The big chocolate blowout: Chocolate Balloon Cups

balloon-cups

Back when I was about 12 or so, my dad’s job occasionally required him to go to Boston for meetings. Once in awhile, I was allowed to go with him, and can still remember the feeling of weightlessness taking the express elevator to the top of the Prudential Building, and the wonder of Faneuil Hall marketplace. It was the first place I ate New-York style pizza, frozen yogurt with strawberries, and bratwurst (on a stick!).

It was also where I bought the biggest and most beautiful balloon I’ve ever seen.

It was purple, deep purple, and must have been nearly 2 feet tall.  I think the ribbon tied to it was purple too, but nothing could compare to how big and perfect this balloon was. I know I should wax poetic about how the light played off it or such, but I was 12. All I remember was big and purple.

We lived about an hour outside  the city, but the balloon made it back home unharmed. I’d been holding it so carefully for so long that as soon as I got up the stairs to the living room, I let go, so it could float free in the house. Of course, at 12 years old you don’t know anything about textured ceilings; the fact that there might be sharp points up there never entered my mind. Up went the balloon, it bounced once, and then… well, you know what happened then. Lesson learned.

Ever since I’ve had a soft spot for balloons, and you can always find a bag or two stashed away in our house. Not only do they make great toys and decorations, and bring a smile to everyone’s face; they can become tools to help you make the fastest, most impressive chocolate dessert cups this side of anywhere.

Let’s begin with the chocolate. You’ll want to use chocolate that’s tempered for its shine and snap. For chocolate to be in temper, it means the crystals in the chocolate are aligned through a process of heating and cooling to specific temperatures.  The good news is that if you have chocolate that’s already tempered, and you don’t overheat it, it will stay in temper, and your chocolates will retain the shine and snap of the original chocolate.

For chocolate cups,  I use the Merckens break apart bars and the easiest method of tempering I know of.

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Begin by placing 3/4 of the chocolate you’re using in a double boiler, or stainless steel bowl.

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Keep out the last 1/4 of the chocolate. You’ll need it later.

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To make your own double boiler, place about 1” of water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Be VERY careful not to get any water in your chocolate. Water will make the chocolate seize into a rock-hard mass that won’t melt.

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Place the bowl of chocolate in the water pan, and heat the whole thing (or your double boiler) over very low heat. It’s best to melt the chocolate slowly; you’ll have better control over the temperature.

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Your secret weapon… dime-store balloons. These are from a party pack, and cost about $1 for 100. The small round ones are my favorite for chocolate cups. The water balloon kind work very well, too.

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Blow up several balloons, more than you think you’ll need. There’ll be breakage, so it’s best to plan for it. To check the size, blow up some to the size you want, and then test the other balloons next to those samples for size, before tying them off. This is a great task for older kids.

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Keeping an eye on the melting chocolate is key to not overheating it, and losing temper (yours and the chocolate’s!).

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When the chocolate is nearly all melted, with very small bits of unmelted chocolate, take it off the heat, and add the reserved chocolate. Stir until nearly all the lumps are gone.  A few small lumps are fine, and better than overheating.

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Pour the chocolate into a small, deep bowl. Now, simply hold the balloon by the “tail” and dunk it into the chocolate, about halfway up the balloon. Lift the balloon, and let some of the excess chocolate drain off. Place on a parchment-lined sheet.

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Here you can have the family get involved. Shannon and her friend Christina were home after Odyssey of the Mind practice, so they went to work. It’s fun to watch them bake, and even more fun to listen. Baking together is a great time for Mom to catch up on who’s doing what, when, and where.

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Once you’ve mastered the basic “dunk,” you can get fancy making tulip cups. Instead of dunking straight up and down, dunk and tilt the balloon. First left, then right, then front, then back.

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Voilà!

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Soon you’ll have lots of little cups beginning to harden. Remember what I said about making extras? Check out the blue balloon on the lower left. Luckily it didn’t spray much chocolate when it popped, but it did wake us up!

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Busted!

