Karl Petzke and Sara Slavin note in Chocolate,
A Sweet Indulgence (Chronicle Books, 1997), "The craving
for chocolate is physical, arising out of the desire for its
uniquely dark, slightly bitter, rich taste. But the craving is
also emotional for chocolate symbolizes, as does no other food,
luxury, comfort, sensuality, gratification and love."
Although chocolate may not actually
be a true aphrodisiac it does contain theobromine, a mild relative
of caffeine and magnesium, a component found in some tranquilizers,
so it has the unique ability to simultaneously both pick you
up and calm you down. In addition, it's said eating chocolate
releases a chemical in your body similar to that which is produced
when you're in love.
Despite the fact we've been consuming
chocolate in copious quantities since the nineteenth century
(although the Aztec emperor Montezuma was drinking it -- about
50 goblets a day -- centuries earlier) Americans don't win the
prize for highest world wide chocolate consumption. No that distinction
goes to the Swiss whose per capita consumption is a whopping
19 pounds a year. The Swiss are followed by the citizens of Norway,
the United Kingdom, Belgium/Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany,
Austria, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden -- and then the U.S.A. where
every man, woman and child is said to munch down 9 pounds a year.
Chocolate is the most popular
dessert flavoring around. But as you'll discover it's a long
way from cocoa bean to chocolate bar. Detailing the process chocolate
expert Elaine Gonzalez writes in The Art of Chocolate (Chronicle
Books, 1998) "Chocolate is made from beans that grow inside
the pods of the cacao trees, which flourish in hot, rainy climates
within 20 degrees of the equator. Cocoa beans, as they are known
in the United States, don't develop their distinctive chocolate
color, flavor and aroma until they have been fermented, dried
and carefully roasted to precise temperatures. The roasted beans
are then shelled and cracked into small pieces called nibs. The
nibs are then ground, producing a thick, semi-fluid mixture called
chocolate liquor, the primary ingredient in all forms of chocolate,
except white chocolate."
Because chocolate is so delicate
to work with many cooks often find they have a problem melting
it properly. Keep in mind that chocolate naturally melts just
below body temperature, so applying direct heat, say atop a stove
is apt to scotch it. Instead utilize a double boiler and melt
it slowly in a heatproof bowl or pot set above a pan of simmering
water, being careful both to stir frequently and make sure none
of the water below or the condensation from the steam created
leaches into the chocolate.
You can also use a microwave
oven to melt chocolate with good results, just be sure you stop
it frequently to stir it. Generally when the chocolate appears
melted about two-thirds of the way through, remove it from the
microwave oven and continue to stir it until smooth. The residual
heat contained in the melted chocolate will work to help melt
The Difference in Chocolate Varieties Return to Top
Chocolate is pure chocolate
liquor, also known as bitter or baking chocolate. It's unadulterated
chocolate: ground roasted chocolate beans with no other added
ingredients imparts a strong, deep chocolate flavor in all the
sweets you add it to. With the addition of sugar however it's
used as the base for American style layer cakes, brownies, frostings
or Coating Chocolate
is a term used for cocoa butter rich chocolates of the highest
quality. Popular brands of couverture used by professional pastry
chefs and often sold in gourmet and specialty food stores include:
Valrhona, Callabaut, Lindt, and Schraffen-Berger. These chocolates
contain a high percentage of chocolate liquor (sometimes more
than 70 percent) as well as cocoa butter, at least 32-39%, are
very fluid when melted and have an excellent flavor. In fact,
chocolate of this quality is often compared to tasting fine wine
because subtleties in taste are often apparent, especially when
you taste a variety of semisweet and bittersweet couvertures
with different percentages of sugar and chocolate liquor.
Chocolate is chocolate
liquor (or unsweetened chocolate) to which sugar, more cocoa
butter, lecithin, and vanilla has been added. It has less sugar
and more liquor than semisweet chocolate but the two are interchangeable
in baking. The best quality bittersweet and semisweet chocolate
is produced as couverture and many brands now print the percentage
of chocolate liquor it contains on the package. The rule is the
higher the percentage of liquor the more bittersweet the chocolate
will be. Generally Europeans favor bittersweet chocolate and
Americans opt for semisweet chocolate which has more sugar than
Sweet Chocolate is not as common today as it once was
years ago. Developed by the American chocolate manufacturer,
Baker's Chocolate, it is called for in a few recipes and can
be found in most supermarkets.
