We’re almost out of chocolate blocks. Sam had been experimenting with chocolate, she’s asked me to buy more and additional molds too. We’re all going to get fatter but who can resist chocolate? I know I can’t. In fact, because it’s been a stressful week and I kept saying how depressed I was, Speedy bought me a box of Andes Mint Chocolate and, every time I felt the stress start to creep in, I’d take a few pieces and munch on them. It works. Chocolate gets rid of the bluest of blues.
But, anyway, about our stock of chocolate for cooking and baking… Before I do replenish and get additional molds, I figured I might as well write about chocolate first so that when the avalanche of Sam’s chocolate goodies hits the blog, readers who feel inspired to try making them will have more informed choices when they buy chocolate blocks and cocoa powder.
This is meant as a practical guide for home cooks and home bakers. There is so much more to chocolate production than what are outlined below. But since we don’t produce chocolate at home but merely consume chocolate and turn it into cooked and baked products, those processes you can learn more about just by Googling “chocolate”.
What is chocolate?
Chocolate is derived from ripe cacao beans. The beans are fermented, dried and the shells removed to extract the nib.
The nibs are liquefied to produce pure chocolate called chocolate liquor.
Chocolate liquor has two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Cocoa solids are bitter and brown (or reddish-brown) with varying degrees of lightness or darkness in color.
Cocoa butter is pale yellow and it is what makes chocolate melt. No, cocoa butter is NOT the same as dairy butter which comes from the milk of a mammal.
Dark, milk and white chocolate
So, chocolate liquor is dark chocolate? No, it isn’t. Chocolate liquor is pure chocolate commercially sold as “unsweetened chocolate” or “bitter chocolate”.
Chocolate liquor is blended with more cocoa butter and sugar to make dark chocolate. Commercially, dark chocolate should have at least 70% cocoa (solids and butter).
When chocolate liquor is blended with cocoa butter, sugar and milk, the result is milk chocolate.
White chocolate is cocoa butter, sugar and milk, and NO cocoa solids at all. Hence, it’s color which isn’t really white at all but more of pale cream.
So, when a recipe says “dark chocolate”, know that substituting milk chocolate won’t yield optimum results, and vice versa.
Cocoa powder: Dutch process and natural
What is cocoa powder? Let’s go back to the two components of pure chocolate or chocolate liquor: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. By removing the cocoa butter and grinding the cocoa solids, you get cocoa powder.
If you’ve bought various brands of cocoa powder, you might have noticed that some brands have a lighter color than others. The lighter color doesn’t necessarily mean inferior quality nor is it a sign of impurity. In fact, lighter-colored cocoa powder is more pure than dark-colored ones.
Darker-colored cocoa powder, also known as Dutch process cocoa powder, has alkaline added to the cocoa which lowers the natural acidity of chocolate. It also gives cocoa a darker color.
In everyday usage, what difference does it make if regular cocoa powder or Dutch process cocoa powder is used?
If you’ve noticed, most chocolate cake cake recipes use baking soda as leavening. Baking soda needs acid to activate it, and chocolate has the acid it needs.
When using Dutch process chocolate or cocoa powder where the acid has been reduced, it’s a good idea to use baking powder instead of baking soda. Or, if the recipe lists milk or cream among the ingredients, substitute buttermilk or buttercream to add the acid needed to make the cake rise.
And if a recipe uses Dutch process chocolate or cocoa powder and baking powder together, what substitution is necessary? None at all. Baking powder already contains acid.
Stock photos from Pixabay.