February is just around the corner and with it the busiest day of the year for candy makers, particularly chocolatiers. According to the National Confectioners Association, 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolates will be bought and given over Valentine’s Day. That’s a lot of chocolate. Not bad for an ingredient that, for a large part of its history, was consumed mostly as a drink.
History of Chocolate
Chocolate originates with the Cacao bean, the fruit of the Cacao tree. The trees are indigenous to Central and South America and were widely cultivated by the ancient native tribes and was probably first used as a bitter spice. It is believed that the word chocolate was derived from the Aztec word “xocoatl,” an Aztec drink made of ground cocao beans, spices, corn, vanilla and chilies. The word “cocoa,” however, is believed to have been a misspelling of cocao, made by European traders.
The bitter chocolate drink was introduced to Spanish Conquistadors, who brought it to Spain. By the 17th century, the drink was common among European nobility, with one important change: the chilies were replaced with sugar. It wouldn’t be until the late 1820’s that Dutch chocolate maker discovered the process for making cocoa powder, and it was soon being used in cakes and other sweets. Others would build on his discovery, and in 1830, English chocolate maker Joseph Storrs Fry would product the world’s first “eating chocolate.”
When selecting chocolate quality should be the first determining factor, and there is typically a correlation between quality and price. However, high-quality chocolates typically contain large amounts of cocoa butter and solids providing more chocolate flavor than inferior chocolates.
When possible taste your chocolates before purchasing. If the chocolate flavor will be the primary flavor of a recipe, make sure you like the chocolate’s flavor. Good chocolate should be smooth and velvety as it melts in your mouth (i.e., mouth-feel).
Make sure that the surface of the chocolate is smooth, glossy and blemish free. Scarred, cloudy or grey chocolate may be a sign that the chocolate is old, been stored improperly, or subject to extreme temperatures, and should be avoided.
Types of ChocolateCocoa Powder
Coca powder is generally made by removing the majority of the cocoa butter from the bean then grinding the remaining mass into a powder. There are two types of cocoa powder: natural and Dutch-processed.
Natural cocoa powder is very bitter on its own, but will lend a deep chocolate flavor to the finished recipe, but a slight bitter after note may be noticed. Use natural cocoa powder in recipes calling for baking soda for leavening.
Dutch-processed cocoa is treated with alkaline to neutralize its acids. The process will darken the cocoa and gives it a milder flavor. Because the neutral Dutch-processed cocoa powder will not react with baking soda, it is best used in recipes calling for baking powder as a leavening.German Chocolate/Sweet Chocolate
Developed by Samual German, thus giving the chocolate its name, of Water Baker & Company (i.e., Baker’s Chocolate), German chocolate is a dark baking chocolate with sugar added to it. The addition of the sugar is why it is often referred to as Sweet Chocolate.Milk Chocolate
Milk chocolate contains milk or cream, higher sugar content, and other flavorings (e.g., vanilla), in addition to the chocolates. It is the most common form of eating chocolate. Because of the high sugar content and added milk, cooking with milk chocolate can be challenging because of an increased risk for burning. Semi-Sweet and Bittersweet Chocolate
Both names refer to a dark chocolate that does not contain milk solids. Americans mostly refer to it as semi-sweet while Europeans refer to it as bittersweet. In the U.S., the addition of cocoa differentiates the types of chocolate. Dark and extra dark contain the more cocoa resulting in a more bitter flavor. Bittersweet usually has a strong but milder chocolate flavor, and semisweet has more sugar added. White Chocolate
Technically, white chocolate isn’t a chocolate. It contains only cocoa butter, milk, sugar, and flavor. The lack of chocolate solids other than cocoa butter account for its white color.
Chocolate should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Keep chocolates out of direct sunlight. Avoid storing chocolate close to foods with strong odors, as chocolate will easily absorb strong odors.
Before freezing, place chocolate in an airtight container. When thawing for use, allow the chocolate to come to room temperature in the storage container. This will prevent condensation from forming on the chocolate that will interfere with melting and may cause the chocolate to seizing.
Chocolate that has been exposed to extreme temperatures or has been mishandled may develop chocolate bloom. Bloom in a powdery grey coating that appears on the chocolate. Bloom doesn’t always mean that the chocolate is bad, but it will affect the flavor and texture of the candy.
There are two types of chocolate bloom: fat bloom and sugar bloom.
Fat bloom is the butterfats that have separated in the chocolate and risen to the surface of the candy. It does not necessarily mean that the chocolate has spoiled.
Sugar bloom occurs when chocolate has been exposed to extreme temperatures or high humidity. The sugar in the chocolate has crystallized. The result of sugar bloom in an unpleasant grainy texture, while not harmful if eaten, should be avoided.