Before you venture into the world of homemade chocolate treats this Valentine’s Day, make sure you have these tips and tricks up your sleeve. From choosing the right cocoa powder, to making perfect chocolate curls, we’re here to assist in all your romantic baking endeavors.
The fewer the ingredients in a recipe, the more pronounced the chocolate flavor, so splurge on premium brands when making special treats such as truffles or ganache.
Here’s how you get that luscious chocolate flavor. Cacao is a thick paste of pure chocolate made from ground cacao beans. When pressed, the paste separates into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Finely ground cocoa solids become cocoa powder. The percentage of cacao printed on a label represents the combined weight of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. A higher percentage of cacao means less sugar and more intense chocolate flavor.
When a percentage of cacao is given for a chocolate in a recipe, it is extremely important to follow it for best results. Here are the main differences:
- Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate (100% cacao) without added sugar.
- Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate contains at least 35% cacao and has added sugar (less than a third), cocoa butter, vanilla and sometimes lecithin.
- Sweet baking chocolate has added cocoa butter and sugar.
- Milk chocolate is pure chocolate with added cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids.
- White chocolate is made with cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, and flavoring.
Cocoa powder is pure chocolate with most of the cocoa butter removed. It’s loaded with flavor and nutritional benefits and is surprisingly low in fat and calories. Cocoa is a favorite pantry ingredient, and one we use often in hot chocolate, mocha lattes, and baked goods. There are two types of cocoa: regular (or natural) cocoa and more delicately flavored Dutch-processed (or European-style) cocoa, which has been treated with an alkali to neutralize the acidity. Both are unsweetened and may be used interchangeably except in recipes, such as chocolate cake or quick bread, that call for a chemical leaven. While regular cocoa (an acid) reacts with baking soda, Dutch-processed cocoa must be paired with baking powder (unless another acidic ingredient is present in the recipe).
Chopping chocolate into small pieces allows it to melt quickly and evenly. To avoid scorching, melt chocolate over indirect heat in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set in a shallow pan of hot water. Or microwave chocolate at MEDIUM (50% power), stirring at 10- to 15-second intervals until melted.
A luscious drift of chocolate shavings transforms the simplest dessert into an elegant offering. Run a vegetable peeler over the narrow side of a thick bar of chocolate, and you’ll have a beautiful garnish ready in minutes. For quick clean up, catch the shavings on a sheet of wax paper.
By warming the chocolate and applying more pressure with the vegetable peeler, chocolate curls are made with the same technique used for shavings. A 5-second zap at MEDIUM (50% power) in the microwave softens a thick bar of chocolate just enough to remove long strips that curl naturally. Rewarm as needed.