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Peanut Butter Cups: A Delicious Example of Shell Molding

peanut butter cups in display case
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Have you ever wondered how chocolatiers get a hard chocolate coating around a soft center? The answer is: shell molding.

Most items that we enrobe (that’s a fancy word for “dip in chocolate”) go directly into a bowl of tempered, liquid chocolate. Tempering is the process of heating and cooling a substance to improve its consistency, durability and/or hardness. Tempered chocolate is glossy, has a satisfying “snap” when you break off a piece, and holds up better to handling than untempered chocolate.

Sometimes, though, we have something that is too liquid or soft to dip directly in the chocolate. Or, we may want the outer coating to have a certain shape. Peanut butter cups fall into both of those categories.

Here is a video of the process of making me peanut butter cups that my friend Jennifer Zach recorded several years ago.

Step one is to create the hard chocolate “shell.” We pour liquid chocolate into the candy mold, then turn it upside down to let excess chocolate drip out, leaving a thin layer, or shell, inside the cavity.

peanut butter cup shells

Using a flexible scraper, we remove the excess and create a level surface at the top (or, in the case of our chocolate creams, the bottom) of the mold. Next, we spoon or pipe in the filling (I don’t have a photo of this step because my staff was super fast getting it done!)

single peanut butter cup in mold

Finally, we “top” (or bottom) the filling with liquid, tempered chocolate, making sure to create a good seal where the two layers meet, so none of the filling leaks out. “Leaky” peanut butter cups are far from disastrous, though, because we chop them up and mix them into our chocolate peanut butter ice cream! (Or, you know, they disappear into my mouth.)