With the month more than half-way over, I am still pondering over the questions, is February the month of Chocolate? Honestly, I don’t know but we certainly have chocolate on our minds this month with many of us limiting our chocolate hoarding to that one romantic day this month. With all this chocolate temptation around us, we decided to address a question we often get from our students when working with chocolate . . .
Well, there are a lot of brands of chocolate on the market. Some are very good and some – let me be nice – are less good.
Let’s say it clearly here, the best (for us at least) is Valhrona. All the Pastry chefs I know personally, use Valhrona. Not because it is the most expensive, because ”it is the most expensive”, but because it is the best in flavor, in sweetness and bitter balance and also – that is important, it is consistent. You want chocolate with consistency when you make chocolate candy or chocolate truffles. When you have found the best temperature to ‘’work’’ with your chocolate, you need to stick to it or you will be asking for trouble.
While we don’t offer chocolate classes in Uzès, we do use chocolate quite a bit in our baking and pastry classes. A chocolate class in the southern French heat would be challenging (but not impossible). Chocolate confection is not my specialty. But at our school in Paris, everyone who came to take a Chocolate class with our chefs in Paris knows that the first lesson in chocolate confection is how to temper the chocolate properly. It is a long, sometimes boring, but mandatory process to make good candy.
The second question we have often in reference to chocolate is ”what percentage of cocoa in my chocolate is better?”
It all depends on how you like your chocolate, sweet, bitter… in between.
We all love chocolate, pastry chef David Lebovitz would agree with that – he even wrote a book about it. Lisa at happyhappyvegan.com tells us about all the wonderful health benefits of dark chocolate (sorry milk chocolate fans). But I have even heard about a relatively new chocolate “blend”, the dark milk chocolate, so there is a little something out there for everyone, maybe even white chocolate fans.
Sometimes we like it sweeter, like milk chocolate, or stronger, dark or even bitter for me. I prefer to eat less chocolate, but I like chocolate to bite me back so that means a minimum of 70% cacao.
The higher the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate, the stronger it is, the less sugar it contains. You have 90 and even 100 % chocolate on the market sometimes. Not much to do with chocolate like that though, it is good to have a little square with your coffee but making pastries, I’m not sure.
We recommend using chocolate between 60 and 70% in your kitchen. With chocolate like this, you can make almost everything. Chocolate truffles (see recipe), chocolate souffle, chocolate lava cake, Chocolate sauce, Chocolate ice cream, Chocolat Chaud to warm you up during the polar vortex, or whatever else winter throws your way.
Chocolate has had a long history, the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs were using chocolate long before Columbus accidentally bumped into the Americas. Chocolate is also good in salty food, the Mexicans have their chicken mole and the French with our ”Sauce grand Veneur” that we serve with venison is another classic example that a little bit of dark chocolate in the sauce makes it soft and ‘’round’’. But you can find out more about the origins of chocolate, here and how Europe fell in love with it.
A friend was telling me that she did a Boeuf Bourguignon the other day. She said it was good but not fantastic, the next day she reheated the leftover, and she added a few milk chocolate squares to it- I raised a brow wondering what she was going to say next and was pleased to hear her hubby say it was the best Burgundy beef stew she ever did! I personally would not have used milk chocolate but hey, who am I to judge?
What’s the best chocolate to use in cooking? It may very well come down to personal choice and testing. How does the chocolate react in whatever dish you are preparing? Are you satisfied with the results? Find your brand of chocolate and embrace it with an open palate.
Valentine’s day may be behind us now but the romance doesn’t have to be limited to one day a year, right? What is more romantic to offer to your loved ones than a homemade chocolate cake or a few chocolate truffles?
Join our chefs for one of his online cooking classes taking you from market to table, through some wonderful French recipes both classic and modern.