My Best Chocolate Recipes and Tips
I’m sure that most of you are delighted when you hear reports of chocolate being good for you, because most of us love chocolate. Yes, it’s true that a bit of dark chocolate can have positive effects – however the quality and quantity is key (so no, you can’t eat a whole block in one go and still say it’s healthy for you – moderation still counts!).
Darker chocolate has more phenolic compounds, so is higher in antioxidants. Phenolic compounds (also known as polyphenols or phenolics, or sometimes flavanoids) are just a fancy name for naturally occurring substances in plants that have antioxidant properties. All plants contain phenolic compounds, so it’s no major breakthrough that chocolate, which contains cocoa (in the form of cocoa butter and cocoa solids) – from the cacao bean that comes from the cacao tree, i.e. a plant – contains antioxidants. Therefore the higher the percentage of cocoa (i.e. the darker the chocolate), the more antioxidants it has.
Cocoa beans are fermented, roasted, and separated into cocoa butter (the fatty portion which is white, and like its name suggests is very buttery) and cocoa solids (which is the dark cocoa part left behind after extracting the cocoa butter. The percentage (%) of cocoa you see printed on a label refers to the total percentage of ingredients by weight that comes from the cacao bean (including cocoa solids and cocoa butter). The higher the percentage, the more intense the cocoa flavour.
Milk chocolate has milk solids added to it, giving it a creamy flavour. White chocolate is mainly cocoa butter and milk solids, but no cocoa solids (hence it’s white in colour, not brown as the cocoa solids are the brown part, while cocoa butter is white). All chocolate, whether it’s dark, milk or white, has sugar in it, however dark chocolate has the least and that’s why it is much less sweet. Dark chocolate can also be dairy free because of the absence of milk solids.
Chocolate can be quite a temperamental ingredient when it comes to cooking with it. If you’re not careful with it, it can end up splitting or going grainy when you try to melt it – I know, I’ve learnt the hard way (once it even happened to me on national TV!). It’s pretty gutting if you’re putting all this effort into making something special and then suddenly your chocolate misbehaves and ruins the recipe!
So here are my top tips for making sure your chocolate behaves when you’re cooking with it!
- Water and chocolate don’t get along – when melting chocolate, even the tiniest splash of water can make it seize and go grainy and lumpy. So make sure the bowl you melt your chocolate in is completely dry, and use clean dry utensils.
- You can’t hurry melting chocolate by turning up the heat. You have to melt chocolate gently at a low temperature (ideally around 40 degC). If chocolate is heated too high it will start to cook and turn into a thick, dark, solid paste, not at all like the sexy, smooth, glossy chocolate you see as food porn! So the best way to melt it, is in a glass or metal bowl that is sitting above a pot of barely simmering water (but don’t let the water touch the bottom of the bowl or it will risk getting too hot), and be patient. Seduce the chocolate, don’t rush it!
- When you are cooking with chocolate it pays to get a good quality dark chocolate, the best you can afford, as it makes a huge difference in flavour and mouthfeel. You’ll only get a true, deep chocolate flavour by using a chocolate with a high cocoa content of at least 60-70%. With a higher cocoa butter content, it also means that it will melt smoothly.
- To store chocolate and prevent it from developing bloom (those white spots you sometimes see on chocolate that has been kept for a while), make sure its wrapped well and kept out of humidity and places that fluctuate in temperature.
Make sure you try out some of my favourite chocolate recipes (below) this festive season. Merry Christmas! Nadia x
To be doing what I am today is a dream come true. It all started when I was 12 years old. I was watching TV after school one day and Jamie Oliver was cooking up a storm on The Naked Chef.