I’m not very good with keeping secrets so I’ll start with the news.
On Monday I quit my day job to focus on my writing and photography (!)
I know. I know. I can still hardly believe it either, but beginning next month I’m going to be a full time blogger and writer. Every time I think about it I find myself grinning like an idiot and fighting the urge to do a little dance. I’m so excited I feel like I could teach Big Kev a thing or two about the meaning of the word.
To be fair, it’s not like I hated my job or anything. I have been blessed with a super supportive and understanding boss and the most caring team ever. And on top of that I’ve been entrusted with designing new chocolate biscuits (cookies) for Australia’s most loved brand. Oh, and did I mention was part of my job to eat chocolate on a regular basis?
Working with chocolate has been more fun than I even imagined. Before I started, I was one of those people who liked chocolate but couldn’t see why some people got so excited about it. I get it now.
So to celebrate my news I thought I’d share with you some insights and insider tips to working with chocolate & my new favourite chocolate recipe – a super simple chocolate mousse.
15 insider tips to cooking with chocolate
i. chocolate requires patience
Without a doubt the number one thing I’ve learned about chocolate is that it doesn’t like to be rushed. It senses if you’re in a hurry and does exactly the opposite of what you want.
If you’re cooking with chocolate make sure you allow yourself and the chocolate plenty of time.
ii. chocolate hates the heat
Like my ski patroller sister, chocolate is sensitive to heat. When exposed to excessive temperatures chocolate splits and becomes grainy. Once this happens it is very difficult to go back to having a bowl of lovely smooth, glossy goodness. If it happens at work I just throw it out and start again. At home I apply point (iv).
iii. how to melt chocolate and avoid splitting
-chop chocolate into SMALL pieces before melting.
-keep chocolate away from high heat. If melting alone use a double boiler (saucepan of water with a bowl over the top) or microwave on low. Only use direct heat if you are melting the chocolate with another liquid.
-avoid allowing water or steam to come into contact with the chocolate as this increases your risk of splitting.
iv. how to rescue your chocolate if it does decide to split.
If you’ve reached chocolate crisis point, stir through a spoonful of vegetable oil. I’ve found that melted butter also works but this is more risky, given that butter contains about 18% water.
v. chocolate tastes best at room temperature.
One of my favourite chocolate industry stories was how at a confectionery conference, a colleague did a test to prove that you shouldn’t keep chocolate in the fridge. He got everyone to taste 2 different samples of chocolate and then asked which they preferred. Sample 2 won unanimously. The difference? Exactly the same chocolate but sample 1 was served straight from the fridge and sample 2 at room temperature. Unless you live in the tropics and your chocolate is melting all over the place, it’s far better to keep it at room temperature. You don’t want your chocolate getting a chill.
vi. the meaning of % cocoa solids
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans which are fermented and roasted. They are then processed to separate out the husks. The first product is cocoa liquor and it can be made straight into chocolate OR pressed to separate out the fat which is called cocoa butter and the solids that are left behind are ground into cocoa powder.
A chocolate that is labelled as 70% cocoa solids must contain 70% of either cocoa butter or cocoa liquor or a blend of the two.
Couverture is high quality chocolate that contains at least 32% cocoa butter.
viii. chocolate is complex
There are 6 different types of crystal that cocoa butter can form when it solidifies. Only one of them is stable. To encourage the stable crystals, chocolate is heated then cooled in a process called tempering. Well tempered chocolate is glossy and smooth and has a loud ‘snap’ when you break off a square.
ix. chocolate bloom
If chocolate isn’t well tempered, there are too many of the unstable crystal forms. This means that the cocoa butter squeezes out onto the surface and you get a white mouldy looking layer. This is called bloom and while it doesn’t look the greatest, it’s just cocoa butter so it’s still perfectly safe to eat.
x. origins chocolates
Cocoa beans are grown in Africa, Asia and South America. Just like grapes and wine, the beans from different parts of the world have different flavour characteristics. Traditionally chocolate is made from a blend of beans from different parts of the world. Recently some clever chocolateers have started marketing chocolate made with beans from one particular country, such as Madagascar or Ecuador. These are termed ‘origin’ chocolates.
xi. plantation chocolates
The latest thing is to narrow things down even further and produce chocolate from beans grown on a single farm. These are ‘plantation’ chocolates.
xii. not all chocolate is produced ethically
There is a dark side to cocoa bean farming. This is the use of child labour on some cocoa plantations in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Fortunately organisations such as the World Cocoa Foundation are working with farmers to irradicate child labour while at the same time helping farmers to adopt sustainable practices and improve their incomes. To learn more the World Cocoa Foundation website is a good place to start.
xiii. vanilla & salt are chocolate’s friends
Salt enhances the chocolatey flavour and balances the sweetness. Vanilla adds a lovely smooth rounded flavour. The best quality chocolates use natural vanilla from good quality vanilla beans. If you’re using less than perfect quality chocolate, a dash of real vanilla extract can improve things no end.
xiv. cocoa butter for frying
I’ve heard that cocoa butter is excellent for frying. The fact that is tends to be a solid block at room temperature makes it trickier than olive oil. Although I have seen cocoa butter powder in a chocolate supply shop that had me intrigued.
xv. chocolate is addictive
My friend Colette was right. Chocolate is addictive – at least I can (could) put it down to being an occupational hazard
super simple chocolate mousse
I love this straight from the fridge when it’s more firm and icecreamy but my guests all agreed it was more light and moussy when it had allowed to warm up a little. So probably best to remove from the fridge an hour or so before you are ready to serve. The other option is to make it and serve straight away.
If you prefer to melt your chocolate in the microwave, by all means do so but I prefer this gentle method because it doesn’t matter if I get side tracked and forget about my chocolate for a while.
100g (3oz) dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70% cocoa solids), broken into small chunks
300mL ( 10 fl oz) whipping cream
1T icing sugar
1t vanilla extract
Place about 2cm (1in) boiling water in the base of a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat. Place a heatproof bowl on the saucepan and check to make sure that the base isn’t touching the water. Add the chocolate and leave for about 5 minutes to melt, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, whip cream with icing sugar and vanilla until soft and fluffy. You don’t want it to be too firm.
Stir the chocolate and when it is all smooth add chocolate to the cream and fold through. Divide between 4 small glasses or espresso cups and refrigerate.
Remove from the fridge an hour before you’re ready to serve.