Why I Love … Chocolate

This post is by Jules Clancy of Stonesoup.

Growing up I was more a vanilla or caramel fan. Chocolate didn’t really do much for me, especially when it came to ice cream flavours.

Over the years I did learn to enjoy the odd square here and there. But in general I was more the type of person who gets excited about the cheese course, rather than planning my meal around something gooey and chocolatey.

Then I landed a job designing chocolate biscuits for Australia’s largest biscuit company.

My friends were very jealous. The words “dream job” were bandied about quite a bit.

I wasn’t that excited.

I knew it was going to be kind of fun. But I didn’t realise just how much it was going to change my relationship with chocolate.

You know the old saying that if you’re not excited about something, just dig deeper and learn more about it and soon you’ll be loving it?

Chocolate cake

Image is author's own

Well that was what happened with me and chocolate.

So if you’re struggling to find something to love about chocolate, here are some tips to expand your knowledge and foster a little (more) chocolate love.

Chocolate isn’t naturally sweet

The first time I visited the place where the company I was working for made their own chocolate, was blown away by the massive blocks, about half my height, of what looked like chocolate. And then someone suggested I taste a little bit.

Extremely bitter and almost nothing like the chocolate that you and I know and love, I couldn’t believe I’d been tricked. What I was actually tasting was cocoa mass which is produced from fermented and crushed up cocoa beans. Chocolate manufacturers add sugar (and for milk chocolate some milk powder) to the cocoa mass to make chocolate.

If you ever come across a 99% cocoa chocolate, give it a try. You probably won’t like it that much but it will give you an idea of what chocolate tastes like without the sugar.

Chocolate, like wine, tastes different depending on where it was grown

I used to think that chocolate was chocolate. But after being lucky enough to try different chocolates from around the world, I’ve learned that chocolate made from beans grown in Ecuador will taste completely different to a chocolate made with beans from Ghana.

Good quality chocolate producers are beginning to label their chocolate with the origin of the beans. So you to can explore the different chocolates from around the world.

Chocolate is a delicate flower

When cocoa butter or chocolate cools and solidifies, there are a number of different crystal structures that the fat particles can form. Unfortunately for chocolate manufacturers only one of these types of crystal is stable and give the lovely shine and “snap” characteristic of good quality chocolate. If you’re making chocolates it’s important to use a process called “tempering” to make sure the chocolate forms the right type of crystals.

If you’ve ever come across chocolate that looked like it had a white-ish dust or mold growth on the outside, this is called chocolate “bloom.” It’s a sign that either it wasn’t tempered correctly in the beginning, has been exposed to high temperatures at some stage, or is getting old. Don’t be alarmed, it’s just cocoa butter in the wrong crystal structure. It won’t hurt you to eat it.

Cocoa powder is just cocoa beans with most of the fat removed

Before I actually worked with chocolate, I’d always considered anything made with cocoa powder to be inferior to products made with real chocolate. But the thing is, all the flavour is in the cocoa powder part and the cocoa butter (or fat) is pretty bland. The cocoa butter provides that lovely melt in the mouth texture and that’s about it.

So if you have a cake or a brownie where the texture is coming from the butter and flour and sugar, adding a good quality cocoa powder to get your chocolate flavour isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a matter of getting a good quality cocoa.

Chocolate contains antioxidants

Chocolate contains antioxidants such as phenolics and flavanoids which can be beneficial to our health. One study has shown that cocoa has a higher antioxidant capacity than green tea and red wine. Different chocolates and cocoas contain different levels of antioxidants, however, so best to choose higher quality chocolates and natural cocoa powders which haven’t been ‘alkalised’ (treated with alkali to change the colour).

Not all chocolate is created equal

Different chocolates are made with different amounts of cocoa solids. Generally, cocoa is the most expensive ingredient, so some manufacturers will try and bulk out the chocolate with more sugar (and for milk chocolates more milk powder).

The best way to tell the quality level of a chocolate is to look at the % cocoa solids claimed on the packaging. Generally the higher the number the better the quality.

Although, once you go above 70% cocoa solids, there is less sugar to balance the bitterness of the cocoa so you may find it too intense. It’s a matter of personal preference. I know people who swear by 99% cocoa chocolate which is pretty much sugar free. Personally I like something a bit less austere and tend to enjoy my chocolate in the 65-70% cocoa solids range.

Why not buy a few different chocolates and have your own tasting to figure out what works best for you and your guests?

Little flourless chocolate cakes

Serves 2

It’s a great cake to have in your repertoire because it will work for gluten intolerant people. If you needed to make it dairy free, you could easily replace the butter with vegetable oil. In terms of sugar, I’ve used both white and brown, and either is fine.

These are among those cakes that rise to lofty heights during baking then sink miserably as they cool. The first time I made them I was a little depressed how they looked, but I just turned them upside down and the looked rather lovely. Of course once you taste them, any negative thoughts will be banished all together. When I made them the other day for the photographs, I decided to make the most of the sink hole and fill it with double cream – so good.

If you don’t have a food processor, just melt the chocolate and butter in your preferred way and stir through the sugar and egg yolk and then proceed to step 4.

50g (1 3/4oz) dark chocolate (preferably 70% cocoa solids)
40g (1 1/2oz) brown sugar
40g (1 1/2oz) butter
1 egg, separated
cream or ice cream, to serve

  1. Place a baking sheet or tray on the middle shelf of your oven. Preheat to 180C (350F). Grease and line the bases of 2 x 1 cup capacity ramekins.
  2. Whizz chocolate and sugar in a food processor until you have coarse crumbs.
  3. Add butter, egg yolk and 2 tablespoons boiling water and whizz for another few seconds, until well combined.
  4. Whisk egg white with a pinch of salt in a clean, dry bowl.
  5. Gently fold chocolate mixture into the white foam until only just combined.
  6. Divide mixture gently between the prepared ramekins. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the tops feel firm when touched with your finger.
  7. Allow to cool then serve with cream or ice cream.

Jules Clancy loves food and wine so much she has science degrees in both. She is the author of the eCookbook 5 Ingredients | 10 Minutes and blogs about delicious, healthy meals that can be made in minutes over at Stonesoup.

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Comments

  1. Great article! I’m a huge chocolate fan, although I am very exacting about my preferred chocolate: it *has* to be dark. Milk chocolate is too sweet for my taste and the darker, the better in my opinion! It’s surprising how much chocolate varies. I love trying different bars; they all have such diverse flavors. I have tried chocolate with a 99% cocoa content before and I actually really liked it. I found it was better to let it slowly melt in the mouth instead of eating it like regular chocolate; that way the flavors really come through.

    In general though, 70% – 85% chocolate is my favorite. 🙂

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