How to choose which chocolate to bake with
During a recent cake enquiry a new customer requested high quality chocolate in her cake and for the decoration (chocolate dipped strawberries…excellent choice). My first reaction was … well all my chocolate is of high quality and I wouldn’t dream of using anything else! However, this request also made me realise that just because I know this…it doesn’t mean anyone else does! So, in my first blog post I am going to talk about why I use the chocolate I do and in the process I hope to give you some great tips and hints on choosing chocolate when you are baking too!
In all of my cooking and baking I use a professional grade chocolate (the picture above shows some of the different types I like to use!) called couverture. This chocolate has been specifically designed for chefs to use so that they can temper chocolate easily and cover sweets and cakes. Couverture literally means ‘blanket’ in French..so it is an apt word for a chocolate covering.
What is so special about it?
Well, to be classed as a couverture chocolate it must have a minimum of 31% cocoa butter in it. Cocoa butter is an expensive ingredient so non couverture chocolate will use cheaper vegetable oils instead…which means they lack the flavour and mouth feel of the superior couverture. On a side note, I am no chocolate snob and will happily devour dairy milk…but I see this type of chocolate as a finished product and not something I would use as an ingredient when developing a recipe.
But what if I use any old chocolate in my baking!?
If it works for you then that is fine! However, you may have on occasion either not got the flavour you were after in a product OR the chocolate has gone grainy when you have heated it. So if you want a superior product…try using a professional chocolate. (I do have one cheeky exception to this no cheap chocolate bar rule and you will see it at the bottom of this post!)
What else does couverture do?
Couverture chocolate also allows you to temper it without any of the grainy hassle you may experience using a cheap chocolate bar. Tempering chocolate is the process of heating, cooling and re-heating the chocolate so that it is at a perfect temperature to make different chocolate shapes with…anything from the chocolate disc decoration I love to create right up to the masterpiece sculptures they produce in the World Chocolate Masters.
What does it taste like?
Well, the taste depends on the percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate. More cocoa solids means more chocolate flavour and less sugar, and this is why dark chocolate is so much more intense than milk, and so its flavour can still be strong even when used with other ingredients.
What is a good cocoa solid percentage?
Firstly, for chocolate to be called chocolate in the UK it must have at least 25% cocoa solids in it; so aim for at least over 25%! Other countries have different requirements and this is why chocolate can sometimes taste different around the world…it is only 10% in the US so they may bulk up their ‘chocolate’ with extra sugar and vegetable fats.
The chocolate I use in my products all have a high cocoa solid percentage; I use two types of dark chocolate and depending on what I am making choose between 55% and 71%, and my milk chocolate contains 35% cocoa solids.
Lastly, I will briefly mention chocolate baking chunks - I use these for when I make cookies (a main ingredient in my Valentines Cookie) because I don’t want the chocolate to melt and disappear. You want to bite into chunks of chocolate alongside chewy cookie. Again, I use a professional grade baking chunk that has a high cocoa content but less cocoa butter so that they don’t melt and lose their chunkiness.
What about cocoa powder?
Cocoa powder is a dried form of cocoa with minimal cocoa butter and is brilliant at packing a chocolate punch…but I will leave that ingredient for another post!
In summary…here are my top chocolate tips
If you want loads of chocolate FLAVOUR choose a dark chocolate with a high cocoa solid percentage - around 50 - 70%
If you want to melt chocolate and not risk it seizing and becoming grainy…choose a chocolate couverture such as Callebaut or Valhrona (if you really want to go to town!)
Choose a ‘bake stable’ chocolate chunk if you want a cookie that packs a punch
Generally, chocolate bars are finished products and not the best to be used as ingredients
However the only exception to this rule is…if you have leftover easter eggs and selection boxes and you don’t know what to do with them…make rocky road.