When you're melting chocolate, moisture is your worst enemy. If it creeps into your chocolate at an inopportune moment, it can wreak havoc with your melting process. It's not impossible to recover in this case, but it will take some work. Scorching your chocolate, on the other hand, will require you to start over from scratch. Knowing how to avoid these problems will help you make the chocolate creations of your dreams.
Chocolate melts at a relatively low temperature of 31.1 degrees Celsius. Milk and dark chocolates burn at 51.7 degrees Celsius, and white chocolate burns at 48.9 degrees Celsius.
Types of Chocolate
There are two main types of chocolate: real chocolate and compound chocolate. Compound chocolate has no cocoa butter in it; instead, it has vegetable shortening, which makes it very easy to work with. This chocolate does not need to be tempered before you work with it.
Real chocolate has three subtypes: normal, couverture and ultra-couverture. "Couverture," like so many cooking terms, is French. It translates to "covering," and that's exactly what is done with the types of chocolate that have that word in their name. Ultra-couverture is the smoothest, but it's also the most difficult to make. Both types of couverture chocolate contain high levels of cocoa butter, while normal chocolate contains a relatively low amount.
Seized chocolate is caused by the introduction of unwanted moisture after the melting process has begun. If a recipe calls for your chocolate to be melted along with other ingredients (perhaps butter or cream), they should be melted together to avoid this problem. When your chocolate seizes, what was previously smooth and silky instantly becomes hard and grainy and looks positively unappetizing.
Overheated chocolate is instantly recognisable---when it happens, your chocolate begins to separate into cocoa bits and golden, liquefied cocoa butter. The cocoa bits will probably also start to burn.
Compound chocolate was created to have none of the problems mentioned above, but in most cases, it sacrifices flavour for ease of use. You should experiment to see which chocolate you prefer.
Don't allow your chocolate to come into contact with moisture as you're melting it. If tempering it over a double-boiler, make sure your bowl completely covers the pan of hot water. That way, no steam can escape and foul your melt. Make sure every kitchen utensil that comes in contact with your chocolate is completely dry. If using moulds, make sure those are dry as well.
Use a chocolate thermometer to closely monitor the temperature of your chocolate as you cook it. If you do this, you'll run almost no risk of overheating.
You can save seized chocolate by adding more liquid to it. However, it might not be suitable for creating hard chocolate coverings, such as chocolate-covered strawberries or hard chocolate-covered cakes. It won't be as uniformly glossy and smooth as non-seized chocolate will be, even if you do manage to save it.
Once overheated chocolate has passed into the burning stage, it can't be saved. Start over with a new batch.
Chocolate is very susceptible to strong flavours and odours. That's why it's essential to use a rubber spatula that you reserve especially for working with chocolate. Wooden spoons absorb the flavours of foods they're used on, so they should never be used for chocolate---unless you like chocolate that tastes of last night's beef stew.
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