Friday, May 09, 2008
Chocolate Storage Solutions
Since the temperatures were back in the nineties in Los Angeles and I just returned from a long road trip, I thought I’d discuss chocolate storage for cocoa butter hostile climates.
Freezing or even refrigerating chocolate can encourage sweating (condensation) and transfer of odors from other foods. I simply don’t use my fridge for my candy. It’s never worked out very well, it’s too cold. Also, if you do end up freezing your chocolate, it’s important to bring it back to room temperature slowly - first in the fridge, then into a cool room. (Too much work & planning! I want my chocolate now!)
If you have a nice cool cupboard (preferably on an inside wall away from appliances that get warm), just keeping your chocolate sequestered should be fine. I have a set of Pyrex containers that won’t transfer odors and seem to give a bit of insulative protection. It also helps to have a climate controlled house. I don’t have central air and Los Angeles can experience some wide swings, temperatures inside my house go from the low sixties to over 100. (I’ve taken clothes out of my dresser that feel like they just came out of the hot dryer.)
These glass containers at the moment reside in my Chocolate Fridge. Technically it’s a wine fridge (meant to hold a dozen bottles). I’ve repurposed it to hold chocolate by amping up the temperature to 65 (instead of 55, which is where you’d probably keep your wine). Because wine fridges don’t dehumidify, the glass is also good for protecting against moisture. It also helps to prevent transfer of flavors and odors. Mint and Coffee items are additionally wrapped in ziploc bags and kept in separate containers from other non-flavored chocolates.
That’s what things looked like about a month ago. I ended up taking out two of the shelves and just stacking some of the glass containers because I have so much stuff. Yes, be sure to stagger things to encourage circulation, but also remember that a full fridge is more efficient than an empty one because the stuff inside insulates itself.
I bought a little thermometer to keep on the inside as well to monitor the temperature. There wasn’t anything on the settings, just low-med-high, so I wasn’t sure what I was getting, right now I have it set on low and the temps have been 62-65 ... well within the ideal range. (That little white thing at the bottom is a container of baking soda, also to absorb odors.) Some folks also love to use charcoal briquettes to absorb odors and control humidity - just be sure to get ones without lighter fluid in them, which will result in an unpalatable flavor.
While this is elegant and all that, it’s also expensive to buy and of course requires electricity (no good for brown outs in the summer heat). However, if you’re the type of person who is spending $8 a piece on bars, or place orders online for quanties far larger than can be consumed in a week, it may make sense in the long run.
Not only that, it doesn’t hold that much (well, not enough for me). So my second line of defense is a series of Insulated Coolers (ice chests) in my closet. This closet happens to be in the north-west corner of the house which is naturally shaded in the late afternoon by my neighbor’s house. Inside the cooler I layer my candies ... full boxes on the bottom (I still have some Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road bars left), then a layer of cold packs. At the moment my cooler isn’t really that good, I’m planning to upgrade to a better insulated ones (called 5 day coolers by Igoo).
I don’t actually freeze the cold packs I use, but sometimes I toss them in the fridge overnight. I don’t want to freeze anything or shock it, I just want to keep the climate consistently under 70 degrees. When I put them back in, I usually wrap them in a paper towel, just in case they cause a bit of condensation. (I’m thinking of making sleeves for them out of old fabric napkins. Cold pack cozies, anyone?)
Then if I don’t have any other candies that must be kept cold I fill in with other candy, just for insulation value. If I don’t have any candy sitting around sometimes I use throw pillows or bubble wrap. A full cooler will stay cool better than one with a large gap of air in the top. When returning from San Francisco, because I took more candy up there than I brought back, I ended up stuffing two wool sweaters on the top of the cooler as insulation from the glaring sun from my hatchback window. I also placed a windshield reflector over the cooler to give an added measure of protection against heat.
Another solution is water bottles. I have quite a collection of sport bottles that I just fill with tap water. The large mass of room temperature water provides yet another layer of insulation. I could also put them in the fridge for a while should the temps rise (this is a great solution if you don’t have access to those cold packs - but again, if it’s humid they will sweat, so put them in a clean cotton sock or something).
I also have an old styrofoam cooler box that I got a gift of cheese in once. For the most part, I just put stuff in there as a storage space for things I pick up on sale (my Hershey’s Eggs in this case), but as it’s been getting warmer I’ve tossed a few cool packs on top.
For shorter trips around town, remember that your car is a portable solar oven. Leaving stuff in the trunk or back seat is asking for moltency. Again, a cooler is a wise choice, and those insulate lunch bags can be rather helpful as well. If you have no choices, put lots of layers around the chocolate and water bottles or any large volume of liquid is your friend.
I have a couple of other smaller options as well. Inside my purse I carry this little anodized aluminum sunglass case. It doesn’t have much insulation value, just a little fuzzy lining, but the fact that it’s durable metal helps to minimize direct transfer of heat to a precious candy bar that might pick up at a deli such as this valuable BonBonBar from Joan’s on Third.
Finally, for carrying to parties or a special picnic, why not consider this wide mouth Soup Thermos:
As I found out, it doesn’t do much to protect candies from changes in air pressure.
Here are some other resouces about how to store your chocolate goodies:
Do you have any solutions, or words of warning?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.