Chocolate

Chocolate

By
Justin North
Contains
7 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740665377
Photographer
Steve Brown

There’s no doubt that for many people their sweet treat of choice begins and ends with chocolate. Chocolate desserts are always the most popular items on a restaurant menu and, indeed, there are entire books, web sites and even movies devoted to its virtues.

Part of the appeal of chocolate is the variety of flavours – from being so bitter it makes you shiver, to cloyingly sweet; and colours – from darkest brown to palest ivory. Its uses are equally diverse, from hot drinks, and elegant handmade confectionery to tarts, cakes, cookies, pastries, creams and ice creams – the list goes on and on.

Chocolate is made from the ground nib of the cacao bean, which is then combined with sugar and cocoa butter in varying ratios. It can come in a powder form (as unsweetened cocoa) or as a solid or liquid. Liquid chocolate is mainly used by the confectionery industry for coatings or moulds. Solid chocolate is the most commonly used product, and ranges in quality from fine couverture to common-or-garden candy bars. Milk chocolate is lighter in colour and sweeter than dark because it contains milk.

The quality of chocolate is determined by the type of cocoa bean used in its manufacture and in the ratio of cocoa solids to cocoa butter. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids the stronger and more intense will be the chocolate flavour. At the high end (which can reach as high as 75–80%), chocolate can be a little too bitter for many palates. At the mass confectionery end of the spectrum, the percentage of cocoa solids can be as low as 30%. For most desserts I use a chocolate with a minimum of 60% cocoa solids. And remember that white chocolate is not really chocolate at all as it contains no cocoa solids. It is an amalgam of cocoa butter and vanilla, which gives it a unique sweet flavour and silky smooth texture.

In the end, whether it’s chocolate for eating or chocolate for use in cooking, it will come down to personal preference. One of the most highly regarded (and most expensive) chocolate available is the French brand Valrhona, but there are others, such as Callebaut and Lindt, which I think are almost as good, and you won’t have to mortgage your house to buy them.

Chocolate should be stored in a cool, dry cupboard, away from the light. It needs to be well wrapped and kept in an airtight container, as it has a tendency to absorb odours from other nearby foods. Sometimes you might notice a white ‘bloom’ appearing on the surface of the chocolate. Sugar bloom is caused by a humid environment: water particles come into contact with the chocolate and dissolve some of the sugar; as the water evaporates the sugar crystals are left behind. Fat bloom occurs with sudden fluctuations in temperature that alter the structure of the chocolate: particles of cocoa butter are released and make their way to the surface where they create a fatty film. Neither type of bloom will affect the taste or usability of the chocolate.

Melting chocolate

Break the chocolate up into small even-sized pieces and place them in a large heatproof bowl. Sit the bowl over a pan of very gently simmering water. The heat from the steam should be sufficient to melt the chocolate. The base of the bowl should not come into contact with the water as too high a temperature can burn it and taint its flavour. Most importantly of all, don’t allow any water or steam to come into contact with the chocolate or it will seize up into a tight grainy mass. Stir from time to time until it has melted to a smooth shiny consistency, then remove the bowl from the pan and leave the chocolate to cool.

You can also melt chocolate very successfully in a microwave oven. Again, break it into small even-sized pieces and heat on high or medium in bursts of around 30 seconds. Stir in between until it all melts to a smooth, shiny consistency.

Whichever method you use, if you need to add liquid – such as alcohol or cream – then add it at the beginning and stir gently to combine as you heat it. If you add it at the end, the chocolate will seize up.

Tempering

A word filled with mystery and science. Tempered chocolate is used in professional restaurant kitchens and in the process of hand-making high-quality chocolates when that extra-glossy sheen is required. The process involves heating, lowering and reheating the chocolate to very precise temperatures and then maintaining it at an even 31ºC for use. To temper chocolate successfully you really need a special machine and I wouldn’t recommend it for the home cook.

Recipes in this Chapter

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