Tag Archives: chocolate

Look To The Cookie! Chocolate Loves Vanilla: An Essay in Two Parts

31 Aug

Let me say right now, if you don’t care about the mystical relationship between chocolate and vanilla, just run along.  I am well aware that I can get a wee bit obsessive about some topics, so if you’re not up for this, I completely understand.  For those of you who are still here, let’s carry on, shall we?

Part The First, In Which I Wax On About the Not-So-Reciprocal Relationship of The Two
I began Mulling the other day.  Here’s how it started.  I made a lovely Van Halen pound cake for friend Michael’s birthday.  It was vanilla/sour cream with chocolate ganache glaze, and it tasted like a black and white cookie. And that got me thinking about whether chocolate is really the yin to vanilla’s yang (or vice versa).  I mean, in the symbol, there’s a wee spot of yang in the yin and a wee spot of yin in the yang.  The two parts of yin and yang are constantly in motion, and one cannot exist without the other.  So, I began to consider the relationship between vanilla and chocolate:  is it the same relationship as Yin and Yang?  Are they opposites, or complements? Can one be fully itself without the other?

yin and yang chocolate fondue

A mystical connection? Maybe...

At first, I thought that vanilla and chocolate were the perfect yin and yang, but then I realized something.  While chocolate seems to always benefit from the addition of a little vanilla (most chocolate cake and brownie recipes call for some vanilla extract), vanilla doesn’t always benefit from the addition of chocolate.  Adding a little melted chocolate to a vanilla pudding is just going to give you sort-of-chocolate pudding.  Chocolate is best able to complement vanilla when it isn’t completely incorporated.  Unlike adding vanilla extract to any sort of chocolate batter or ganache, chocolate sets off vanilla to its best effect when each element retains its own characteristics.

Chocolate acts as a visual foil to vanilla–dark against light.  In the mouth, sweet vanilla is balanced by the slightly bitter earthiness of chocolate.  Pairing chocolate and vanilla also affords us the opportunity to play with temperature.  There’s a reason why a hot fudge sundae is a classic.

Other ways to insert some chocolate oomph into vanilla desserts include tossing in some chocolate chips, shaved chocolate or adding it in the form of icings, frostings and sauces.  Maybe part of the issue is that there really aren’t discrete “pieces” of vanilla that you can add to something chocolate.  Yes, there are those white chips, but they don’t taste like vanilla.  Vanilla generally comes in its liquid form, thus making it almost impossible to keep it separate from the rest of a batter.  The only real example I can think of is a marble cake, in which a vanilla batter is swirled together with a chocolate batter.  But vanilla-all-by-itself?  I don’t think so.

Part Deux, in Which I Ponder the Horror of Imitations and Implore You to Seek Out Excellence
Vanilla and chocolate are both products made from plants–vanilla from the pods of vanilla orchids, and chocolate from the seeds of the cocao tree.  As such, chocolate and vanilla can vary widely in flavor profile depending on where the pods or seeds were grown and how and with what they are processed.  Vanilla and chocolate both should express terroir just as wine does.  Unfortunately, while most of us don’t expect to taste the same flavors in every glass of wine we drink, we do expect this of our vanilla and chocolate.  Maybe it’s because, even though there are a lot of wine drinkers out there, almost everyone likes chocolate and vanilla.  In order to fill the demand for these flavors to hundreds of millions, even billions, of people, manufacturers have had to find a way to produce a consistent product.  And consistency flies in the face of terroir.  What the masses recognize as “vanilla” and “chocolate” are pale reflections of small batch vanillas and chocolates that true aficionados appreciate.  For most of us, vanilla is the flavor of supermarket ice cream or (and this is really upsetting) instant pudding.  Chocolate is the flavor of a Hershey’s kiss.  Or instant pudding.

While I dig a Hershey’s kiss every once in awhile, I want nothing whatsoever to do with instant anything (other than instant gratification).

