|All chocolate is made from the fruit of the caco tree,
which thrives in the tropical regions twenty degrees north and south
of the equator. Scientists believe that the first cacao tree was found
in the lower Amazon Basin in Venezuela. Twice a year the hard, squash
like pods are hand harvested and carefully split open to remove the
beans (which are then allowed to naturally ferment and air-dry for
Dried beans are sold to brokers, who in turn supply the chocolate
manufacturers of the world. Most cacao beans are shipped to Europe
and North America to be made into chocolate in a complex process
that begins with cleaning and roasting and ends with molding liquid
chocolate into bars.
It is the selection of the beans and their blending that most determines
the quality of the finished product. Only a small percentage of
the beans being harvested today are criollos, a premium flavor bean.
Most chocolate is made from a blend of forasteros, a hardy bulk
bean. Only the premium manufacturers are seeking out and paying
the price for the rare criollos and the hybrid trinitarios, a bean
that combines the robustness of forastero with the flavor of criollo.
After the beans are roasted according to each maker's style, they
go through a grinding process that creates cocoa mass. The mass
is then combined with cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla for flavor
accents, conched for smoothness, tempered for longevity, and molded
into large bulk chocolate bars that are then wrapped and shipped.
A chocolatier such as Fran's purchases the chocolate at this stage.
CHOOSING CHOCOLATE FOR DESSERTMAKING
It can't be overstressed that the quality of the chocolate used
is what can elevate a bite of cake or a sip of hot chocolate into
a life-altering moment. No matter how good your technique, if you
are using inferior chocolate your dessert simply won't be as ravishing.
The manufacturers I rely on for my chocolate are Callebaut, Valrhona,
El Rey, Michel Cluizel, and Scharffen Berger. They all sell bars
at supermarkets, specialty shops, by mail order, and on websites
(see page 227).
Before you choose, it's important to know how to read a label.
Be sure you are purchasing pure chocolate that contains only chocolate
(beans, mass, or liquor), sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, and lecithin.
No vegetable fats should be listed as an ingredient.
Cacao percentage indicates the amount of cacao in relation to sugar.
Thus a bar containing 60 percent cacao has 40 percent sugar, with
less than one-half percent vanilla or lecithin. Of that 60 percent
cacao, about half is cocoa solids and the other half is cocoa butter--for
that marvelous melt-in-your-mouth consistency. All you need to remember
is that the higher the percentage of cacao, the deeper, darker,
and more pronounced the chocolate flavor. Another way to think of
it is that if the cacao percentage dips below 50 percent, that chocolate
bar contains more sugar than cacao, meaning less chocolate flavor--a
sacrilege as far as I'm concerned. For these recipes, I do not recommend
any dark chocolate where sugar is listed as the first ingredient.
The recipes in this book mostly call for dark, semisweet, or bittersweet
chocolate, with some high-quality milk chocolate, white chocolate,
and unsweetened chocolate. Where I felt it made a difference, I
recommended an exact percentage of cacao or a specific maker. These
recommendations are not meant to send you off in search of the holy
grail. As long as your chocolate is from one of the better makers
and within the general range of cacao content, your Pure Chocolate
desserts should all be spectacular. Another philosophy to keep in
mind when selecting a chocolate for a dessert is to choose one you
would enjoy eating by itself. This is where your chocolate-tasting
experience will serve you well.
Just as each coffee roaster has a style, each chocolate manufacturer
develops a flavor and texture profile. To my mind, the Belgians
make a chocolate with a subtle roast and round pleasing flavor--such
as Callebaut. The French, on the other hand, like their chocolate
the way they do their coffee, with a darker roast and stronger flavor--such
as Valrhona. El Rey, from Venezuela with its flavorful beans, also
has an assertive style. Scharffen Berger, the premium American manufacturer,
is relatively new to the field. This company has developed a style
all its own and is making intensely flavored chocolate.
Preferences in chocolate are extremely personal. Taste, reflect,
and experiment--consider it the icing on the cake in your chocolate
Here are my current favorites by category to help you make your
own selections for dessert making. It can be confusing because in
the United States 35 percent cocoa mass is the only requirement
for calling a chocolate either bittersweet or semisweet. Ten percent
is the legal minimum cacao content for milk chocolate. Below are
the guidelines that I follow in Pure Chocolate and all my recipes.
The chocolate world is expanding rapidly as Americans' tastes change,
so keep on checking the shelves--and tasting, of course.
