The Nitty Gritty Details of Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate
This time of year when people try their hand at chocolates to give as a gift, we are asked all manner of questions about chocolate work. Many of the questions are the same, so hopefully this blog will help you in your quest for Christmas goodies as well.
Bark or real chocolate for dipping? The answer is…it depends. If all you really want to do is show the cooking skills of a hot day and just melt it down, (and you don’t care about the taste or texture), then yes – you can use bark or those packaged candy coating discs. Candy coating & bark are generally corn-syrup based and have additives that allow it to re-gain & hold its shape quickly when it cools. Bark is easy to use and doesn’t require tempering and is more forgiving than real chocolate in the microwave. Neither candy coating or bark is very tasty and both tend to have a waxy consistency.
Now – if superior taste & creamy texture is your goal, then you want to use chocolate. It takes a bit more care, but the results are superior.
Can I use Chocolate Chips instead of Bark? Emphatic “No”. Chocolate chips are designed to hold their shape when heated. They act inconsistently between manufacturers, may not melt smoothly, and probably won’t re-set up properly enough. Once melted and then cooled, they generally retain a sticky quality. Paying more and buying a super-expensive brand name chocolate chip doesn’t make a difference when you’re talking “chocolate chips”.
Can I use real chocolate left over from last Christmas? Maybe, but you probably you won’t get desirable results. Chocolate oxidizes in the air. For best results, real chocolate should be used within 3 months, but it can be kept for a couple more months without going “bad” if it is stored properly. Chocolate older than a few months most likely will not melt down smoothly such that you would get the results you want.
What’s the dipping yield for 1 pound of chocolate? That depends on the size & number of things you want to dip and how thick or thin your chocolate. Here are some basic guidelines for the common chocolate-dipped items we make this time of year…use as a gauge for dipping yours:
- Pre-packaged pretzel rods – 45-50
- Pre-packaged pretzel twists (the bite-sized ones) – 125-130
- Truffles (1″ balls) – About 50-60
- Strawberries (large) – About 20-25
- Caramel pecan “turtles”; 1 to 1-1/2 inches – about 75
- Double-stuff chocolate sandwich cookies – 25 to 30
How do I store real chocolate-coated candy? Store molded and chocolate-dipped candy (pretzels, etc.) in an airtight container at room temperature. Items not completely coated in chocolate should be sealed really well as they could become stale quickly. Be especially aware of any perishable ingredients like milk or cream that may be inside the treat and which will reduce their shelf life. Avoid refrigerating if you can because the moisture condensation can quickly wreck the appearance of your hard work.
What is the difference between 65%, 70% or 85% chocolate? The percentage shows how much of the chocolate is actually made using the cocoa bean, which could be in the form of either ground-up bean (chocolate liquor) or cocoa butter (the fat pressed from the bean). Some chocolate manufacturers also add cocoa powder, but that can add a bitterness to the flavor. Generally, the percentage that isn’t cocoa bean is the remaining percentage of sugar, vanilla (to round out the flavor) and sometimes an emulsifier. The higher the percentage on the package, the lower the percentage of sugar; hence, the richer but less sweet the chocolate will typically taste. Don’t be fooled into using the terms “semi-sweet” or “bittersweet” when referring to chocolate either. Semisweet is typically more sweet than bittersweet, but these terms are interchangeable and basically meaningless without the percentage of butter fat (and brands will vary when using these terms without the percentage). Don’t also be fooled that a high cocoa content means a delicious chocolate. While many excellent chocolates have high percentages of cocoa, so do many inferior chocolates.
Why is white chocolate white? Real white chocolate is made from cocoa butter, powdered milk and sugar and doesn’t contain any cocoa solids…only cocoa butter (which is the fat) . To really be considered “white chocolate”, it must contain at least 20% cocoa butter. Most mass-market makers of white chocolate don’t bother; instead using vegetable oils instead of cocoa butter. Chances are, if you don’t like white chocolate, you have never tasted the real thing. REAL white chocolate, because of the 20% cocoa butter, actually has a chocolate taste, but is sweeter and creamier than the brown chocolates.