White Chocolate isn't really considered chocolate at
all due to the absence of chocolate liquor. Quality white chocolate
however always contains cocoa butter. Be wary if you find white
chocolate made with vegetable shortening and/or labeled "confectioners'
coating" which pales in comparison -- taste wise -- to real
white chocolate. And be especially careful when melting white
chocolate which is particularly fragile.
Cocoa Powder, there are two types of unsweetened
baking cocoa available: natural cocoa (like the sort produced
by Hershey's and Nestle) and Dutch-process cocoa (such as the
Hershey's European Style Cocoa and the Droste brand). Both are
made by pulverizing, partially defatted chocolate liquor (unsweetened
chocolate) removing nearly all their cocoa butter. Natural cocoa
is light in color and somewhat acidic with a strong chocolate
flavor. In baking use natural cocoa in recipes which call for
baking soda (because it's an alkali). Combining the two creates
a leavening action that allows the batter to rise during baking.
Dutch-process cocoa has been processed with alkali to neutralize
it's natural acidity so it's darker often with a reddish cast.
Dutch cocoa is slightly milder in taste and deeper in color than
natural cocoa. Use Dutch cocoa in recipes that call for baking
powder as it's leavener. I also prefer to use Dutch process in
recipes like truffles and tiramisu where the taste of the unsweetened
cocoa powder plays an important role.
Do not store chocolate in the
refrigerator or freezer because when it's brought to room temperature
condensation will form on the surface of the chocolate and effect
it's ability to melt smoothly. In fact, in most cases chocolate
and water makes a disastrous combination. If you're melting chocolate
all by itself and even a drop of water accidentally makes its
way into the pot, you can possibly cause the chocolate mixture
to "seize", meaning the chocolate will tighten and
form an unworkable mass. If this should happen when you are melting
chocolate add a few drops of vegetable oil to the chocolate which
will allow it to relax enough that other ingredients can be mixed
Chocolate chips, also known as
morsels, are fine for cookie baking but don't be tempted to melt
them down and utilize them in lieu of semisweet or bittersweet
chocolate. When forced to melt you'll find the consistency is
thick and difficult to use because it contains significantly
less cocoa butter (about 29%) than average bar chocolates.
- It stands to reason the better
tasting the chocolate you elect to use the better the chocolate
Be sure to choose chocolate that
has a glossy, unblemished surface. Superficial imperfections
such as bloom, that white dusty film, is an indication that the
chocolate has been improperly stored and/or has melted and hardened
once again, although it may not always affect its taste.
Chocolate in fine condition will
snap cleanly when you break it, poor quality chocolate on the
other hand will crumble.
Select chocolate that smells
chocolately and appetizing and make sure the chocolate you buy
is neither initially or subsequently stored in or around very
aromatic foods like garlic, tea, coffee, or detergents, all which
can affect it's flavor.
Last, try to buy chocolate you've
had a chance to try first. Wondering how to judge a good chunk
of chocolate? Just place a piece on your tongue and hold it in
your mouth allowing it to slowly melt. If it coats your mouth
with a smooth, velvety feel that's a good sign you're eating
an excellent, albeit most likely, an expensive piece of chocolate.
A sandy, grainy texture however should be avoided.
Chocolate Time Line Return to Top
- 1824: John Cadbury, an English Quaker, begins roasting
and grinding chocolate beans to sell in his tea and coffee shop.
In 1842 Cadbury's Chocolate Company in England creates the first
- 1875: A Swiss chocolate maker, Daniel Peter, mixes
Henri Nestle's con- densed milk with chocolate and the two men
found a company to manufacture the first milk chocolate.
- 1894: Milton Hershey adds a line of chocolate to his
caramel manufacturing business. Soon he invents the Hershey Bar
by experimenting with milk chocolate. Hershey's Cocoa appears
- 1896: Leonard Hershfield invents the Tootsie Roll,
named after his daughter.
- 1897: Brownies are first mentioned in print, listed
for sale in the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogue.
- About 1900: A machine called the enrober is invented
to replace the task of hand-dipping chocolate.
- 1930: Franklin Mars invents the Snickers Bar.
- 1939: Nestle introduces semisweet chocolate morsels.
- 1940: The Mars company invents M&M's for soldiers
going to WWII.
Sources: Chocolate facts and
tips excerpted from article by Laurann Claridge, Chef and Food
Talk Columnist of the Houston Chronicle, Houston, Texas USA.
Chocolate Time Line excerpted from Chocolate, A Sweet Indulgence
by Karl Petzke and Sara Slavin (Chronicle Books, 1997)