Episode 9, GBBO 2015, Showstopper

A Chocolate Centerpiece

The showstopper challenge for this semifinal episode, dubbed Chocolate Week, was a 3D chocolate sculpture. It must have a biscuit element and feature white chocolate in some capacity. Paul Hollywood said he was looking for detail, precision and artistry.

Ian, you may recall, engineered a chocolate well, complete with a little metal bucket (not chocolate) that could be lowered down into a clear, plexiglass (not chocolate) cistern filled with a lemon-flavored liquid white chocolate. The judges were impressed with his tempering skills, but Mary Berry said she wanted to see more techniques demonstrated. 

Tamal built a chocolate bell tower that Mary said looked spectacular as she walked in the room but was a bit messy on closer inspection. Flora made a chocolate carousel with white chocolate truffle horses sitting atop a chocolate cake. Mary was disappointed in the temper of her chocolate, and Paul said he couldn’t taste the cocoa in her cake. 

Nadiya created an impressive peacock made of modeling chocolate formed around a mold made of, essentially, Rice Krispies Treats, with a tail consisting of two kinds of chocolate and gold dragées. There was also a chocolate nest filled with eggs made of cinder biscuits (aka honeycomb candy or sponge toffee) and covered in white chocolate. The judges loved it.

My centerpiece is titled Moby Dick’s Bubble Bath. It consists of a chocolate gingerbread bathtub filled with molasses popcorn (the same mixture used to make popcorn balls). Sitting in the tub is a whale made of white modeling chocolate, and he is surrounded by towers of dark chocolate bubbles.

Gingerbread bathtub before baking…

I began by creating a mold for the bathtub. I found an oval-shaped ceramic dish about the size and shape I was looking for. I padded the bottom with aluminum foil to give it a more rounded shape, then I covered the whole thing in aluminum foil. 

For the gingerbread, I made half a batch of my go-to recipe for gingerbread structures, but I substituted one-half cup of cocoa for half a cup of the flour. This created a darker color and gave it a faint, albeit slightly bitter, chocolate flavor. In addition to using it to cover the bathtub “mold,” I made four small, round, slightly flattened balls of gingerbread for the feet of the tub. These I baked at 350°F for 10-15 minutes, until they were firm to the touch.

…and after.

After making the gingerbread bathtub, I started on the whale. This involved an element I’d never used before — modeling chocolate. Nadiya used modeling chocolate to cover her peacock. It’s simple to make, using regular chocolate (white or dark), or candy melts, and corn syrup. I found this recipe and tutorial by SugarGeekShow.com very helpful. Once you melt the chocolate and stir in the warmed corn syrup, it doesn’t take much mixing to create the modeling chocolate. Then you just have to let it set until it is a moldable consistency. 

Working the modeling chocolate with your hands is tricky, as the heat from your hands will soften it quite quickly. So I wore food-safe gloves and formed it into the basic shape I was after, then let it harden some more before bringing the tail up and adding the details. Using a few basic tools (a plastic spoon, a chopstick and other odds and ends I found in my kitchen drawers), I smoothed the surface and made indentations for the eyes and the blowhole. Later I would stick two chocolate sprinkles in the eye holes to give Moby Dick a little more personality.

Another component I made with the modeling chocolate was the shower head and pipe. I wasn’t sure if it would work, and I figured my centerpiece would be okay without it, but I thought it would add balance and an element of realism to the admittedly fantastical piece. As you can see, it’s not perfect (My modeling skills leave something to be desired.), but I was pleasantly surprised that it held its shape once it hardened. It’s amazing what you can do with modeling chocolate (if you have the artistic talent). Check out the Squid Contessa sculpture created by Sugar Geek Show’s Liz Marek.

The next step was to make the chocolate bubbles. These would be made of tempered dark chocolate. I have some semispherical molds that I bought when I made cocoa bombs for friends last Christmas. The molds came in three sizes, and the two smaller sizes would make great bubbles for my whale’s bubble bath.

