Tips for storing, chopping, melting and baking
The Anatomy of a Cocoa Bean
Did you know that chocolate begins as cacao beans, seeds found in large pods that grow on cacao trees near the equator? The beans are fermented, dried, and roasted. The inner meat (or nib) of the bean is removed from the shell and ground into a paste called chocolate liquor (contains no alcohol) and consists of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Chocolate liquor is then mixed with sugar and flavorings to make the types of chocolate we all love.
Milk Chocolate-Bittersweet- Semisweet: What’s Your Pleasure?
Chocolate is like wine. It comes in many varieties and flavors. Some people prefer dark chocolate and some are milk chocolate lovers. It’s a matter of preference.
Unsweetened Chocolate, also known as baking chocolate, is pure chocolate liquor mixed with a fat to produce solid squares. It has a bitter, deep chocolate flavor that is not very appealing on its own. Melt it with sugar and flavorings and add to cakes and cookies to make rich treats.
Milk Chocolate is a mild chocolate containing milk powder. It is half sugar and half chocolate liquor making it the sweetest variety.
Semisweet Chocolate is frequently used in cooking. By definition, it has to contain half as much sugar as cocoa. Semisweet chocolate does not contain added milk solids or contains a small amount of milk. The ubiquitous chocolate chips used in chocolate chip cookies are semisweet chocolate.
Bittersweet Chocolate typically has less sugar and more liquor than semisweet chocolate, and is often dairy free. It is interchangeable with semisweet chocolate in most recipes.
White Chocolate isn’t really chocolate at all. While it contains cocoa butter, it lacks cocoa solids, the element that gives milk and dark chocolate their characteristic brown color and nutty roasted flavor.
Store chocolate and cocoa powder in a cool, dry place. Don’t store chocolate in the refrigerator or freezer. The cocoa butter can pick up off-flavors from other foods. It can also pick up humidity that causes discoloration on the surface called Bloom. This is cosmetic and safe to eat and cook with but it doesn’t look very appetizing.
Size, Shape & Brand Matters: Which Chocolate to Use?
Chocolate comes in several ways from thin bars to very thick bars to morsels (chocolate chips).
For an easy shortcut, use mini chocolate chips as they do not require any chopping and melt evenly. However, many professional chefs frown on using chocolate chips. If you are one, then you will want to buy the more expensive brands of chocolate. These contain a higher percentage of cocoa butter and impart a richer more nuanced taste to your baked goods. Ghirardelli, Guittard, and Valrhona are excellent brands.
If your chocolate comes in bars, you will need to chop or shave it before melting. Use a sharp knife to cut thick bars.
- Make sure the chocolate is cut evenly so that it all melts at the same time.
- Avoid using chocolate wafers and inexpensive brands. Many contain wax which imparts a waxy taste to baked goods and dipped fruit.
Melt chocolate gently at a very low temperature. Unlike bloom which does not affect the taste or quality, chocolate that heats to much or too quickly can burn or separate and become greasy, lumpy and hard. That’s called seizing and it’s difficult to revive. (See our tips for reviving seized chocolate below.)
Three ways to Melt Chocolate
With any of these methods, chop or shave chocolate or use mini-chips which melt more easily and evenly.
Chop the chocolate and place it in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water. It’s best if the bowl of chocolate does not touch the water or the chocolate could scorch. Keep a close eye on the melting chocolate and stir occasionally. If you have a double boiler, this works well for melting chocolate on the stove.
- Place chopped chocolate or chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl.
- Heat 1 minutes on 50% power.
- Remove from the microwave and stir.
- Repeat, heating at intervals of 15 to 20 seconds, stirring in between, until the chocolate is completely melted and has a smooth consistency.
Use two heatproof bowls – one larger than the other. Heat several cups of water until just steamy. Fill the larger bowl part way with water. Set mini chocolate chips or chopped chocolate in the smaller bowl and set it in the larger bowl taking care that the water does not seep over the top of the smaller bowl. Let sit and stir occasionally. When chocolate begins to melt, remove the bowl from the water and stir until chocolate is melted and smooth.
Help: My Melting Chocolate Suddenly Become Lumpy?
That’s called seizing. It is when melting chocolate goes from smooth and shiny to grainy and hard in front of your eyes, making it impossible to stir, dip or pour. It can happen when the chocolate overheats or when moisture/liquid gets in chocolate. A drop or two of liquid can cause chocolate to seize and become unworkable.
Saving Seized Chocolate
Remove chocolate from the heat. Add about 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, shortening or butter for each 6 ounces of chocolate. Stir gently until chocolate returns to normal, or almost normal. Add more fat if necessary until chocolate becomes smooth again. OR-
Add boiling water to seized chocolate, 1 teaspoon at a time, and stir vigorously after each addition until the chocolate is smooth. (Yes, we know this contradicts what we just said about not letting moisture get into melting chocolate. But adding boiling water works!)
Replacing Chocolate with Cocoa Powder
If you are out of baking chocolate or want to create a dairy-free version, here’s how. Use oil or shortening if you are avoiding dairy.
To replace one ounce of unsweetened chocolate use:
· 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
· 1 tablespoon butter, shortening or oil.
Melt butter or shortening. Stir in cocoa until dissolved.
Tips for Success
- Pat wet fruits dry before dipping and always use dried tools, utensils, and bowls.
- Remember, chocolate will melt at around 88°F and will burn at around 125°F (for dark & milk chocolate) and around 120°F for white, so don’t be in a hurry to melt it.
- White chocolate will scorch very easily.
- Don’t stir chocolate with a wooden or metal spoon. These can pick up strong flavors like tomato sauce and garlic and pass them on to your chocolate. Use rubber spatulas instead.
Safe, Gluten-Free Brands (Always read labels as ingredient lists can change without notice)
- Dove Chocolate
- Enjoy Life Foods (dairy-free)
- Nestles (some flavors including butterscotch chips are not gf)
- Scharffen Berger
- Sunspire (baking chips and bars are gf and dairy-free)