Do you dream in chocolate? I mean real chocolate. Sometimes in life only something chocolatey will do.
A tray of chocolate brownies at the weekend. A mug of steaming hot chocolate on a cold, rainy day when the rain is beating down against the windows and the fire in the hearth is lit. A loaf of Sourdough Noir. A Swedish love cake as a birthday treat for a loved one or for Fikka Friday at school. A box of favourites at Christmas. A small piece hidden deep in a flaky, buttery croissant.
And how do you like your chocolate, that rich, velvety feeling in your mouth as it begins melting against your tongue?
As a spongy cake or a gooey mousse? Squidgy fudge or shiny sauce? Whizzed up in a fancy hot drink or churned up and chilled in cold ice-cream? Or do you like it sharp and bitter?
Emperors who lived five hundred years ago were served chocolate as a drink in golden cups. Our most luxurious decadent chocolates now come in gold wrappers.
But when you cook or bake what is your preference? I was walking with a friend recently and we got round to this discussion. Are you a cocoa person or a chocolate person? When is it best to use the one or the other? Have you ever given this any thought?
I tend to prefer cocoa – cocoa is bitter and sharp, chocolate in taste but not at all sweet; it is pure and distinct. Chocolate on the other hand contains added sugar and milk. A bar of Milk Chocolate, for example, contains about 20% cocoa solids. I love dark chocolate in tiny bite sized portions which send equally tiny messages of contentment to my brain. I mostly use cocoa when baking. The reason for this is fairly simple in spite of my argument that it produces a ‘better’ taste actually it is more practical than that.
Put simply when I was learning (through experimenting alone in the kitchen as a young child in Kenya) we only ever had cocoa in the cupboard. It was possible to find bars of chocolate in the shops but the recipe used by the manufacturing company did not contain as much sugar or milk as we find here in the U.K. Imported chocolates from overseas were virtually impossible to find. Our chocolate, Kenyan chocolate, was always coated in a white film. In fact to me that was chocolate but when I came to live here I discovered that if this white film appeared on chocolate it meant it was somehow spoiled. People would not eat it.
I have discovered that when the cocoa butter fats in chocolate separate from the cocoa mass and rise to the surface, it results in something called “fat bloom.” Our chocolate was not so attractive but it was safe to eat. Sometimes the chocolate had been exposed to humidity or moved quickly from cold to hot temperatures which caused the sugar to crystallise resulting in a grainy texture, and to combat this the manufacturers added crunch in the form of biscuit or honeycomb which made quite a pleasant eating. experience. Even now I find that English chocolate is far too sweet and sickly for me. What I cannot do without though is my life’s golden treasure, a box of Ferrero Rocher at Christmas!
But which is best for cooking with?
Drinking chocolate is a complete no, no! Don’t use it – it contains more sugar and milk powder than chocolate. Cocoa powder gives cakes and biscuits a lovely chocolate flavour. As with bars of chocolate there are good cocoas and there are ones that are better. But even a cheaper brand gives a good flavour. Cocoa is not the best option for chocolate mousses or truffles because you need both the flavour and the creamy texture of the actual chocolate.
It is best not to use your favourite chocolate bar when you bake either as you will be adding other ingredients. Be careful of using cooking chocolate as it contains more sugar than chocolate.
The simplest of chocolate cake recipes is made by adding cocoa powder to the usual mix of ingredients and topping it with an extra chocolatey butter icing also made with cocoa. Biscuits can also be made using cocoa although I have to say I think those made with chocolate chips are the best.
So, what is your preference folks?