Yes, everything is fair when it comes to this sinful, yet so lovable thing called “chocolate.” As far as I know, I haven’t seen or met anyone who does not like chocolate, in one or the other form! To be true, I can have dozens of chocolates, but just don’t have them so often for health sake and even if I end up gorging, I make sure to run that extra mile to burn it. This is the reason, why I had to come up with a book which was all dedicated to this incredible ingredient – aah! Chocolate is out on stands now, and I’m sure if you get it, you will definitely not regret!
From being one of the most popular flavours in the world to an aphrodisiac, chocolate surely is sinful in the truest sense! Rightly termed as the wonder ingredient, who knew that the discovery of an ordinary bean from the tree Theobroma cacao found in the jungles of South and Central America would become a hot favourite of all ages around the world.
Existing since ages
The cacao plant, from which the cocoa powder is made, is said to have originated in the Amazon area of South America in 2000 BC. The earliest record of chocolate being consumed as a beverage, dates from over 15000 years ago in the rainforests of Central America, where conditions for the growth of the cacao tree were perfect. The Olmec, one of the first civilizations in America, are believed to have been the first to grow cocoa beans as a domestic crop.
The Mayan word for the cacao tree was cacahuaguchtl and the word cacao means ‘God Food.’ We get the word chocolate from the Mayan word xocoatl, meaning ‘bitter water.’
The cacao tree was held in high esteem by the Mayan civilization and by AD 300 cacao was used in ceremonies to celebrate life and fertility. Evidences of cacao pods have been found in the carvings remaining on temples and palaces. Later, archeological finds have included whole cacao beans and wood fragments from the cacao trees in Guatemala. Vessels found to come from around 600-400 BC in Belize and 1100 BC in Honduras have been found, on scientific examination, to contain residue of theobromine and caffeine, which are both contained in cacao beans. Cacao is named in text on one of the vessels, which had a stirrup handle and a complicated locking lid.
There are several mixtures of cacao described in ancient texts, for ceremonial and medicinal uses, as well as culinary purposes. It was used as a remedy and a way of delivering other herbal medicines. The cacao beans were roasted and pounded with chilli and maize for added flavour and then mixed with water. The bitter, unsweetened mixture was left to ferment and was originally reserved for ceremonies and for drinking by the rich, influential and religious elite. Women prepared the brew but, usually, only men drank it, as it was considered too strong or possibly even toxic for women and children. Some mixtures included maize, chilli, vanilla, peanut butter and honey. Chocolate was also mixed with a variety of flowers, and sometimes it was thickened with corn gruel to make a kind of porridge.
This fantastic ingredient hails from the cocoa beans of the cacao tree, majorly native to the tropical and subtropical countries, at about 15º-20° N-S of the equator on the world map. The source of the cocoa bean plays an essential role in deciding the quality of the chocolate, relating to which, regions such as South America, West Africa, Ecuador, Madagascar, etc. are some of the places where you would find the most superior quality cocoa beans. The four major varieties of cacao beans are Criollo, Forastero, Trinitario and Arriba/Nacional.
Cooking with chocolate
The two broad categories, into which chocolate is divided into, in terms of cooking, are ‘Couverture’ and ‘Coating’ chocolate. The latter is also known as Glazing and Pate Glace. When comparing, which among the two is best suited for cooking, the ‘Couverture’ scores over the ‘Coating’ type, inspite of the ‘Coating’ type being cheaper and easy to handle. Some obvious reasons for the ‘Couverture’ type to be better are: it provides a better flavour to the recipe, it provides a better mouth-feel, it makes the recipe the most appealing and it is healthier.
Easy to store and handle, the ‘Coating’ type is usually darker and bitter and also seen more in the market. On the other hand, you must look for a fruity taste, acidic nature, cocoa content and cocoa butter content in a piece of chocolate to get the best quality of ‘Couverture’ chocolate.
Components of the cocoa bean
The two main components of the cocoa bean are basically the ‘fats’ or the ‘cocoa butter’ and constitutes about 50-55% of the whole bean. The rest of the bean is composed of ‘non-fat solids’ and together, both these components make the ‘cocoa mass’ or ‘cocoa solids.’
Cocoa butter (fats) is colourless, the flavour carrier and is responsible for giving the texture and mouth-feel to the chocolate. On the other hand, non-fat solids are the flavouring component and gives taste in the chocolate.
The more preferred category of chocolate, i.e., the ‘Couverture’ chocolate, is made by combining the ‘cocoa mass’ with sugar, vanilla and the emulsifier lecithin (usually extracted from soya) where as the inexpensive category of chocolate, i.e., the ‘Coating/Glaze’ chocolate is derived by combining the ‘non-fat solids’ with vegetable fat, sugar, vanilla and emulsifier lecithin.
