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Key ingredient

The sophisticated sweet: Dark chocolate


By CNN Interactive writer Sue Hoye

December 23, 1999
Web posted at: 9:00 a.m. EST (1400 GMT)

In this story:

Choosing the right chocolate

What are super darks?

The trick to melting chocolate

Storing your chocolate


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  • Chocolate recipe swap

  • The history of chocolate

  • Chocolate Varieties & Use


    (CNN) -- Milk chocolate may be the most consumed chocolate in the world, but when it comes to making desserts, dark chocolate takes the cake.

    "Milk chocolate is the most popular chocolate in the world, but people are generally eating it in candy bars or plain. They're not eating them in recipes, desserts," said Tish Boyle, food editor for Chocolatier and co-author of the new dessert cookbook "Chocolate Passion."

    Dark chocolate is perceived to be more sophisticated than other chocolates, Boyle says. "I think probably because it looks more sophisticated, it looks sleeker, it is glossier, it melts glossier."

    Bakers prefer the dark variety, because it has more cocoa butter and doesn't have the milk solids found in milk and white chocolate, according to Tim Moriarty, co-author of "Chocolate Passion" and feature editor of Chocolatier.

    He says dark chocolate is the easiest to work with and conveys the most chocolate impact.


    Choosing the right chocolate

    The novice chocoholic should not be scared away by the wide variety of chocolates on the market. When choosing the perfect chocolate, Boyle says it is important to consider what baked goodie is being made.

    "When using the chocolate -- say for a glaze or something like that -- where you are really going to taste the chocolate a lot, there are not a lot of ingredients muddling up the flavor of the chocolate, then you want to use your more expensive chocolates," she says.

    "If you are making a batch of brownies, where the chocolate is melted down and it is an element mixed with a lot of other ingredients, then you might want to use a less expensive chocolate."

    Boyle says the mistake made most frequently by inexperienced bakers is using semi-sweet chocolate morsels when the recipe actually calls for semi-sweet chocolate. "Morsels were developed not to melt in the oven in cookies, so don't use those."

    Another challenge for any newcomer to chocolate is the distinction between semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate.

    "It used to be that bittersweet really just meant that it was a European chocolate," Boyle says. "That's what Europeans called it and we called it semi-sweet. But now you have American companies differentiating between semi-sweet and bittersweet. Generally speaking they (bittersweet and semi-sweet) are interchangeable, but some companies put more sugar in semi-sweet."

    What are super darks?

    While most dark chocolate recipes call for semi-sweet or bittersweet, there is a new grade of dark chocolates known as super darks. Where a semi-sweet or a bittersweet contains 35 percent cocoa solids at minimum, super darks can be make up of 60 to 90 percent cocoa solids. On the higher end, Moriarty says, "you are getting up into the inedible catagories."

    Boyle says these super darks are best when used as an accent for intensity. She notes that the cookbook has a recipe for scones dipped in 70 percent cocoa solid dark chocolate. The chocolate is designed to be a strong accent, though not much of it is actually used.

    The trick to melting chocolate

    If a recipe calls for melted dark chocolate, Boyle recommends beginning by chopping up the chocolate into small bits. She uses a large chef knife on a cutting board and chops with a pivoting motion, much like chopping vegetables.

    There are two way to melt chocolate, either in a double boiler over barely simmering water, or in the microwave at medium power. If you choose the microwave method, you must check chocolate at one minute intervals and stir.

    Chocolate is melted when it becomes smooth. If it burns, Boyle says, there is very little chance of saving it. You can try adding a teaspoon of neutral vegetable oil and see if that brings it back -- but usually it doesn't.

    Storing your chocolate

    If you buy your chocolate before you plan to use it, it is important to know how to store it properly. All chocolate should be wrapped in aluminum foil to protect it from light, along with a covering of plastic wrap to keep the air out.

    The ideal storing temperature is about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and the ideal humidity is about 50 percent. Any wild variances could spoil the chocolate.

    Dark chocolate can last up to a year and a half to 2 years, compared to white chocolate, which has a shelf life of 6 months.

    You can tell if chocolate is damaged, because it will develop white streaks, called sugar bloom. There really is no fixing the chocolate once the crystallization occurs since it becomes grainy. "You can re-melt it, but it still won't have the same texture as before," Boyle says.

    If you bake a lot of desserts, it pays to buy dark chocolate in bulk through a mail order company. According to Moriarty and Boyle, these companies sell five or 10 pound bars of chocolate at a good savings.

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