Partially chopped bar of chocolate on brown paper background
Calling all chocolate lovers, we want to talk about our favorite ingredient! If you love baking cookies, you may already have a favorite brand or variety of chocolate chips. But when it comes to pastry and candy recipes that showcase chocolate, the options can seem endless—and endlessly confusing. But that’s a good thing! Since we…

CIA FOODIES


How to Read the Label on Chocolate

Calling all chocolate lovers, we want to talk about our favorite ingredient! If you love baking cookies, you may already have a favorite brand or variety of chocolate chips. But when it comes to pastry and candy recipes that showcase chocolate, the options can seem endless—and endlessly confusing. But that’s a good thing! Since we as consumers have become more interested in how our food gets to our kitchens, it has become common practice for chocolate labels to do more than just market and protect the product; labels also provide information about the chocolate inside for the curious (and maybe slightly food-obsessed) among us. Let’s look at what information might be on a label and what it really means to us. Stating the cacao percentage is becoming nearly standard practice for chocolate sold on all levels, including supermarket chocolate bars. The number listed on a label tells you the total percentage of the chocolate liquor (pure unsweetened cacao solids) plus the cocoa butter in the chocolate. The chocolate liquor is responsible for the chocolate flavor, including the bitter properties. Cocoa butter is responsible for a chocolate’s smooth and creamy mouthfeel. In the case of dark chocolate, essentially the entire remainder of the chocolate is sugar. This means that if a chocolate is 60% cacao, it is 40% sugar. The higher the cacao percentage is in dark chocolate, the less sweet the chocolate will be because it contains less sugar. This is really the only thing that the percentage tells you about the chocolate. It does not indicate anything about quality or viscosity when melted; it only tells you about relative sweetness. Tasting many different chocolates can give you a general idea of what percentage you prefer, but there are enormous differences among different chocolates; even among those with the same percentage. In the case of milk chocolate, the percentage is still cacao versus total ingredients, but the remainder is a combination of milk solids and sugar, so the percentage tells you even less about the product within. In all cases, let your palate be your guide; taste and get to know each chocolate individually. Some manufacturers will include the geographic origin of the cocoa beans on their labels. This can be useful information once you have a general knowledge of what to expect of beans from different locations, as the chocolate will have the flavors common to that area. It can be interesting and fun to compare the flavor nuances of chocolates made from beans of different origins. This is a perfect reason to taste more chocolate. There are many excellent chocolates available. For optimum results from most pastry and confection recipes, the dark chocolate should be around 60% cacao and in the vicinity of 35% cocoa butter. If it is a European chocolate, it will be called couverture; if it is American, it will be bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. Milk chocolate should be close to 35% cacao, and white chocolate should be close to 30% cocoa butter. Other chocolates will work, but the results will be different. Though it may be convenient, don’t be tempted to go the grocery store and buy a bag of chocolate chips to use in these recipes. Chocolate chips for baking in cookies are not well refined in manufacturing. They are usually very low in cocoa butter, which helps them hold their shape in cookies and baked goods, so they are very thick when melted. Your results will suffer if you use chocolate chips meant for baking in candy and pastry recipes. The form the chocolate is in when you buy it makes little difference other than handling techniques. Pistoles are convenient small pieces that do not require chopping for melting or making ganache. Some blocks are marked in increments of weight, which is convenient if you do not use a scale, but ultimately, the form is not nearly as important as flavor and viscosity.

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