What is couverture chocolate and why is it special?

That’s an excellent starting-out question, reader Dan, I’m glad you asked it. Because there’s a lot of confusion out there on the subject. It’s not simply a “high quality” chocolate as many people think, however a good couverture is (by definition I suppose) high quality chocolate. Roughly translated, the French word “couverture” means “covering” or “coating” in English. Thus couverture chocolate is a kind of chocolate most commonly used to cover things. Candies and truffles especially, but also tortes and other types of pastries.

I know what you’re thinking: can’t any kind of bar chocolate be melted and used to cover those sorts of things? Indeed so, however couverture chocolate has special properties that make the job easier and deliver a better end product. One key ingredient is responsible for most of them: cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is a fat, but a fat unlike any other on Earth. It’s solid at room temperature — when tempered even brittle — but put it in your mouth and it changes from hard to creamy in an instant. That silky, unctuous mouth feel that fine chocolates have? Cocoa butter is how you get it. Even the finest, rarest “grand cru” cocoa bean solids would be nothing without it.

Couverture chocolate has more cocoa butter in it than any other type of chocolate. Up to 40%. That means couverture chocolate melts and pours more readily than other types of chocolate. It also means it spreads more easily and coats more evenly (and thinly). And, provided it’s tempered properly, when it firms up it has a more brittle snap and a glossier sheen. Add it all up and it’s easy to why it’s so desirable as a coating for bonbons.

So is that all there is to couverture chocolate? Mmm…not quite. As I mentioned before, couverture chocolate is almost always made with very high quality cocoa solids, and those solids are generally ground to a finer consistency than those that go in to normal eating chocolate.

Which brings me to my last point: couverture chocolate is often sold in bar form for casual eating. Many of the high-end Valrhone, Callebaut and Guittard bars are actually couvertures. However I tend not to buy those off-the-shelf bars for pastry purposes. First because it’s expensive (couverture already costs a lot…in those tiny, individually-packaged quantities it costs even more). Second, because unless it actually says “couverture” on the label I don’t know how much cocoa butter it actually contains. If you want to work with couverture chocolate, the best strategy is to order some and keep it in your basement pantry. And try, try, TRY not to eat it before you use it.

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26 Responses to What is couverture chocolate and why is it special?

  1. M says:

    A crazy question: for chocolates not containing other fats, can you figure out the cocoa butter percentage by the grams-of-fat-per-100-grams-of-chocolate bit of the nutrition information? (behold the power of MATH! and all that?)

    • joepastry says:

      That would probably give you an idea…good thinking! However it’s important to point out that milk solids (which do contain some fat) are one of the most common chocolate additives.

      • M says:

        And I suppose “milk solids” are not sufficiently uniform to be able to tease out the percentages using the RDA labeling on protein, calcium, and different kinds of fat. Hmph. And the milk solid fats wouldn’t behave quite like cocoa butter, so one can’t just lump the fats together, either…

        A method for estimating cocoa butter percentages for vegan chocolate is perhaps not so useful. Oh, well.

        • joepastry says:

          Yes, you’re right about the milk powder. Milk “solids” can be nonfat, but they can also be up to 40% fat, and there’s really no way of knowing what type the chocolate maker used in the chocolate (trade secrets and all that). So yes, without an actual “couverture” label, determining the amount of cocoa butter is darn near impossible. Sorry about that!

  2. Jacki says:

    I’ve recently started a “no dairy diet” because I’m nursing my infant daughter who has turned out to be intolerant of milk proteins. It’s not easy! I seriously miss milk and cheese.

    I couldn’t seem to curb my chocolate cravings, so I found a chocolate chip that is dairy-free. The ingredients are: evaporated cane juice, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, ground vanilla beans. Would this be considered a couverture chocolate?

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Jacki!

      Ah, evaporated cane juice! Glad they’re not using sugar! ;)

      Hehe…but it’s hard to say whether that’s technically couverture or not, it would depend on the amount of cocoa butter. But these distinctions are often quite gray, to be honest. The explosion in the numbers and types of eating chocolates has made it hard to distinguish between them at times. This one is probably quite brittle, but tasty. Yes?

      - Joe

      • Jacki says:

        Yes, it is both of those things! Tasty, brittle, and very mouth-melty.

        I can tell you that it made an amazing ganache when combined with unflavored and unsweetened coconut milk! The chocolate lover in me sang with joy after a month of no chocolate at all. And not one person that ate it had any idea that it contained no dairy.

        While we’re talking non-dairy, I wonder this: If solid chocolate can be made with cocoa butter rather than milk solids, why would anyone use the milk? What is the advantage of adding dairy when the chocolate and the cocoa butter come from the same source?

  3. Liz says:

    If I was making truffles, are there any specific couvertures you would recommend?

    Thanks for the clarification and info!
    Liz-CoolProducts

    • joepastry says:

      You know I’m not schooled enough in the use of couvertures to be able to make an informed recommendation, however Valrhona has never steered me wrong. If you can afford it (all couvertures are expensive) I’d think it would be a good choice.

