Chocolate runs in Tessa Halstead’s blood: her father is often referred to as a chocolate pioneer. Rex Morgan opened the groundbreaking Morgen Chocolate in Dallas way before a chocolate producing-shop was even a thing. And Halstead decided to try her hand at the family business herself in Austin in 2014. And it’s been booming ever since.
Hearing Halstead explain each chocolate feels like you’re attending a wine tasting: she speaks of origins and flavor notes, how “expressive they are on their own” with no flavors added. It’s all pure chocolate. She talks in great detail over every piece, from chocolate sourced from Papua New Guinea, which has hints of grapefruit and a smokiness that she detects, to the mocha pyramid, which has been in the family recipe book for a while.
Halstead let Eater experience the chocolate-making magic at Chocolaterie Tessa first hand with Eater photographer Robert J. Lerma. She walked through all of the major time-intensive processes done by hand, from making caramel, making chocolate-covered almonds, chocolate molding, enrobing in chocolate, to the finished sweet products.
First, caramels are made through a fancy dedicated machine, which includes mechanized spinning and a cold water jacket to keep everything soft. The finished caramel gets poured out, shaped into a layer, and then cut by hand into individual pieces. Some will be covered in chocolate, others will get an extra dose of salt to become salty caramels.
Over at the panning station, a staffer is coating dark chocolate mocha almonds, one of the shop’s bestsellers. Using the panning machine, the almonds (which were roasted and candied beforehand) are placed into the large bin, covered in chocolate, and then everything tumbles around with cool air for even coating. Once the first layer is set and dry, the process is repeated again because, “if you just put all of that in at one time, it’s just going to be a mass of chocolate,” which wouldn’t be ideal. “The art is really knowing when they’re ready,” Halstead explains. To smooth out the resulting bumps on the almonds, warm air is blasted.
Then there is the chocolate molding, where the liquid sweets are shaped into fun objects, like boots, turkeys, and even the outline of the state of Texas. The first layer of chocolate, in this case white chocolate, is spread onto plastic molds,. That’s run through the cooling tunnel machine, which is the original one her father used at Morgen. The process is repeated again to make sure the resulting treat is firm enough. The staff is looking for “nice shine” and “if you break it, you have a snap,” which Halstead explains are the signs of perfect chocolate.
Where most of the chocolate wizardry happens is over at the enrobing machine. Finished centers, such as the caramels or truffle bases, pass through a “chocolate curtain,” which coats the pieces evenly. The covered chocolates get decorated or garnished, and then it passes through the cooling tunnel. It takes about eight minutes for the entire procedure. Halstead notes that the process can be best seen with an episode of I Love Lucy, where Lucy and Ethel are in charge of wrapping finished chocolates.