Frequently asked questions about cooking with chocolate

There’s probably no ingredient as beloved as chocolate, with even its merest mention evoking indulgence and comfort. Among chocolate’s many endearing virtues is its versatility, able to be utilised in baking recipes, desserts, confectionary, ice cream and even savoury dishes.

But while all chocolate may be derived from the not-so-humble cacao bean, there are an enormous variety of products available that utilise this remarkable ingredient.

We’ve put together this ‘FACQ’ (Frequently Asked Chocolate Questions) guide to help you pick your couverture from your snacking chocolate, your dutched cocoa from your undutched, and your callets from your blocks.

Keen to skip the theory and get straight to cooking? This recipe for our Double Chocolate Tart with Cocoa Nib Praline is the ultimate indulgence.

What’s the difference between cooking chocolate, couverture chocolate, compound chocolate, etc.?

Couverture chocolate has been created with chocolate work in mind, incorporating a higher percentage of cocoa butter than other varieties to improve stability and make tempering easier. Some brands of couverture, such as Lindt, are sold pre-tempered (though will need to be re-tempered once melted).

Cooking chocolate (sometimes referred to as baking chocolate), generally contains a smaller percentage of sugar than eating chocolate, making it easier to control the sugar content of your recipe. As it is usually used in baking, cooking chocolate is sold untempered.

Compound chocolate replaces cocoa butter with palm or vegetable oil, making them cheaper but inferior in flavour and texture.

When should I use blocks, callets and buttons?

Eating, cooking and couverture chocolate are all available in a range of sizes and formats, from large blocks to small callets (also known as ‘choc chips’). Blocks can be chopped, broken or grated into any required size, while the smaller, consistent sizing of buttons and callets make them easier to weigh out into the desired amount, as well as being quicker to melt.

What are the different types of chocolate (milk, dark, etc.), and what difference will they make to my recipe?

At its core, chocolate is the combination of cacao with fat (usually cocoa butter, in the case of quality chocolate, as well as milk solids) and sugar. As cacao is generally considered to be quite bitter, the higher the cacao/cocoa content of a chocolate, the more bitter it will be.

Milk chocolate commonly contains anywhere from 10% to 40% cocoa, while dark can range from 58-70%. Chocolate with cocoa content of over 90% is also available, but can be less stable when used in place of lower cocoa-content chocolate in recipes, due to the lack of fat.

Fat and sugar contents can also have an impact on how your chocolate behaves in any given recipe. Darker chocolate (ie. Chocolate with a higher cocoa content) is often used in cakes, desserts, ice creams and other applications where additional sugar and fat is added, preventing the chocolate flavour from becoming too diluted. Milk chocolate (and other lower cocoa percentage chocolates), are used less frequently in cooking, and incorporated more often into bars, truffles and other confections.

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, milk solids and sugar, without the addition of cacao.

Dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa is often made without the use of milk solids, and is usually vegan.

Some chocolate also includes soy lecithin or other emulsifiers to help bind the various ingredients and create a smoother viscosity when melted.

The cocoa content of your chocolate will also affect the temperatures at which it will successfully temper.

What’s the difference between dutched and undutched cocoa powder?

‘Dutched’ cocoa powder has been alkalized to reduce its acidity levels, resulting in a smoother, more mellow flavour and darker colour than natural ‘undutched’ cocoa. As a general rule, dutched cocoa should be used in recipes that include baking powder (or self-raising flour), and undutched used in recipes that include baking soda. Where no raising agent is needed, such as in ice creams, chocolate sauces and icings, you can choose either according to your taste preferences.

What is ‘tempering’ and how do I do it?

Tempering chocolate stabilises the cocoa butter molecules in your chocolate, giving them a glossy, crisp finish that is more resistant to melting at the touch of your hands. Most elaborate chocolate decorations found on desserts and cakes are constructed using tempered chocolate.

While there are many methods for tempering chocolate, they all involve heating the chocolate to a specific temperature (temperatures change according to the cocoa butter content), cooling it to another specific temperature, then heating it again.

This video, featuring Lindt’s Master Chocolatier Thomas Schnetzler, outlines one of the simplest methods of tempering chocolate.

What are cocoa/cacao nibs and when do I use them?

Cocoa nibs are the antioxidant-rich, fermented, dried and crushed pulp fragments from inside raw cacao beans. They have the bitter, complex flavour of unsweetened dark chocolate. Since they retain their nutty texture when heated, use them to add crunch and favour to chocolate bars, sauces and pralines, or to decorate cakes.

Find a wide range of specially selected, quality chocolate products, as used by many of the world’s best restaurants, in your nearest The Essential Ingredient store, or buy online for delivery to anywhere in Australia.

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