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Once all the balloons are done, you can place them in the fridge to harden up. Here in Vermont, we have a free, extra-large deep freezer available during the winter.

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Once the shells are hardened (time will depend on your fridge/freezer), it’s time to release the balloon. DON’T cut or puncture the balloons in the middle. This will cause them to burst too quickly, and the cups will shatter.

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DO cut the balloons on the squishy stems. The air will release much more slowly.

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You can snip all the balloons at once, and they’ll slowly deflate, pulling away from the sides of the chocolate shells as they go. Give a little poke to any that need help.

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When the balloons are nearly flat, just pull them out of the shells. Be careful not to overhandle the cups, or you may leave smudges on them.

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Wow! How impressive is that? A whole tray of chocolate cups in several different sizes, for just a few minutes’ work. Now, what shall we fill them with? How about pastry cream?

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Bonus today: two secret “recipes.” First PJ’s secret for easy pastry cream:  instant vanilla pudding made with heavy cream and extra vanilla extract (about a teaspoon, or to taste). Just mix according to package directions.

I like to use pastry cream mix. I use half milk, and half fat-free half and half. (The big secret here is that I use this mix in my ice cream base for extra flavor and creaminess. YUM!)

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Shells are ready, pastry cream is ready. Let’s get filling.

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What a tempting tasty tray of goodies! We filled some with plain whipped cream, some with pastry cream. The dark chocolate is Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream.  We topped nearly all of them with pure chocolate sprinkles or Hershey’s syrup. That might be overkill for some folks, but this was our Big Chocolate Blowout!

So, the next time your family is spouting hot air, put it to good use, and make some chocolate balloon shells. You’ll never look at balloons the same way again.

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Angela

    Wow! This looks like so much fun! My boys would definitely get a kick out of this idea. I think we will try this for our New Year’s Eve party. Our family sits around watching old movies, like Charlie Chan and The Thin Man movies and eat junk food and wait for midnight, then we dance and go to bed. This recipe would be a perfect addition to our celebration. Thank you so much for all your hard work and great ideas!

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
    Angela in VA (where we would love to have some of your white stuff!)

    Hi Angela,
    Wow! Sounds like fun at your house. What time should we all show up??

    p.s. I for one will gladly ship snow to anywhere else, as long as it leaves my driveway!

    MaryJane

    Reply
  2. cindy leigh

    oh what a clever idea! Is there any danger of latex transferring to the chocolate? Some people with latex allergies react to even the smallest contact. (like if a nurse doesn’t wash her hands afer removing latex gloves, then touching a patient)

    Hi Cindy,
    Thanks for thinking of those with allergies. The answer would really vary by individual as you said. Folks with serious allergies will know the extent of contact they can tolerate, and can make a decision to try the balloons or not. There are so many different ways to make chocolate cups (try dipping very lightly oiled glass pyrex ramekin bottoms into the chocolate and freezing) I hope folks will be inspired to try dipping whatever strikes their fancy.

    Happy Baking!
    MaryJane

    Reply
  3. HMB

    For those with latex allergy, chocolate leaves are an alternative. Cabbage leaves make impressive cups. Lemon leaves make lovely shapes for decorating.

    Hi HMB,
    I am hoping to do chocolate leaves in a blog at some point, and yes they do make very nice cups or decorations if the leaves are smaller. Just be sure you know your leaves, so you don’t pick anything harmful or endangered.

    MaryJane

    Reply
  4. Sue

    I’ve always wondered if the latex from the balloon leaves any taste on the chocolate? I suppose it’s obvious that the balloons should be washed first? Maybe that takes care of it?

    Hi Sue,
    Yes, the balloons should be washed first, and dried very well to avoid seizing the chocolate and I apologize for not mentioning that in the post. I usually wash the balloon before I start getting anything else together, to be sure they are very dry.
    I have been making these for over 20 years, and never noticed a plasticy or latex taste to the chocolate cups.
    Hope this helps.

