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Ina Garten's Pro Tip For Effortless Chocolate Curls

One of the key things that makes recipes prepared by professionals look so much better than home-cooked versions is the presentation. Take a beautifully layered chocolate cake, for example, decorated with elegant chocolate shavings that make the dessert look picture-perfect. That finishing touch is stunning, but it can be tricky to replicate when making it yourself.

Thankfully, Ina Garten has a couple of simple tricks up her sleeve that make it straightforward to make elegant chocolate curls at home. And not only is the method easy to follow, but the result is professional enough to elevate any homemade dessert and is sure to impress guests.

In her "Cook Like a Pro" cookbook, Garten uses a vegetable peeler to shave the bittersweet chocolate for her decorative curls, which is a fairly common technique. But the secret is to heat the bar of chocolate first in the microwave, which makes it much easier to peel off long, even pieces. It's a tip that is especially useful when using bittersweet or dark chocolate, which can be more brittle and trickier to control than milk chocolate due to its lower fat content.

Using a microwave makes dark chocolate easier to handle

Ina Garten uses dark chocolate to make decorative curls for her chocolate pecan meringue torte recipe. Bittersweet chocolate, which usually contains at least 50 percent cacao, can be harder to shave with a vegetable peeler than when using softer, creamier milk chocolate. This is especially true if it's been stored in the refrigerator, which can make it even more brittle in texture. But if you're keen to use darker chocolate for its richer, less sweet taste, and its elegant appearance, then don't despair.

To make the process easier — and the chocolate less brittle — Ina Garten advises placing a block of dark chocolate in the microwave for 15 seconds before trying to shave it. This softens the chocolate just the right amount to make the texture easy for the peeler to glide through.

Another way to ensure you get luscious, even curls is to use a large bar when shaving chocolate, no matter what type you're using. The greater surface area makes it easier to handle and helps to produce more even, aesthetically pleasing curls. To make them, simply use a straight-edge peeler and gently run it down the length of the bar to smoothly peel off the curls. The size of the curls will depend on how thick the edge of the chocolate bar is. 

Other tips for decorating desserts with chocolate

Chocolate curls are not the only way to elevate a homemade cake or dessert and make it look more professional. Using chocolate as a decoration is one of the quickest ways to enhance presentation, and it doesn't have to be complicated. If you fancy smaller chocolate shavings, try using a grater rather than a peeler to cover the surface of a cake with a lighter sprinkling of chocolate.

Another easy technique is to gently melt chocolate chips in the microwave and transfer the mixture to a piping bag to create your own shapes or letters on the finished dessert. If you'd rather not draw or write directly onto the cake for fear of making a mess, then you can pipe the melted chocolate patterns onto a baking tray lined with parchment, and let it set in the fridge for a few minutes before topping the dessert. Or try adding chocolate ganache to a squeeze bottle to decorate a chocolate drip pattern around the edge of a cake, before filling in the center.

To take things to the next level, learning how to easily temper chocolate guarantees a glossier, professional-looking finish. As with any new skill, it's a case of practice makes perfect when it comes to chocolate decorations. And, since you can always just eat any mistakes, it can be deliciously rewarding, too.