About five years ago, Anne Boulley took a stroll through a Michigan lakeshore town and walked into a high-end chocolate shop. With a background in cooking and food writing, she enjoyed trying new things, and when she tasted this shop’s chocolates, she couldn’t help but think, “I can do this, and I can do it better.”
Fast-forward five years, and Boulley owns Artisanne Chocolatier, a specialty chocolate shop in Bay City that creates chocolates that are even more beautiful than they are delicious.
Boulley’s confections are an inch to two-inch pieces in just about any shape you could dream up. Their colors, though, are what makes them so enticing. Glossy, like a gemstone, her treats resemble something closer to an abstract painting than a piece of chocolate. Swirling colors are intermixed or splattered across the form, creating a dimensional, beautiful piece of edible artwork.
“To make chocolates, you have to have the time for trial and error,” Boulley said.
“When I was learning, I wasn’t in a hurry.”
The process of making chocolates isn’t simple. The first step is attaining molds to form the chocolate, according to Boulley. She uses special molds made from polycarbonate, which are stronger than plastic.
“Getting the molds polished is really important to get that glossy look. Whatever you lay chocolate against, that’s what it will look like when it hardens,” she said.
Boulley first cleans the molds in scalding hot water, sometimes using vodka or vinegar to remove any leftover residue and polishes them. Surprisingly, the next step is decorating.
“I am one of those people who can’t draw in a straight line. I never considered myself creative until I started decorating these chocolates.”
— Anne Boulley
“Many people think this comes last, but it’s actually first,” Boulley said.
She often uses colored cocoa butter to decorate, which is the fat from the cocoa plant. “Cocoa butter is solid at room temperature, Boulley explained. “I melt it, but not all the way. When it’s ready, the texture is just like paint.” Brushes, paint sprayers and other artist tools are used to add a thin, colorful layer of cocoa butter to the inside of the molds.
“I am one of those people who can’t draw in a straight line,” she said. “I never considered myself creative until I started decorating these chocolates.”
Once the mold is decorated to her standards, she lets the colorful shell dry and makes the chocolate.
She begins with 2-10 pounds of couverture chocolate and melts it completely over a double boiler. Couverture chocolate is a very high-quality chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa butter than other chocolates, like baking and eating chocolates. Boulley said it gives her treats the smoothest, softest, melt-in-your-mouth feel. The chocolate she uses also is “fair trade,” meaning it’s ethically and responsibly sourced, and there are little to no additives or preservatives.
Steam and water, according to Boulley, is the enemy when making chocolate. Using a double boiler, Boulley often boils the water first, turns the heat off and begins melting the chocolate. Often, she takes the chocolate off the boiler, reheats the water and then repeats the process until the chocolate is melted to her standards.
“Chocolate does burn,” she said, “so you don’t want the temperature to go over 130/135 degrees (F).”
After the chocolate is melted, Boulley takes it off the double boiler and adds room-temperature chocolate wafers to the mix to cool it down. The melted concoction is then poured into the molds.
“I bang it on the table to get any air bubbles to rise to the top,” she said. “After about 20-30 seconds, I tip over the mold and pour it all back out to create a nice, thin chocolate shell.”
Boulley repeats this process a few times, depending on how thin or thick she wants the shell, and freezes them.
Once the shells are hard, Boulley either fills them with ganache, caramel filling or more chocolate. When comparing these handmade morsels and mass-produced truffles, the difference is clear.
“Because I use real ingredients, the chocolate is softer and there are no fake flavorings, these chocolates will go bad and are meant to be eaten right away,” she said.
Boulley wasn’t professionally trained as a chocolatier or a chef. She taught herself the arts through YouTube tutorials and online videos. As a former food writer, chef and caterer, she was always trying to master a new skill. When chocolate caught her attention, it quickly became more than a skill to master but a new way of life.
Artisanne Chocolatier, located in the City Market, has an online store and holds workshops for those who are interested in learning this skill.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Boulley said. “Chocolate is an art form — not just how it tastes but also how it looks.”
Megan Westers is freelance writer and editor based in mid-Michigan who enjoys writing about politics, lifestyle and travel.