    MaryJane

    Reply
  5. Jen frazier

    Thanks for the extra free recipes – I love the quick and easy pastry cream tips. I’m wondering why you use fat free half and half with your pastry cream mix. Is there a technical reason?

    Thanks,
    Jen
    Another Virginian who’s itchin’ for snow!

    Hi Jen,
    The reason for the fat free half and half is purely selfish. I tell myself if I use fat free, it makes up for the fact that I am eating sinful goodies. Happy Baking!
    MaryJane

    Reply
  6. annamarie

    If you don’t mind wrinkly cups, you can also mold aluminium foil around oranges and ‘paint’ the insides instead of dipping the outer shell. A very little coat of butter may help if you have trouble removing the foil.

    Hi Annamarie,
    What an excellent idea! I have seen it done with the inside of an orange half, with the fruit removed, but the outside would work too.
    MaryJane

    Reply
  7. Trina

    This sounds wonderful. I am thinking that it screams for Valentine’s day. Perhaps a Raspberry cream filling and raspberries to garnish along with a sprig of mint. Or for St. Patrick’s day filled with Mint chocolate chip ice cream.. oh the mind goes crazy thinking of all the possibilities.

    Another thought that just entered my evil thinking was the small candy cups chocolate shell with a small shot of “Bailey’s Irish Cream”…

    Hi Trina,
    These do make excellent cups for ice cream, and yes, I have used them for liquor cups. Balloon cups are a little wide for this, but you can lightly oil shot glasses and dip them part way into the chocolate, or the small foil cups work very well too.

    Great ideas, and thanks for sharing!

    MaryJane

    Reply
  8. Renske

    Thanks for the great posting with all the nice pictures. I was searching for a site giving explanation about making chocolate cups with balloons, since I have been doing that last night. What a coincidence, since your explanation was posted just two days ago.
    Just half an hour ago I wanted to take out the balloons out of the cups, so I pinned a needle in the middle (I know now that that’s wrong!), but the balloon kept to the chocolate and it was impossible to peel it out without breaking the chocolate. Now the cups are placed in the fridge, and in an hour or so I will try it your way, by trying to deflate them slowly. Hopefully it works.. I am quite nervous. It’s for the christmas-diner tonight.
    Greetings from Holland (tulip country!).
    I’ll keep you updated if it works the way you explained!

    Hi Renske,
    It may be that the chocolate was out of temper when you dipped the balloons. I have had that happen to me too. The extra chilling may help some, but you may have to re-melt and start again. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

    MaryJane

    Reply
  9. Islandtraveler

    A high-end local restaurant, the Narrows Restaurant sells “Mousse in a Bag”. White chocolate mousse in a semisweet chocolate bag, served with raspberry sauce $8.50. Before placing the chocolate bag on the plate be sure to cover the plate with raspberry coulis. Yummy! Using a paper bag for your form avoids latex sensitivity problems. The key is to use a wax lined food grade paper bag, such as a coffee bean one pound bag. Be sure to temper the chocolate to 89 degrees and use a brush to paint the chocolate into the bag, then put into the freezer to harden and then carefully peel away the paper bag. The chocolate bag is said to have been invented by Chef Jackie Shen, as stated in a Washington Post article Feb 8, 2006.

    Thanks for sharing your recipe ideas, I don’t comment often but I often read everyone’s posts.

    WOW! This sounds fantastic, and definitely something to put on my ‘to try’ list. I have seen bags and purses made from modeling chocolate, but never a bag made from an actual bag. Off to search the web for photos. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  10. Candy

    Well I had the best time making these, But the funniest thing happened (doesn’t it always) I was making these to impress my son’s GF parents at a dinner we were all attending. So I decided to make them out of vanilla and choc….can you say, exploding balloons….yes, i didn’t let the chocolate cool enough, plopped the balloon in and picked it up to admire it….POP! Chocolate flying everywhere……you’d think i would learn my lession….NOPE….again, dip and lift, POP! Needless to say i did get 8 made and everyone loved them and it did make a funny after dinner story. Thanks for all the great recipes and inspiration (oh yeah, and FUN!)

