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Chocolate - Food of the GodsChocolate - Food of the Gods

May 1, 1999

11 Min Read
Chocolate - Food of the Gods

Food Product Design

Chocolate - Food of the Gods
May 1999 -- Culinary Connection

By: Nadine Leeberg

  Like many culinary chefs, I left the trenches of operations for the research and development side of the food industry. I carried with me the love of the art of finishing (decorating) and presenting desserts. One of my favorite mediums to work in is chocolate.  Chocolate forever altered our notion of the word "ambrosial" (fit for gods, divine) and ultimately revolutionized the dessert-makers trade. Before chocolate, fruit-and-nut breads, honey-spiced short breads, cookies and pudding-type desserts satisfied sweet cravings. Chocolate opened up a whole new collection of candies, brownies, bars, chocolate-type cakes, cookies, mousses, icings, fillings, glazes, beverages and a host of many more decadent creations to the industry.Chocolate's beginnings  Chocolate may represent the most complex and sustained international culinary collaboration ever. It's as though this food of the cacao plant (whose botanical name, Theobroma, means food of the gods) was meant to be a gift to the entire world. Chocolate was discovered by Central American and Mexican Indians, introduced into Europe by Spanish conquistadors, then carried back to America by the Dutch and British. The Swiss and the Dutch, particularly, modified and improved its forms.  The cacao tree is native to Brazil. It is thought that Mayans cultivated the tropical cacao tree on plantations around 250 BC. Medicine men were quick to recognize its medicinal properties for treating fevers and snakebites and for disinfecting wounds. Cocoa beans were also a popular medium of exchange and payment among the various native tribes of Central America.  The Spanish were the first Europeans to experience cocoa in a liquid form, when Hernando Cortés and the soldiers and missionaries accompanying him visited the Aztec ruler Montezuma II in his capital of Mexico City in 1519. They were served a beverage called xocoatl, a simple chocolate paste mixed with water. The Aztecs would also mix it with maize and chili to form small cakes for extended storage. For years the only Europeans to enjoy xocoatl were 17th-century Spanish aristocrats. They were also the first to sweeten this liquid.  Cacao cultivation was restricted to Central America until the sixteenth century. Cultivation along the equator - Ivory Coast, Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria and Ecuador - came into existence as a result of European colonialism.Steps to chocolate  Cacao trees can live to be 100 years old, but only grow to approximately 26 to 32 feet high. Cultivated plants are even smaller; they flower when three to five years old. The first harvest is very small, then the trees begin to produce up to 35 fruits. The fruit contains 30 to 50 cocoa beans, neatly embedded in the white flesh of the pulp. These beans provide the basic ingredient for chocolate. Like coffee or fine wine, chocolate is complex. Quality of the cocoa beans, roasting process and methodology of production all affect taste.  Fermentation. Cacao fruits ripen year-round. When harvested, they are cut off close to the trunk and processed immediately. The fruits are carefully split, and the beans are fermented. Fermentation lasts about a week at a temperature of 113°F. The fruit's white flesh decomposes, the bean's bitter substances are broken down and the cocoa aroma starts to develop. The outside of the bean starts to oxidize and the bean begins to turn brown.  Beans are dried in the sun for several days; or, in large factories, in special dryers. Residual moisture must be approximately 8% before transporting in jute sacks for roasting.  Roasting. This first process develops cocoa aroma and breaks down the remaining bitter substances. Beans are roasted in hot air at 230° to 302°F for 15 to 40 minutes, then quickly cooled on ventilated sieves to prevent aroma loss.  Grinding. A cracking machine breaks the roasted beans. Blowers separate out the light shells, and vibrating sieves separate out the heavier centers (nibs). The nibs are then ground in a mill where the heat produced releases the bean's fat. Keeping the temperature just above the melting point of the cocoa butter results in chocolate liquor, also called cocoa mass, which is about 54% cocoa butter. The liquor can be held at a controlled temperature or immediately processed by adding milk powder, cream powder, sugar and cocoa butter, depending on the final product.  Mixing and refining. The individual ingredients are mixed in a stirring machine. The coarse mixture is ground by rolling through five horizontal cylinders of varying sizes to obtain the highest degree of fineness. Cooling the rollers prevents the fat from separating out.  Conching. Conching machines knead and agitate the mass. During this process, the mass is heated once more to a temperature of up to 176°F for 20 to 72 hours, depending on the quality and the formula. Small amounts of lecithin and vanillin are added to the mixer shortly before this process ends.  Tempering. Conching is followed by a process called tempering, which subjects the chocolate mass to a defined curve of varying temperatures in several stages. Tempering ensures that the chocolate has a firm consistency. The chocolate mass is then processed in different ways, depending on the final product, then packaged for the consumer and food industry.  The chocolate is now ready to be used in the home, in confection shops and the dessert industry.Chocolate classes  Although food scientists may frequently look at different cocoas for a dessert or beverage mix, they might not be familiar with chocolate in other forms and the applications of each in creating desserts. Chocolates differ from one manufacturer to another, and each may offer two to three different varieties in each category. These differences are much like those found in the wine industry, where each manufacturer makes something distinctly different.  Sweet chocolate contains at least 15% chocolate liquor and less than 12% total milk solids. Bittersweet and semisweet chocolates must contain at least 35% chocolate liquor. These are quite similar for the purposes of dessert-making and making the decorations that merchandise the dessert.  Milk chocolate must contain at least 10% chocolate liquor, and can contain added cocoa butter and milk powder. A typical formula might consist of 20% fat content (cocoa butter/milkfat), 45% sugar and 25% milk powder. Milk chocolate melts to the best degree for tempering at about 86°F, depending on the manufacturer.  