Questions about Cooking with Chocolate

Chocolate Image Gallery Mastering chocolate desserts begins with understanding the basics of cooking with chocolate. Check out these chocolate pictures.
©2007 Photodisc

Cooking with chocolate can produce some extraordinary desserts, but it can be tricky as well. Knowing the answers to basic questions about cooking with chocolate can give you the foundation you need to be a chocolate success.

Check out these how-to chocolate tips and common questions to get you started on the path to chocolaty goodness:

Why Add Shortening to Chocolate?

Find out why adding shortening to melting chocolate yields an even smoother, silkier texture to your melted chocolate.

How to Melt Chocolate

There are several different techniques for melting chocolate. Explore them, and find out for yourself which one is right for you.

What is Baking Chocolate?

Many recipes use something called "baking chocolate." Find out what it is, and how to differentiate between the different types.

Baking Chocolate Facts

Bitter, semisweet, unsweetened -- find out what kind of chocolate goes in what kind of recipe, and whether they can be interchanged.

Start out by continuing to the next page and learning about using shortening when cooking with chocolate.

For more information about chocolate, see:

Why Add Shortening to Chocolate?

Adding shortening to chocolate while melting gives it a smooth, silky texture.
Adding shortening to chocolate while melting gives it a smooth, silky texture.
©2007 Le Tota

Q. Why do some chocolate recipes ask that you add shortening before melting it?

A. If you're melting chocolate to use in such items as chocolate covered strawberries, often times a recipe will call for added shortening. This is because the addition of shortening creates a smoother and more manageable consistency than melted chocolate alone. Doing this helps to make a more evenly coated product.

The ratio between shortening and chocolate is very straightforward. You simply add 1/2 teaspoon of shortening to each ounce of chocolate, melting the combination and stirring until it is smooth. Remember: Do not use butter or margarine because both of these contain water, which can ruin the melting process.

The issue with water cannot be overemphasized. Whether you use a double boiler, microwave, or direct heat to melt your chocolate, you must always make sure that all of your utensils are completely dry. Any amount of moisture may cause chocolate to "seize," or clump and harden. If this happens, add shortening using the previously prescribed ratio.

Another thing you should remember when you are melting your chocolate is to always melt it slowly over low heat. It doesn't really take much to melt, chocolate-covered fingers on a hot summer's day are proof of that. Chocolate begins to melt at 80°F and is fully melted by the time it reaches 100°F to 115°F. You really don't want more than that because at higher temperatures chocolate may scorch, separate, become grainy, or become too thick.

For more info on melting chocolate, continue to the next page.

For more information about chocolate, see:

How to Melt Chocolate

Melting chocolate is a key first step in making delicious desserts like brownies.
Melting chocolate is a key first step in making delicious desserts like brownies.
©2007 stock.xchange

Q. What is the best way to melt chocolate?

A. Melted chocolate is the luscious coating on a scoop of vanilla ice cream or the dazzling drizzle on a plain cookie. Getting to the perfect state of melted chocolate is the first step to killer brownies and many cake recipes.

It takes only minutes to change chocolate from its solid state to a velvety pool. There are a number of convenient ways to melt chocolate. However, heating it can be tricky and requires your full attention.

The cocoa butter in solid chocolate -- the other component being cocoa powder -- is the difficult diva. Cocoa butter melts at about body temperature (which you already knew if you've ever held an unwrapped chocolate bar in your hand). If you heat chocolate at too high a temperature, it "seizes," separating into liquid cocoa butter and clumps of cocoa powder, or it can even burn.

To add to the challenge, bitter­sweet and semisweet chocolate -- which you'll find in baking chips and fine chocolate bars -- can be heated to a slightly higher temperature than milk chocolate or white chocolate. When professional bakers melt chocolate, they may use a candy thermometer to keep dark chocolate between 100°F to just under 120°F and white or milk chocolate at no more than 115°F.

You, however, probably don't need to be so technical. Simply dip your finger into a pool of chocolate -- it should feel no warmer than your skin.

Following are several methods for perfectly melted chocolate. You may chop the chocolate, if necessary, into small even-sized chunks so that it melts quickly and uniformly.

