Extraordinaire de Chocolat

Few folks have a good understanding of chocolate and the huge world of the “good stuff” beyond Nestles morsels and Baker’s squares.  So I feel strongly compelled to offer some basic facts that I feel everyone who cooks should know.  Believe me, this information will save you a fortune in mistakes down the road, and the knowledge is critical if you intend on making some of the chocolates and candies I will eventually be posting.

When this post disappears from view here, you will be able to find it easily at its own page found in the right-hand column of this blog by the same title.  On such pages I will post information and techniques that are static and used fundamentally in any recipe type.

Onto the chocolate…

Chocolate is made from the cocao bean, that is dried, roasted and ground. The grinding produces cocoa liquor, and from this liquor two distinct items are extracted:

A fat that is called “cocoa butter” and a solid that is called “cocoa mass” and which is refined to make cocoa powder.


Depending on what is then added to the cocoa mass, the different varieties of chocolate are produced. Each has a different chemical make-up and the differences between them are not solely in the taste. Be sure, therefore, to use the type of chocolate the recipe calls for, as different varieties will react differently to heat and moisture and other ingredients in the recipe.


As a general rule, these definitions will help you understand the differences:


Cocoa is chocolate liquor with much of the cocoa butter removed, creating a fine powder. Alkalized cocoa powder (also known as Dutch processed cocoa), has been treated with an alkali during processing to produce a more mellow, less harsh-tasting, but darkly colored cocoa. Depending on how it is produced, it may or may not have other ingredients added, such as sugar, etc.Unsweetened Chocolate is simply the cooled and hardened version of chocolate liquor. It is used primarily as an ingredient in recipes since it is not terribly tasty all by itself.


Bitter / Dark / Plain Chocolate is made from the combination of cocoa mass, cocoa butter and sugar. Normally contains approximately 35% cocoa liquor.


Semi-sweet Chocolate has approximately 15% chocolate liquor, with extra cocoa butter and sugar added. Sweet cooking chocolate is basically the same with more sugar added for taste.


Milk Chocolate is made with cocoa mass, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder and sugar and vanilla added. Normally contains approximately 15 % cocoa liquor.


White Chocolate is in reality (and, in many countries, legally) not really chocolate at all, as it contains no cocoa solids, which leaves it the smooth ivory or beige color. White chocolate is primarily cocoa butter, sugar, milk and vanilla.


White “chocolate” is the most fragile form of all the chocolates. Pay close attention to it while heating or melting it. It must be achieved slowly or it will burn and seize very easily.


Couverture is a special kind of chocolate used by the pros and some of us who have discovered that its wonders far outweigh its price!  A couverture is simply a chocolate with a relatively higher cocoa butter content (a minimum of 32%, often as much as 39%). This high cocoa butter content contributes fluidity, smoothness, strength and ease of handling. In most cases, these chocolates also contain a high cocoa solid content which heightens the flavor.


The formula on couverture packaging may look like this: 70/30/38. This means that there is 70% cocoa solids, 30% sugar, and 38% total fat content.


70/30/38 describes an extra bitter couverture and indicates 70 percent cocoa
solids and only 30 percent sugar.


60/40/38 describes a bitter couverture, which is the most frequently used one (according to E. Guittard  (my personal favorite for years and years).


50/50/38 is “semisweet” coverture.


36/42/38 is milk chocolate couverture.


And now you know the rest of the story. 



~ by eheavenlygads on March 3, 2007.

3 Responses to “Extraordinaire de Chocolat”

  1. Your article has been very helpful; I know what to look for now should I wish to learn more. Also, I’d like to mention that I was a bit sad to see only one chocolate related recipe available in your blog. I do hope you intend to add more sooner than later.

    SpinningSugar: Gray, thank you for your comments. And I certainly will post additional chocolate recipes, perhaps as soon as today. I plead two weeks of vacation for my latency…but I’ve eaten quite well along the way and will offer some new, as well as old favorites post-haste.

  2. You’re welcome. I look forward to the new additions.

    SpinningSugar: Well, Gray, if I haven’t lost you, I’ve finally added one of my favorite cake recipes. Now that I have been on vacation for two weeks, had my mother here visiting for another two weeks and finally found her the perfect Lhasa Apso puppy to love, I can return to blogging. I can’t tell you how much I’ve looked forward to today…

  3. No, you have not lost me. I confess, I’ve had my share of doubts of your return. ^^ Now that we’re both certain of each other, I suppose I might try frying an egg without blackening it.

    SpinningSugar: (Ahem) Your point is well taken, Gray. 😉 And, by the by, they “blacken” eggs all the time down in Cajun Land…

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