In the past, by law every product labeled chocolate had to contain cocoa butter and chocolate solids. Until recently, white chocolate in the United States could not be labeled as such, because it's a blend of cocoa butter, milk solids, butterfat, sugar, lecithin and flavoring, but no chocolate solids. The best white chocolates, most of which are European, contain cocoa butter and no other fats.  Baker's chocolate, often called compound coating, differs from chocolate in that most of the cocoa butter has been removed and replaced with a vegetable fat, eliminating the need for tempering.  Cocoa powder is the substance left when most of the cocoa butter is removed from the chocolate liquor, or cocoa mass. The concentrated, unsweetened cocoa left behind has a distinctive chocolate taste, but since it retains only 10% to 22% of its cocoa butter, it usually lacks a full, rounded flavor. Two popular types of cocoa powder are American non-alkalized cocoa and Dutch-process cocoa. For American non-alkalized cocoa powders, the chocolate's natural acid is left untreated, giving it a robust, slightly sharp taste. In Dutch-process cocoas, the acid is neutralized with an alkali, giving the cocoa powder a milder taste but darker, often reddish color.Chocolate creations  A passionate fondness for chocolate has become pervasive in this country. Across the United States, culinary instructors are teaching more and more classes about chocolate, from preparation of simple classic desserts, to exquisite complex chocolate creations.When working with chocolate, it's best to work in a cool (70° to 75°F) environment. Chocolate should be worked on a cool marble slab or, if that's unavailable, the bottom of cool stainless-steel sheet pans.  Once tempered, chocolate is ready to be made into chocolate cigarettes or chocolate fans; poured over a cake; used as a dip for candies or fruits; or used for piped decorations (which can be placed onto a dessert after they have hardened), and many more types of pastry decorations.  Chocolate decorations should be stored in a cool, dry environment. A hot and humid environment will destroy the sheen and crispness of the tempered chocolate.  Non-cream-type filled pastries or candies can be enrobed in tempered chocolate at 70° to 75°F. Because chocolate is very hard, it will not bind with a soft cream filling, nor is it easy to cut through. When a thin layer of almond paste is placed on top of the soft filling, the chocolate binds with the paste, and is easier to cut and to eat.  Tempering is never required when chocolate is mixed with liquids - not just milk and water - but eggs, corn syrup and honey. Most chocolate recipes, such as sauces, puddings, pies, cakes, frostings and glazes containing liquids can be prepared without tempering. A soft chocolate mixture can be easily poured over cream-type cakes and pastries without a barrier such as almond paste.  Chocolate should be used in high-end desert applications to give a more full-bodied, rich, indulgent flavor. For example, a traditional chocolate French buttercream almost never uses cocoa. Typically these cooked icings start with whole eggs and/or yolks that are whipped to a fluffy mixture. Then, sugar and water are heated to exactly 240°F (too high and the sugar will crystallize) and slowly added to the egg mixture. When the mixture is at about 120° to 130°F, finely chopped, high-quality chocolate is mixed in. The chocolate melts, and then butter is added. This gives the icing a velvety, satin mouthfeel that quickly disperses without leaving a waxy coating on the roof of the mouth. Icings made with an emulsified plastic shortening and cocoa can leave behind a waxy residue, due to the high melting point of the shortening. This also can mask the chocolate flavor of cocoa.  Many chefs like to work with ganache, a mixture of heavy whipping cream, butter and high-grade chocolate. Ganache can form the basis of many types of chocolate pastries and candy. It can be used as a high-end pastry filling or, when thinned with more cream, it works as a glaze.  Whether used as simply an ingredient in pastry or to create an artistic chocolate centerpiece, the creative possibilities of working with chocolate are endless. Keeping Your Temper  Tempering is a process of cooling and mixing melted chocolate to ensure that it will set up shiny and hard by controlling the crystallization of chocolate's natural fat, cocoa butter. Because cocoa butter tends to form unstable crystals, it must be coaxed, through tempering, into a particular, stable crystalline state.  Once the fat reaches the correct state, the chocolate, which is still fluid, must start to firm up before the cocoa butter separates out or changes structure again. Properly tempered cocoa butter makes the chocolate crisp and shiny, and gives it a rich, smooth taste. If the cocoa butter is not handled properly, a dull, crumbly chocolate will result, with an uneven streaked surface, called bloom. Tempering was once considered a task best left to professionals. Today's quick-tempering methods require no advanced skills or equipment.(The following temperatures are approximate; always use the manufacturer's recommended temperatures.)Classic Tempering Method• Cut chocolate into small pieces. Slowly heat the chocolate in a bain marie (double-boiler) until it melts, stirring constantly.
• Heat to between 115° to 120°F.
• Pour 1/3 of the melted chocolate onto a marble slab.
• Push the chocolate back and fourth using an angled metal spatula (graining) to cool it to between 75° and 78°F. It should now start to thicken.
• Place the cooled chocolate back into the warm chocolate and mix it well. Bring back up to about 87°F.Quick Method• Cut chocolate into small pieces. Slowly heat the chocolate in a bain marie until it melts.
• Heat chocolate to between 115° and 120°F. Remove from heat and, stirring constantly, place pan over a bowl of cold water to bring chocolate temperature down to about 80° or 82°F.
• Return pan to bain marie and warm the chocolate back up to 88°F.   Nadine Leeburg is a technical service specialist at General Mills' foodservice division, Minneapolis, where she has spent the last ten years imparting her extensive knowledge of bakery manufacturing as well as providing technical support. She is a charter member of the Research Chefs Association, and has studied at the American Institute of Baking, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and the Dunwoody Institute. Leeberg has applied her skills to virtually all facets of the food industry, including food service, catering, retail, and manufacturing, as well as serving as a baking instructor at the CIA, at both the Hyde Park, NY and Napa Valley, CA campuses.Back to top

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