10 min. 15 min.
Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate our love, particularly our love of sweets. While it is one of the biggest days for chocolate sales, you can very easily make your own chocolate treats by understanding some fundamental tricks of the trade for the best chocolate confections. Homemade sweets are not only delicious, but they also bring the sentiment factor because you made them yourself.
1. Get an intense chocolate flavor by using a Chocolate with a Higher Cacao Percentage. You’ve probably seen chocolate bars with a percentage on the label. 45%, 55%, 75%, and so on. The percentage refers to the amount of cacao (e.g.. cocoa beans, where chocolate comes from) in that chocolate product. The higher the percentage of cacao, the deeper and richer the chocolate flavor. For decadently rich chocolate desserts with the antioxidant and aphrodisiac effects attributed to chocolate, skip the milk chocolate (which is around 45% cacao) and move on up to semi-sweet and dark-chocolate (which range from 50% cacao to 75%).
2. Measure your Cocoa Powder Properly for Exceptional Results. Cocoa Powder is essentially a lower-fat ingredient that still delivers the pure chocolate flavor into your baked goods. It’s lower fat because the naturally occurring cocoa butter found in cacao is removed. The result is a powder, which can often clump together. To ensure proper measuring, first stir the cocoa powder. Next, use the “scoop and level” measuring technique for a proper measure: Take a spoon and scoop the cocoa power into your measuring vessel (i.e… measuring cup). Then, level off with a straight edge. Do not press or compact the cocoa powder into the measuring vessel, or it will throw off your entire recipe.
3. Understand Chocolate’s Melting Points. Overheating chocolate can spoil the flavor and change the texture. Dark Chocolate shouldn’t be heated above 120 degrees, and milk and white chocolate shouldn’t be heated above 110 degrees.
4. Use Indirect Heat to Melt Chocolate: Because chocolate can burn easily, you should use low indirect heat to melt it. Using a water bath (a bowl of chocolate over a bigger bowl/pot of near boiling water), using a double boiler (specialized set of fitted sauce pans that utilizes steam/boiling water to slowly cook contents of the top pot), or even the microwave (putting chocolate into a glass bowl and slowly melting in 30 second increments at 50% power). And always, always ensure that chocolate is chopped, grated, or cut into uniformed sized pieces to ensure even melting.
5. Temper Chocolate for Best Results in Dipping or Coating Treats. Tempering chocolate is a method of heating and cooling chocolate for coating or dipping things like cookies or fruit. When chocolate is properly tempered, the result is a chocolate that is smooth and glossy when finished. Tempered chocolate has a crisp snap and won’t melt on your fingers as easily. To temper chocolate: Finely chop the desired amount of chocolate. Next, place two-thirds of that chocolate in the top pot of a double boiler. Heat chocolate over hot, not boiling, water, stirring constantly, until chocolate reaches 110°-115°F. Remove top pot and place on a towel on the countertop. Cool the chocolate to 95°-100°F. Lastly, add the remaining one-third of chocolate to cooled chocolate, stirring until fully melted. This perfectly tempered chocolate is now ready for molding, dipped, or coating!
6. Know Your Cocoa. There are two types of unsweetened cocoa powder: Natural Cocoa Powder and Dutch-process Cocoa Powder. Natural cocoa powder, like Hershey’s, is simply chocolate liquor (ground up cocoa beans) with much of the cocoa butter removed. Dutch-processed cocoa is similar except that it is alkalized (i.e.. has less acid) and it has a milder flavor and darker color (often reddish) than natural cocoa powder.
Baking is a chemical process as much as it is a delicious one. Often times, recipes call for the addition of an acid to react to a base/basic, causing chemical reactions like the development of carbon dioxide which causes baked goods to rise.
Natural Cocoa is an acidic ingredient, so when mixed into a batter it is often accompanied by baking soda (a base) to create the carbon dioxide in a batter to help the final produce rise. Because Dutch-processed cocoa is low-acid, it will require more acid in the batter to rise, such as with baking powder or buttermilk.
7. Keep Your Chocolate Dry. Good chocolate is simply fat (cocoa butter) and dry particles (sugar and cocoa powder). When chocolate gets wet, that liquid will attached to the dry particles, causing the chocolate to “seize”, e.g.. turn into a dry, grainy, clumpy mess. Make sure your utensils (spatulas, spoons) are dry and clean: the tiniest amount of water can ruin the chocolate. Sometimes recipes will call for chocolate to be melted via liquid, such as liquor or milk. The general rule of thumb is that for every 2oz of chocolate you wish to melt you should use 1 tablespoon of liquid. This will ensure that seizing is less likely to happen.
8. Utilize Ganache For Glazes, Truffles, and Drinking Chocolate. Maybe even body paint. A perfect glaze for baked goods, also reportedly used for sensual body paints, ganache is one of the easiest chocolate recipes that always impresses. Ganache is a chocolate “condiment” that can be used as a glaze when warm and when cooled can become a spreadable filling or topping. It can even be used to make truffles. An easy Ganache recipe: melt chocolate (by weight) into an equal amount of heavy cream. For example, take 6 ounces of semi-sweet/dark-chocolate and add to 6 ounces of hot (not boiling) heavy cream. Let sit for 2 minutes, then whisk until chocolate is all dissolved. Ganache can also be added to warm milk for the perfect cup of drinking chocolate or hot chocolate.
9. Lighten Up your Dessert Course with a Cocoa Whipped Cream topping. It’s hard to be amorous with a fully belly, so you can lighten up your dessert course by using whipped cream instead of a heavier frosting or rich ganache. Cocoa Whipped Cream is a great topping for a cakes or cupcakes, and quite easy to put together. To make cocoa whipped cream: Take ½ C granulated white sugar, ¼ C unsweetened cocoa powder and sift together. Next, stir the sugar mixture into 1 C of heavy cream. Refrigerate for 40 minutes, then whip with electric mixer until medium peaks for. You can spread or frost this onto your favorite cake.
10. Prepare Pans with Cocoa Powder instead of Flour: When making a chocolate layer cake, utilize cocoa powder instead of flour when greasing and “flouring” your pans. You’re still get the non-stick result, but you wont have a white floury residue on the final cake.
11. For Best Melting, Utilize Bar Chocolate or Melting Discs instead of Chocolate Chips: Chocolate chips have stabilizing/hardening ingredients that help them keep their shape with warmed, as is the case with perfect chocolate chip cookies. Utilize chocolate meant for melting, such as bar chocolate or melting discs (but not candy melts).