is the goldilocks of bowls when it comes to working with chocolate. The size of the bowl is based on the amount of chocolate you are using, and the equipment that you are going to melt the chocolate in. If you are using the microwave method, then you are restricted by the size of the microwave, whereas if you are using the double boiler, then you are restricted by the size of the pot that you are going to use.
Granite slab (optional) – if you want to use the tabling method to crystallize the chocolate/cocoa butter you’ll need a granite slab large enough to work on.
Heat-proof spatula – crystallization requires agitation from time to time and a heat-proof spatula is the right tool for the job. Flexible silicone is nice because it’s easy to snap off any leftover chocolate after it sets.
Thermometer – infrared/probe thermometer: you’ll likely want a way to monitor temperature for most chocolate work. There are pros and cons to each type. The infrared will give you a reading with a variant of +/- 2 degrees while the probe thermometer may be more accurate, but can get messy (you’ll need to wipe it off each time you check). I was trained to not use a thermometer. That’s right! And that’s why you will need tend to the next item on the list.
Plastic Scraper – used to dip into the chocolate to make a sample to see if it crystallizes in the environment that I am working in. Regardless of what thermometer you are using or not using, you will always want to check to see if the chocolate will crystallize. Parchment paper works for this too but why waste it?
Hair dryer or heat gun – used to give small bursts of heat to keep chocolate or cocoa butter in the working temperature range.
Dipping forks – these specially designed forks are used to dip chocolates or truffles. The prongs are skinnier and further apart than a regular fork, allowing for excess chocolate to drip off more easily. They are also sometimes designed with a slight angle that can help with lifting and placing the dipped items.
Impressions – objects to leave a design (impression) on your just-dipped item. Examples include cutters, stamps, straws, and forks.
Pastry frames/bars – used to cast even layers of ganache to be enrobed.
Moulds – these come in various shapes, sizes and material (see our resources page to see where you can source them).
Scrapers – You have two options: confectionary scrapers or something that can be found at a hardware store. The confectionary scrapers typically are made with stainless steel while the hardware ones are not, which means that the hardware scrapers will rust if you do not dry them properly. Another thing to consider is that, whichever scraper you choose, you want to make sure that it is wide enough to scrape your moulds in one clean motion.
Brushes (optional, for colour) – brushes can be used with various techniques to apply coloured cocoa butter to the inside of your moulds before casting with chocolate. Try to get decent quality, synthetic brushes so that the bristles won’t fall out too easily.
Airbrush/spray gun and compressor (optional, for colour) – An airbrush is needed for spraying the inside of the moulds for bonbons, to achieve a clean, even colour. It can also be used with various techniques to achieve special designs. The size of the needle is important to consider when choosing an airbrush, it should be a minimum of 0.35 – 0.5 mm for the cocoa butter to properly flow through the needle. Next, you should consider the cup (i.e. the feed mechanism), I personally like the cup to be on top of the airbrush (gravity feed), rather than the bottom or the size since the cocoa butter will likely to crystallized faster. In terms of compressors, I don’t know much – it is ideal to have something that will be low-maintenance, durable, and have enough power, but it is also a matter of what fits your budget.
Pastry Bags – for filled chocolates, these make piping fillings much easier and cleaner (though a funnel can also work).
FOR GANACHE MAKING
Blender, immersion blender – used to blend ganache for a better emulsion.
Food processor – used to make ingredients finer, to achieve a good mouthfeel.
Spray guns and compressors – used to apply colour to your showpiece. The same considerations apply as discussed above for moulding.
Food processor – used to blend couverture chocolate to make it pliable and workable to shape.
aW meter – A water activity meter can be used to tell you the shelf-life of your product.
Guitar – ideal for efficiently and uniformly cutting ganache fillings to enrobe.
Melters – there is a big range of these available, from those that simply help to keep the chocolate at the right temperature (allowing you to work with bigger batches more easily), to those that are fully automated (essentially providing a continuous supply of tempered chocolate). Of course, the price varies accordingly.
Enrobing machines – used to automate the process of enrobing. This provides huge efficiency gains and helps to ensure good, consistent results.
Melanguer – can be used to make pralines and “bean-to-bar” chocolates.
Panner – used to “pan” chocolate items (i.e. to make dragees). An affordable panner that fits the stand mixer is a good low-investment a to start.
Refractometer – used to determine the concentration of sugar of a product for consistency in production.
Stephan – a machine that enables you to mix, cut, emulsify, and a host of other things in a vacuum. This speeds up the process and as well as avoids contamination.