    Hi Candy,
    Hope all the chocolate has come off the ceiling by now. Thanks for sharing your story. :) ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  11. Renske

    Update:
    After hours of trying I finally – and with some repairing and cheating with the failed ones – got the hang of it. It is definitely a much better way to let them deflate the way you told, though sometimes it still didn’t work in my case. I think one of the problems was that the fridge in which I let a part of the chocolate-balloons cool down, was kind of moist.
    But I got in the end 5 almost perfect chocolate-cups. We were with 6 adults, so I myself took a failed one and the children got failed ones, because we all knew that they wouldn’t eat it anyway! It looked fantastic. I had filled them with self-made citrus-mousse, and also put a self-made cheese-cake with raspberries on the side and red fruit all over the plate. A pity that we didn’t make a picture of it, but believe me: it looked great.
    The good thing about failing with chocolate is that you can just let it melt again and use it again.
    I was warned for this by the woman from the chocolate shop, but one of the mistakes I made is that I dipped them in slightly too warm chocolate. I discovered like you also advised that the chocolate has to be fluid, but only just, on the brink of being just luke-warm.
    Next time I won’t use normal balloons though, but water-balloons. This was way too much chocolate for each of us. Only my father ate the whole thing, everyone else has to stop eating. I had wanted to use water-balloons for Christmas, but hadn’t found them then.
    Thanks very much for the whole photo-explanation. If you like more recipes explained like that, check out this site: http://www.cookingforengineers.com/

    Thanks for posting. I’m glad you kept trying and got some wonderful treats in the end. It is great that you can melt the ‘mistakes’ but sometimes it’s hard not to eat them first!

    The larger balloons do make quite a big treat, perfect to share with your sweetie. I find balloons the size of golf balls make nice bite size treats.
    Your cheesecake idea sounds absolutely fantastic. Could be on our table for Valentine’s Day. Thanks for sharing! MaryJane

    Reply
  12. Cathy

    I made these for a business dinner, and they were fabulous! Extremely easy, and very elegant looking. The one thing I learned however, was NOT to use balloons with printing on them. The printing came off on the inside of the chocolate bowls. It doesn’t hurt anything, but it isn’t something I’d want to happen again.
    Hi Cathy,
    Glad to hear you were the hit of the dinner. Thanks for sharing about the writing on the balloons. I’m guessing it would be written backwards in the chocolate too! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  13. Balloon Guy Mike

    WOW!! and I love playing with balloons.. now I can mix 2 of my favorite things balloons and chocolate.

    I have actually done this before and took it a step further.. I piped out little handles and then used a drop of icing to attach them to make tea cups, and filled it with a green tea ice cream for a Madd Hatter Tea party..

    and if you LOVE to torture yourself use black (or dark) plates and the little paper doilies and sprinkle powdered sugar over the doilies and then carefully remove the paper so you now have a design on the plate for your chocolate bowls (or in my case tea cups)

    I love this Idea… I should do it more for Tea Parties I host..
    THANK YOU

    Reply
  14. SKiDDLES the Clown

    I bet that you could use the end of a long skinny balloon to make more of a drinking glass shape! I can’t wait to try it! THANKS!!
    That sounds sooooo cool! You could make a trifle in the “glass” too. Thanks for sharing! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  15. Rose

    As balloon artists, all things balloons are definitely of high interest. We’ve done balloon jewelery, this is a must try and not something we’ve twisted yet! :) Chocolate and balloons sound like a winner.

    You are the 3rd balloon artist posting here. Glad we can cross paths in a new and different way. It would be interesting to cover a twisted balloon with chocolate and see if you could deflate and keep the shapes. Keep in touch about your experiments. ~MaryJane

    Reply
  16. Elaine

    Just wanted to jot a quick note to say that I actually made some chocolate cups with MaryJane this week and they came out great and were just as easy as her pictures and blog make them out to be!! I encourage everyone to try all her blog recipes. She is my hero :-)

    Reply
  17. Queenscook

    Re: The chocolate bag is said to have been invented by Chef Jackie Shen, as stated in a Washington Post article Feb 8, 2006.

