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The 16 Most-Frequently-Asked
Questions About Chocolate

by Mary Goodbody
Chocolatier March 2000

“Over the last 16 years, we have been asked numerous questions about our
favorite subject. Some have been easy to answer, but others have sent us
scrambling. We look for answers from chocolate manufacturers, from
pastry chefs, from chocolatiers, and from our own experience in the test
kitchen. And the past 16 years have taught us much, even as we continue
to learn.
To celebrate our 16th birthday, we have compiled 16 of the most-frequently-
asked questions. Without doubt, there are at least 16 more that we could
have added to the list. We hope these answer some of your questions – and
will inspire you to keep asking."

1. What is the difference between bittersweet and semisweet?
Practically speaking, there is no difference. By FDA standards, both chocolates must contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor (unsweetened chocolate). After this requirement is met, the individual manufacturers
can add more chocolate liquor, as well as sugar, additional cocoa butter, milk solids, lecithin and flavorings, such as vanilla and vanillin. (The addition of milk solids does not make these chocolates ‘milk chocolate’ but instead is sometimes added in very small amounts as a way to
smooth out the flavor.)
In past years, it was safe to generalize that European bitter chocolate was referred to as ‘bittersweet’ and American bitter chocolate was referred to
as ‘semisweet.’ This is no longer a safe rule of thumb as more and more American manufacturers use the term ‘bittersweet.’ Either can be used in
a recipe, but depending on the type used when the recipe was developed, the outcome may be very similar to the original intent, or quite different. It’s a good idea to experiment to discover your favorite types of chocolates – and if a recipe specifies a brand or type (such as ‘extra bittersweet’) try to use it. Both semisweet and bittersweet chocolate may be referred to as ‘dark chocolate.’

2. What is white chocolate?
White chocolate is a combination of cocoa butter, sugar, butterfat, milk solids, lecithin and flavorings. It contains no chocolate liquor and so gets
its mild chocolate flavor from the cocoa butter. It also gets its ivory color
from this most sublime fat. [Check the label for cocoa butter content.] If
you buy a product that is labeled ‘white chocolate’ and yet it looks bright
white, chances are it contains no cocoa butter but instead is a mixture of
vegetable fat, milk solids, sugar, lecithin and flavorings. This product may
be called confectionery or summer coating – the word chocolate will be
conspicuously absent.
For years, The United States Standard of Identity barred U.S. manu-facturers from calling the product ‘chocolate’ and so it was labeled confectionery or summer coating. These standards are being reviewed
and may soon be relaxed. If this is happens, American manufacturers
can call white chocolate just that – as they do in Europe.
White chocolate is sensitive to heat – more so than dark chocolate –
so when melting it, take great care. Keep the water in a double boiler
between 110 and 120 degrees F. White chocolate chips are tricky to
melt in particular because they contain the least amount of cocoa
butter of any form of white chocolate.

3. What is Dutch processed cocoa?
Dutch processed cocoa, which is also called ‘alkalized’ cocoa powder,
has been treated with an alkali during processing to produce a less harsh-tasting, darkly colored cocoa. This process is purely to control flavor and color. Many people erroneously assume that alkalized cocoa powder is ‘better’ than non-alkalized or ‘natural’ cocoa powder. It is no better, just more mellow tasting and darker colored. For the best results, use the
type indicated in the recipe.
All cocoa powder is made from chocolate liquor that has nearly all the
cocoa butter removed under pressure so that it forms a press cake. This
is ground into powder. While cocoa is considered low in fat (compared
to other chocolates), it still contains 22 percent cocoa butter.

4. What is the best way to melt chocolate?
For years, cooks preferred the double boiler for melting chocolate. It
is still the method of choice for many, although using the microwave
is perhaps the most efficient and foolproof way to melt chocolate.
For even melting and to avoid scorching, melt chopped chocolate at 50 percent (medium) power in the microwave. The amount of time neces-
sary depends on the amount of chocolate, how finely it is chopped, the
amount of cocoa butter in the chocolate, and the wattage of the micro-
wave. The appearance of the chocolate is more telling than the time.
Begin with a minute or minute and a quarter and then look at the choco-
late, checking it frequently, until it looks shiny and wet. It will not melt
into a liquid pool as it does in a double boiler. When it looks soft, wet
and shiny, remove it from the microwave and stir it for about 1 minute
until it’s completely melted. Stirring is important to stabilize the temper-
ature of the chocolate.
If you prefer the double boiler, make sure the water never boils or
even comes to a simmer. Boiling and simmering produce steam, which
can seep into the melting chocolate and cause it to stiffen, or ‘seize’.
Stir the chocolate frequently - it is never a bad idea to stir melting
chocolate and is especially important for white or milk chocolates.
Do not let white or milk chocolates attain temperatures exceeding
110 degrees F (remove them from the heat source when they reach
105 degrees  F); do not let unsweetened or bitter chocolates attain
temperatures exceeding 120 degrees F (remove them from the heat
source when they reach 115 degrees F). Regardless of method, all
chocolate to be melted should be coarsely chopped so that it is in
small chunks, no more than half an inch thick.

5. How can I prevent chocolate from seizing?
Chocolate seizes when it comes in contact with small amounts of
moisture during melting – which can easily happen when the chocolate
is melted over a double boiler and the water is permitted to simmer or
boil and thus produce steam. You will know that chocolate has seized
when it lumps, hardens, and refuses to soften, regardless of the intensity
of the heat and enthusiastic stirring.
If the chocolate seizes, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil for every ounce
of chocolate and beat vigorously. If this does not help (and it might not), scrape the chocolate onto a piece of waxed paper and let it harden. Use
the chocolate another time when you are making something that calls for
chocolate to be melted with liquid, such as cream, milk, coffee, butter,
or liquor. One of the quirks of chocolate is that it never stiffens when
melted with sizable amounts of liquid, but seizes tight as a drum when a
tiny measure of liquid invades it. The usual percentage is two ounces of
chocolate for every tablespoon of liquid.

