Anyone know where I can buy or barter extra hours? Working at both New Leaf and The Vanilla Company has left me short on time. For the past three weeks I’ve been dreaming about writing about chocolate but actually doing it has been a challenge.
Despite the time shortage, the chocolate muse has not gone away. Neither has my “habit.” I’m always thinking about it. Eating it. Even cooking with it. I write a food blog — not yet up — for a client and have just completed a series on creating the best chocolate chip cookies. I’ll share a little of what I’ve discovered with you in a moment. First, let’s talk chocolate.
Before jumping back into my series on Guittard’s single-origin and grower’s reserve chocolate, here’s a brief explanation of chocolate percentages. Twelve to fifteen years ago there was milk, semi-sweet, dark and bittersweet chocolate. With increased interest in terroir, varietals and more, haute chocolate linked with cool science, and now has its own lexicon.
Sometimes written percentage of cacao, it means the percentage of cocoa mass, or chocolate liquor, plus added cocoa butter. Cocoa mass is comprised of about 50% cocoa butter, the natural fat of the cocoa bean, and 50% cocoa solids, the natural dry solids of the cocoa bean.
Naturally, it’s not quite that simple as the ratio varies from manufacturer to manufacturer even while the percentage of cocoa remains the same. In other words, not all 65% cacao chocolates have equal percentages of cocoa mass and cocoa butter. Each manufacturer has a secret formula that makes their product unique.
65% cacao dark chocolate generally has roughly 35% sugar. The percentage of cacao plus sugar and maybe another 1% for vanilla and lecithin equals 100%. The higher the percentage numbers, the lower the amount of sugar in the product. So, 85% cacao dark chocolate has about 15% sugar.
By the way, if you’ve never eaten 85% cacao dark chocolate, it is intense!! I’ve conditioned myself to enjoy up to 73%; 85% is too much for my tastebuds. But if you’re into the deep, bitter flavor of chocolate, 85% is beckoning you.
The chocolate I’ve been playing with recently includes Guittard’s Kokoleka Hawaiian 55% semi-sweet chocolate from the Dole Waialua Estate on the North Shore of Oahu. It has a bouquet of tropical scents like flowers and tropical fruit, hints of banana and pineapple with a rich passion fruit peak. Very slight underlying tannic base with a gentle tang. Just enough sweetness to be deserving of the name “semisweet.”
I would like to say that I wrote that description. Sadly, neither my nose nor my taste buds are that fine-tuned. My nose says that it does have a fruity, floral bouquet. It’s smooth, buttery and the tannins and tang are almost imperceptible. It does not taste like Nestle’s semisweet chocolate chips. It’s really, really good and deserves to be showcased in desserts.
The second chocolate is a 65% Colombian chocolate. It’s described as having long, deep, slow chocolate flavors, accented by pleasant hints of spice. The Trinitario cacao beans used to make this chocolate were grown in the San Vicente de Chucuri Valley of the Santander in Columbia.
As I’m writing these descriptions, I’m tasting each chocolate several times. The Colombian smells more spicy than it tastes. “Slow chocolate flavors” is accurate; it takes time for the flavor to fully envelop the mouth. It’s a pleasant chocolate with more acidity and tannin than the Kokoleka.
The third chocolate, Ocumare, is from Venezuela. A rare variety of beans from the coastal valley leading to Ocumare. Traditional and complex, bright and flavorful. Mild chocolate to start expanding in fullness to a traditional chocolate flavor with high impact, hints of melon and honey, delicately spiced.
Makes me want to jump on a plane and visit these exotic locations! Some really good chocolate comes out of Venezuela, and this is one of them. This is a mild tasting chocolate, that absolutely must be served at room temperature or a little warmer to get the full flavor impact. I can’t taste the melon but it definitely has a spiciness and honey undertones. It’s a good eating chocolate.
How to use them? I used chunks of the Hawaiian and Colombian chocolate in one of the chocolate chip cookie recipes I used in the aforementioned blog. I would definitely use the Colombian again. As for the Hawaiian chocolate, its flavor stood out in the cookies, but I don’t think that the cookies did it justice. I’d rather see it as the main ingredient such as a light chocolate sauce or a buttery chocolate cookie or even a truffle. It would also hold its own served as dessert with a fruity, slightly sweet wine that would accentuate its buttery qualities.
The Colombian definitely belongs in chocolate chip cookies, or your favorite chocolate cake. It has a good workhorse quality to it that does well in chocolate desserts but I probably wouldn’t choose it for a sensational chocolate ganache or candy where it would carry the day.
I would, however, use the Ocumare Venezuela chocolate for a dark chocolate specialty, because of its complexity. It could stand up to a liqueur and not be overwhelmed or be the fudge sauce that brightens a bread pudding or enhance the nuts in a chocolate pecan pie.
The biggest tricks I learned when I researched chocolate chip cookies, besides using the best possible ingredients, of course, is to allow the dough to rest for 36 hours before baking them off. This allows the dry ingredients to be absorbed into the wet ingredients (mainly eggs, in this case), which gives the cookies a better crumb and also creates cookies with a crisp outer ring that becomes chewy, the closer you get to the center. While the other component of this is to make cookies that are about 5 inches in diameter so that you make the most of this technique, I don’t think that it’s necessary unless you want very big cookies. If you have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, give these techniques a try.
There’s more to share about Guittard’s chocolate and a great Gift of the Gods Chocolate Cake from Chocolate Bliss, written by Susie Norris, along with more recipes, which I will happily share with you as soon as I have time to write another blog. In the meantime, please help me find some extra hours and keep enjoying the fabulous flavors and foods from the tropics!