If you haven’t dug deeper into the chocolate/vanilla Situation than the instant pudding aisle, allow me to offer you some Options.

Vanilla Options
There are many very good small batch vanillas out there.  Here are three that I have used and really enjoyed.

Baldwin–aged in oak barrels for a very intense vanilla experience. Definitely worth a try.

Nielsen-Massey–head and shoulders above supermarket brands, N-M Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla offers a straight-up vanilla flavor.  Very consistent, very tasty product

Sonoma Syrups Vanilla Bean Crush–my current favorite, a mixture of Madagascar Bourbon vanilla and Tahitian vanilla.  Very complex and floral.

Chocolate Options
The chocolate issue is a bit trickier.  Since it is a solid, often it will have to stand on its own, so you want to like the taste of it.  If you’re a Hershey or Nestle kind of person, start with other milk chocolates:  you can usually find Callebaut at Whole Foods stores, and sometimes they have El Rey as well.

Lindt is ubiquitous in Europe and is also easily found in the grocery store aisles these days.

There are, of course, some excellent options right here in the US.  Seek out Guittard, Scharffen Berger and even Ghirardelli.

Looking for organic options? There’re Green & Black’s, Dagoba and Theo, to name just three.

Look for varietal chocolates, also called single source or single origin chocolates–chocolates made exclusively from one type of bean grown in a specific area.  Fortunately, these types of bars are becoming easier to find.  I see them at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and even at the regular grocery.  If you’re very lucky, there’s a guy making chocolates from “scratch” where you live–we have Escazu in Raleigh.  Good stuff.

And now, I think I might have saved the best for last.  My destinations for All Things Chocolate (along with a few extras):  Chocosphere and World Wide Chocolate.  Take a virtual trip to one of these sites of Wonder and stock up.  Taste and find what you like.  Then use it.

Oh, and snd don’t forget the cocoa powder.  You can do much better than those brown boxes at the grocery store.

If you’ve made it this far, please add to the essay.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between vanilla and chocolate, your favorite way to enjoy the two flavors together or maybe a tip about a really great chocolate or vanilla that you’ve found and love.  All comments are welcome.

See you soon.

Slab O’ Chocolate? Don’t Mind If I Do.

17 Jun
For illustrative purposes, I give you The Chocolate Terrine.  This one is not my masterpiece, but it is a masterpiece nonetheless.

For illustrative purposes, I give you The Chocolate Terrine. This one is not my masterpiece, but it is a masterpiece nonetheless.

Sometimes you just want a big, fat, in-your-face chocolate dessert.  And somehow, making one of Them and eating it doesn’t feel quite as obnoxious as sitting on the couch eating fudge sauce by the spoonful.  Although it kind of is.  But don’t think about that.  Think about all the chocolate-y goodness and how your friends and family will Oooh and Aaah and think that you are Gifted.  Think about the adulation you will receive from your co-workers.  You.  Are a Chocolate Rock Star.

And this, friends, is where the terrine comes in.  Terrine is the name of the pan you use and it is the name of the dish itself.  Very nice.  Like tagine, except not.   This is made to be sliced Thinly, but you are the Rock Star, so you can slice it how you want.  If you don’t have a terrine, make this in a small-ish loaf pan or any other rectangular-type pan you have lying around.

There are uncooked eggs in this recipe, so don’t make this if a) you are 18 months old.  Of course, if you are 18 months old, kudos on being able to read, but go eat a carrot or a Zwieback or something.  Come back when you’re older and are allowed to use the stove.  Also, don’t make this if b) your immune system is compromised.  If it is, I hope you get better soon so you can make and eat this.  Lastly, you might not want to make this if you’re c) a billion.  But, on the other hand, you’ve made it this far, so it’s your call.  Of course, if it will make you feel Safer and Better, you can use pasteurized eggs.