    Not to burst anyone’s bubble (or balloon, as the case may be), but I saw this idea in a book entitled “The Joy of Chocolate” by Judith Olney as far back as 1982. The picture had the bag tipped over to the side with applesauce (I think) and lots of fresh fruit looking as though it had spilled out of the bag. It always looked amazing in the book, but I never tried to actually make one.

    Reply
  18. Claudia

    .Now for the reality question…Can you freeze the shells for 30 days. I’m having a party for 100 and want to do these in advance.

    Claudia, I have never had chocolate shells freeze off successfully. They tend to shatter during freezing, then “sweat” with condensation upon removal. These can hold for a couple of days at room temperature before serving. So if you could fit that timeline into your preparations, it would be the prefered way to go. Plan on making about 110, just in case. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  19. Natalie

    Hi there! So glad to see your post! I have been making these for years – but I have yet to find the size balloon I want!! You mentioned in a response something about “golf-ball size” balloons. Where on earth do you find them?! The smallest I can find is the water-bomb size – something like 3″ diameter. That picture you have of the hand dipping the red balloon – mine are at least twice that size. Any ideas? Thanks so much!!
    HI Natalie,
    I buy the water balloon size, that comes with a little plastic nozzle for your sink, and just don’t blow them up very big. With my asthma, I’ll lucky to get them that far, I usually have to put the kids to work. :) ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  20. Mike

    This brought back a favorite memory from culinary school. I was in an advanced desserts class, and we were making these for the ‘cup’ part of a coffee cup (to later fill with chocolate cream), and we had this giant vat of chocolate ready to dip the balloons in. Our instructor told us to be sure to make sure the chocolate wasn’t too hot, or it would pop the balloon. Well, as he and some of the other students leaned over the vat to dip the balloon, it popped and splattered chocolate all over everyone’s crisp clean WHITE chef’s jackets! Thankfully, I had seen the first demo and didn’t get hit with the chocolate shrapnel. :)

    Reply
  21. Warex

    Try this….

    1. Get a 10 or 12 inch balloon. Blow it up.

    2. Temper your chocolate. Be sure to have a lot of chocolate ready to go. Oh Get your cake decorator tool.

    3. Lightly powder the balloon with flour.

    4. fill up your decorator tool with the chocolate.

    5. quickly make lines of chocolate around the balloon horizontally.

    6. quickly make lines of chocolate around the balloon verticaly.

    7. repeat process till balloon looks like a cage.

    8. put balloon in freezer or colder environment to harden.

    9. when ready, make small hole in stem of balloon, be sure to hold on to the stem the whole time it deflates, then pull it out of the top. (If you don’t you will lose the balloon in the chocolate.)

    10. There you have a chocolate balloon/birdcage/edible gift basket. (If you put gift in the balloon you will end up with a chocolate cage around the gifts.)Will look like a work of art. Easily sell for 20 – 75 dollars each. depending how elaborate you get with it.

    Reply
  22. Allison

    I had some problems with the deflated balloon sticking to the bottom of the cup. When I tried to pull it out, the cup started to break a little on the edges. Any suggestions?

    It sounds like the chocolate was not quite set. Allowing them to cool for 10-15 minutes longer may help!-Jon

    Reply
  23. Kirby

    Thank you for this awesome tutorial! I wanted to make wedding cake pudding shots for a friends rehearsal dinner, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay $1 each for the pre-made chocolate cups.
    I’m going to use vanilla pudding with a scoop of white cake batter. I replace the cold milk with cake flavored vodka. I let it set, then mix in half a tub of cool whip to thicken it to a more Pudding-y consistancy. (the alcohol leaves it a bit too liquid) The wedding colors are pink and silver, so I’m going to pipe out some pink hearts from white chocolate melts and add silver sprinkles for garnish.
    I’m also tossing around the idea of a complimenting mini champagne jello shot with pop rocks on top, but I might be getting in over my head…

    Reply

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