an insiders guide to cooking with chocolate & some news

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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.

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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.

vii. couverture
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

If you’re keen to learn more I highly recommend The Science of Chocolate by Stephen Beckett as a basic technical reference on Amazon or

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super simple chocolate mousse
serves 4

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
pinch salt

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.

SBS snippet


  • Well I’m doing a little dance for you, because you’re moving in a direction that’s making you happy. So here’s to many more good things that will hopefully come your way, in 2010 :)

  • I knew this was coming. I was only thinking it this week. Just wouldn’t have guessed this soon. Good luck!
    (avm Katie)

  • thanks Y – love the idea of other people dancing as well. hope 2010 is great for you as well

    thanks lili – hey congrats on the 3months of self employment –

    thanks katie. that’s weird that you had the same thought

  • Great! A mousse without icky egg, thanks. All the chocky info very useful too. Good luck with the career move, most exciting. How’s your cholesterol?

  • thanks helen.

    jude – completely agree about the benefits of egg free chocolate mousse. and haven’t had my cholesterol tested in ages. although I have been eating oatbran with my museli so hopefully it’s not too bad

  • actually jude – heston blumenthal has a recipe for chocolate mousse that is chocolate and water. I had a go but mine didn’t work – will keep trying though as I love the idea of pure chocolate flavour with that light light moussy texture.

  • well done Jules! love your writing and photography. thinking of making a big change in the NY myself and inspired by yours – good luck!

  • Congratulations on breaking free so that you can pursue your passion full time. I’m almost as excited for that as I am to try your chocolate recipes. Hey, it’s chocolate after all…can’t compete with that.

    In all seriousness, it would be nice, though slightly off topic for you, if you could share your story of how you were able to leave your day job.

    Thank you and regards,

  • Your news is very exciting! I visit your blog often (love the name), but can’t remember if I’ve left comments…Good luck with your new course :) And thanks for the great chocolate info. The chocolate I dipped some toffee in got “bloomy”, and now I know why. I’d better learn how to temper the stuff :)

  • thanks deborah

    good luck with following your dream. hope you get there soon

    thanks charley
    and you’re right – you should never even think about trying to compete with chocolate. thanks for the idea about sharing my story. one of the biggest factors has been my journey to become a minimalist and live with less. which means less income required.

    welcome sylvia
    and thanks so much for leaving a message on your first visit. hope to see you back here soon

  • Many, many congratulations. And with photos like you’ve always had on your site–and the recipes, too, as well as the witty writing–I’m sure it’s the right move at the right time.

  • congratulations on making the plunge into full time blogging – and thanks for the great info on chocolate – I wholely agree that chocolate is so much better out of the fridge than hard and cold

  • Good luck to you Jules!
    As an expat now living in Canada I love a dose of Stone Soup to keep me connected to the flavours of Aus!

  • Hey Jules, I am a regular reader of your blog and just wanted to thank you for all the inspiration and goodness that comes through your site! It’s a pleasure to read your new posts every Tuesday (hopefully more often, now?) Coincidentally I also started my path to minimalism last year. It’s good to see it has some effect on other people, too. Keep up the good work :-)

  • Congratulations and hip hip hooray! How wonderful to quite your day job to focus on your true passions …
    May 2010 be full of exciting and productive adventures for you :-)

  • Big Congrats Jules! No doubt 2010 will bring great things. Quick q – what’s your wine of choice with chocolate? (if any?) xm

  • Hi Jules – have been reading for a while and don’t think I have commented before, but this post deals with 2 things close to my heart so the silence is broken!

    The world is full of funny little coincidences – on the other side of this great brown land, I too have started 2010 with leaving my comfortable product development job (almost) to fulfill my foodie career passions! I will be attempting to derive a modest income from food styling/writing, and although I am feeling great excitement and joy about the change, there is a healthy dose of ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ mixed in there too! I wonder whether you feel the same way. :)

    And further to your comment, I tried Heston’s chocolate/water thing a while back and it worked for me, although I didn’t take it to the mousse stage, just wanted to see if I could get the choc and water to actually emulsify. Used the resulting mixture as a sauce of sorts, and even though I haven’t been back to it again, it did throw up all sorts of ideas for how you could utilise the mix (mostly based around whether it would be a good substitute for straight-up melted chocolate in recipes). This has reminded me of it, so I might have to go back and explore further!

  • Hi Jules, I was just wondering if you had another sister who is sensitive to milk or dark chocolate, and they asked you to prepare a dish which involves melting white chocolate?? Is it just a matter of more patience?

