Valentine’s Day brings up memories of my very first love affair. I was four, and my true love was a soft-serve vanilla ice cream cone covered in warm dark chocolate that hardened over the freezing cold of the ice cream. I was so in love I don’t think I have ever fully returned to my senses! Alas, I cannot claim mutual exclusivity in this relationship. Annual world consumption of cocoa beans averages about 600,000 tons! And did you know that it takes about 400 of those cocoa beans to make just one pound of chocolate?Not only is chocolate, in all of its myriad forms, indescribably delicious and aromatic, it also can be good for us! Here’s what I mean:
Dark chocolate is packed with high-quality polyphenol antioxidants that may promote overall cardiovascular health.
Cocoa beans include flavonoids (like those found in tea and red wine) which support healthy cholesterol levels and act as antioxidants.
Chocolate delivers stearic acid, a unique fatty acid thought to be neutral for cholesterol levels.
Here’s a peek at the many glorious forms of chocolate:
Cocoa Powder – cocoa solids are removed from the chocolate liquor, pressed into a cake and then ground into a fine powder. Here it is in our recipe for warming Mexican Hot Cocoa.Unsweetened Chocolate – also known as baking chocolate, it’s about 55% cocoa butter and 45% cocoa solids; the tempting aroma is hard to resist, but one bite makes for a bitter lesson – pure chocolate without anything added is NOT sweet at all. Baking Chocolate is the first ingredient in this perfect-for-your-Valentine Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Raspberries.
Bittersweet Chocolate contains at least 35% chocolate liquor. The higher the percentage, the darker and more bitter the chocolate. Bittersweet Chocolate Chips are the best in cookies. Try this recipe for Chunky Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Fleur de Sel.
Dark or Semi-Sweet Chocolate (my favorite) usually contains 15% to 35% chocolate liquor. It is mildly sweet and somewhat bitter. Here is an amazing Dark Chocolate and Coconut Dessert Sauce.
Milk Chocolate is likely the favorite among most Americans. Some of the chocolate liquor is replaced with milk and/or milk solids to make sweet, mild, smooth chocolate. You will love this recipe for Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta with Blood Oranges.
To keep chocolate fresh, wrap it tightly, preferably in its original wrapping, and store it in a dry place at about 65°F to 70°F. Since it easily absorbs odors, be sure to store it away from any strong-smelling items. Properly stored, most chocolate will keep for more than a year, and dark chocolate will keep even longer.
Remember that cocoa butter melts at just below 98.6°F, the body’s average temperature. This is exactly why the best place to melt chocolate is directly in your mouth! But since that’s not practical or acceptable for chocolate recipes, you’ll want to avoid scorching by gently melting at 115°F or less. You can do this in two ways:
Double Boiler Method: Put chopped chocolate into a double boiler or heatproof mixing bowl set over a pot of barely simmering water and stirring gently until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. (Make sure the bowl doesn't touch the boiling water or the chocolate may burn.)
Microwave Method: Heat chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl at half power, stopping to stir gently every 30 seconds, until completely melted and smooth.
As the chocolate melts, be sure to watch for signs that it may be “seizing” or turning grainy. This happens when moisture, such as a splash of water or a bit of steam, gets into the chocolate after it’s already begun to melt. Some recipes call for melting chocolate along with liquid such as milk. That’s okay, as long as the liquid is added at the beginning.And, by the way, if you’ve been wondering about White Chocolate, it does resembles chocolate and certainly smells like it, but because it’s made of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar and vanilla, and does not contain chocolate liquor, it’s not really chocolate at all.For more information, here’s our Guide to Chocolate.Are you celebrating this Valentine’s Day with chocolate? Got a favorite way or recipe? Let me know!