What Every Chocolate Lover Needs to Know
Not all chocolate is created equal. Chef Eddy Van Damme, world-renowned chef, instructor, TV host, and author and “Prince of Pastry” for Imperial Sugar and Dixie Crystals, gives us the inside scoop on what you need to know when it comes to baking with chocolate.
The quality of chocolate is judged by the amount of cocoa butter it contains. The higher the content, the higher the quality it is. You can tell when chocolate is high quality because of the lovely, velvety feeling it has in your mouth.
Caution! Cocoa butter is not listed as such on a chocolate wrapper. It is referred to as fat. The percentage that you see on a chocolate product label indicates cocoa mass, not cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter influences the outcome of a baked good as well. Better quality chocolate contains more cocoa butter and makes better cakes, brownies, chocolate ice cream, truffles, ganache, etc.
Inside Scoop: There is not an abundance of cocoa butter and companies have created products that come close to the flavor of chocolate, but cannot be labeled as such, because they do not contain cocoa butter. These types of products are labeled as “chocolate flavored” and are made with hardened vegetable oils instead of cocoa butter.
Cocoa Butter vs Cocoa Mass
People often confuse cocoa butter with cocoa mass. Cocoa mass is often seen in percentages on packaged chocolate. A product labeled as 70% cocoa mass/solids indicates that this chocolate contains 70% cocoa. The higher the percentage of cocoa mass/solids, the deeper and more intense the chocolate flavor will be.
Inside Scoop: The cocoa percentage plays an important role when making baked goods. For example, most people prefer a chocolate chip cookie made with chips containing about 45-50% cocoa mass. If the same cookie is made with chocolate containing 70% cocoa, the chocolate flavor will overpower flavors from butter, nuts, and vanilla. When making brownies and cakes, the result of using chocolate with too much cocoa can be even worse. If a recipe calls for chocolate of 50% cocoa, but instead chocolate of 75% cocoa mass is used, the result could be a very dry and crumbly baked product.
You may see the term “tempering chocolate” used within a recipe. Tempering is a required technique when working with real chocolate, not chocolate flavored products, and when making truffles, candies, and chocolate-dipped cookies. Any time sweet treats need to have a final coat or dip of chocolate, the tempering process ensures that the chocolate will quickly harden to a satin sheen. (If made in plastic molds, the chocolate will have a high gloss.) Without tempering, chocolate will turn grey, streaked, and crumbly.
Inside Scoop: Tempering chocolate is a required step because cocoa butter is a very unstable fat. Chocolate-flavored product coating do not require tempering since it they are not made with unstable cocoa butter. Therefore, the product can be melted according to the manufacturer’s directions and immediately used without having to temper. Some professionals and home chefs prefer to work with chocolate-flavored products instead of chocolate, because of how much easier it is to use. Keep in mind that tempering chocolate is never needed when making brownie batter, chocolate cake batter, chocolate ice cream, etc. Tempering chocolate is only required for final dips or decorations.
You can learn more in this baking tips video about tempering chocolate.
So Many Chocolate Types, What’s the Difference?
Unsweetened chocolate: contains 100% cocoa mass and tastes awful by itself. Unsweetened chocolate is sometimes used in cake, brownie recipes or cookies recipes like these Chocolate Crackle Cookies.
Semi-sweet chocolate and bitter-sweet chocolate: these both contain at least 35% cocoa mass but can go as high as 70%. Cocoa butter amounts vary in brands, but higher quality chocolate usually contains more cocoa butter. Semi-sweet and bitter-sweet chocolate is used in many baked good recipes, truffles, fine chocolates, etc.
Inside Scoop: Many organic products taste better than their inorganic counterparts but this is not necessarily true with chocolate. Organic chocolate doesn’t automatically contain high amounts of cocoa butter and will feel crumbly instead of smooth.
The chocolate glaze in this recipe for Chocolate Ho Ho Cake uses semi-sweet/bittersweet chocolate.
Milk chocolate: contains similar ingredients as semi-sweet chocolate but also contains milk powder. Milk chocolate is used when making truffles, fine chocolate candy and some cookies. The milk powder in milk chocolate causes it to scorch when overheated.
This Malted Milk Fudge recipe calls for milk chocolate.
White chocolate: does not contain cocoa mass and is mainly used when making cookies or truffles. Many people believe white chocolate is not real chocolate because it does not contain cocoa mass. White chocolate does contain cocoa butter.
Bakers chocolate can be purchased in all forms mentioned above.
White baking chocolate is used in our recipe for White Chocolate Raspberry Pecan Cake.
Cocoa powder: is made by pressing a large amount of cocoa butter from the bean mixture and then pulverizing it. It is available in a natural form or a Dutch process, also known as alkalized. The latter is darker. In most recipes any type can be used. If baking soda is part of the recipe, it will darken the cocoa powder, especially when natural cocoa is used.
Dutch chocolate cocoa powder is used this recipe for Chocolate Mint Christmas Peek-A-Boo Cake.
Chocolate-flavored coating: is available in white, milk, and dark versions.
Our Mint Patties use chocolate-flavored coating.
Chocolate Q & A with Chef Eddy
Q. How can I tell if my chocolate contains a high amount of cocoa butter?
A. Chocolate sold to professional pastry chefs will be labeled with both cocoa butter content and cocoa mass content. However, chocolate found in a grocery store does not have information about the cocoa butter. In this case you should go by how it feels in your mouth. Chocolate with low cocoa butter content will feel chalky in your mouth, does not melt easily and almost feels like it is old. Chocolate with high cocoa butter content will feel deliciously smooth and melt beautifully in the mouth.
Q. I followed the directions on melting chocolate over barely simmering water and even tried in the microwave oven, but the chocolate was way too thick to dip my cookies. What went wrong?
A: The chocolate you are using does not contain enough cocoa butter and therefore melting it properly becomes nearly impossible. Chocolate chips are notorious for this.
Q. I melted a whole bag of chocolate and it is way too thick to dip strawberries or cookies. What can I do?
A. You can add a teaspoon or so of oil to make it more fluid, but oil will make the final hardened chocolate less firm.
Q. Can I add water to make chocolate more fluid?
A. No! Water makes chocolate thicker and renders it completely unusable.
Q. A friend of mine gave me a recipe but I do not have the chocolate that the recipe requires. Will it make a difference if I use a different type?
A. Changing chocolate in a recipe will always have a different outcome. It could be better or worse.
Q. My recipe requires the cookies to be dipped in real chocolate, but I do not want to temper it. What will happen if I just melt the chocolate and dip it?
A. Chocolate which has not gone through the tempering process will take a few hours before it hardens and when it does, it will not have the snap or satin sheen that chocolate typically has.
Q. Instead of tempering the chocolate, can I just melt it and place the dipped product in the refrigerator?
A. You can, but the final chocolate will not be as crisp and when removed from the fridge, it will slightly soften.
Q. Instead of using chocolate chips for my chocolate chip cookies, can I chop up a high-quality chocolate bar instead?
A. Chocolate chips are purposely made with a lower cocoa butter content so the chocolate will not melt much while in the oven. Using a chopped chocolate bar may result in a little extra melting but the flavor will not disappoint!
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