6. What is chocolate bloom?
Chocolate bloom is the tell-tale sign that chocolate has not been stored correctly. The most obvious type of bloom, fat bloom, looks like gray-
white blotches and streaks on the chocolate and occurs when the choco-
late is exposed to heat during storage. Sugar bloom, which leaves the
chocolate feeling rough, occurs when the chocolate is stored in damp
conditions. Melting and/or tempering bloomed chocolate eliminates the
problem, although chocolate affected with sugar bloom should not be
melted and used for fine candy making.

7. What is the best way to store chocolate?
Store chocolate at cool room temperature in a dark place with good air circulation; the refrigerator is not recommended although if your kitchen
is particularly hot and humid, it might be your only choice. Wrap it well
o protect it from odors.
Ideally, chocolate should be wrapped first in foil and then in plastic and stored at a constant temperature of 65 degrees F and 50 percent humidity. Slightly higher temperatures and humidity are acceptable although the chocolate may not last as long. Stored under perfect conditions, un-sweetened and dark chocolate will last for 10 years, and certainly up
to a year in good home kitchen conditions; milk and white chocolate
for 7 to 8 months.
Formed chocolate candies such as truffles and pralines can be frozen
and defrosted in the refrigerator before being brought to room temper-
ature for serving.

8. What is couverture?
Couverture is the chocolate of choice for most serious chocolate work.
It is a term for professional-quality coating chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter – at least 32 percent and often as high as 39 percent. The extra cocoa butter allows the chocolate to form a thinner coating shell than other chocolate. When melted, it is beautifully fluid
with a workable viscosity. Couverture must be tempered properly before it’s used for candy making or it won’t set properly and the texture will be grainy. Couverture chocolate can be used for home baking and simple candy making, if you prefer.

9. What is tempering?
Tempering is a process of melting and cooling chocolate to precise temperatures (depending on the type) so that the cocoa butter crystals stabilize; when cooled, tempered chocolate has a pleasing shine,
satisfying ‘snap’ when bitten, and it retains its marvelous mouthfeel.
Chocolate is in temper when it leaves the manufacturer but may go
out of temper if improperly stored – manifested by the appearance
of chocolate bloom. It also goes out of temper when melted. It is
necessary for fine candy making such as enrobing and molding, but
not a technique most home cooks need to worry about.

10. What is ganache?
Ganache is a mixture of bitter (or dark) chocolate and cream. Depend-
ing on its temperature and consistency, it can be used as a frosting, glaze,
filling, or sauce. Ganache’s best-loved role is as the basis for chocolate truffles.

11. What is a truffle?
Truffle is a term for a chocolate candy that is made from ganache and
may be flavored with fruit, liqueur, vanilla, nuts, and so on, and it may
be enrobed with a shell of couverture chocolate. Chocolate truffles are
so named in honor of the rare culinary truffle, a mushroom prized by gourmets for its rich earthy flavor. Chocolate truffles, of course, bear
no resemblance but instead taste divinely of rich, satiny chocolate.

12. Why is some chocolate so much more expensive
than other chocolate?

The price of chocolate varies greatly from inexpensive candy bars to
pricey truffles. Like wine, the price varies depending on the processing
and quality of the original ingredients (a chocolate made from high-
quality cacao beans and other ingredients, with a greater percentage
of cocoa butter, with more extensive refining during manufacture) and
the amount of fine hand work needed to fashion the chocolate into a confection.

13. What is devil’s food?
Devil’s food cakes are an American tradition, so named because the
dark chocolate crumb of the cake takes on a distinctive reddish hue.
This is caused by the reaction of non-alkalized cocoa powder with
baking soda, an alkali. Devil’s food is much loved for its mild but
nonetheless rich chocolate flavor.

14. Why can’t I use unsweetened chocolate in a recipe calling for bittersweet and just add sugar?
Guesswork would be involved in such a change, and even a slight change
in the amount of sugar in a given recipe will disrupt the balance of sweet-
ness and interfere with the texture of the final cake, brownie, or cookie.
Too much sugar attracts moisture and so the baked product likely will be
dense and heavy. Chocolate manufacturers understand how much sugar
to add to their product for the correct balance of flavor and texture and
then how to process the chocolate so that the texture and taste are
smooth and even.

15. Why can’t I substitute milk chocolate in recipes
calling for bittersweet or semisweet?

Milk chocolate cannot be substituted in baking or most other recipes
because by nature it contains lesser amounts of chocolate liquor than bittersweet or semisweet chocolate and will not react properly with the
other ingredients in the recipe. The high percentage of milk proteins
also makes milk chocolate extremely heat sensitive, hard to melt, and
difficult to use in baking. It must contain no less than 3.66 percent of
butterfat (milk fat), no less than 12 percent milk solids, and at least 10
percent chocolate liquor. How much sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin, and
flavorings is up to each manufacturer. Milk chocolate is our favorite
eating chocolate – but alas, not the first choice for baking and
confectionery.

16. Why do we love chocolate so?
Since people first started enjoying chocolate, it has held a special place
in the culinary universe. It is unique among foods, used as an ingredient,
a flavoring, and a foodstuff in its own right, and as such is hard to define. Eating a small piece of chocolate is a heavenly experience – cocoa butter melts at body temperature and so there is that moment when the choco-
late is no longer solid, and not yet liquid. But there is more. Chocolate’s
aroma, its ability to create ‘taste memories’ and its indescribably rich
flavor all combine to make it a food most people cannot resist. But at
the same time cannot fully explain. And why should we?
 

How to Melt Chocolate
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