In poetry, in song, in art, in myth, in metaphor and in our bodies, the heart is at the heart of it all. In my quest for the most beautiful museum artefacts to create in chocolate for The Edible Museum, I chose to model a highly realistic human heart. I’m proud to say it has become my biggest seller – especially as a Halloween gift.
Before adding this artefact, the Museum consisted mainly of palaeontology and zoology confectionery. After coming up with the chocolate human heart idea, I did a quick survey of friends and family. The results weren’t positive. Just about everyone told me that something so like the real thing was disgusting and would fall flat. The consensus was that the fossils and creatures were attractive, but no one would want to eat something that looked like a realistic internal organ. In fact, it may scare customers away.
Two references to work from
However, I knew that I would like it and an important lesson I have learned in my time making foodart is that I’m not the only one out there with a slightly twisted sense of humour. So, ignoring my flirtation with market research, I set out to create a coronary candy that somehow hit the balance between anatomically correct and visually appealing. Not too gory, not too twee.
Luckily, it turns out, that there are plenty of people like me out there, happy to mess with regular ideas of what is tasty and attractive.
My lovely local butcher with the first prototype chocolate heart
I wasn’t trained as chocolate maker, but rather as a painter and sculptor, so my process for creating new pieces is a bit unusual I think. Often I find an example of the actual item I’m trying to replicate and then make a mould of it. For obvious reasons this is problematic in the case of a chocolate human heart. I’ve always been willing to break the rules to create something great, but murder and dissection is clearly across the line – I’m no Burke & Hare.
The nearest, best thing to reach for was right in my village. A pig’s heart. You’ll be relieved to know that I eschewed my typical DIY approach here and paid a visit to my local butcher. Apparently “nose to tail” eaters go for them, so I was able to acquire one easily. Here’s a picture of my lovely local butcher with my first prototype chocolate heart.
After selecting four of the best-looking hearts from the butcher’s freezer I began the work of making my own sculpture version. The pig’s hearts all had faults and were floppy, so I had to work on them with plaster, clay, wire, and plastic tubing to get them looking more presentable. Actually “presentable” might not be the right word, but I had to make them fit for moulding and then recreating that mould into a food-safe version for chocolate heart production. I wish I could say I got it right the first time. I wish I could say I got it right the third time. The truth is that I don’t recall how many attempts I made. At least four.
Once I got a serviceable heart, I had to come up with a suitably realistic edible paint effect. At the start I only had the anatomical model you can see in the photo but soon the room was littered with printed out photo references of as many human hearts as I could find. Next I started to draw from the photos in order to get it clear in my head what they have in common – it’s amazing how different ten photos of a heart can look!
In fact, many of the hearts are bought as gifts for doctors and medical students as well as alternative romantics and lovers of the gothic and horror. But you needn’t be macabre in order to enjoy my chocolate heart. It makes a lovely present for any (slightly unusual) chocolate lover. Some people create their own Wunderkammer. Many clients tell me they can’t bear to break the heart to eat it so they place their gift heart under a glass dome or add it to their cabinet of curiosities.
I love being sent pictures by happy customers – this one is a Milk Chocolate Heart settling into the doctors ICU unit