I started cooking in an actually-fairly-decent restaurant when I was sixteen and a few months later, which I was 17, started soloing as a cook. For the rest of high school, through my college summers and for a couple of years after college I worked in a variety of kitchens, from cafeterias to steak houses. In my 30′s I went back to the kitchen and spent about five years baking and making pastries professionally.
In that time — about ten years total — I saw a lot of accidents. Lots of burns, plenty of cuts, knocks on the head, slips and falls, even a couple of broken bones. By far the worst injuries I ever saw resulted from attempts at making chocolate shavings. Why? Because even experienced pastry chefs and bakers I knew made their chocolate shavings like this:
In other words by scraping a big knife along a solid bar of chocolate…toward their bellies, one hand grasping the handle of the knife, the other bare hand holding the point. This photo isn’t terribly accurate since my other hand is holding a camera at the moment. Also in a professional kitchen the chocolate bars are a lot bigger (the knives are too). Anyway, I never saw anyone actually disembowl themselves making chocolate shavings, but because of the ridiculous grip and all the pressure involved, I saw several very deep and serious finger and hand cuts.
The great pity is that it was all so completely avoidable. For example, a great way to make small, curly shavings is with a vegetable peeler:
As you go the curls get wider and you get a darn nice product. Very good for garnishes or cupcake or doughnut toppings. If the bar you’re using isn’t shaving well, try warming it with a five-second blast in the microwave.
Of course larger curls are what the knife scraping is all about. For those I melt my chocolate with a series of 10 second bursts in a microwave…
…and pour some on the back of a sheet pan that I’ve chilled in the freezer for about five minutes.
I spread it thinly…
…and wait about five minutes for it to cool and acquire a dull finish. At which point I grab the nearest scraper…
…and scrape it up into shavings.
Easy peasy, and not a drop of blood spilled. Now then, the one drawback of this method is that the chocolate loses its temper, but which I do not mean it turns red in the face and starts hurling baseless accusations. Rather that its uniform crystal structure changes. When that happens the chocolate is not only less shiny when it cools after melting, but it’s a bit softer in the bargain.
You can mitigate this problem by using a good quality couverture or dark chocolate that’s high in cocoa butter. Even after melting and cooling it will remain fairly firm at room temperature (you won’t know the difference texturally if it’s refrigerated). The alternative is to use tempered chocolate, which I admit is a bit of a hassle, but a whole lot better than stitches, trust me.