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Volume I
February 27, 2003

Death by Chocolate

       Ironic! Because of its tasty ability to disguise the flavor of venom, chocolate used to be a favored carrier of poison intended for scornful lovers or sworn enemies. Pope Clement XIV, a Bishop from Chiapa, Mexico, and a lover of the Spanish Mme D'Aulnoy each met the grim reaper through a fatal cup of chocolate. But what a way to go, right? Today, chocolate's treacherous past is suppressed to folklore, whilst chocolate now given to a lover or friend symbolizes affection, admiration, and especially love when wrapped in red heart-shaped boxes. One truth prevails through the years--chocolate walks hand in hand with passion, for either better or worse.

Chocolate certainly may become your next passion as you learn of its properties and potential in your home kitchen. Celebrating anniversaries, milestones, or romantic occasions, few things speak the language of love like a homemade chocolate masterpiece. This article will teach you about the various types of chocolate available to the home-chef and techniques for mastering its properties in your desserts.

Types of Chocolate

Tempering Chocolate

Chocolate Curls

Types of Chocolate

Unsweetened Chocolate (also known as bitter, baking, or plain)

Cocoa beans are roasted during processing and then ground into juice. This juice, called chocolate liquor, is then processed a bit more for smoothness before being shaped into blocks and bars and hardened. Chocolate liquor is the core of the other types of chocolates. Sugar, milk, flavorings, and so forth are added to the juice before it is hardened to attain different levels of flavoring, texture, and sweetness.

Just as chocolate liquor is the basis of sweeter chocolates, unsweetened baking chocolate is the basis for many desserts. The sugar and ingredients in the recipe will complement its subtle flavor for delicious results, contrary to the bitterness of eating it "raw". You'll find just one ingredient listed on unsweetened chocolate's package-chocolate. Unsweetened chocolate is often requested in chocolate sauce recipes.

Semisweet Chocolate (also known as bittersweet)

You guessed it! An addition of some sugar to the bitter chocolate liquor, along with added cocoa butter, the emulsifier soy lecithin, and vanilla create the unique taste of semisweet chocolate. Every company's proportions of added ingredients varies, producing a variety of flavors and textures between brands of semisweet chocolate. In general, American companies name their varieties "semisweet," while European manufacturers call it "bittersweet" or "dark." The bittersweet chocolate typically leans more to the bitter flavor of the cocoa bean.

Milk Chocolate

Lighter in color because of milk and sweeter in flavor because of extra sugar, milk chocolate is the favored chocolate of Americans. Its sweet taste and creamy texture seem to denote what we perceive chocolate to be. Darker chocolate is subtler. You really have to concentrate to discern its chocolate undertones, but milk chocolate is easy!

Because of its milk proteins, milk chocolate scorches easily. It does not do well in baking or cooking, so don't substitute it for the semisweet or unsweetened chocolate requested in recipes. Still, it is useful and luscious in mousses, frostings, and icings; just be extra careful about the heat applied when melting it.

White Chocolate

For positive results when baking with white chocolate, be a label reader. Imitation white chocolate, made with tropical oils, contains no cocoa butter. Since the cocoa solids are removed to create white chocolate anyway, there is really nothing of the cocoa bean in the imitation kind. Your recipes are doomed if you use this type.

Instead, look for the white chocolate that contains cocoa butter. It will be more of an ivory color that contrasts to the bright white of imitation confectionery coating. Like milk chocolate, white chocolate scorches easily. Watch and stir it carefully when melting it.

Unsweetened Cocoa

The powder that remains after removing cocoa butter from chocolate liquor lends chocolate flavor to desserts without the added fat. And because the majority of its fat is removed, cocoa dissolves easily in water. Think hot chocolate!

Two types of cocoa are available today, with the difference being in how they are manufactured. Natural cocoa (termed simply Cocoa on food labels) is acidic, lighter in color, and sharper in flavor. Alkalized cocoa (termed Dutch-processed, Dutched, or European Style on food labels) has been treated in an alkaline solution to reduce the acidity. It is darker in color and described as more mild and nuttier in flavor. The ingredient list will say, "cocoa processed with alkali."

Can these two types of cocoa be used interchangeably? Mostly. With the exception of recipes leavened with baking powder or soda, you can choose the cocoa per your preferred taste. However, when baking cakes or pastry type desserts calling for baking powder or soda, only use the cocoa specified. The acidic and alkaline ingredients must remain in balance for the cake to rise properly, gain good texture, and to taste wonderful. The recipe will be the standard for this balancing act, so don't mess with the balance by switching between acidic natural or alkaline Dutch cocoa.

In a pinch, 3 level tablespoons of cocoa plus 1 tablespoon shortening (either liquid or solid) can be substituted for 1 ounce (1 square) unsweetened baking chocolate.

Chocolate Chips or Morsels

Made from both semi-sweet and milk chocolate, chips are formulated to hold their shape when baked. For this reason, they are not suitable substitutions for baking chocolate. They work delightfully in recipes that call for them, though, such as cookies or coffee cakes and also make a fun addition to trail-mix type snacks.


