Chocolate 101

Chocolate is the most popular dessert flavoring around. It is so delicate to work with, many cooks often find they have a problem melting it properly. keep in mind that chocolate naturally melts just below body temperature, so applying direct heat, say atop a stove, is apt to scotch it. Instead, utilize a double boiler and melt it slowly in a heatproof bowl or pot set above a pan of simmering water, being careful both to stir frequently and make sure none of the water below or the condensation from the steam created leaches into the chocolate.

You can also use a microwave oven to melt chocolate with good results, just be sure you stop it frequently to stir it. Generally, when the chocolate appears melted about two-thirds of the way through, remove it from the microwave oven and continue to stir it until smooth. The residual heat contained in the melted chocolate will work to help melt the rest.

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The Difference in Chocolate Varieties

Unsweetened Chocolate is pure chocolate liquor, also known as bitter or baking chocolate. Its unadulterated chocolate, ground roasted chocolate beans with no other added ingredients, imparts a strong, deep chocolate flavor in all the sweets you add to it. With the addition of sugar, however, it's used as the base for style layer cakes, brownies, frosting, and cookies.

Couverture or Coating Chocolate is a term used for cocoa butter rich chocolates of the highest quality. This chocolate contains a high percentage of chocolate liquor (sometimes more than 70%) as well as cocoa butter, at least 32 - 39%, is very fluid when melted and have an excellent flavor. In fact, chocolate of this quality is often compared to tasting fine wine because subtleties in taste are often apparent, especially when you taste a variety of semisweet and bittersweet couvertures with different percentages of sugar and chocolate liquor.

Bittersweet Chocolate is chocolate liquor (or unsweetened chocolate) to which sugar, more cocoa butter. lecithin, and vanilla has been added. It has less sugar and more liquor then semisweet chocolate but the two are interchangeable in baking. The best quality bittersweet and semisweet chocolate is produced as couverture and many brands now print the percentage of chocolate liquor it contains on the package. The rule is the higher the percentage of liquor, the more bittersweet the chocolate will be. Generally, Europeans favor bittersweet chocolate and Americans opt for semisweet chocolate which has more sugar than bittersweet chocolate.

Sweet Chocolate is not as common today as it once was years ago. Developed by the American chocolate manufacturer, Baker's Chocolate, it called for in a new recipes and can be found in most supermarkets.

White Chocolate isn't really considered chocolate at all due to the absence of chocolate liquor. Quality white chocolate, however, always contains cocoa butter. Be wary if you find white chocolate made with vegetable shortening and/or labeled "confectioners' coating" which pales in comparison - taste wise - to real white chocolate. And be especially careful when melting white chocolate, which is particularly fragile.