Dark Crystal

Reader Evelyn wants to know: why does tempered chocolate have a higher melting point than untempered chocolate? When I wake up to a food science question like this I can only say: life is good.

The answer is that it all has to do with crystals. As regular Joe Pastry readers know, crystals abound in the kitchen. Certainly in the salt shaker and the sugar bowl, but in lots of other places besides. There are starch crystals (in bread) and fat crystals (in solid fats like butter). There are even such things as protein crystals, though I honestly don’t know where (or if) they occur in the kitchen. Will a real scientist please stand up?


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Bittersweet Chocolate

Bittersweet (often simply called “dark”) chocolate is probably the most useful type of chocolate in the pastry kitchen, which is why I always have a little on-hand in one form or another. It’s also the most variable in its composition. Chocolates in the bittersweet family can contain as little as 35% cocoa solids or as much as 70%. Similarly, cocoa butter content can be anywhere from 25-38%, sugar content 30-50%. Bittersweet chocolates contain a small amount of lecithin and no milk solids. …

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Unsweetened Chocolate

Unsweetened chocolate is nothing more than tempered chocolate liquor. Not too pleasant to taste for all but the most die-hard chocaholics, it is little more than ground cocoa bean, though the degree of grinding and processing varies from maker to maker. Most unsweetened chocolate weighs in at about 47% chocolate solids and 52% cocoa butter (which means it melts very nicely), the final 1% is usually a stabilizer like lecithin which keeps the chocolate emulsion from breaking. …

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A Chocolate Primer

Before we start talking about chocolate I should make clear that I draw a distinction between the sort of chocolate you find in candy shops and the kind you find in bakeries or pastry shops. The former is a confection meant to be consumed on its own. The latter is a component meant to be consumed in concert with other components: flour, butter, eggs, sugar, caramel, vanilla…you get the idea. So don’t blame me (as many do) for taking a utilitarian approach to the stuff. For I look at chocolate no differently than I do any other ingredient in baking, which means that just like everything else in my kitchen chocolate is subject to Joe’s Inverse Law of Ingredient Dynamics which goes like this: as the number of ingredients in a given recipe goes down, the quality of those ingredients must go up. That means if, say, you’re making a flourless chocolate cake — where chocolate is clearly the star — you should use very good chocolate. Conversely it means that if you’re using it as a drizzle for your caramel macadamia nut tart, a chocolate of middling quality is fine. In fact it’s probably more than enough, as the delicate flavors and aromas of a rare and expensive chocolate will get lost in an ensemble. …

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Let’s Talk Chocolate

For a day or two at any rate. Reader Amy asked if — before I got into another project — I’d put up a small section on chocolate in the Baking Ingredients menu (fast becoming the most visited part of the blog). It’s a bit of an odd request since I’m not a chocolate epicurean by any means, however a brief discussion of different chocolate types and their general uses might be valuable. Thanks Amy! More from me shortly.

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Making Caramelized White Chocolate

This stuff is really delicious. I confess that I generally don’t go out of my way to eat white chocolate, but keeping my spoon out of this as I was baking it was a serious challenge. It is, as you’d expect, very caramelly in flavor which leads me to conclude that low temperature caramelization is indeed going on here. I highly recommend that you undertake the experiment. All you need is about a pound of white chocolate, a sheet pan and an oven set to 260 degrees Fahrenheit.


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Why not just heat white chocolate to 300F?

Suh-WEET question reader Lynn! I meant to address this issue before. I mean, why not? Sugar caramelizes around 300 degrees Fahrenheit and white chocolate has lots of sugar in it, so why not just crank the heat up and git r’ done quickly? The answer is because cocoa butter has a smoke point of around 270 degrees Fahrenheit, so heating white chocolate to 300 for as long as it would take to caramelize the sugar would burn the fat. Thanks for addressing my oversight, Lynn!…

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What’s the difference between high quality and low quality white chocolate?

I can just feel you dark chocoholics out there cringing in front of this photo like vampires before a sunrise. It burns! It burns! But that’s a nice question, reader Walter! Of course there are a fair number of dark chocolate-loving readers here who would describe any white chocolate as “low quality”, but let’s ignore the peanut gallery, shall we? The main difference between a high quality white chocolate and a lower quality white chocolate is the percentage of cocoa butter. Of course other factors play into it, the care with which it’s formulated and processed and so on, but if I had to boil it down to any one thing, that would be it. For cocoa butter is what often makes the difference between a silky, melt-in-your mouth sort of candy and one that’s crumbly or waxy. …

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Caramelization or Maillard Reaction?

I don’t think anyone can say for certain. In a nutshell, caramelized white chocolate is produced by heating white chocolate to around 260 degrees Fahrenheit and leaving it there for roughly 45 minutes, until it turns a pale shade of brown. But that’s easy, you might say, it’s a proven fact that caramelization of sugar doesn’t happen until sugar approaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The browning in the white chocolate must be a result of Maillard reactions — protein browning — which can occur below 300.


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Easy now, chocophiles.

Amazing how even the mere mention of white chocolate is enough to get dark chocolate lovers all riled up. The prejudice is understandable. White chocolate has a reputation for vapidity, one that’s mostly deserved as there is in fact nothing “chocolate” about white chocolate save for the fact that it has cocoa butter in it. For those who relish the rich tang of cocoa solids, white chocolate is a confection without a point. Or worse. When Mrs. Pastry entered the kitchen to discover a pound of Ghiradelli white chocolate on the counter this morning, she reacted as though I’d set a five-pound bag of cow dung there. Disgusting. And you spent MONEY on that???

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