Live On The Edge Chocolate Terrine

  • 12 oz. excellent quality chopped dark chocolate (I like a nice 64%)
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter
  • heavy pinch of salt
  • 1 oz. nut butter–hazelnut, cashew, almond, peanut, whatever (provides a certain Je Ne Sais Quoi)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 4 egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (I know)
  • 4.5 oz heavy cream into which you have steeped 2 TBSP cracked coffee beans overnight.  So, unlike me, plan ahead
  • 5.3 oz 10x sugar (1 1/3 cups)
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder (I haven’t done this conversion yet)

Thoroughly whisk together the 10x and cocoa powder, then sift it to get out any wee lumps.

Melt the chocolate, butter and nut butter together in a double boiler.  Stir and stir and add the salt.

Whisk in the egg yolks.  Whisk the whites and the 2 teaspoons of sugar to medium-ish peaks and fold in.

Whisk the cream to medium-ish peaks and fold in.

Fold in the cocoa/10x mixture.

Pour into prepared mold and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

So, here’s how you prepare the mold.  This is how I do it, anyway:

Spray the inside of the mold with pan spray.  Then, line the mold with long strips of plastic wrap.  This part is a pain in the Self because plastic wrap likes to stick to itself and be Obnoxious.  So, here’s what you do.  Lay out two or three strips so that the long sides overlap by half the width of the wrap.  In other words, place two pieces side by side so the long sides are touching.  Put a third piece down centered on where the other two meet.  Does that even make sense?  Anyway, since we’re not working with typing paper, there will be Wrinkles and Cursing.  Just do your best and try to keep the wrinkles to a minimum.  The cursing is up to you.

Take your craft project and fit it into the mold as smoothly as possible.  It doesn’t like to go into the corners, so fit it in like you would pie crust:  lifting and pushing into place.  Once it’s as smooth as possible, or once you’re at the point where you’re ready to throw the whole Shebang against the wall, stop.  Then, when you’ve made your chocolate filling, pour it into the mold, smooth the top and fold the excess wrap over the goo.  Chill.  You chill, too–go get an Adult Beverage (this is another reason 18 month olds shouldn’t make this).

Later, unwrap the package and put the container upside down on a cooling rack or grid–a grid is better, actually.  Pull on the sides of the plastic wrap and lift up the mold.  Eventually, he will come Unstuck.  Peel off the plastic wrap and pour on a thin layer of just-barely-warm ganache.

Terrine Glaze

  • 8 oz heavy cream
  • 8 oz finely chopped dark chocolate (use the same kind that you used in the terrine)
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • pinch o’ salt

Put the chocolate in a bowl.  Bring the heavy cream and salt just to a boil.  Remove from heat, count to ten (just to let it settle down and make sure it’s not too hot) and pour over the chocolate.  Let sit for about three minutes, and then slowly whisk to form a glossy, dark emulsion.  Hello, ganache.  Whisk in the butter.  Cool to just warm, or you’ll melt your guy.  No fun.

After you glaze your guy, put him back in the fridge so the ganache firms up some.  Then, slice and serve with some berry sauce and/or berries and/or some lightly sweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Variation
Decrease butter to 5 oz and increase nut butter to 4 oz for a much more assertive nuttiness.  If you do this, I’d leave out the coffee infusion part, unless I’m using hazelnut butter.

Enjoy your slab o’ chocolate.  And if you do decide to sit on the couch and eat fudge sauce by the spoon anyway, while you’re at it, grab a spoon for me, please.

A Paean to Chocolate

12 Mar
Chocolate to make the heart burst with joy.

Chocolate to make the heart burst with joy.

Today is The Beloved’s birthday.  So first, The Birthday Poem:

Today is a birthday;
I wonder for whom?
I think it’s for someone right here in this room!
So look aaaalllll around you for somebody who
Is laughing and smiling–my goodness, it’s You!

A college friend, Becky from Maine, taught me that.  She also said “wicked” a lot.  Now, I call my friends and “give them the poem” (not to be confused with giving them the finger) on their birthdays.  Many of them say that it’s not their birthday until they get the poem.  Maybe they’re just being nice, but I like to think it’s true.