  • Water bath: Fill a large skillet with water, and heat to just below simmering. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, such as stainless steel, and place the bowl in the water. Gently and constantly stir the chocolate while keeping the water below simmering.
  • Double boiler: Fill the bottom half of a double boiler with water, making certain the bottom of the top half doesn't touch the water. Bring the water to a simmer. Place the chocolate in the top half, and place over the simmering water. Be careful that the water doesn't boil or splash into the chocolate, because any moisture will cause it to seize.
  • Microwave oven: Place room temperature chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at medium power. The chocolate won't completely melt, but it will turn glossy and soft to the touch. Remove from the microwave and stir to finish melting. Microwave 1 ounce of chocolate for about 90 seconds; 6 ounces for about 31/2 minutes, stopping halfway through to stir the chocolate. Since times are approximate, always start with the suggested melting time and repeat in 30-second intervals.

Once you've melted chocolate, use it immediately. If necessary, you can hold chocolate over a bowl of warm water for a short time.

Q. What do I do if I've made a mistake when melting chocolate?

A. Splattering water on melting chocolate or overheating it can be disastrous, causing it to seize. If that happens, here's what you can try: Add a taste-free vegetable oil (canola, not olive) or warm water by the teaspoon to the melted chocolate in a saucepan. Stir constantly until the chocolate returns to a smooth state.

Burnt chocolate is another matter. Its harsh, bitter taste will ruin whatever you're making. Discard the chocolate and start again.

To learn about baking chocolate, continue to the next page.

For more information about chocolate, see:

What is Baking Chocolate?

Baking chocolate can come in several different forms.
Baking chocolate can come in several different forms.
©2007 Artem Efimov

Q. In recipes calling for baking chocolate, which is the best type? And what are the differences among the many types?

A. Baking chocolate -- also known as unsweetened chocolate or bitter chocolate -- is cooled, hardened chocolate liquor. By U.S. standards, unsweetened chocolate should contain between 50 and 58 percent cocoa butter. When sugar, lecithin, and vanilla are added, you get bittersweet, semisweet or sweet chocolate, depending on the amount of sugar present.

Baking chocolate is used primarily as an ingredient in recipes such as brownies, cakes, and frostings. While the purest form of baking chocolate has no sugar added to it, the major chocolate brands represented in the baking aisles of most supermarkets often have several sweetened versions to choose from.

Unless a recipe specifically calls for "semisweet baking chocolate" or "sweetened baking chocolate," go ahead and use the unsweetened variety. Otherwise, the chemical and baking properties of the recipe may be compromised.

See the next page for more baking chocolate facts.

For more information about chocolate, see:

Bittersweet or Semisweet Baking Chocolate?

All chocolate begins with ground cocoa beans.
All chocolate begins with ground cocoa beans.
©2007 Maja Schon

Q. What are the differences among unsweetened, bittersweet, and semisweet baking chocolate? Can they be used interchangeably?

A. Chocolate is made from roasted cacao beans. The beans are crushed and ground, a process that generates heat and liquefies the fat or cocoa butter. The resulting liquid is called "chocolate liquor." (There is no alcohol involved; in this case, "liquor" merely means "liquid.") The liquor is poured into molds and allowed to solidify; the resulting bars are what is called unsweetened chocolate.

To make eating or baking chocolate, sugar, vanilla, and lecithin are added to the liquor, along with more cocoa butter. By U.S. government standards, bittersweet chocolate must contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor; semisweet can contain between 15 and 35 percent, according to the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.

Bittersweet chocolate contains sugar, but generally not as much as semisweet chocolate, although, by government standards, they could contain practically identical amounts of chocolate liquor and sugar and still retain their bittersweet and semisweet labels. What this means is that one brand's bittersweet chocolate could be close in sweetness to another brand's semisweet chocolate, and vice versa.

Because of this, bittersweet and semisweet chocolate could be used interchangeably in most recipes; unsweetened, obviously, could not because it contains no sugar. But if your recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate and you have semisweet on hand, taste it first to determine if you could substitute.

For more information about chocolate, see: