The Charm of Chocolate

by Monica Glass

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Chocolate, rich and creamy, is the quintessential indulgent food. It’s perfect in almost every form, one of the most versatile ingredients, and we’re addicted to its unique taste and smell. We crave it in the summer as a smooth ice cream and as a steaming cup of hot chocolate on a frosty winter night.

Beyond the archetypical Hershey bar, chocolate comes in many forms. While I do admit to having a weakness for the occasional popular candy bars, their waxy textures hold nothing to the silky richness of high-end, high-cocoa-content chocolate. Most chocolates indicate a percentage, which is the sum of its cacao fat (called cocoa butter in the United States) and its cacao solids. A higher percentage = higher cocoa content; in other words, high percentage chocolate has a lower percentage of sugar and the chocolate will have a less sweet, more bitter and deeper flavor. For example, the average milk chocolate is usually 30 – 40% and dark chocolate ranges from 50 – 70% and higher. 50 – 60% is about average, 60 – 70% is dark and slightly bitter, while 70% and higher is very bitter, as it is closest to chocolate in its most natural state (100% with no added sugar). In substituting chocolates, only ones with like percentages should be used, as the final result will definitely have a different taste and texture.

Percentages of chocolate also vary in their distinguishing properties. For example, if you break a piece of chocolate in half, darker chocolates will create a sharper snap, while milks and whites will be softer. White chocolate will also smell more like vanilla, while milk chocolate will have a delicate chocolate aroma, and dark chocolates will have a stronger, bitter scent. Finally, because they contain more cocoa butter, lower percentage chocolates will also melt faster.

Chocolate marries well with so many different flavors: nuts, fruits, pepper and spices, savory meats, caramel, red wine, liquors, and, the Test Kitchen’s other ingredient of the month, coffee; and it’s when we introduce other flavors that chocolate’s strength is enhanced and heightened. Coffee and chocolate make a wonderful pairing because they’re both strong flavors that play well off each other.

But chocolate is more than just a food; there is no other ingredient that has attained such an esteemed status in history, connoting symbolic significance in many different cultures. So it will come as no surprise that chocolate, both as a savory and a sweet seasoning, reigns as a popular ingredient in main dishes, sides, desserts, and drinks, and as an indulgent treat on its own. Perhaps it’s the satisfyingly silkiness or the sweetness that lures me, but I can never resist an offering of chocolate in any form. Included in this week’s Test Kitchen are recipes that showcase chocolate in a variety of sweet degrees.

Recipes:

Luscious Thai Curry Chocolate Truffles
Cardamom Hot Chocolate
Mocha Pudding with Espresso Crème

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