Updated: Jun 5
Chocolate! How much do you love it? Personally, I love it in all it's forms. My favourite is white chocolate, especially those triangular mountain shaped bars that you only seem to be able to buy at Christmas or in the duty free shop at airports. Probably just as well really otherwise I would be the size of a house!
After white chocolate I am almost as happy to eat milk chocolate but failing a decent supply of either white or milk I am not averse to chomping on the plain variety although it has to be said that this is my least preferred option even though, according to recent press reports, it is supposed to be better for you with certain health benefits.
Before I started cake decorating I never really gave much thought to the different types of chocolate, why they tasted different or how they were made. My only concern was the best way to eat it! But when I was studying for my City & Guilds qualifications, chocolate was an integral part of the course. Boy, did I enjoy that! We were supplied with huge 50kg bags (or was it 100kg) of the best couverture chocolate with which to make our delicious creations and I would walk past those bags a lot more often than was really necessary just to dip my hand in and pull out a few buttons of delicious chocolate to eat whilst I worked. I am sure I must have eaten a lot more than I actually used in my assignments! I really enjoyed this part of the course and it gave me an insight into the history of chocolate, the different types available, how they are made and their uses.
If, like me, you haven't really given much thought to the chocolate making process and would like to know more, then read on. Otherwise, if you are only interested in the pleasure of eating the stuff then stop here and go and grab yourself a bar!
Origin and History
Chocolate is a rich energy food obtained from the roasted and ground seeds, or beans, of the cacao tree, which grows mainly in West Africa, South America and the West Indies. Although chocolate manufacture has only been developed in Europe during the past 150 years or so, it's great value as a food commodity has been known for many centuries. In AD 600 the Mayas migrated from central America deep into South America to establish the earliest known cocoa plantations. The Mayas and Aztecs used the beans to make a bitter drink mixed with spices which they called cacahuatl, meaning bitter water. Chocolate was treasured by the Aztecs long before the discovery of America but noow it is enjoyed by people in almost all countries and the United States uses about half of the world's supply.
The chocolate of the Aztecs was not at all like the chocolate of today. For one thing, sugar was unknown to them. And while they used vanilla as a flavouring, as we do, they also used chilli peppers, corn meal and other ingredients. And you thought chilli chocolate was a new thing! These were mixed with water, beaten to a froth and eaten with a spoon. I am quite pleased that we can have our drinking chocolate with marshmallows now though!
Columbus was the first European to discover the cocoa bean, in 1502, but is was Cortez, after conquering part of Mexico in 1519, who finally returned to Spain with his prize plunder, called tchocolatl. The Mexicans had given the cocoa tree a name meaning 'food of the gods' and they considered it a divine product. So, chocolate was introduced into Spain early in the sixteenth century and it was received with high favour. The Spanish kept it a secret from other European countries and so managed to keep their monopoly over it for for over 100 years. As late as 1579 the British captured a Spanish ship loaded with cacao beans and burned it's cargo as useless. But during the next century the use of chocolate spread through Europe, though not without opposition. Some condemned it as an evil drug, and Frederick II of Prussia prohibited it in his realm. But its use was limited chiefly by its high price. Only well-to-do persons could afford it and the English gentry were introduced to it in 1657 when the first chocolate house opened in London. By the nineteenth century increased production had lowered the price enough to make chocolate a popular beverage. In 1828, a Dutchman called van Houten discovered a way to press the cocoa butter out of the chocolate mass and invented cocoa powder, which made a drink palatable to those who found the fattiness of chocolate objectionable. It was not until 1847 that J.S. Fry produced the first eating chocolate (who remembers Fry's Chocolate Cream?) and milk chocolate did not appear until 1873. Rudolphe Lindt (1855-1909) invented 'conching' (see below) which enabled cocoa butter to be added to chocolate which produced the melting quality of fine quality chocolate.
In making chocolate, the beans, which grow in pods, are first fermented and then cleaned in a revolving or vibrating sieve, following which they are roasted in rotating drums. The drums are rotated to ensure even roasting of the beans. Next the beans pass through a mill which cracks them and blows away the husks, and then they are broken into pieces, or nibs. The nibs are then ground between rollers which turn at different speeds. The heat of milling melts the fat, or cocoa butter, they contain and changes them into a thick brown liquid called chocolate liquor. This liquid may be molded into blocks to be sold as crude, or bitter, chocolate, or it may be made into other kinds of chocolate or cocoa.
Sweet chocolate is made by mixing the liquid with sugar and cocoa butter in a melangeur, a container in which granite rollers turn on a revolving granite base. If milk chocolate is to be made, evaporated or dried milk is added at this stage. The mass then passes through a refiner, in which it is further ground and mixed by a series of steel rollers. Vanilla or other flavourings may be added during this process. The finest quality chocolate is finished in a conche (conching - refining by continuous agitation), in which heavy granite rollers move back and forth to grind it against a granite base for three or four days. The chocolate may be molded into bars or be used as coating for candies, fruits or nuts.
Types of chocolate used in sugarcraft:
Crude chocolate blended with cocoa butter and sugar (and milk solids for milk chocolate) into a paste and then refined in a conche. Couverture is a high quality chocolate that requires tempering before use. This is a method of heating, cooling and reheating the chocolate to a workable temperature to ensure all the different fat crystals in the cocoa butter have dissolved. Couverture is recognised by its snap and gloss.
Chocolate flavoured compound (also known as bakers' chocolate)
This does not require tempering. It sets softer and does not splinter, it is cheaper and easier to use than couverture. Cocoa Butter is not present - the fat element is replaced with specially hydrogenated fats (hardened), plus stabiliser and emulsifier (lecithin).
This contains no sugar and has a reduced cocoa butter content. It has a very dark colour, hard texture and bitter taste. It is used for flavouring and piping.
Technically, this is not really chocolate but cocoa butter with sugar and milk solids added. Some excellent couverture is now available in white from Belgium and Switzerland.
A blend of liquid glucose and couverture, warmed separately to 32 degrees centigrade before being blended together. This makes a modelling material suitable for making roses, etc.
This is block cocoa when milled to a powder. It is hydroscopic and therefore must be protected from any water or moisture absorption.
A mix of melted chocolate and boiled cream. Used to create a filling or a coating. 3D carved and sculpted cakes are often covered in ganache as, once set, the firmness of the ganache helps the cake to hold its shape whilst the top coat of fondant and decorative features are applied.
Sugar Bloom: This is the most common form of defect and is caused by the direct condensation of moisture which occurs when chocolate is cooled. This shows as small white spots and a whitish surface on the chocolate usually because it has been stored in damp conditions.
Fat Bloom: This is caused by the unstable setting of Chocolate and is a result of bad tempering as the fat crystals have not set properly. lt shows as a greyish-white film with a streaky white, cloudy effect which becomes more marked with storage, usually because storage conditions have been too hot.
Fortunately, neither of these faults will do you any harm if you eat the chocolate and they can be easily fixed by retempering.
Of course, one of the nicest ways to enjoy chocolate is when it is loaded into a cake and I can help you there! If you would like a free, no obligation quote or have any questions then please feel free to contact me here, email firstname.lastname@example.org or private message the Facebook page.
Join the conversation and leave a comment in the box below to tell me about your favourite type of chocolate.
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