From cookies and little sweets with chocolate centres to whole bars, ice cream, muffins, and macaroons, chocolate abounds. But did you ever wonder how you prepare this heavenly sweet that originates from cocoa tree seeds?
Melting chocolate can be very tricky but with a little practice you’ll soon master the technique. Begin with solid tablets of chocolate available at many specialty and gourmet shops. Place the tablets in a heatproof bowl that fits snugly over a saucepan. Half-fill the saucepan with water and bring to a simmer. Place the chocolate-filled bowl on top, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t come into contact with the water or the chocolate will scorch. Also, do not allow any spray from the water to reach the chocolate because even the smallest splash can make the chocolate “seize” and turn grainy.
Stir the chocolate with a metal spoon until melted; don’t use wooden or plastic spoons as they retain moisture and may harden the chocolate. When you raise the temperature of chocolate above 33°C, the cocoa butter crystals melt and lose their shape. When the chocolate cools back down to approximately 26.5°C, it will re-harden, but the crystals will not automatically resume their previous shape so the resulting chocolate will look dull and streaky rather than shiny, with a grainy instead of smooth texture.
Tempering chocolate is different and not the same as melting it. Chocolate must be tempered if it’s to be used in baked items or as chocolate centres. Tempering is a heating, cooling, and stirring process that enables the melted chocolate to set with a glossy surface and smooth texture. The molecules of cocoa butter separate when chocolate is melted and tempering reunites these molecules to produce the final gloss, hardness and snap of chocolate.
For fearless home cooks who want to start from scratch, you can begin your chocolate-cooking adventure with cocoa powder. Chocolate has two main components: the solids, which contain the flavour, and the butter, which adds the rich texture. Cocoa powder derives from mostly solid parts so it’s sans cocoa butter, but this doesn’t make it any less delicious. Begin by mixing the powder with melted butter until a paste forms. Add the paste to hot, but not boiling, water that has been simmering in a saucepan. When the temperature is brought back to a simmer, transfer the mixture to a bowl. Sift granulated sugar and powdered sugar together in a separate bowl, eliminating any clumps, and then stir into the hot cocoa mix. Pour the liquid in moulds and let them harden overnight in the refrigerator or freezer.
Chocolate doesn’t take well to fluctuations in temperature or humidity, so store it wrapped and in an airtight container to avoid the appearance of white spots on the surface. The most important tip when making chocolate is don’t rush it! Also, adding a pinch of salt to the hot chocolate removes some of its innate bitter taste.