We use time-tested recipes and vintage machines to make our chocolates
much the way we have for three generations. Styles change. Tastes evolve.
But old-world techniques never go out of fashion.
CRAFTED WITH LOVE
We use time-tested recipes and vintage machines to make our chocolates
“When my dad, Peter, was a kid, my grandparents had employees called ‘hand dippers’ who would nip off a piece of marzipan with their fingers, hand roll it their aprons, dip it into a vat of melted chocolate, put it on a tray and hand-decorate it. When the tray was full, they would move it to a rack and keep doing that until the rack was full of trays of finished truffles. It was a full day’s work.”
- Christopher Aigner, 3rd Generation
Peter Aigner, carrying
More than sixty years later, in that very same candy kitchen, Peter and son Chris carry on the family tradition. They still start by pulling off a piece of marzipan and end by using their fingers to add a decorative touch to each finished piece. What happens between those steps has changed over the past sixty years, but only slightly.
Our candy kitchen is filled with artifacts of over six decades of making chocolates as a family. Some of our kettles, cutters and even a few spoons have at least fifty years of candy-making experience, and we’re still working with them today. If our kitchen sounds like the Aigner family’s chocolate museum, then the pages of Peter’s well-worn recipe book must hold our family history.
What’s between the hardcovers? Peter says, “Trade secrets,” and denies us a peek. Chris describes a collection of recipes, some handwritten by Peter and some by Peter’s father John, our company’s founder. Notes and scribbles in the margins reveal the evolution of our traditional Austrian recipes, as each generation continues to fine tune and perfect them.
Dark, milk and white
Traditional Austrian chocolates are both distinct and distinguished. Unlike cream-based French chocolates known for their subtle, complex flavors or Belgian chocolates characterized by fine, chocolate ganache centers, Austrian chocolates are recognizable by their rich, flavor-intense fruit and nut paste fillings.
Pairing those flavorful fillings with the right couverture (chocolate coating) can make the difference between an ordinary and extraordinary confection. The dark, milk or white chocolate shell of the truffle cannot be so complex as to overpower its sweet, gourmet filling, nor can it have a flavor profile at odds with that classic center.
John Aigner carefully selected just the right milk chocolate to showcase his recipes more than sixty years ago. Peter says it’s still the best he has ever tasted. A whole milk crumb-based chocolate with 31.5% cacao, the couverture is made in the USA but remains true to the world’s first successful milk chocolate formula, perfected in Switzerland in 1887.
Though we may have tweaked the recipes for our fillings over the years, the Swiss-style milk chocolate that hugs those fillings and comprises our molded treats has required no adjustments. That means the milk chocolate pop you’ll give your grandchild will still be the same product your grandmother gave you.
“As for the dark chocolate couverture,” Peter says, “it has 55% cacao content, a crisp snap, creamy texture and chocolate aftertaste that is exquisite to your palate.”
Having practiced his craft from the age of nine, Peter has undoubtedly sampled more than his share of dark chocolate couvertures.
“I’ve tasted hundreds of blends from manufacturers around the world,” he explains. “Many come close, but there’s not one that tastes better.”
So what happens when the cacao content of a couverture is reduced to 0%, removing all of the cocoa mass (chocolate liquor) and replacing it with milk solids? The remaining cocoa butter content gives the product a delicate chocolate taste and aroma. But is it still chocolate?
If you think the answer is no, then forget what you think you know about white chocolate. There was a time when the label “chocolate” was reserved for couverture made with chocolate liquor, and that, of course, is the missing ingredient in white chocolate. But in 2002, the FDA redefined chocolate and set new standards to differentiate between real white chocolate (made with real cocoa butter) and the cheaper, lesser quality product called confectionary coating (made with animal and vegetable fats). To earn the name white chocolate, a couverture must contain at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk solids and 3.5% milk fat. It cannot contain more than 55% sugar or other sweeteners. Anything that falls short of those standards can only be labeled “coating.”
The taste and mouth feel of coatings are distinctly inferior to real chocolate, but a white coating can actually be identified without even tasting it. Real cocoa butter gives white chocolate a creamy, ivory hue. Rule of thumb: if it’s pure white, it’s not white chocolate. At Aigner Chocolates, we use real white chocolate exclusively. Every delicious pop, every creamy cat tongue and every enrobed confection that looks like white chocolate, truly is white chocolate.
“It’s quite a process,” Chris says. “One truffle is two to three days’ work!”
Father and son make a small
That process starts in our brightly painted candy kitchen. This is where we make our fillings in small batches, using much of the same time-tested equipment we’ve always used. Most of them, we make from scratch. We boil caramels, geles and crèmes in big, copper kettles on gas burners. We ladle cooked caramel into cooling trays, then cut them into squares with a simple cutter made of wire strings, called a guitar. The process for making geles is similar, but we cut those into little cubes by hand. Crème, however, is quite a bit more complicated.
Hot crème moves from the kettle to a giant beater that has sat in the same spot on our kitchen floor for at least sixty years. Overnight, the crème filling cools inside the beater so we can safely mix it the next morning. With a special shovel, we scoop the cooled, blended mixture into the hand press, a tool that drives crème though holes, presses it into little balls and deposits them onto a tray.
Next, we go downstairs with our squares of caramel, our cubes of geles or our balls of crème. Our basement is pretty much what you might imagine an old-fashioned chocolate factory to be. There’s equipment to melt the delicate chocolate and another machine to get it to precise temperatures, a process called “tempering.” Precision is everything at this state. If we’re off by one degree, cocoa butter will separate toward the surface and give the chocolate a whitish-grey coating, called “fat bloom.” Chocolate that has “bloomed” is still edible, but it doesn’t look very appetizing and definitely doesn’t meet our standards.
Rasberry glee coming off the
The whole family
Perfectly tempered couverture is now ready to pour into molds to create sculpted chocolate figures or into a machine called an enrober, to cover the fillings we’ve prepared upstairs. Before we enrobe the prepared fillings, we slather tempered chocolate onto the bottoms of each piece, one by one, and place (or “feed”) them onto a conveyor belt. Then, they travel along the conveyor belt and pass beneath a waterfall of fine, melted chocolate, ensuring that each one is fully enrobed.
Before the chocolate dries, we hand-decorate the each piece with a signature swirl, stripe or drizzle, or cover them with non-pariels, coconut or nuts, all while the freshly made chocolates continue to travel along the conveyor belt at a speed of three feet per minute.
Three feet per minute can seem like a whirlwind to a new employee who has been assigned to gingerly lift the finished pieces from the moving conveyor belt and hand pack them into boxes. (Remember the I Love Lucy episode that featured Lucy and Ethel working in a chocolate factory?)
After we’ve neatly packed the chocolates, we take them back upstairs to the cooling room, where they’re stored at 55-65° F to maintain optimal freshness. We don’t store them long, though. Making our confections in small batches, just as we always have, means we don’t have large quantities of inventory to store. You can be assured that the chocolates you buy today began their journey through this process just days ago. You can also be assured that the old-world techniques, recipes and flavors on which our company was built three generations ago remain at the heart of every hand made confection that bears our name today: Aigner Chocolates.