Couverture is the finest chocolate you can purchase. This is a more of a descriptive term than a type of chocolate, and can be applied to dark, bittersweet, milk or white chocolates. Typically, chocolate will not be labeled 'couverture' in the home-baking market. However, Ghirardelli makes a Semisweet and Bittersweet chocolate that meets this quality. Chocolate is considered couverture when it is subjected to an extended grinding process. This grinding breaks down the ingredients so finely that when tasted, the chocolate is extremely silky and smooth. Couverture chocolate also contains a higher percentage of cocoa butter, which contributes to its silkiness and fluidity. It is the chef's chocolate of choice when hand dipping candies, glazing desserts, making ganache, and creating fine chocolate work.

Tempering Chocolate

For the past three years I've been making chocolate-covered marshmallow eggs around Easter time. While they taste scrumptious, they look ridiculous, not at all like the smooth, flawless covered chocolates from candy shops. It is the chocolate-covering part that gives me trouble, so now I'm on a quest to learn a bit about hand-dipping chocolate. I just want to learn enough to make the marshmallow eggs look as delightful as they taste.

Through a bit of reading, I've learned about tempering chocolate. It seems that this process, like its name, can be a bit temperamental. However, if done correctly, the chocolate will become shiny, smooth and evenly colored. This makes it fabulous for coating candies, when you want them to look beautiful . . . and like you know what you're doing. Tempered chocolate is great for chocolate garnishes, too, such as leaves, ribbons, or curls. However, you don't have to use tempered chocolate to make curls.

Before attempting this process, acquire an instant-read thermometer, with a gauge between 80-130 degrees F. Then follow these steps for professional, smooth, beautiful chocolate:

1. Melt chocolate using the double boiler (or pan and bowl) method. By working with eight-ounces of chocolate at a time, it is easier to control temperatures for tempering. Any chocolate made in excess of recipe requirements can be reused by pouring it into ice cube trays. Once it sets, pop out the chocolate cubes into a plastic container for storage in a cool place. This chocolate would need to be tempered again.

2. Once melted, increase the heat of the steaming water to allow the chocolate to reach a temperature between 113-118 degrees F. As soon as the chocolate hits the 113-degree mark, remove it from the heated water base. This is where the temperamental part of chocolate comes in. If the chocolate's temperature hits the 122-degree F. mark, it will become stiff and hard (seize) and become unworkable.

3. Reduce the temperature to 80-degrees F. by either adding one-fourth of the initial weight of the chocolate used, stirring it in with a spatula to melt, or by placing the bowl of chocolate into a larger bowl filled with cool water (not cold). Stir gently to let the water help cool the chocolate to 80-degrees F, being cautious not to let so much as a drop of water contact the chocolate.

4. To use the chocolate, reheat it slowly to 84-86 degrees F. by setting the bowl over a pan of lightly steaming water. Stir slowly. When it reaches this temperature it is ready for use.

5. If you are wondering how you did, test the tempered chocolate by dipping a clean butter knife or metal spatula into the chocolate. Let it cool. Once set, the chocolate will look smooth and evenly colored, versus mildly textured or streaky. Peel the chocolate from the knife and look for a shiny underside. You've passed the test if your chocolate meets all these criterion.

6. Your tempered chocolate will work well in candy molds, curls, leaves, and for coating candy. You're now well on your way to becoming a chocolatier.

Chocolate Curls
These lovely garnishes adorn desserts with simple elegance. They add the special touch of a cook who believed the occasion special enough for best efforts. Curls can be sprinkled on puddings, pressed into cake frostings or glazes, piled on a mound of whipped topping, or stacked in layer after layer up the side of a cake. Don't limit yourself to just brown curls, either, because white chocolate curls complement red berry garnishes charmingly. Here's how to make them:

1. Use a chocolate bar of at least 8 ounces in weight to make curls instead of shavings.

2. Warm the chocolate to room temperature (82-degrees is better than air-conditioned 70-degrees F.).

3. Using a sharp swivel-blade vegetable peeler, shave curls off the block.

4. Store the curls until needed by sealing them in an odor-free plastic container in the refrigerator.

5. For tempered chocolate curls,
temper the chocolate. When it hits 84-86 degrees F., pour it onto a clean marble slab or countertop. With a spatula, quickly spread it 1/16-1/8 inch thick it sets. Continue working the chocolate with the spatula until it is no longer shiny. Use a sharp knife to cut the curls. Holding the knife on an angle away from you, push it through the chocolate to the far edge.

6. Scoop up any excess shavings or chocolate and save for your next chocolate project. Simply melt it again when ready to use.

         * DVO welcomes your kitchen hints and cooking or nutrition questions! Email us and we'll post your hints and Q/A's in upcoming newsletters! *

Chocolate Truffles

Death by Chocolate
Lighter Pleasures
The Adventures of Cinnamon and Cocoa

Melting Methods
Choosing Quality Chocolate
Storing Chocolate

Redneck Love Poem For Valentine's Day
Why Men Should Not Babysit
How Do You Decide Who To Marry?
The Pains of Child Birth

We Love You Week

Serving Size Adjustment

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