Happy Birthday, Beloved Husband–best friend, best man in the world.

Did I tell you guys that, right around the time I decided to go to culinary school, The Beloved decided that he no longer had a sweet tooth?  The Beloved sometimes has a perverse streak.   All of my school projects went to his office, and I have never heard so much whining as I did when I graduated and their pastry source dried up.  Waa.

There is one Pastry Treat that The Beloved still craves, and that’s chocolate.  So, in celebration of The Beloved’s Birthday, I present my Paean to Chocolate, with apologies to Beethoven.

Sung more or less to the tune of Ode to Joy.

Chocolate, chocolate, I adore thee
Theobroma; food of gods.
Cocoa butter, chocolate liquor
Coaxed from a fermented pod.

Forrest Mars made M&Ms candies that
Melt in your mouth not in your hands.
Chocolate in temper needs no coating
Shiny on its own it stands.

Chocolate, chocolate we adore thee
Milk and dark and semi-sweet.
Conching til smooth and adding sugar
Bitter to mellow, it’s quite the feat.

Melting slowly, pleasing the palate,
Now may I have some, pretty please?
Cake or ganache or mousse or candies
It makes me weak in the knees.

Perhaps not my best effort, but at least I am sincere.  If you’d care to add a verse to the paean, I’d love to hear it.

Over the years, The Beloved has gotten a Special Cake on his birthday.  Almost every year, he has chosen something from Marcel Desaulniers.  Why?  Because Marcel is a Chocolate Wizard.  Plus, he is a little bit naughty.  In the forward to one of his books, he likens Hershey’s Kisses to a woman’s nipples.  Go, Marcel.  As I have progressed along the road to automaticity, I have relied less and less on standard, multi-part recipes.  As I said yesterday, special desserts are edible Legos.  I now ask him, “What kind of cake do you want for your birthday?” and he will answer something along the lines of, “something with chocolate and hazelnut.  Some chewy and some crunchy.”  Then, I put together a layer cake with hazelnut butter with a hazelnut dacquoise layer buried inside all iced with a Nutella buttercream.

I think I may have some pictures of some of the cakes I have made for him over the years.  Let me go check.  Yup–I found a couple.

Milk chocolate cake with marzipan

Milk chocolate cake with marzipan

See the marzipan layer?  I think it's filled with ganache.

See the marzipan layer? I think it's filled with ganache.

Dark chocolate cake with hazelnut butter and chocolate buttercream.  It's "frosted" with poured ganache.

Dark chocolate cake with hazelnut butter and chocolate buttercream. It's "frosted" with poured ganache. Note the inspired inscription.

This cake was gooey, rich and ridiculous.

This cake was gooey, rich and ridiculous.

Some sort of chocolate raspberry extravaganza.  I really should take better notes.

Some sort of chocolate raspberry extravaganza. I really should take better notes.

Tonight, I am taking him to Bonefish Grill.  He is a big Seafood Person, and I am Not, so he rarely gets to enjoy goodness from the sea.  He is very excited, and I hear they have steak there, so I’m pretty excited, too.  Oh, and the cake for this year?  I think it’s going to be a pie with no chocolate in it whatsoever.  Go figure–The Beloved can be quixotic.  I guess I will make it on the weekend, to celebrate what Chris tells me is “Pi Day,”  March 14.  3.14.  Math humor.

Don’t Forget the Chocolate, Part Tres

8 Dec
Ganache glaze over chocolate buttercream

Ganache glaze over chocolate buttercream

When it comes to ridiculous, pure chocolate flavor, look no farther than ganache.  Until recently, I just figured that everyone knew what ganache is.  Like everyone knows what cookies are.  But, my belief in the spirit of ganache permeating our culture was shaken a few weeks ago.  My mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday dessert.  I told her I wanted the much beloved but seldom made Chocolate Cheese Pie that Mrs. Cornwell used to make.  Vanilla wafer crust, basic cheesecake filling.  Topped with fudge sauce and then a sweetened sour cream layer.  It is stupidly awesome.  At any rate, I told her that, instead of the jar o’ fudge sauce that usually goes on it, I wanted a layer of ganache.  You know, to stay away from high fructose corn syrup?