What’s the best chocolate? The best chocolate is the chocolate that you enjoy the most. The numbers are just a useful tool to gauge how fat rich the chocolate is so you can find what you like best. We recommend you find what you like the best …try a wide variety of chocolates from different parts of the world, each having varying amounts of cocoa content.
Why does stored chocolate develop a white film? If your chocolate has a white film covering it, it’s likely that chocolate has “bloomed”, which doesn’t spoil the chocolate other than its looks. “Bloom” means that either the fats or the sugars have separated from the chocolate and migrated to the surface causing those white patches on the chocolate and a grey appearance. This happens because the chocolate has been exposed to temperature fluctuations (too warm is a fat bloom). If it has become too hot, the cocoa butter will actually crystalize and alter the texture as well, which is referred to as losing “temper”. If condensation comes in contact with the stored chocolate, it’s known as a “sugar” bloom. You can easily test for sugar bloom by moistening your finger and touching the white part. If it disappears, then it’s sugar bloom. Bloomed chocolate can still be used and it will still taste good, but may have a softer texture, may be more difficult to melt and may have lost some of the creaminess you want. If you try to melt bloomed chocolate and it won’t melt smoothly enough for dipping, you can mix it with nuts, crushed cookies, or chopped-up dried fruits and drop by the tablespoonful onto parchment paper. Allow it to cool; peel from the paper and eat or give away to be eaten within a week or so. To avoid blooming, store your chocolate in a cool, dry place with a consistent temperature.
How do I store unused chocolate? Any chocolate contains cocoa butter, which is a fat, which very easily absorbs odors from its surroundings. It is important to store chocolate away from spices or other items that have strong odors (onions in particular). Chocolate should be stored in an area of low humidity, if at all possible. Moisture may dissolve the sugar on the surface of the chocolate, causing sugar “bloom”. For this reason, chocolate should be stored at between 61 and 64 degrees F (16-18 degrees C), though chocolate may be stored at temps as high as 75 degrees F. Anything above this runs the risk of damaging the chocolate (though lots of people-including us-store at this temp or above without problems…though we don’t store chocolate for long.
If you live in a very warm and/or humid environment, chocolate may be stored in the refrigerator or even the freezer, but you must tightly wrap it so that it won’t absorb odors and, most importantly, when you take it out of the fridge or freezer, keep it wrapped in a towel or other insulation so that it warms slowly and evenly . This will help prevent shock to the crystalline structure of the cocoa butter, as well as avoid condensation that may cause sugar bloom (see below).
Why is dark chocolate considered healthy? Good quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 60% or more is significantly beneficial to your health. Just an ounce per day provides essential vitamins and trace nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and vitamins A, B1, C, D and E. Chocolate contains flavonoids, part of a group of antioxidants known as polyphenols. Antioxidants delay the aging process at a cellular level and are believed to guard against cancer. Flavonoids are directly related to pigmentation. The darker the chocolate, the higher the antioxidants will be.
Milk bonds to antioxidants during digestion, therefore milk chocolate is not considered a source of antioxidants. Recent research shows chocolate flavonoids encourage vascular wall improvement and blood vessel function. Chocolate may also have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. It contains both stearic and oleic acids, one a saturated fat which will not raise bad cholesterol and the other which may raise good cholesterol.
Small amounts of natural stimulants are found in dark chocolate. Caffeine and theobromine are both present, but not in amounts large enough for a strong physical effect. Chocolate has been known to boost serotonin levels and the phenyl ethylamine found in cocoa is a mild mood elevator. Delicious and nutritious, chocolate is nature’s own antidepressant. (Thanks for this answer from <http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/frequently-asked-questions-about-chocolate-and-your-health> )
Well, we hope this helps. If you have any questions that we didn’t touch on, please let us know. We LOVE working with chocolate and hope you have a very happy Christmas season!
Ciao for Now!
V & K