These 10 insightful tips for baking with chocolate–one of my favorite aphrodisiac ingredients–come from chocolate expert Chrysta Wilson, author of Kiss My Bundt: recipes from the award-winning bakery. She wrote these pointers on cooking with chocolate just in time for Valentine’s Day, but they’re useful year-round.
Here are her suggestions for stirring up a little romance with homemade chocolate confections or, as Chrysta calls them, gifts of love.
1. How do you choose a chocolate for baking?
If you’re going to follow only one new tip for baking with chocolate, you need to read this one. You’ve probably seen chocolate bars with a percentage on the label: 45%, 55%, 75%, and so on.
What is a cacao percentage?
The percentage refers to the amount of cacao (e.g. cocoa beans, the pods from which chocolate is made) in that chocolate product. The higher the percentage of cacao, the deeper and richer the chocolate flavor. For intense desserts with boosted antioxidant (and aphrodisiac) effects, skip the milk chocolate (which is around 45% cacao). Instead, move on up to semi-sweet and dark chocolates (which range from 50% cacao to 75%+).
2. How do you measure cocoa powder?
Cocoa Powder is essentially a lower-fat ingredient that still delivers a pure chocolate flavor into your baked goods. It’s lower fat than chocolate because it’s cocoa butter-free. But powdered cocoa is a product that can clump.
To ensure proper measuring, first stir the cocoa powder. Next, use the “scoop and level” measuring technique for a proper measure: Take a spoon and scoop the cocoa power into your measuring vessel (i.e. measuring cup). Then, level off with a straight edge. The most important tip to baking with cocoa powder is make sure you do not press or compact the cocoa powder into the measuring vessel. Or it will throw off your entire recipe.
3. Understand the melting point of your chocolate
Overheating chocolate can spoil the flavor and change the texture. Dark Chocolate shouldn’t be heated above 120 degrees Fahrenheit and milk and white chocolates shouldn’t be heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. How do you melt chocolate?
Because chocolate can burn easily you should use low, indirect heat to melt it. Three smart ways to melt chocolate include using a water bath (a bowl of chocolate over a bigger bowl/pot of near boiling water), a double boiler (specialized set of fitted sauce pans that utilizes steam/boiling water to slowly cook contents of the top pot), or–slightly more tricky–in the microwave (putting chocolate into a glass bowl and slowly melting in 30 second increments at 50% power).
The best way to melt chocolate
But however you melt it, there is one key tip to baking with chocolate you must always follow. Before you begin always ensure that chocolate is chopped, grated, or cut into uniformed sized pieces. This will ensure even melting.
5. How do you temper chocolate for dipping or coating treats?
Tempering is a method of heating and cooling chocolate for coating or dipping things like cookies or fruit. When chocolate is properly tempered, the result is tremendously smooth, glossy, picture perfect. Tempered chocolate has a crisp snap and won’t melt as easily on your fingers. Of these tips for baking with chocolate, this is one of the most simple but one with the most noticeable results.
To temper chocolate: Finely chop the desired amount. Next, place two-thirds of that chocolate in the top pot of a double boiler. Heat chocolate over hot (not boiling) water, stirring constantly, until chocolate reaches 110°-115°F. Remove the pot of chocolate from the heat and place on a towel on the countertop. Cool the chocolate to 95°-100°F.
Lastly, add the remaining one-third of chocolate to cooled chocolate, stirring until fully melted. This perfectly tempered chocolate is now ready for molding, dipped, or coating!
6. Use the right kind of cocoa powder
This tip for chocolate baking will appeal to the science enthusiasts. There are two types of unsweetened cocoa powder: Natural cocoa powder and Dutch-process cocoa powder.
Know the two kinds of cocoa powder for baking with chocolate
Natural cocoa powder, like Hershey’s, is simply chocolate liquor (ground up cocoa beans) with much of the cocoa butter removed. Dutch-processed cocoa is similar except that it is alkalized (has less acid) and it has a milder flavor and darker color (often reddish) than natural cocoa powder.
Baking is a chemical process as much as it is a delicious one. Recipes often call for the addition of an acid to react to a base/basic, causing chemical reactions like the development of carbon dioxide that causes baked goods to rise.
Natural cocoa is an acidic ingredient, so when mixed into a batter it is often accompanied by baking soda (a base) to create the carbon dioxide in a batter to help the final produce rise. Because Dutch-processed cocoa is low acid, it will require more acid (like baking powder or buttermilk) added to the batter for it to properly rise. If you’d like to learn more, the LA Times Test Kitchen went in-depth into which recipes work best with each type of cocoa.
7. Keep your chocolate dry
Good chocolate is simply fat (cocoa butter) and dry particles (sugar and cocoa powder). When chocolate gets wet, that liquid will attached to the dry particles, causing the chocolate to “seize”, e.g. turn into a dry, grainy, clumpy mess.
Check your baking equipment
Make sure your utensils (spatulas, spoons) are dry and clean; the tiniest amount of water can ruin the chocolate. Sometimes recipes will call for chocolate to be melted via liquid, such as liquor or milk. The general rule of thumb to help avoid seizing is that for every 2 ounces of chocolate you wish to melt, you should use 1 tablespoon of liquid.
8. How do you use ganache for glazes, truffles, and drinking chocolate?
…maybe even body paint. A perfect glaze for baked goods, also reportedly used for sensual body paints, ganache is one of the easiest chocolate recipes and one that always impresses. Ganache is a chocolate “condiment” that can be used as a glaze when warm and when cooled can become a spreadable filling or topping. It can even be used to make truffles or added to warm milk for the perfect cup of drinking chocolate or hot chocolate.
The basic steps to make a ganache
One of the best chocolate baking tips is to learn how to make an easy ganache. Chrysta’s recipe is to melt chocolate into an equal amount of heavy cream. (Measure the chocolate by weight.) For example, take 6 ounces of semi-sweet/dark-chocolate and add to 6 ounces of hot (not boiling) heavy cream. Let the mixture sit for 2 minutes, then whisk until chocolate completely incorporated. (You can view her recipe in the chocolate cake link above.)
9. Prepare pans with cocoa powder instead of flour
When making a chocolate layer cake, utilize cocoa powder instead of flour when greasing and “flouring” your pans. You’re still get the non-stick result, but you wont have a white floury residue on the final cake.
10. What is the best chocolate for melting?
The last of Chrysta’s tips for baking with chocolate is certainly not the least. Chocolate chips have stabilizing/hardening ingredients that help them keep their shape with baked–think chocolate chip cookies. Utilize the best chocolate to melt, such as bar chocolate or chocolate melting discs (but not candy melts).
Whether you’re making someone a tasty chocolate treat for Valentine’s Day or as the ending to a romantic dinner, these great baking tips will serve you well.
chocolate collage image provided by Chef Chrysta Wilson
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