My mother looked at me blankly for a second.  And then another.  She then asked the question that has shaken my belief in the universality of ganache.  “What is ganache?”  I blinked.  I shook my head.  I gaped.  Then I thought to myself, “Self, you’ve been reading cookbooks forever.  You’ve been experimenting forever.  You went to culinary school, for heaven’s sake.”  My husband shakes his head and gapes when I look at him blankly after he’s spouted out a stream of IT acronyms, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that not everyone has made friends with ganache.  Allow me, then, to introduce you, if you have not made its acquaintance.

Ganache is an emulsion of chocolate and cream.  It’s an emulsion because wee droplets of fat (cocoa butter and dairy fat), solids (chocolate liquor and dairy solids), and water (from the cream) are forced to play nicely together.  Ganache has at least as many uses in the pastry kitchen as a Swiss army knife has on the trail.  You can fill a cake with it.  You can frost a cake with it.  You can whip it.  You can make truffles.  You can pour it over ice cream.  You can eat it with a spoon. I take my cross-out back.  You can eat it with a spoon if you want.

At its simplest, ganache is just heavy cream and chocolate.  Make it with 2 parts cream to one part chocolate, and you can whip it.  Make it with equal parts cream and chocolate, and you can glaze a cake or top a sundae.  Make it with 2 parts chocolate to 1 part cream, and you have a truffle center.

So, how to make it?  No matter the proportions, chop the chocolate very fine (or use best-quality chips).  Heat the cream to boiling.  Remove the cream from the heat, count to ten (just to let the temperature of the cream to come down a tiny bit), pour the cream through a fine mesh strainer onto the chocolate.  Do this quickly.  Let the cream/chocolate mixture sit for a couple of minutes, then whisk fairly slowly until the ganache comes together.  At first, it will look like chocolate milk.  Then, in the center where you’re whisking, a deep, smooth, chocolate-y emulsion will magically form.  Keep whisking until the emulsion is complete.  Try not to introduce air bubbles, especially it you’re using this as a glaze.  Strain it, just to be sure it’s completely smooth.

Ganache Miscellany

  1. If you want your glaze to be super shiny, add just a little splash of corn syrup.  Corn syrup is the  shine serum of the culinary world.
  2. If you want to add a bit more richness, whisk in a bit of unsalted butter.
  3. Sure, a pinch of salt would not be unwelcome.
  4. Yes, you can add a splash of liqueur or vanilla
  5. Yes, you can steep anything in the cream for awhile before you use it to make ganache.  For instance, toast some nuts and add them to hot cream.  Let them the nuts steep in the fridge overnight.  Strain the cream the next day, pressing down hard on the solids.  Use this cream to make your ganache.  No, you won’t be sorry.
  6. Yes, it makes a marvelous Christmas gift.

Let’s Look at the Swiss Miss Package, Shall We?

5 Dec
Enticing, but what's in it?

Enticing, but what's in it?

The following is the list of ingredients in a 1 oz, individual package of Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Flavor Hot Cocoa Mix (found here): Ingredients: sugar, modified whey, cocoa (processed with alkali), hydrogenated coconut oil, nonfat milk, calcium carbonate, less than 2% of: salt, dipotassium phosphate, mono- and diglyderides, artificial flavor, carrageenan. Contains milk. (They’re not trying to be funny with that last one).