The separation of the ‘non-fat solids’ from the cocoa bean results in what is commonly known as ‘cocoa powder’ with some variable fat content. The higher the percentage of fat content in the ‘cocoa powder’, the superior is the quality. Also, this powder is acidic in nature, so it is treated with an alkali, in a process called Dutch Process, to make it richer, darker, less acidic and has less tendency to settle out when combined with liquids. This way it is also made suitable for dishes that call for baking powder.
The white partner
There’s a white counterpart of the rich, dark brown chocolate called ‘white chocolate’ that is nothing but cocoa butter along with sugar, milk powder, vanilla and the emulsifier lecithin. One thing to keep in mind while buying a good white chocolate is to make sure that it contains cocoa butter as some inferior brands contain vegetable fats.
This rich, creamy, sweet and subtle-flavoured chocolate makes it best suited for baking purposes as it complements other ingredients. This chocolate is very delicate and thus, should be always melted on very low heat in order to avoid burning. Also while setting, it happens to be softer than the dark chocolate as it contains milk solids.
Melt thy chocolate – right!
Have you ever experienced that while melting chocolate in a double boiler, the steam from the pot under the bowl gets into the chocolate and solidifies it? The chocolate is ruined isn’t it? Let us see what causes this and how can we repair the damage.
Chocolate has many moods! Sometimes it melts to a satiny pool of liquid chocolate and sometimes it becomes a grainy mess. Chocolate while being melted simply cannot tolerate small drops of water. In this case, the steam escaping from the bottom of the double boiler is sufficient to put the chocolate in trouble. The same thing will happen if you cover the pan in which chocolate is melting. Then moisture condenses on the inside of the lid and drips down on the melting chocolate with the same result. Once chocolate has solidified it is not easy to coax it back to liquid form. When melting chocolate, make sure the water in the bottom of a double boiler is hot, but not boiling. Or consider melting chocolate in a very heavy saucepan with a metal ring placed on the element to insulate it from direct heat. Or better still melt it in a microwave oven.
Store thy chocolate – right!
Improper storage causes ‘bloom’ (discolouration) in the chocolate, which could be one of the two substances: it could be cocoa fat that rises to the surface of a solid chocolate mixture that is stored for too long at room temperature, or it could be sugar that is drawn to the surface by the condensation of a loosely wrapped, refrigerated chocolate mixture. The moisture extracts sugar from the mixture’s interior. Although it might look a little less appetizing than a lustrous, rich chocolaty-brown piece of sweet, chocolate that has suffered bloom is still okay to eat! You may find the texture of sugar-bloomed chocolate to be a bit grainy on the outside, but it should still taste good. To prevent this from happening to your chocolate, simply use proper storage methods.
Since chocolate can easily absorb flavours from food or other products stored alongside, chocolate should be tightly wrapped and stored away from pungent odours. The ideal temperature for storage is somewhere between 18°C-20°C. If stored properly, you can expect milk chocolate and white chocolate to be good for up to six months. Other types of chocolate can have an even longer shelf life.
•When melting chocolate, make sure all the equipments are completely dry. Any moisture in the utensils/container may cause the chocolate to stiffen. To rectify the error, stir in half to one teaspoon of melted shortening for every ounce of chocolate.
•In order to minimize the cooking time, chop chocolate bars into squares or smaller pieces before melting them.
•Chocolate melts easily in a microwave and there is less danger of scorching.
•Store grated chocolate in the freezer. It is easier to work with frozen chocolate, since you can scoop out as much as you need.
•White or milk chocolate make better chocolate shavings because they are a softer chocolates and will curl better.
•While melting chocolate add a spoonful of butter to the chocolate for a smoother consistency and richer flavour.
•To prevent your chocolate cake from having white streaks on the brown crusts, dust greased cake pans with cocoa instead of flour.
•For bananas that are ripe and ready to eat but you have too many, peel the bananas and freeze them then dip in melted chocolate and freeze again, this makes a nice treat!
•Have a bag of chocolate chips in hand? Just sit with the whole bag in a bowl of very hot water, and mush the bag up every couple of minutes until all the chocolate has melted and there are no lumps. Snip the corner of the bag and squeeze out the melted chocolate directly onto the cake.
•When you are looking for dark cooking chocolate remember that it can be available as pure unsweetened chocolate under the name of bitter chocolate or baking chocolate.
•When making chocolate cake, add dried and powdered orange peels for yummy taste.
•Never use a wooden spoon to stir chocolate because it adds unwanted moisture.
And in the end, I have made pizzas with chocolate and fruit topping and many times I have also stuffed the favourite samosas with chocolate. Pair it up with almost anything and everything, and still you will have a surprise to yourself! Such is the marvel of this super ingredient. As for now, try some dishes like Chocolate Kheer, German Chocolate Cake, Peach and White Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Rice Pudding, choco-coconut Laddoo’s from my website www.sanjeevkapoor.com and enjoy those chocolaty moments!