Chocolate in Recipes
Chocolate is a delicious treat found in many desserts and even some savory or spicy main dishes. The different varieties of chocolate all have a place in the kitchen, especially baking chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, and cocoa powder. There are some tricks to successfully cooking with chocolate.
Chocolate should be stored in its original packaging or wrapped tightly in foil in a cool, dry, dark spot. Dark chocolate, especially unsweetened varieties, can be stored for several years, while sweetened chocolate and milk chocolate can be stored for about a year. Chocolate can get a hazy white or gray cast on the surface if the cocoa butter separates, but it does not appreciably affect the flavor.
When using any solid chocolate in the kitchen that needs to be melted, there are a couple of essential tools: a double boiler and a chocolate whisk or molinillo. Chocolate does not melt well in a pan placed directly on the stove and tends to scorch and crystallize. A double boiler boils water under a separate bowl, allowing the chocolate to melt slowly and evenly. A double boiler can be improvised by placing a well fitting tempered glass bowl on a pan of water with the water just covering the sides of the bowl. A molinillo is a special whisk used to stir melting chocolate to get a creamy, smooth texture, but a standard wire whisk can also be used.
Chocolate can be melted in a metal pan in the oven at about 110 degrees. To do this, chop or grate the chocolate up into small pieces and place in a metal bowl in the oven for about and hour. If the oven cannot be set to 110 degrees, set it as low as it will go and leave the door slightly ajar.
A microwave can also be used to melt chocolate, but because microwaves vary in power so much, melting times vary. For best results, grate the chocolate into a glass measuring cup and heat it in 10 second increments, stirring between each session.
To temper chocolate for use in dipping strawberries or other fruits, the chocolate must be allowed to start to cool and crystallize on the edge of the bowl and then whisked back together. This brings the crystals back into the center and ensures that the chocolate will harden evenly and have a shiny appearance. Check to see if the chocolate is tempered by dipping in the point of a knife and setting it aside. Within five minutes it should be smooth and hard. Keep the tempered chocolate in a glass bowl while working with it to retain heat longer.
Chocolate is well known for use in desserts, but like the early Meso-Americans, many South American and Mexican people use chocolate in recipes with red chile. Unsweetened cocoa powder is often added to chili with beans, chile con carne, and carne adovada. Many mole sauces (pre-made or from scratch) used in Mexican dishes also contain chocolate. Something about the dark bitter chocolate brings out the flavor of the red chile, adding an additional depth without adding more heat.
Many recipes for coq au vin (chicken with wine sauce) also use chocolate in the wine sauce. In fact, any wine reduction or dark gravy can benefit from the addition of a little dark cocoa powder. Some professional chefs have even start incorporating chocolate into dishes such as mushroom ragout and creamy squash soup.
An Italian sauce called agrodolce is made by cooking off the sugars in things like onions or shallots and adding vinegar. Often chocolate is added, as well as red wine. This sauce is then used on many meat, fish, and pasta dishes.
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