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Chocolate is a popular ingredient widely used in baking recipes and in confectionary work. There is specialty, pure chocolate, generally found in gourmet shops and baking chocolate, found in the grocery store. Pure chocolate can be melted to liquid form, poured into molds to cool, sculpted with and become confections of any shape desired. Baking chocolate is perfect to use in a recipe. Chocolate can be pressed into cocoa powder and used for baking, making ice cream and sorbets. Chocolate chips or chunks can be added to a batter before baking, creating a recipe studded with chocolate throughout. Always pick the best quality chocolate that you can afford and the right one for the job on hand.
1. USE THE CHOCOLATE TYPE CALLED FOR IN THE RECIPE
For best results, be sure to use the type of chocolate and cocoa powder that the recipe calls for, as different varieties will react differently to heat and moisture, plus the taste and texture can change. But, you can substitute one for another if you are aware of how to do
Pure chocolate usually comes in blocks from a grocery or cake decorating store. It is typically used for melting, tempering or molding, dipping and enrobing. However, this type of chocolate can also be used for baking.
Smaller quantities, called baking chocolate, come in 1- to 2-ounce wrapped squares from the grocery store and are perfect for baking. But, you can also purchase pure chocolate wafers -- they look like large chocolate chips and you don't have to chop them. Don't confuse them with couverture or compound chocolate.
Be careful when substituting one chocolate for another because they all have different cocoa butter (fat) and sugar amounts.
Be sure to choose chocolate that has a glossy, unblemished surface. A white dusty film on the outside called bloom is an indication that the chocolate has been stored improperly. However, the presence of bloom does not affect its taste, but it doesn't look good..
SARAH SAYS: I like to use dark bittersweet for both Valrhona for tempering and enrobing and Callebaut for ganache, both available at cookware or cake decorating stores. (Callebaut is a bit thicker than Valrhona). For baking recipes, I like bittersweet Baker's or Hershey's chocolate squares, available from the grocery store. Sometimes I buy Callebaut Bittersweet and it is excellent. For semisweet, I use are Guittard, Ghiradelli and Lindt. Ghiradelli can be bought in bars at your grocery store in the baking section.
2. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE PROPER TOOLS
The right tools are essential and helpful.
3. BE AWARE THAT CHOCOLATE IS SENSITIVE TO TEMPERATURES AND MOISTURE
Store chocolate properly, away from heat and moisture. Be certain that your work surface, pans, and tools are absolutely dry before melting ot tempering chocolate.
The ideal temperature of the kitchen or work area should be approximately 65 - 68 degrees F and no warmer otherwise the melted or tempered chocolate won't set properly or will melt.
The temperature of the candies and fillings to be coated should be as close as possible to 70 to 75 degrees F if combining with other ingredients. If temperatures vary between the two, the chocolate will, when hardened, end up with a dull surface or may seize.
When molding, have the temperatures of the molds as close as possible to that of the kitchen, about 65 to 68 degrees F, so you will get the best possible gloss for the hardened chocolate. If necessary, the molds can be warmed slightly in warm water; make sure you thoroughly dry them before use.
The temperature of the cooling areas should be around 65 - 68 degrees F so the chocolate will harden properly.
4. PROPERLY WEIGH CHOCOLATE.
To weigh chocolate on a scale: First weigh the container the ingredients will go in. Set the "zero" indicator where the bowl's final weight is. Then, add the ingredients. In effect, you have ignored the weight of the bowl and included the weight of the chocolate, which is the proper way to measure.
5. USE EVENLY CHOPPED CHOCOLATE FOR A RECIPE
Large amounts of chocolate, whether from blocks or a multitude of 1-ounce squares, need to be chopped into roughly 1/4-inch pieces before melting. This way it will melt evenly and quickly, and the chocolate won't burn. Do NOT use a food processor.
