For those with a sweet tooth, there is nothing more delightful than a decadent chocolate dessert. But how do you know which chocolate to buy when baking? Foodie HQ’s guide to chocolate will answer all your cooking queries.
Brief guide to how Chocolate is made:
After fermenting, drying and roasting, the cacao beans are then finely ground to make a thick paste called ‘chocolate liquor’. This is the base ingredient in chocolate and contains cacao and cocoa butter.
As chocolate is a recipe, other ingredients such as sugar, emulsifiers, flavourings and cocoa powder are then added to achieve the type of chocolate required.
Choosing the right chocolate for your recipe is crucial. Unsweetened, bittersweet, dark and milk are just a few of the options you will come across. So how do you pick the right one? Firstly, check that your chocolate contains cocoa butter. If it doesn’t then it is not the real deal.
Chocolate made with cocoa butter and no other oils is called Couverture.
The higher the percentage of cocoa solids in your chocolate, the less sugar, therefore the more intense and bitter the flavour and better for you!!
Whether you choose dark or milk, bitter or sweet, always buy the best quality chocolate you can afford.
Each chocolate reacts differently when baking, so recipes are designed for specific chocolate. It is not advisable to substitute types, ie: white for dark.
Unsweetened chocolate: produced specifically for baking, this bitter chocolate gives foods a deep, rich flavour.
Bittersweet chocolate: more bitter than the dark variety, this chocolate usually contains more than 50% chocolate liquor.
Dark chocolate: containing between 30% and 80% cocoa, this chocolate is made up of chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla, but does not contain milk solids.
Milk chocolate: as its name suggest, this chocolate contains milk solids, making it a sweeter and lighter in colour than the dark variety.
White chocolate: although it contains cocoa butter, this chocolate usually has a vanilla flavour. White chocolate made with vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter is not technically “chocolate”.
Cocoa powder: is made when cacao paste is pressed to remove the cocoa butter, then the remaining cocoa solids can be dried and processed to make Cocoa powder. The best cocoa powder for culinary purposes is ‘Dutch-processed’. This involves treating it with an alkaline solution which enhances the colour and makes it less acidic.
How to cook with chocolate:
The two enemies of chocolate are heat and water which will both cause the chocolate to spoil.
So following a few basic rules will achieve the best results:
. Melting chocolate should never come into contact with water.
. Use materials such as stainless steel and glass, as porous materials like wood and some plastics may contain moisture which will cause the chocolate to seize.
. Don’t cover the hot chocolate with a lid or foil, as condensation will form and the drops of water could cause your chocolate to thicken or seize.
. Do not overheat the chocolate as this will destroy the structure. The melting point of cocoa butter is 30*C, and chocolate should never be heated above 55*C. A chocolate thermometer which measures low temperatures accurately is useful.
. Monitor white chocolate carefully when melting as it burns easier than dark chocolate.
. Always add the butter or cream to the melted chocolate before the eggs if required in a recipe. The eggs contain moisture which may seize the chocolate.
Melting chocolate – stovetop method
. Never melt your chocolate directly over heat as it will burn. Instead, place a glass bowl suspended over a small saucepan of hot water. Ensure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water and no steam can escape and drip into the chocolate.
. Break the chocolate into small even pieces to allow the chocolate to melt quicker with less risk of lumps.
. Do not use a wooden spoon to stir the chocolate… as mentioned above.
. Try bringing the water to the boil, then remove from heat and sit the bowl of chocolate on top to melt slowly, ‘off ‘ the heat.
Melting Chocolate – microwave method
. Use a clean dry bowl such as pyrex, and do not use plastic or wooden utensils.
. Always melt chocolate uncovered so as not to create condensation.
. Microwave on medium power, in 30 second bursts, stirring and checking the chocolate’s temperature each time.
.Chocolate reacts badly to temperature variations, such as heat, cold, light or damp.
.A dusty white mark on your chocolate is called “bloom” and is a sign of improper storage.
.Properly stored chocolate will keep for many months.
.Once opened, wrap in foil and store in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place.
.Cocoa powder will soak up moisture and clump together; therefore it needs to be in a well sealed container away from any damp… always sift cocoa powder well before use in baking.