StoneSoup shares some tips for cooking with chocolate.
15 insider tips to cooking with chocolate
i. chocolate requires patience
Without a doubt the number one thing I’ve learned about chocolate is that it doesn’t like to be rushed. It senses if you’re in a hurry and does exactly the opposite of what you want.
If you’re cooking with chocolate make sure you allow yourself and the chocolate plenty of time.
ii. chocolate hates the heat
Like my ski patroller sister, chocolate is sensitive to heat. When exposed to excessive temperatures chocolate splits and becomes grainy. Once this happens it is very difficult to go back to having a bowl of lovely smooth, glossy goodness. If it happens at work I just throw it out and start again. At home I apply point (iv).
iii. how to melt chocolate and avoid splitting
-chop chocolate into SMALL pieces before melting.
-keep chocolate away from high heat. If melting alone use a double boiler (saucepan of water with a bowl over the top) or microwave on low. Only use direct heat if you are melting the chocolate with another liquid.
-avoid allowing water or steam to come into contact with the chocolate as this increases your risk of splitting.
iv. how to rescue your chocolate if it does decide to split.
If you’ve reached chocolate crisis point, stir through a spoonful of vegetable oil. I’ve found that melted butter also works but this is more risky, given that butter contains about 18% water.
v. chocolate tastes best at room temperature.
One of my favourite chocolate industry stories was how at a confectionery conference, a colleague did a test to prove that you shouldn’t keep chocolate in the fridge. He got everyone to taste 2 different samples of chocolate and then asked which they preferred. Sample 2 won unanimously. The difference? Exactly the same chocolate but sample 1 was served straight from the fridge and sample 2 at room temperature. Unless you live in the tropics and your chocolate is melting all over the place, it’s far better to keep it at room temperature. You don’t want your chocolate getting a chill.
vi. the meaning of % cocoa solids
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans which are fermented and roasted. They are then processed to separate out the husks. The first product is cocoa liquor and it can be made straight into chocolate OR pressed to separate out the fat which is called cocoa butter and the solids that are left behind are ground into cocoa powder.
A chocolate that is labelled as 70% cocoa solids must contain 70% of either cocoa butter or cocoa liquor or a blend of the two.
Couverture is high quality chocolate that contains at least 32% cocoa butter.
viii. chocolate is complex
There are 6 different types of crystal that cocoa butter can form when it solidifies. Only one of them is stable. To encourage the stable crystals, chocolate is heated then cooled in a process called tempering. Well tempered chocolate is glossy and smooth and has a loud ‘snap’ when you break off a square.
ix. chocolate bloom
If chocolate isn’t well tempered, there are too many of the unstable crystal forms. This means that the cocoa butter squeezes out onto the surface and you get a white mouldy looking layer. This is called bloom and while it doesn’t look the greatest, it’s just cocoa butter so it’s still perfectly safe to eat.
x. origins chocolates
Cocoa beans are grown in Africa, Asia and South America. Just like grapes and wine, the beans from different parts of the world have different flavour characteristics. Traditionally chocolate is made from a blend of beans from different parts of the world. Recently some clever chocolateers have started marketing chocolate made with beans from one particular country, such as Madagascar or Ecuador. These are termed ‘origin’ chocolates.
xi. plantation chocolates
The latest thing is to narrow things down even further and produce chocolate from beans grown on a single farm. These are ‘plantation’ chocolates.
xii. not all chocolate is produced ethically
There is a dark side to cocoa bean farming. This is the use of child labour on some cocoa plantations in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Fortunately organisations such as the World Cocoa Foundation are working with farmers to irradicate child labour while at the same time helping farmers to adopt sustainable practices and improve their incomes. To learn more the World Cocoa Foundation website is a good place to start.
xiii. vanilla & salt are chocolate’s friends
Salt enhances the chocolatey flavour and balances the sweetness. Vanilla adds a lovely smooth rounded flavour. The best quality chocolates use natural vanilla from good quality vanilla beans. If you’re using less than perfect quality chocolate, a dash of real vanilla extract can improve things no end.
xiv. cocoa butter for frying
I’ve heard that cocoa butter is excellent for frying. The fact that is tends to be a solid block at room temperature makes it trickier than olive oil. Although I have seen cocoa butter powder in a chocolate supply shop that had me intrigued.
xv. chocolate is addictive
My friend Colette was right. Chocolate is addictive – at least I can (could) put it down to being an occupational hazard