The first step is to come up with a good idea for a new filling. I get my inspiration from many places – e.g. from Instagram, chocolate classes, chocolate and cake books, desserts – and sometimes an idea just comes to me out of the blue. Quite often, I get an idea for a theme of a new e-book, and I then devise chocolate bonbons to fit that theme.
I have developed specific formulas for the composition of fillings. These formulas, I have tested and used over and over again. That is why I know they work - both in terms of shelf life, sweetness, and texture. By using these well-tested formulas, it is ensured that the proportion of active water (AW) in the fillings is sufficiently low to provide a shelf life of a minimum of 45 days, and it is ensured that the sweetness level of the filling is appropriate, and that the texture (the mouthfeel) of the filling is super delicious.
I use different formulas depending on which chocolate the filling in question is made of (if it is, e.g., a ganache). The ratio between the various components, including liquid, fat, sugar, and cocoa solids, depends on, among other things, of which chocolate the respective filling contains.
If a ganache contains too much cocoa solids compared to other components, the ganache will become very firm and dry out quickly. If a ganache contains too much liquid, the shelf life will be short.
As far as sugar is concerned, it is also important to stick to a certain ratio - both to ensure that the filling does not become too sweet/becomes sweet enough, and to ensure that the shelf life of the filling is as long as I wish it to be. It also matters which types of sugar you add to your filling. Different types of sugar have different properties in terms of sweetness, texture, anti-drying ability, and ability to bind active water. So it is important that the right sugars are added.
Often, it will be optimal to add several different sugars. E.g. sorbitol has a fantastic ability to bind active water, and sorbitol at the same time has a low degree of sweetness. A sugar such as invert sugar has very good anti-drying properties (which is why it is a good idea to add invert sugar to a ganache made on dark chocolate, since such a ganache otherwise tends to dry out), but at the same time invert sugar has a very high degree of sweetness.
When I follow my formulas, I ensure a good starting point for composing a filling that is optimal in terms of taste, sweetness, texture, and shelf life. But a calculation can of course never take the place of "real life" tests and tastings. That is why I always make several versions of the fillings which are under development, and I continuously test all the versions in the first 60 days after capping. Typically, I aim for a shelf life of at least 45 days for my chocolate bonbons. To be on the safe side, I prefer to make sure that the bonbons actually have a shelf life of up to 60 days.
So what do I test for when I do my ongoing tests for the first 60 days?
Naturally, I test whether the chocolate bonbons are still edible - that is, whether the bonbons have not gone bad. For the record, I have yet to experience any of my bonbons going bad. In addition, of course, I test the taste: Do the chocolate bonbons still taste good, and is the ”intensity” of the taste intact, or has it faded? I also check the texture and the general mouthfeel of the filling.
I do not use an AW meter in my development of filling recipes. I am not using an AW meter for the simple reason that fillings developed from my formulas will automatically have a appropriate low proportion of active water. Therefore, an AW measurement does not tell me anything other than what I already know: Namely that the proportion of active water in the filling is so small that the shelf life of the filling will be a minimum of 45 days (rather 60 days).
Furthermore, in my opinion, an AW measurement cannot take the place of tests in practice.
Because what is it that we want to ensure when we talk about the shelf life of fillings in chocolate bonbons? It is whether the chocolate bonbons are still edible, whether they taste good, and what the texture and the general mouthfeel of the filling is like - also after some time, e.g. up to 60 days after capping.
An AW meter can tell you how much active water is in your filling - and therefore, an AW meter can give you a very good indication of whether the bonbons will be edible after, let us say, 60 days. But an AW measurement will not tell you how the bonbons taste after 60 days. An AW measurement will not tell you whether the bonbons taste good, or whether the intensity of the taste is intact or if the taste has faded after 60 days, or, for that matter, whether the texture of the filling is still delicious.
Only the actual tasting and checking of the fillings can give you those answers. Therefore, I test my fillings as described above.
You will find tested recipes for fillings in the e-books in the web shop. The shelf life of the filling is indicated for each e-book.