Choosing slightly better-quality chocolate is always worth it. What is better quality though? Martin Isaksson at Chokladfabriken has a surprisingly simple answer – Check the ingredients.
The shorter the list of ingredients, the better the chocolate
Really good chocolate always contains cocoa mass, sugar and cocoa butter, maybe natural vanilla, and often soy or sunflower lecithin for the texture. Milk chocolate also contains powdered milk or cream. You don’t need anything else. No flavorings, no colorings, and most importantly no added fat, only the fat that naturally occurs in cocoa beans – cocoa fat.
There are seasons when cocoa pods are harvested, but as an ingredient, high-quality chocolate is available all year round. Chocolate is traditionally associated with autumn and the cooler times of the year but it’s really up to you.
Chocolate works all year round.
– Kin Tsui, 39 Wäst, on seasonal desserts
These days you can find good chocolate in ordinary supermarkets, but the smaller – and more painstaking – chocolate manufacturers especially have a lot to offer. If you don’t have a local option, try buying chocolate online from Valrhona, Felchlin, Callebaut or Chocovic.
What is cocoa?
Chocolate comes from cocoa beans. The beans are dried, roasted, ground and pressed to force out the cocoa butter, leaving the cocoa mass behind. Cocoa powder is ground cocoa mass. The two most common types of cocoa powder contain 10–12% cocoa butter and 20–22% cocoa butter respectively.
Fresh, high-quality cocoa is a deep red-brown – not grey-brown – color. The flavor is clear and aromatic, even without added sugar. The highest quality cocoa bean is considered to be “Criollo”. In terms of flavor, going for higher quality cocoa is usually worth it.
Cocoa content matters
Say you’re going to make a chocolate mousse and the recipe is based on chocolate with 70% cocoa content. Say too that you know your guests like milk chocolate and you replace the dark chocolate with a milk chocolate with a cocoa content of 35%. This being the case, you might also need to reduce the amount of cream, because cocoa absorbs liquid and there’s less cocoa in the milk chocolate.
The best tip is to follow a reliable recipe for milk chocolate mousse the first ten times you make milk chocolate mousse. The choice of chocolate and the cocoa content matter a lot, in other words.
Melted cocoa butter
Cocoa butter, which accounts for half of the cocoa bean, is a magical fat. It melts at 34.6°C and it’s the cocoa butter that gives the chocolate its irresistible texture. Put a piece on your tongue and you’ll see. Make the right choice, choose cocoa butter.
We’re made to eat chocolate.
– Annika Edestrand, Chokladfabriken
Pure chocolate needs to be stored in a cool, dry place, ideally at 16–18°C. A wine cellar is an ideal spot. Or a draughty cupboard. The fridge, on the other hand, is not a good place to store high-quality chocolate.
Don’t store chocolate in the fridge
When chocolate is taken from room temperature to fridge temperature, the fat and sugar crystals emerge and form a whitish-grey surface that looks unattractive and spoils the flavor. The fridge also has a negative impact on texture. Don’t store the main ingredient of your chocolate desserts in the fridge.
Only a short time at room temperature
If you store chocolate at room temperature it also turns matte and discolored after a while. You can restore its original color and shine by tempering (see below) but the simplest solution is not to leave chocolate lying around for too long before using it in a dessert.
Cocoa lasts longer
Because much of the sensitive cocoa butter has been removed, cocoa lasts a long time if it is kept in a cool, dry and dark place. But it loses flavor and color too if you keep it too long.
To make high quality chocolate properly beautiful, properly delicious and to make it behave properly in the hands of a chocolatier, it needs to be tempered.
Temper chocolate like a pro
Tempering means melting the chocolate down by heating it to a certain temperature, cooling it down and warming it up again before letting it cool. If the block of chocolate is tempered correctly, it will look the way it should: The surface should be shiny, and the chocolate should snap when you break it.
If you’re making your own chocolates or chocolate decorations at home, it’s worth learning how to temper chocolate. It’s best done on a granite or marble work surface which won’t take on the heat of the warm chocolate.
Tempering plain chocolate
Melt the chocolate to 48–50°C/118–122°F and pour it onto a clean work surface. Push it backwards and forwards with a large scraper until the temperature has come down to 27–28°C/80–82°F. Scrape the chocolate back into the bowl and heat it up to 31–32°C/87–89°F.
Tempering milk chocolate
Melt the chocolate to 45°C/113°F and pour it onto a clean work surface. Push it backwards and forwards with a large scraper until the temperature has come down to 26–27°C/78–80°F. Scrape the chocolate back into the bowl and heat it up to 30°C/86°F.
Tempering white chocolate
Melt the chocolate to 40°C/104°F and pour it onto a clean work surface. Push it backwards and forwards with a large scraper until the temperature has come down to 25–26°C/77–79°F. Scrape the chocolate back into the bowl and heat it up to 28–29°C/82–84°F.
Cooking with chocolate
Chocolate is the main ingredient in many classic desserts. It’s a favorite among pastry chefs and dessert chefs but it can be a demanding ingredient to cook with.
Ingredients the same temperature
When making desserts with chocolate, make sure the ingredients are all at the same temperature. If the cream is cold and the chocolate is warm, you will easily end up with flakes of chocolate in the cream instead of a beautiful, smooth chocolate cream. If the damage is already done, try gently heating the cream and seeing if the flakes of chocolate dissolve.
Classic chocolate recipes
You’ll find some professional recipes here (and there’s more on the way):
Add alcohol to chocolate
If you’re making truffles and the mixture splits, try pouring in a little bit of alcohol. Brandy (or cognac, as Martin at Chokladfabriken would say) or aged rum are excellent in chocolate. If it gets too runny to be shaped into truffles, it might be time for a rethink. You’ve more or less turned your chocolates into a grown-up version of chocolate sauce. How about someto go with it?
Chocolate is beautiful to look at, but it is even more attractive – and tastes better – in the company of other colorful ingredients. Ice cream, mint, raspberries and nuts are among the classic combinations. Think mouth-feel too.
Follow the flavor trail
Another way to create your own composition on the plate is to “follow the flavor trail”. Find out more here:
Simple chocolate shavings
The simplest decoration you can make – for desserts with or without chocolate – is by taking an ordinary block of chocolate and putting it in the fridge for an hour or two. Once it’s cold and hard, shave off attractive flakes with a cheese slice or peeler. You can find more decorating tips for desserts.