  • Sugar–okay.
  • Modified whey? Um, sure.
  • Cocoa?  Fine.
  • Hydrogenated coconut oil?!  Huh?  What is this, Cool Whip?
  • Nonfat milk.  ‘kay.
  • Calcium carbonate?  This stuff is why the package proudly proclaims “Contains as much calcium as a glass of milk!”  It’s ground up shells.  Yum.
  • Less than 2% of:  salt.  Fine.
  • Dipotassium phosphate?  Our friends at Wikipedia say this stuff “is a highly water-soluble salt which is often used as a fertilizer, food additive and buffering agent. It is a common source of phosphorus and potassium.”  As a bonus, it’s supposed to help w/headaches.  “It is generally recognized as safe.”  GRAS, in FDA-speak.  Gee, now I feel better.
  • Mono- and diglycerides?  These guys are emulsifiers that hold the hydrogenated fat together with the water you’re about to pour into this stuff.  Thank goodness for that!
  • Artificial flavor?  Mysterious, n’est-ce pas?
  • Carrageenan.  This is a thickener.  Made from seaweed.  A Twitter friend says her daughter is allergic and it made her mouth get all red.  Great.

I hope you’re all as appalled as I am by this.  Thing is, I used to buy this.  I’d make it with milk and be very proud of myself.  I’ve been known to eat it straight out of the package in the middle of the night.  But that was long ago.  Now, I’m just grossed out.

Please, make your own hot chocolate or hot cocoa.  It won’t take you much longer than the boxed stuff, and you’ll know what’s in it.

Whisk some cocoa powder together with sugar (1 part cocoa powder to 2 parts sugar, or to taste).  Whisk this into whole milk or half and half (hey, it’s a treat) with a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla.  Allow 1/4 cup of mix for each 8 oz. of dairy.   Heat until steamy and delightful.

Don’t want the sugar?  My friend, Chef Keem, sent me some very cool agave nectar, AgaSweet, to play with.  It’s his product, and I’ve found a nice way to use it:  Mix cocoa powder with vanilla, cinnamon or peppermint flavored AgaSweet until you have a paste.  Add hot milk or half and half.  Whisk well.  Add more AgaSweet, to taste, until it’s perfect:)

Or, try this:  Grate some semi-sweet chocolate (or milk chocolate, if you prefer) into some hot whole milk or half and half.  Stop when it’s as chocolatey as you like it.  Add a wee splash of vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Add some whipped cream for fun, if you want.

Hot chocolate, three ways (at least–don’t get me started on adding spices or liqueurs) and nary an upsetting ingredient in sight, unless you’re counting calories!

Don’t Forget the Chocolate, Part Deux

4 Dec
The Best Chocolate Cake Ever

Brownies: The Best Chocolate Cake Ever

How about some chocolate cake?  The most important thing to know about chocolate cakes, in my opinion, is that chocolate cake is more chocolate-y when made with water instead of milk.  Huh?  Makes sense, really.  Semi sweet and bittersweet chocolate are way more chocolate-y than milk chocolate.  The dairy tends to mellow out the characteristic bitter chocolate edge.  Now, if you like the bitter edge, you can use water in your chocolate cake.  If you don’t like it so much, use milk instead.

The next most important thing about chocolate cake is that it should be a brownie.  No milk to get in the way of deep, dark chocolate joy.  I love brownies deep, dark and gooey, but you can use the same recipe to make them more cake-y.  So, want to wow folks with a deep, dark chocolate cake?  Make brownies.  Agree?  Disagree?  Have at it in the comments!

At any rate, the third most important thing about a chocolate cake is that if the recipe calls for 1/8 teaspoon of salt, it’s not enough.  Salt wakes up chocolate, so don’t be stingy.  Must I beat you with my treatise on the use of salt yet again?!

The fourth most important thing about chocolate ca….um, brownies is that they should not have nuts.  Put them in if you wish, I cannot stop you.  Not me, but if you must put in nuts, at least toast them, first.

Now–let’s get on with it.  How to make the perfect chocolate brake (crownie?)

