i have a confession to make. i don't like chocolate. i know, i know. you probably want to close this tab from your browser right now- but hear me out.
i respect chocolate for what it can do and appreciate other's fondness of it. it just does nothing for me on a personal level. having said that, it's nice to remember to put others first sometimes. so let me help you.
chocolate is like that tag-along who wasn't formally invited. you know it'll eventually pop up whether or not you really want it to. it's everywhere, in everything, all the time, without question, hesitation, or consideration of appropriateness. so since it's going to be around no matter what, we might as well get to know it better.
chocolate types are based on the percentage of cocoa solids and milk fat contained. the fda sets standards in order to categorize these percentages so consumers know what their getting into, more or less. dark chocolate must be at least 35% cocoa mass. this is just a jumping off point though. most chocolates are crafted with great variances and "trade secrets" to make them unique to a certain brand or application; tossing in sweeteners and other ingredients like soy lecithin and vanilla diversify the characteristics of pure chocolate as well. so let's get into it.
first thing's first: white chocolate is not chocolate. its a concoction made up of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, usually vanilla flavoring, emulsifiers, and if you're really unlucky- hydrogenated oils. it lacks the chocolate liquor which gives real chocolate its color and flavor. this stuff is temperamental when it comes to melting which is why it basically keeps its shape during baking.
unsweetened chocolate is pure and unadulterated. cocoa nibs from the fermented, roasted cocoa bean are ground into chocolate liquor. the liquor is separated to make cocoa butter and cacao. the butter and cacao are added in different ratios to produce different textures and flavors. more cocoa butter makes chocolate smoother tasting and more viscous. chips typically contain less cocoa butter allowing them to maintain some shape during baking. unsweetened chocolate is great for souffles, brownies, and other deeply chocolaty baked goods.
when you shop for chocolate you usually see labeling like: dark, semi-sweet, milk chocolate. they can be difficult to differentiate because as i stated above there is no bench mark for each "level of chocolate." therefore shopping by cacao percentage will lend itself well to those getting serious about their chocolate. when you see 70% chocolate on a bar it's telling you the ratio of of pure cocoa to sugar. bakers, just keep in mind that swapping up for higher percentages of chocolate opens the door for natural bitterness and sometimes changes in texture- you may need to make recipe adjustments.
now for the people who don't give two cents about all that percentage nonsense and just want to know which bag of chips to pick up at the grocery store...
bittersweet chocolate has a lower amount of sugar added and is deeply rich and full flavored because of the higher cacao percentage. it can give off intense and downright smoky flavors that lend themselves well in traditionally sweet treats- balancing them.
milk chocolate = candy chocolate. it has milk solids added along with significantly more cocoa butter and sugar. it is relentlessly cloying, and lends no complexity flavor-wise. if you must use it, at least mix it in with some darker chocolate. you'll thank me later.
real vs. fake
there is a good chance that some of what you're calling chocolate right now, isn't technically chocolate. many candies and coatings legally have to be labeled as "chocolate flavored" or "chocolaty" because they don't fit the standard. these low cost chocolate look-a-likes are cheap and easier to work with in many applications; they don't require tempering. big candy makers have come under fire for swapping out the real stuff unbeknownst to consumers. chocolate connoisseurs can taste the difference; fake chocolate has a higher melting point rendering it less palatable and flatter in flavor. for laypersons it may not be so simple. so before you go stocking up again, let me show you the fail-proof way to spot a dupe.
fake aka compound chocolate
contains cocoa butter
it's just that simple.
happy chocolating- or pseudo chocolating☺
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