As should be evident throughout my site, I am a big fan of a number of specific food and drink products. Among my favorites are coffee, wine, and artisanal baking. Having said that, there is only one singular ingredient that, at least for me, has created a type of fanatacism. That ingredient is Chocolate.
Chocolate has several similarities to many of the other food products I’ve already listed. It begins as an agricultural product, requires fermentation, and roasting, and produces a product based off of a very minimal number of ingredients that have an infinite number of unique flavour and creative possibilities. The ultimate outcome is based on the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the craftsman.
Much has been written on the subject of Cacao production (within the industry, cacao refers to the agricultural process and product of that process, the cacao pods. Cocoa refers to the products produced from the pod). Although I feel it is important to have an understanding of this process, the average home-based chocolatier will never be involved in this process. Just know that cocoa powder and cocoa butter are two by-products of the refining process, and chocolate is the combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. I may write more about this in a later post.
Chocolate production for most chocolatiers begins with selection of the chocolate they will use. Again, quality is key, so don’t skimp out. Chocolate (commonly labeled as couverture) contains certain percentages of cocoa solids, sugar, and fat content, usually provided by cocoa butter and/or milk (hence the term milk chocolate). There is a product called chocolate coating, which many small chocolate shops (at least in my area) try to pass off as real chocolate. Coatings can not legally be called Chocolate, and contain products not found in real chocolate, such as vegetable fats, bulking agents, and wax. Coating chocolate is used by some places because it is cheap, requires no tempering, and therefore little skill on the part of the chocolatier. If you are familiar with couverture, and how properly tempered chocolate should look and taste, you can spot coating chocolate right away.
On selecting chocolate, there are several different brands available. You’ll find that some people swear by one company, while other people swear by another. Like wine, I think it should come down to personal taste as much as anything. If you like Valrhona, use it. If you prefer Callebaut, use that instead.
Reading the labal on the side of a box of couverture, you will see something like this: 60/40/38. This means that there is 60% cocoa solids, 40% sugar, and 38% total fat content. This would be a dark chocolate. An average milk chocolate example would be 36/42/38. These numbers are important to understand, because the first tells you roughly how dark the chocolate will be, the second will tell you if it’ll be bitter or sweet, and the third will give you an idea about how viscous it will be to work with. The higher the fat content, the more viscous. Keep in mind that it is possible to add cocoa butter to chocolate to thin it out more while working with it. Cocoa butter has a very low melting point. If you put a flake of it on your hand it will melt right away.
White chocolate, which I haven’t yet mentioned, should be beige or off-yellow. If you come across white chocolate that is snow-white, it’s coating chocolate. The reason for this is because white chocolate contains no cocoa solids, and is therefore mainly cocoa butter and sugar. It takes on the colour of the cocoa butter.
It’s good to keep all of this in mind while working with chocolate. Dark chocolate tends to be much more forgiving while tempering than white or milk due to the higher percentage of cocoa solids, and lower amount of fat and sugar. Because of this, dark chocolate tends to set harder than the other two. When making a multi-layered mousse, for example, you want to have the darkest mousse at the bottom for structural stability.
Selection of chocolate for eating is, in my opinion, another personal choice. If you prefer milk chocolate, eat it. If you are a die-hard dark chocolate fan, that’s fine two. At one shop I worked at, we had a guy who always wanted the darkest chocolate we had, and even then it wasn’t dark enough. We ended up getting some 90% couverture from Michel Cluizel http://www.chocolatemichelcluizel-na.com/ , which to me tasted like cocoa powder. It was sooo bitter, no sweetness to it at all. The guy loved it.
I have also been fortunate enough to catch one of Jean-Pierre Wybauw’s chocolate workshops http://www.jeanpierrewybauw.com/ . This turned out to be a great event for meeting other chocolate professionals in my area. I have remained in contact with a few of the people I met there, and even had the good fortune of working with one of them for nearly a year. As it turns out, she lives two doors down from the house I grew up in. I haven’t lived in that town since I was 17 (which, I’m sad to report, was quite some time ago.) It’s a small world, I guess.
http://www.chocolat-chocolat.com/ – great site for chocolate molds