  • 5 oz. all purpose flour
  • 3/4 t. kosher salt (or 1/2 t. table salt)
  • 3/4 t. baking powder
  • 6 oz.  unsweetened chocolate, melted in microwave on medium (stir often)
  • 6 oz. melted butter
  • 10 oz. sugar
  • 6 oz. brown sugar (about 1 cup, packed–but please use a scale)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

For a fudgy brake:

Do all of this by hand.  Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk well.  In another bowl, whisk together the butter and chocolate.  Whisk in eggs, one at a time, until just combined.  Then, whisk in bourbon and vanilla.  Pour into bowl with the dry ingredients and fold together until well combined.  Pour in a parchment lined 9″ square (or 9″ X 13″ for a thinner brake).  Bake at 325 degrees F, until they are as done as you like them–check the square pan at 40 minutes and the 9″ X 13″ pan at about 30 minutes.  Cool in the pan for half an hour.  Carefully turn the brake out and let it finish cooling on a rack.  Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  This makes slicing easier.

For a cakey brake (for some reason, I am thinking of Billy Ray Cyrus):

Use the creaming method.  Don’t use melted butter.  Whisk dry ingredients together and set aside.  Cream the salt, butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.  Cream in the melted and cooled chocolate, bourbon and vanilla.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing just to combine.  Last, add the dry ingredients, mixing just to combine.  Bake the same way as for fudgy brakes.

They don’t need icing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ice them with whatever you want.  I won’t stop you.  A nice way to serve them would warm, cut into wedges with some powdered sugar sifted over and some lightly sweetened soft-whipped cream.  Enjoy:)

Don’t Forget the Chocolate! (Part 1)

3 Dec
Choices, choices....

Choices, choices....

Oh, my!  I was just looking over my posts, so far:  butter? check.  Sugar? Check.  Caramel? Check.  Chocolate?…..Chocolate?…..Um, just a minute…

Chocolate, my friends, is an amazing ingredient.  It’s one of those food items that undergoes such an exhaustive processing that it makes me wonder who thought to actually eat it in the first place!  I mean, the stuff has to ferment and then get roasted before it even starts to taste like chocolate.  Maybe there was a random jungle fire at just the right time?  Who knows.

Chocolate, which originated in Mexico, does have a fascinating history, and was first put in savory/spicy dishes.  Which is why you should always add a bit of chocolate or cocoa powder to your chili, as a nod to Quetzalcoatl and his lot.  But that’s another story.

I want to focus on what chocolate, as it is used in the pastry kitchen, is. If you could look at a piece of chocolate under the microscope, you would see that it is comprised of extremely wee particles of cocoa and sugar distributed evenly and suspended in fat.  The fat portion of chocolate should be cocoa butter.  No palm kernel oil.  No coconut oil.  Just cocoa butter.  The reason for this is mainly mouthfeel.  Cocoa butter melts at exactly body temperature, 98.6 degrees, F.  That’s why, when you bite into a piece of chocolate it changes smoothly from a solid to a rich, unctuous liquid.  It makes us sigh with pleasure.  Chocolate products made with other fats just make our mouths feel waxy.  Which do you prefer?

Let’s focus on dark chocolate for a minute.  Unsweetened chocolate is just that.  It contains cocoa solids, cocoa butter, maybe an emulsifier to hold it all together and some vanilla.  Other dark chocolates, such as semi-sweet or bittersweet contain those ingredients, plus varying amounts of sugar.  One ounce of unsweetened chocolate can be twice as chocolaty as one ounce of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate because it contains more cocoa solids–the “room” in the ounce isn’t full of sugar.   While “semi-sweet” and “bittersweet” chocolate are more or less interchangeable, be careful when substituting either for unsweetened chocolate.  To get the same amount of chocolate flavor, you’ll probably have to use a bunch more, or supplement with cocoa powder.

Faithful readers, I am now on a chocolate jag, and there will be plenty more to come.  I’ve got some plans, and if you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section.  I’d like this blog to be a dialog more than just a soapbox, so let me know what you want to learn!

Okay.  Chocolate, Part 1? Check.

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