I’ve had trouble tempering chocolate in the past, and I’ve always found the process both tedious and laborious. In search of a better method, I came across the Chocolate Alchemist. The founding alchemist, John Nanci, has made it his mission to bring the raw materials and knowledge for roasting, refining and tempering chocolate to the masses. He sells something called cocoa butter silk, which is basically tempered cocoa butter that, when added to melted chocolate in small amounts, will cause it to form the desirable cocoa crystals required to temper it. (He also explains how to make your own cocoa butter silk, but it requires a sous vides, which I don’t have.) I purchased some of the silk last spring (He only ships it during the cool months of the year, because if it melts it goes out of temper.), and this was my first chance at trying it. I implemented his method, and it worked like a charm!

After pouring the chocolate into the molds and letting it set, I unmolded the half spheres and used a warmed cookie sheet to melt just the edges so I could press them together into full spheres. John Kanell of PreppyKitchen.com demonstrates the technique here. (Skip to 5:20 in the video to see how he puts his cocoa bombs together, but watch from the beginning to see how frustrating tempering chocolate the traditional way can be!)

I filled the tub with molasses popcorn mixture…

Once the bubbles were put together, I made a batch of my mom’s old-fashioned molasses popcorn ball mixture. This would be used to fill the bathtub, providing structural support and a surface for the whale to sit on. I could have used Rice Krispies and marshmallows, but I knew I wouldn’t need a whole batch, and I didn’t want to buy a whole bag of marshmallows when I knew they would end up sitting in the back of my pantry turning rock-solid. Besides, I’m not that fond of Rice Krispies Treats.

Finally, I was ready to assemble my centerpiece. While the popcorn ball mixture was still pliable (and hot!), I formed a large ovoid shape just big enough to fit in the bathtub. I flattened down one surface and placed it into the gingerbread tub. I stuck the shower pipe in one end of the tub and filled in the gaps around the sides with extra pieces of sticky molasses popcorn. After it hardened, I trimmed any popcorn kernels that were sticking up with a small serrated knife. I then melted some additional dark chocolate and poured it over the popcorn mixture, spreading it over the popcorn as evenly as possible.

…and added a little shimmer.

When the dark chocolate had set, I placed Moby in the tub and melted some white chocolate, put it into a disposable piping bag (a ziplock bag would work, as well) and snipped a small piece off the pointy end. Using this like “glue,” I attached the feet to the bathtub and stacked the chocolate bubbles around the whale. After the white chocolate had set, I used a food coloring mist spray in the color pearl to give my whale and bubbles a little shimmer. It came out looking more silver on the dark chocolate than I would have liked, but you get the idea.

I hope you like my centerpiece. I won’t copy the whole recipe here, but I’ve listed links to the resources I used below. I will give you the recipe for my mom’s popcorn balls, since I didn’t find any on the internet that were exactly the same. 

If you decide to create your own chocolate centerpiece, please let me know. I’d love to see pictures of your creations!

Moby Dick’s Bubble Bath

  • For the bathtub: I used half of the recipe found here, and substituted 1/2 cup of flour with cocoa powder.
  • For the whale and the shower head and pipe: I followed this tutorial for making modeling chocolate.
  • For the chocolate bubbles: I followed instructions for making cocoa bombs here, without filling them.
  • To fill the bathtub: I used the following popcorn ball recipe.

Molasses Popcorn Balls

  • Servings: Makes about 6 cups
  • Print
This recipe may be doubled, tripled or quadrupled, depending on how much you need.


  • ½ c. light molasses
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • ½ T. butter
  • 1 ½ quarts unsalted, popped corn
    • Directions

      1. Place popped corn in a large roasting pan or stockpot. In a separate saucepan, stir molasses, sugar and butter together until sugar is dissolved. Cook over moderate heat until the temperature reaches 265°F using an instant-read thermometer. Pour hot molasses mixture over popcorn, and stir to coat each kernel.
      2. Rub hands with oil or shortening. For traditional popcorn balls, shape into baseball-sized spheres and wrap individually in plastic wrap. If using as a base for a centerpiece or sculpture, form into whatever shape you desire.
      Up next: Iced buns

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