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.