Undoubtedly, the way we once looked at chocolate is now history.
Today, just like lovers of fine wine, chocolate aficionados have their own clubs, ateliers and other associations promoting everything chocolate. Brands, on their side, have adapted to the demand with multiple single origin chocolates and special crop blends. Some of which are, arguably, excellent products, while some others are clever marketing scams in the name of good chocolate. So what exactly are we looking for in chocolate?
Finding the Right Balance
By now, you may expect me to put on my snobbish chocolate boots and start a discussion on never-ending theories about finding hints of sandalwood and subtle touches of green moss in your precious chocolate… Or perhaps asking questions like was it hard, waxy, grainy or smooth; harsh or dry? Well, in principle, I should be, and as a matter of fact, this is what you would address while doing your primary oh-so-serious chocolate tasting to find the hidden treasures. Fortunately for me, there are dozens of clubs, books and other resources that have explored the subject before me…
In the world of pastry, beside decoration, you will seldom use chocolate as an element on its own. It’ll be either as a ganache, a cream, a sauce, a glazing or the like. Thus identifying in depth the features of a chocolate by selecting the right kind is only the first step towards success. To achieve your goal in a pastry creation, you will need to find the right balance, intensity in flavours and textures. You might blend two or more kinds of chocolate to achieve what you’re looking for. Each chocolate possesses very specific features concerning cocoa butter, cocoa mass and complexity of aromas and thus need to be tested.
To reinforce the aromas, you might want to work with pure (100%) cocoa powder or paste depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Cocoa powder, for example, would better suit baked products such as sponge cake, cookies, or biscuits while cocoa paste will be better when blended into cream based recipes such as sauce, glazing or mousse. Today, the French chocolate brand Valrhona even pushes further the possibilities of your balancing chocolate acts with their Heart of Guanaja or as they like to call it P125. A chocolate with more cocoa mass content and less cocoa butter, giving you great creative ground to build your new desserts, or simply to revisit every status quo.
Experimenting with Chocolate
To express your love for chocolate, here is a little recipe you can experiment on with simple ingredients available in most supermarkets. On the base of a classic chocolate ganache tart, we are going to experiment with three different recipes to reach the texture and flavour we want. This is literally how we (chefs) create new recipes.
The first step will be to create the sweet dough tart shell.
460gm Cake flour
40gm Pure cocoa powder
190gm Icing sugar
Mix the cocoa powder with the flour and sift to avoid lumps. Mix the butter and icing sugar into a pomade texture. Add the eggs and mix well. Finally, add the flour mixture and mix until you obtain a dough. Wrap in plastic film and store in the fridge for 1 hour before using. Roll the dough at 2 mm thick and lay it in your tart mould. Press it properly, punch some holes in the base using a fork and cut the excess dough from the rim. Bake the tart empty, using baking beans. Bake at 200°C for about 20 minutes. Once baked at 80%, remove the beans and finish the baking.
Basic ganache recipe using a regular type of chocolate with 70% cocoa content.
180gm Dark chocolate 70%
Warm the milk, cream and melt the chocolate until smooth texture. Allow to cool a little before usage.
Texture: Semi-hard, smooth, but too rough.
Taste: Bitter dark chocolate, straightforward.
While the first test was good, in the second we want to get a milder chocolate kick, a smoother texture and perhaps a touch sweeter. Classic truffle has an addition of butter to add extra smoothness, but today, we’re looking at it differently. So we are adding some milk chocolate for the flavor and texture, some egg yolks for the creaminess and some sugar for the sweetness. We are reducing the milk and cream to balance with the texture of the egg yolks.
75gm Dark chocolate 70%
10gm Milk Chocolate 33%
45gm Egg yolks
Mix the yolk and sugar (don’t whip it). Warm the milk, cream and melt both chocolates until smooth texture. Pour the hot mixture over the eggs and mix well. Allow to cool a little before usage.
Texture: Smoother texture, milder color, soft and more pleasant.
Taste: More balanced chocolate flavor, but a bit too sweet and still a bit sharp.
In this test we aim to adjust the sweetness by cutting the amount of sugar in half and compensating its texture with liquid glucose. Also, we’re balancing the dark chocolate with a milder one and reducing it a little.
65gm Dark chocolate 66%
10gm Milk Chocolate 33%
45gm Egg yolks
10gm Liquid glucose
Mix the yolk and sugar (don’t whip it). Warm the milk, cream and melt both chocolate until smooth texture. Pour the hot mixture over the eggs and mix well. Allow to cool a little before usage.
Texture: Fondant texture, smooth and nice color.
Taste: Nice balanced chocolate flavor, not too sweet and decadent!
Concluding Remarks and References
Every one of the above tests gives you a good chocolate tart. And in the end, it’s a matter of personal taste, really. However, to me, the third test finally reaches a very satisfying chocolate flavor, sweetness and a perfectly fondant texture. You could even add a pinch of sea salt, some spices or infuse the milk with vanilla or other flavors you’d like to make it different. Testing recipes is the greatest way to understand what’s happening in food when modifying one or the other ingredient.
Discoveries are endless in the abyssal depth of good chocoooolate!
Some quality chocolates…
A little help to pair ingredients…
A good reference book: Chocolate by Ramon Morato (Vilbo, 2007)