52 to 62 percent cacao: Semisweet chocolate is entry level for
those who are new to darker, more pronounced chocolate flavor. Callebaut's
56 percent is my kitchen workhorse. With its accessible flavor and
creamy consistency, it is a dream to work with. It melts easily,
combines well with other flavors, and is fantastic for dipping.
Other chocolates to use are: Cluizel, Valrhona, Scharffen Berger,
El Rey, and Lindt, all available at supermarkets.
63 to 72 percent cacao: Darker and more pronounced in flavor than
a semisweet, bittersweets are the favorites of many chefs. However,
their higher cacao content can make them trickier to work with.
For top-notch chocolate flavor in a bittersweet I enjoy: Valrhona,
Callebaut, Scharffen Berger, Lindt, E. Guittard, Cluizel, and El
36 to 46 percent cacao: As a rule, look for the darkest milk chocolate
you can find for these recipes. The pronounced caramel flavor from
the milk is delicious. The premium milk chocolates from Cluizel,
El Rey, Valrhona, Callebaut, E. Guittard, and Lindt are all excellent.
Since it does not contain cacao solids, white chocolate is technically
not a chocolate. Whether or not you're a fan of this bar of cocoa
butter, sugar, vanilla, and milk, there are times when it is just
right. I love it in whipped cream, and it is the perfect sweet counterpoint
in a sophisticated cake like the bittersweet Blanc et Noir (page
101). White chocolate is very easy to work with. Just make sure
you choose one with no added vegetable fat. El Rey, Valrhona, Lindt,
and Callebaut make excellent white-chocolate bars.
100 percent cacao: Unsweetened chocolate, as the name implies,
is 100 percent cacao with no sugar added. One taste will tell you
that it is not meant to be eaten alone. I like to use it in combination
with semi- or bittersweet to add depth of flavor. You can also improvise
a bittersweet by substituting about 20 percent unsweetened chocolate
and 80 percent semisweet for the quantity of bittersweet specified
in the recipe. Valrhona and Scharffen Berger make excellent unsweetened
The recipes in the book all call for Dutch-processed cocoa--totally
unsweetened cocoa whose natural acidity has been neutralized by
an alkali. Dutch-processed cocoa gives darker chocolate results
than ordinary unsweetened cocoa. Cocoa lends chocolate wafers, ice
cream, and sorbets wonderful depth of flavor. I prefer Valrhona
or Droste cocoa powder.
WORKING WITH PURE CHOCOLATE
A sensitive moment in any chocolate recipe occurs at the beginning,
when the chocolate is melted. Few things in the kitchen are more
depressing and beyond repair than coarse, grainy, scorched chocolate.
Just keep in mind that chocolate's two archenemies are heat and
moisture. If you always melt over gentlest heat and are vigilant
about stray drops of water, there shouldn't be a problem. After
a little practice you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.
It doesn't take any fancy equipment to melt chocolate. I improvise
a double boiler by choosing a stainless-steel bowl that can nestle
on top of a small saucepan. Fill the pan with about 1 inch of water
and bring to a simmer over lowest heat. Chop the chocolate into
small-size pieces and place in the bowl over, but not touching,
the water in the pan. Let sit, without stirring, until about half
melted. Then remove from the heat, placing the bowl's bottom on
a kitchen towel to absorb any moisture. Gently stir with a rubber
spatula until smooth, returning to the heat briefly if lumps still
Melted chocolate should look smooth and glossy and the temperature
should never go above 115°F. Keep an eye on the sides of the
bowl for telltale signs of scorching. As chocolate gets too hot,
it will start darkening and losing its sheen around the edges. If
the temperature goes above 120°F, the chocolate will separate
and burn. If you suspect your chocolate may be burnt, the only thing
to do is taste. Unfortunately, all you can do is toss out burnt
chocolate, since there is no bringing it back.
combining melted chocolate
Butter, eggs, and other ingredients being added to melted chocolate
should be at room temperature, since extreme heat or cold can shock
the chocolate. Heat causes the cocoa butter and solids to separate;
cold causes chocolate to harden into lumps.
what to serve with chocolate desserts
once you have moved beyond ice-cold milk, the perfect beverage
to complement a fine chocolate dessert is strong, dark coffee, preferably
espresso. In my experience, teas are not an easy match for chocolate.
A clean, dry, effervescent Champagne, though, can be perfect. Small
sips of liqueurs can also be delightful with a rich chocolate dessert,
but avoid going too sweet in your selection. I like a good tawny
Port, brandy, or Cognac, Muscat, or a Banyuls. Taste and experiment
to discover what works for you.