  4. Jo says:

    I received 2 packets of chocolate as a christmas gift by post from Australia. I noticed that they were made with couverture chocolate and the name on the pack was Chocolate Plato. When I opened them I was concerned as the chocolate looked “off” – white on top and crumbly inside. Is it OK to eat this chocolate? I have read about the expense of such chocolate in australia and its wonderful properties.

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Jo!

      The chocolate melted at some point along the journey, which is why you’re looking at that film of cocoa butter. It’s perfectly fine to to eat, though you may want to use the chocolate in some sort of melted application yourself, since the separated fat gives it that chalky texture that isn’t terribly pleasant. You can also try to re-temper it if you wish. There’s a tutorial for tempering chocolate under “Techniques”. Have fun!

      - Joe

      • Jo says:

        Thank you, Joe…… I’ll now enjoy it. I hear that our TESCO supermarket (UK) sell couverture chocolate so I must go and get some.

        • joepastry says:

          Hey again Jo!

          Couverture really is for “covering” more than simply eating (glazing tortes, enrobing candies that sort of thing). It has a higher amount of cocoa butter both so it will melt and pour more smoothly and have a higher gloss when it hardens. It’s not all that great for eating relative to others. To use it the way it’s intended you’ll need to learn how to temper, and here’s an excellent opportunity! Before you go out and buy more, because it’s very expensive stuff, why not try to re-temper what you’ve got? I might be a fun challenge. Just sayin’. ;)

          - Joe

  5. Mike says:

    Hi Joe, I was wondering, why does the callebaut chocolate I use sometimes not stick to my english toffee. I spread the melted ‘couverture’ on the toffee which is at room temp. I use a double boiler on low heat to ‘just’ melt the chocolate until it is spreadable. Can you help me figure out why my enrobing is disrobing. Thank you, Mike

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Mike!

      It’s very likely a fat issue. Couverture chocolate has an unusually high proportion of cocoa butter (which is what makes it so expensive). That means when it’s melted it’s quite slippery, and well, when applied to a slick, buttery surface like toffee it has no grip. I suggest an experiment with a small amount of a non-couverture chocolate to see if you can get better coverage.

      Let me know what happens!

      - Joe

  6. Robby says:

    Hi Joe,
    I am new to baking and chocolate making. I really want to make some chocolate covered fruit bars. Just dried fruit and nuts smothered in chocolate. I just don’t know if I should use couverture for this or if there is another type of chocolate i should be searching for. For example, I see bars of cooking chocolate in my local supermarket that claims high percentage coco solids, should I use this? I am confused about chocolate chips, callets (are they used for lesser quality products?). Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Robby!

      If you’re very new to baking then you probably shouldn’t spend the money on couverture, since it’s really for candies and needs to be tempered in order to perform well. For something like a fruit bar a grocery store chocolate is fine. I would simply melt down some dark chocolate chips and dip the bars in. It will harden better than a milk or semi-sweet chocolate. However you could try the high cocoa solids chocolate as well since that will also form up pretty well. Let me know how it works out!

      - Joe

  7. Bas says:

    Hi Joe,
    I’m wondering if I can make the couverture chocolate by re-tempering my chocolate bars and adding finely chopped cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Would this work? Thanks, Joe.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey there!

      That’s a very interesting idea! I think it’s worth a try with a small quantity. Get back to me with the results!

      - Joe

      • Bas says:

        I’ve just finished the experiment with white chocolates. It works! But chopping a large piece of cocoa butter into powder would probably make my hands out of work also.

        In detail, I added 17g of cocoa butter to the 100g of sugar-free white chocolate with 27% cocoa butter (27g) – making it about 37.6% cocoa butter. This makes it much easier to work with white chocolate which is regularly too sticky.

  8. Luisa says:

    Hi,
    I filled my cake with white gananch and when I cut the cake the gananch was so hard. When I made it was nice and creamy. Can you tell me why it was too hard? I used the right ratio.
    Thank you for your help. Luisa.

    • joepastry says:

      Hello Luisa!

      The trouble is that the ganache formed a lot of big fat crystals again as it cooled. If the cake was refrigerated that would have exacerbated the problem. Next time I suggest whipped the ganache if you’re going to use it as a filling. That will incorporate air bubbles into it, which will prevent the formation of those big, continuous masses!

      - Joe

  9. Sakshi Chawla says:

    Dear Joe,

    Its really nice to see the way you’re answering everyones query. Iam also new to making chocolates. I use Compound to make chocolates. I want to ask my chocolate gets harder after freezing them. As you mentioned above coverture contains cocoa butter, can i add some cocoa butter to my compound and shall temper it. Will it work for me?
    Look forward to hear from you. Sakshi Chawla

    • joepastry says:

      Hello Sakshi!

      I understand the freezing problem. The trouble is that some of the cocoa butter comes out and makes crystals on the outside of the chocolate. That makes the chocolate less flexible and more brittle. Adding more cocoa butter might help. May I ask: is freezing it necessary for you?

      Nice to meet you!

      - Joe

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