  • You are so lucky!!! I wish I could focus solely on my blog, cooking, and photography! The mousse looks fantastic! Thanks for the tips.

  • Congrats Jules, that’s fantastic news! You definitely have me as a regular follower and when my budget finally builds up again after this Christmas period just gone I’m planning to purchase your book! Keep it up, and I hope you don’t mind me posting this chocolate post to my own blog and having you as a ‘guest blogger’.. I have only a few friends following, but they love reading my posts about my cooking exploits, so I’m sure a dose of your professional writing and photography will be a welcome change :)

    Happy 2010!

  • Congratulations Clancy.
    I hope that you enjoy life as an entrepreneur.
    Go with the happy feet.

  • Congratulations! I wish I have your job! (*sigh*)

    Btw, caught myself drooling (ooopppss) over the yummy chocolate desserts you have right in front of me! Yummy! More power to you and a more blessed 2010!

  • Congratulations! I’m sure taking this plunge will reward you in myriad ways :) And us, if it means we get more delicious chocolate recipes :D

  • I am a bit late but…. (my GF thinks I spend far too much time telling friends about you and your recipes) . A big thx for your lovely photos, wonderful recipes and inspiration, oh and looking forward to the next successful chapter in your journey!

  • Wow! That is great news! I think it is amazing that you can now turn your energy full-time to what is obviously a passion of yours. I hope that 2010 and full time blogging is a great journey for you. Thanks for sharing.

  • thanks so much everyone!

    really appreciate all the good wishes. this is a scary move but defintely good scary.

    have started posting twice a week since my trip to spain so will see how we go with that.

    and marisa – wine and chocolate – I usually play it pretty safe and go sweet with sweet. big fan of Rutherglen Muscat or Tokay. But I have been meaning to experiment with some high cocoa solids chocolate and a big shiraz.

    great to hear from a fellow minimalist

    congrats and good luck emily. I feel like I have a new twin on the other side of the country yay!
    the thing with heston’s mousse was that it melted fine into a sauce but when I tried to whip it to get it moussy nothing much happened and then it split. it was pretty hot here the day I tried and heston said to whip it over an ice bath but we were out of ice as it had been prioritised for cooling beverages so to be fair I need to give it another go. and I used milk chocolate which may have had something to do with it as well. Although milk is usually less susceptible to splitting because the butterfat keeps the cocoa sbutter in check.

  • We love the recipes and very much enjoy reading about your journey through food and life! Good luck with the writing and we will follow (and take advantage of the recipes) your progress closely.

  • Congratulations Jules – I cannot see how this can be anything other than a success, you are so talented and should definitely be giving your dream a shot! Exciting times ahead! All the best, and thank you for inspiring me x

  • Jules, congratulations on quiting your day job. A brave and extremely exciting move. I am so very envious of you. I have followed your blog since its early days and love it. Follow your dreams, go for it and all the very best. Anna

    • hi anna
      thanks so much for taking the time to leave your comment. so lovely to hear from a regular reader. hope I might inspire you a bit to follow your dreams as well

  • Good for you, Jules—and congratulations! I think it’s never a wrong decision to follow your passions. May they take you extraordinary places. I’m sure they will! Happy for you.

  • Hello,
    when do we use the salt? Melt it in the chocolate? Whip it with the sugar and cream? Sprinkle it on top of everything at the end?

  • Heston Blumenthal has a version of chocolate mousse that is just chocolate and water. Looks to be even easier (and less ingredients) than your method and because you don’t add any other flavored ingredients the mousse gives you a more purely chocolate flavor.

  • katja
    good pickup – you could do any of the above.. I’d probably sprinkle it on the top.

    I’ve tried hestons mousse.. and had problems getting it to work.. but that was a while ago

  • This is amazing! I don’t have an oven and I can’t really bake at my apartment so I’m REALLY interested in no-bake recipes and found you on Google! Thank God! Please keep bringing us ur great recipes…we all need them! :) God Bless!

  • I just made this..

    When I added the melted chocolate to the cream it seized.
    Any idea why? Should I waited until the cream was at room temp?

    Thanks for your help :-)

  • Hi! I tried this, and it taste absolutely amazing!:)thanks for sharing this with us however. Just a question, is it okay if we use milk chocolates instead? Even though i love dark chocolates, some of my family members complained that its too bitter. Haha. But i love this. Super yummy:)

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