To chop chocolate, the best tool is a long serrated knife. Starting
on a corner of a block or square, shave 1/4-inch-thick slices along
the diagonal. The chocolate will naturally break into shards as
you cut. Keep turning the square to work evenly off all the corners.
Pistoles are small disks of chocolate. Until recently, they have
been primarily available to pastry chefs and chocolatiers, but these
wafers of pure chocolate are now becoming easier to find. Their
small, uniform size eliminates the need for chopping.
how to store chocolate
Chocolate should be kept in its wrapper and/or box and stored in
a cool, dry, dark place. If storing an opened bar, wrap in its paper
and then in a sealed plastic bag. The best storage temperature is
62 to 70°F. I do not recommend refrigeration because the condensation
that occurs can result in sugar bloom (or grains on the surface).
If you live in a hot place without air conditioning, however, there
may be no option. Chocolate melts in the low nineties--a pleasure
when it's in your mouth and a potential disaster in a very hot kitchen.
The whitish color that can rise to the top on chocolate is called
fat bloom. It means the cocoa butter has separated and risen to
the top due to heat. As unappealing as it looks, the final taste
is not affected, because when the chocolate is melted, the cocoa
butter will be redistributed throughout the chocolate.
how to make chocolate curls
To make large chocolate curls for decorating the tops of cakes,
you need a large block of chocolate and a chef's knife. The chocolate
should be at room temperature. Position it at the edge of a work
counter so the length is perpendicular to the table's edge. Standing
over the chocolate, you want to be able to stabilize it with your
Holding the top of the blade with one hand at either end, not on
the handle, position the sharp edge at between a 90 and 45 degree
angle, slanting toward you. Firmly push down, dragging the blade
forward to shave thin curls. Pick up the curls with a pastry scraper,
since they easily melt, and transfer to the cake or reserve on a
sheet of parchment.
For smaller curls use a small block of chocolate and a paring knife
or a sharp vegetable peeler, holding the bar upright and scraping
down. Or you can use a thin teaspoon. With the chocolate bar on
a counter, holding the spoon horizontally, with the edge of the
teaspoon bowl in one hand and the handle in the other, position
the spoon at no more than a 45-degree angle slanting toward you.
Firmly push down, pulling the spoon forward, to shave small, thin
curls. This spoon technique is easiest with white chocolate.
how to grate chocolate
I like to use a handheld microplaner for grating chocolate for
decorating. The fine side of a box grater is also good. It's best
to grate chocolate just before using, as the fine pieces can easily
lose their shape.
chocolate kitchen clean-up
At times the fun of working in the chocolate kitchen can be diminished
by the sheer messiness of it all. With all that pouring, glazing,
and finger dipping you're bound to start noticing that chocolate
leaves big brown stains. My solution at home is to stock the kitchen
with dark brown or black kitchen towels and black aprons, much better
than white for hiding the brown. To remove chocolate stains, try
soaking with liquid dishwasher detergent before tossing in the washing
time, temperature, and movement explored
When time, temperature, and movement are perfectly orchestrated,
the resulting chocolate desserts should have the power to bring
even the most hardened adult to his or her knees. Why else would
a grown woman spend so much time in the kitchen? A few secrets revealed:
time: One of the qualities I look for in aspiring chocolatiers
is patience. Chocolate does not like to be rushed, so when we talk
about time it's all about melting chocolate slowly, stirring slowly
and gently, and the ability to wait hours, or even a day, for flavors
to mellow and textures to change.
temperature: At the risk of scaring off newcomers I can't emphasize
enough the importance of temperature to coaxing the very best out
of chocolate. The general laws of chemistry dictate that heat will
always turn chocolate into liquid and cold will turn it solid. Where
important, the exact temperatures appear in the recipes, but here
is a chart of the most important temperatures:
Chocolate storage 62 to 70°F
Melting dark chocolate 108 to 115°F
Tempering dark chocolate 88 to 90°F
Pouring chocolate butter glaze 80 to 85°F
Pouring ganache glaze 80 to 85°F
movement: Movement around melted chocolate should always be slow
and gentle, stirring with a rubber spatula. Movement is what cools
melted chocolate and thickens it while evenly distributing those
all-important cocoa crystals for utter smoothness. A chocolate and
cream ganache that is left untouched for many hours, like the truffle
centers, will eventually thicken, developing a very deep, rich chocolate
flavor. With a ganache for glazing, there is no need to wait so
long. Thirty minutes, with a stir here and there, will bring the
chocolate to perfect consistency. Each recipe contains the specifics