Crazy for Chocolate
is a great excuse to talk about chocolate! Even though the Easter
bunny usually brings a variety of manufactured chocolates that
are certainly good enough to satisfy our chocolate cravings, it
is worth while to explore the finer chocolates and discover why
they truly make a difference in your confections, baked goods
and of course your snacking needs!
Brief History of Chocolate
history of chocolate spans more than 2,000 years. It is believed
that cacao (pronounced kah KOW) first grew in Central and South
America. Chocolate is made from the seeds of the cacao tree. The
first people known to have made chocolate are the Maya and Aztec
people. They mixed ground cacao seeds along with water, chile
peppers, cornmeal and other seasonings to make a spicy, frothy
drink. This ancient beverage was considered a sacred brew by royalty,
rulers, priests, decorated soldiers and honored civic leaders.
the early 1800s a Dutch chocolate maker, Conrad J. Van Houten
patented an inexpensive method for pressing the fat from the roasted
cacao beans. The end result from this pressing method was a fine
powder known as "cocoa". The powder was treated with
alkaline salts so the powder would mix more easily with water.
Today, this process is known as "dutching". Dutch chocolate
has a dark color and mild taste. This invention made it possible
to combine chocolate with sugar and then remix it with cocoa butter
to create a solid. This process paved the way for future chocolate
inventors to develop milk chocolate and many other variations
of chocolate that we all enjoy today.
have found that the finer chocolate makers produce the most pure
form of chocolate void of any possible gluten contaminates
potentially found on large commercial production lines. One of
our favorite chocolates manufacturers, Scharffen Berger, makes
their chocolate virtually the same way it was made back in the
late 1800s. They produce their chocolate directly from the
beans and only use the purest ingredients throughout the process.
The process of turning cacao into chocolate begins with the beans.
This particular chocolate maker starts by carefully selecting
a variety of cacao beans found from all over the world. The beans
are then sorted by hand and roasted. After roasting, the beans
are loaded into a machine known as the winnower, which removes
the outer hulls and separates the "nibs, or the center
of the beans. The nibs are the basic product used for chocolate
production. The nibs along with sugar and vanilla are then mashed
into a thick paste. The result is a "chocolate liquor"
which is then transferred to a "conche-refiner". At
this point heat is introduced to the chocolate to allow the chocolate
to thoroughly blend. After conching, the liquid chocolate is then
tempered for several hours. This involves several stages of heating
and cooling the liquid chocolate to stabilize the cocoa butter
crystals so they are more uniform in size. It also gives the chocolate
a bright luster and a sharp snap when you break it. The final
step in this amazing process is molding and packaging.
the Right Kind of Chocolate
are many different kinds of chocolate to choose from and all serve
there purpose in baking and general snacking enjoyment. Couverture
chocolate is the highest quality chocolate. It is very pure and
contains a high percentage of coca butter giving it a superb flavor.
It is usually used for handmade chocolates and normally is tempered
before use. Plain chocolate is best used in desserts and baked
goods, but you need to check the percentage of cocoa solids. The
higher the percentage, the better the flavor. Milk chocolate is
quite low in cocoa solids, only containing about 20% and is much
sweeter than plain chocolate. Generally speaking, it should not
be used for cooking. White chocolate gets its flavor from
cocoa butter and contains no cocoa solids. As with all manufactured
chocolates, but particularly white chocolate, make sure that you
check the ingredients for additives that may contain gluten. When
using white chocolate, make sure that you melt it very carefully
since it burns quite easily. Cocoa is an easy and inexpensive
way to add chocolate flavor to your cooking. It is made from cocoa
mass after the cocoa butter has been removed.
chocolate gives the chocolate a glossy finish and a nice, hard
and crisp consistency. To temper chocolate, break your couverture
chocolate into small pieces and place it into a bowl. Stand the
bowl over simmering water (not boiling) and stir the chocolate
until it melts. Remove the bowl from the heat and place the bowl
in cold water and continue to stir. Return the bowl to the pan
of simmering water and heat until it reaches 88°F then remove
the bowl from the pan. Test the chocolate by taking a spoonful
and spreading it on a cool surface covered with parchment paper
or preferably on a marble slab. It should set within 5 minutes.
If it doesnt, repeat the process of setting it over cool
water then returning it to the heat until it reaches 88°F.
most important thing about melting chocolate is not to rush the
process. The traditional way is to place the chocolate in a bowl
(as in the tempering process above) and place the bowl over simmering
water. Stir the chocolate until it melts. Another way to melt
chocolate is to place the chocolate in a bowl and microwave it.
To melt 4 oz. of chocolate microwave it on full power for about
a minute. Remove it from the microwave and stir. If it is not
completely melted, return it to the microwave for about 20-30
seconds. Stir until completely melted.
should be stored in a cool, dry place (68°F) and should not
come in contact with water at any time (unless a recipe specifically
requires it) It should not be stored in the refrigerator.
News for Chocolate Lovers
has received a lot of bad press for contributing to tooth decay
and acne. Actually research shows that chocolate neither causes
or aggravates acne nor has it been proven to cause cavities (the
sugar in the chocolate may contribute to cavities, but no more
than the sugar in any other food). Obviously eating too much of
any food may cause adverse health problems. Although the cocoa
butter in chocolate does contain saturated fat, which can increase
blood cholesterol levels, recent research has found that chocolate
carries high levels of chemicals known as phenolics, some of which
may help lower the risk of heart disease. Apparently phenolics
prevent fat-like substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing
and clogging the arteries. While phenolics have chemically been
proven to reduce oxidation, it is not known if the phenolic compounds
found in chocolate can actually reduce heart disease. More research
is currently being done on this subject.