Special focus: Chocolate panning: Art or science?

Confectionery Production editorial board member Andy Baxendale offers a key focus on the merits of small scale panning over automated large scale mass production.

The definition of chocolate panning is “the use of a rotating drum to cover centres with a fat based coating” – in this case either Chocolate (be it milk, white or dark) or compound coatings based on palm oil – yoghurt varieties have been a popular choice for several years, either containing yoghurt powder or just flavoured.
The operator when first introduced to the concept can become overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge and experience that is required to produce consistent products with the same quality and finish every time – indeed to the first time panner it can appear that a certain amount of “black magic” is required to be able to fulfil their requirements ! However, it is not so and with patience, knowledge and a good tutor perfect results can be achieved time after time.
Coatings must be carefully chosen for application as well as taste – the fat content and melting point must be suitable to allow the coating to engross smoothly, but with a melting point that sets without being lumpy (setting too fast) or rubbing off the centres (not setting fast enough). Taste is very much a subjective matter, be it a  luxurious and rich high cocoa solids or a creamy white chocolate – all chocolates should be picked to compliment the centres they are being used to coat.

Temperature of the conditioned air supply must be considered in order to set the coating correctly – if alternative fats are used in place of cocoa butter in the coating, temperatures may need to be varied to compensate accordingly. 12 – 14 degrees centigrade is perfect for most chocolates – if a compound coating is used slightly lower is preferable. Humidity should be set at 45% RH or less to achieve best results both in coating and subsequent polishing.

When choosing centres, it is important to take note of the shape, moisture content if applicable for fruit and also the fat content of nut based products. A coat of gum Arabic glaze followed by a dusting of icing sugar can be invaluable to seal the centres where necessary and render them fit to be coated. Rancidity in nuts can be an issue towards the end of shelf life – again the initial barrier applied will prevent this to some extent. If centres are too soft and malleable, coating is possible, however without care and attention, as the weight increases the centres tend to distort thus causing the chocolate to crack and fall off – once this happens the product is extremely hard to polish and also looks messy. Examples of centres that will distort are marshmallows and fresh crop raisins where they haven’t dried out and become firm enough to pan.

Most shapes can be successfully panned by a combination of observation, manipulation of the air flow and correct application of the coating – from the thinnest flake or crisp type product to large brazils and through to square cubes of ginger and back to tiny spheres of cereal. Although daunting at first they are all possible to a high standard of finish.

Flavouring addition
In addition to the centre / coating combination, it is possible to enhance the confections by the addition of flavourings into the chocolate whilst panning. If using liquid flavours it is important to understand the moisture content of the flavouring, as too much will cause the chocolate to thicken and become unworkable. Oil based citrus flavours combine perfectly with the chocolate, and powdered flavours layered in between chocolate additions work extremely well and are very effective. Other enhancements which may be added whilst engrossing are salt and citric acid, although if the latter is required it is better to adhere it to the centre (normally some type of fruit) before commencing the addition of chocolate.

Many problems can be encountered during the chocolate panning process right through the process from start to finish – the skilful panner will be able to recognise them and correct them “on the hoof”. Too much chocolate applied too quickly at the start will at best result in lots of doubles / multiple products and at worst one large agglomeration of all the centres in the pan. Doubles and multiples can be separated which is very time consuming and inefficient, however once the total agglomeration has taken place it is virtually irretrievable.

If too much air is used at the start, the product will become too cool, resulting in very lumpy centres – the best remedy is to turn off the air and apply limited amounts of chocolate to try and smooth out the lumps, if the problem occurs at the end of the process then a heat gun can be utilised to try and remedy the problem, however it is preferable to adjust the air to avoid lumps in the first place. If the products are allowed to run warm then the coating will rub off on the inside of the pan leaving exposed areas of centre – this is very noticeable on products with sharp ends like almonds. Similar problems to the above can be experienced if the coating is either too hot or too cold – ideal coating temperature is between 40 – 45 degrees centigrade.

Having achieved a nice smooth finish, the final stage is polishing. If possible, products should be allowed to set thoroughly, although with the correct use of the air in engrossing, it is possible to polish immediately following the coating stage.Temperature and humidity is crucial to obtain nice shiny pieces – 45%RH or less and 12 – 14 degrees centigrade are ideal. If polishing is taking a long time or the products polish then lose their shine again the first check must be the humidity of the air supply – 9 times out of 10 it will have gone up for some reason and will be affecting the polishing process.

Standard gum Arabic polishes are perfect for this – there are several available, followed by a glaze – shellac if there are no vegan requirements, or zein maize protein if there are. These are applied after polishing to seal the product and protect it from moisture ingress which can affect the sheen. Normal application of the gum Arabic to achieve a high gloss is three coats with drying in between each one. If a different finish is preferable, one coat of polish followed by cocoa dusting gives an extremely palatable and luxurious finish.

Pans for polishing can be used with or without fins, and also clean or with a chocolate coating – they must not however be used dirty as this can causing scratching and spoil the hard work which has gone into engrossing the centres. If the polish is applied and then dried too quickly a rough surface can ensue which is hard to correct, similarly if the polish is over applied undesirable results are often seen.

In conclusion and in answer to the question in the title, Panning is very much a combination of science and art. Science from the knowledge that the operator must possess in order to replicate perfect products every time, but art in the way that they express themselves in their products, whether it be from the combination of the centres and coating, the addition of flavours to enhance, the finish achieved or better still a combination of all aspects. – For information, help or training on panning contact Andy @thesweetconsultant.com


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