Instead of chopping the chocolate yourself, you can also purchase pure chocolate wafers, weigh and use as is -- they look like large chocolate chips -- and you don't have to chop them. They are available at any outlet that sells good, pure chocolate. For tempering, don't confuse them with couverture or compound chocolate(candy melts), which are not pure.
6. STIR MELTING CHOCOLATE AT THE RIGHT TIMES
Knowing when to stir chocolate during melting and tempering is very important. The chocolate should slowly begin to melt. Try not to disturb it during this process. A few stirs with a heat proof rubber spatula (not a wooden spoon) near the end of the process should help mix the melted chocolate. Then proceed with gentle stirring.
Always make sure all stirring implements are moisture free as any moisture and can cause the chocolate to seize. Use a dry, heat-proof rubber spatula -- it is preferred for stirring chocolate as opposed to a wooden spoon, which usually contains moisture.
Reasons for stirring:
- One of the major causes of the chocolate separating is inadequate stirring, which allows the fats and solids to break apart. Proper stirring keeps and even temperature throughout and encourages gloss and hardness when it sets after tempering.
- When removed from the heat, the stirring action causes the chocolate to cool faster.
- Stirring evenly distributes the melted chocolate in the bowl. Always stir vigorously for 1 minute before measuring with a Chocolate Thermometer; it gives a more accurate temperature reading.
7. STORE CHOCOLATE PROPERLY
Ideally, chocolate should be wrapped properly and stored at a constant temperature of 55 to 60 degrees F, away from odors in a dark place, with a relative humidity of about the same or 55 to 65% -- with neither temperature nor humidity varying much. (Dark chocolate actually improves with age, like a fine wine, if stored this way.) A wine cellar is a perfect place to store chocolate in as it is temperature and humidity controlled. Unsweetened and dark chocolate will last for up to 18 months in good home kitchen conditions; milk and white chocolate for 6 to 12 months.
If the storage temperature exceeds 75 degrees F, some of the cocoa butter may appear on the surface, causing the chocolate to melt and resolidify, developing a whitish cast, known as "sugar bloom." The chocolate will still be fine to eat and use in a recipe. Never refrigerate chocolate for long-term storage because it is a moist environment, causing it to bloom. If it is especially hot or humid, placing your chocolate in the freezer is still a better choice.
Before storing, chocolate should be wrapped properly, so it does not come into contact with moisture. It's also important that the cocoa butter in it does not pick up any odors or dry out. Chocolate should be wrapped in two layers of protection. For the first layer, either leave the chocolate in the wrapper that the manufacturer provides or wrap the chocolate in a freezer-weight resealable bag and get all of the air out as possible. I like store chocolate in the bags supplied by my home vacuum-sealer and then use the machine to remove the air. The new Press-N-Seal freezer-weight plastic wrap works well, too. Do not use aluminum foil! For the second layer of protection, place the wrapped chocolate inside a resealable heavy-weight freezer bag, making sure you expel all of the air, or use your vacuum-sealer bags and machine.
If you freeze your chocolate, make sure it is double-wrapped in freezer-weight bags and fill the container as full as possible to minimize air space. If using a vacuum-sealer, which is preferred, take care not to crush the chocolates. To freeze the chocolate: after wrapping, place the chocolate in the refrigerator for 24 hours prior to freezing to bring its temperature down. If it starts to condense, open the bag and place a paper towel on the chocolate to absorb the moisture. Leave the chocolate there for an hour, remove the towel and rewrap. Immediately place the chocolate in the freezer while the chocolate is still chilled. To thaw, place the frozen block of chocolate in its wrappers in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Then, place the chocolate in a cool place, away from heat or sunlight, to warm to room temperature for 24 hours before using. The process of slowly thawing the chocolate and bringing it to room temperature helps prevent the formation of condensation on the surface, which in turn will lead to sugar bloom.
SARAH SAYS: If you buy a large block of chocolate, for long-term storage in the freezer, ideally break it up into 1 pound chunks and store separately. Then, you can take what you need for use in a recipe without disturbing the rest.