How to Work with Chocolate

by Daniela

Who doesn’t love chocolate desserts! But if you don’t have experience working with chocolate, you might be wondering which one to use, how to melt it and how exactly to add it to your dessert. Or you might have already had an unsuccessful baking situation and you are scared not to repeat it. I’ve been there too, that’s why I want to help you by giving you tips and guidance how to work with chocolate at home. Read on to find the answers to your chocolate questions!

Types of chocolate

You can find many different kinds in the stores. Let’s start with the three basics: milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate. But when it comes to baking, you might need to check other details like cocoa solids and cocoa butter content. Why? Chocolates with different cocoa content react in different ways when melted or added to baked goods so it is good to know what to expect before you start working with them.
Let’s check briefly the contents of the main chocolate kinds:

Milk Chocolate: typically contains cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar and milk, among some other ingredients. Their proportions might vary in the different brands. It is easier to melt milk chocolate but it is not always the best choice in baking. It is good for coating desserts or to add inside certain baked goods.
Dark chocolate: contains cocoa butter, cocoa powder and sugar, without milk. Very often you can see its cocoa solids content on the front side of the package. This number represents the total content of cocoa butter and cocoa powder: the higher it is, the more bitter is the chocolate. That is an important number you want to follow when you choose chocolate for keto desserts. The rule is to buy only chocolate with over 70% cocoa solids, but you might also want to check the carbohydrates: they shouldn’t be over 10-15%. The best choice for keto is always the unsweetened chocolate with 100% cocoa solids and no sugar.
People who are not on a low carb diet might also use types of dark chocolate with lower content of cocoa solids (a.k.a. semi-sweet, bitter-sweet or sweet baking chocolate). Generally it is easier to work with chocolate with lower cocoa content as the sugar tends to keep it melted for a longer time. Dark chocolate is great for ganache, chocolate mousse, brownies and anything you want to make extra chocolatey.
White chocolate: It contains cocoa butter, sugar and milk, without the cocoa powder. Even though it doesn’t look like a real chocolate due to its ivory colour, it is great for baking, typically used for frostings, cheesecakes and blondies.

Why chocolate gets a white coating

You might have noticed that sometimes chocolate might get a whitish or greyish coating. This is called “blooming” and happens for two reasons: due to warm temperatures or due to humidity. In the first case the cocoa butter melts and emerges to the top of the chocolate. When it solidifies again, the result is a whitish coating. This happens more often with darker chocolate with higher cocoa butter content.
In the case of moisture the sugar is the component which liquifies and emerges to the top, leaving a whitish powder on top of the chocolate.
Bloomed chocolate is perfectly fine to use for baking and even to eat directly but it is not nice and shiny any more. To avoid blooming, store chocolate at about 70 degrees F/ 20 degrees C and avoid humidity.

How to melt Chocolate

Many recipes require melted chocolate. This could be a challenge for a beginner baker but when you learn the basics, it will become an easy task. At home you have two main ways of melting chocolate: in the microwave and on a double boiler.
Melting chocolate in a microwave: To follow this process correctly, you need to know well how your microwave works. Break the chocolate in small pieces, place it in a microwave safe container and heat it at the lowest setting (which could be the defrosting one). Make sure you check the chocolate every 5-10 seconds and whisk it. When there are few small solid pieces remaining, remove the bowl from the microwave and keep whisking until the whole quantity is melted.
Melting chocolate in a double boiler: Break the chocolate into small pieces and put it in a heatproof bowl. Pour hot water in a saucepan. Place the bowl on top of the saucepan so that it doesn’t touch the water. The chocolate will start melting. Start whisking it. When there are few small solid pieces left, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk until the whole chocolate is melted. If you have a lot of chocolate for melting, you can also leave the water on the stove to simmer gently. In this case make sure it doesn’t boil violently because it will overheat the chocolate.

double boiler melting chocolate

Basic rules when melting chocolate

Prevent seizing: Rule number one is to make sure no moisture (drops of water) goes to the chocolate. Small amount of moisture will make the chocolate seize or become grainy, thick and impossible to work with. Seized chocolate is edible but you will not be able to make it pretty and shiny again. To fix it, start adding tablespoons of warm or hot water in it and whisk until the texture improves. More moisture fixes the chocolate but also dilutes it and it will not be good for coating or candy making. You can use this chocolate for brownies, truffles and even make a chocolate mousse. You might remember now that some recipes call for few tablespoons of cream or milk to be added to the chocolate when melting it. Indeed, the problem here is little moisture. Make sure that you add at least 1 tbs liquid per 2 oz/ 55 grams of chocolate to avoid seizing.
For example the chocolate glaze in the following recipe is made with chocolate and milk but doesn’t seize because the milk is just enough for the chocolate quantity:
Easy Black Forest No Churn Ice Cream Cake

Don’t use wooden spoon to whisk the melted chocolate as it might contain moisture and odors which would be transferred to the chocolate. The best is to use a rubber spatula. In case you don’t have such, a metal spoon might work as well, just make sure it is perfectly dry.
Make sure you avoid overheating the chocolate. This would lead to a thicker consistency with a muddy shade. To prevent overheating, make sure you never leave the double boiler water boil for a long time at a high heat: you can lower the heat to the minimum once the water is simmering or simply switch the heat off right away if you are melting a small quantity of chocolate. In most cases the vapor of the water would be enough to melt the chocolate, even without boiling. Remember that chocolate melts below body temperature (30 degrees C or 86-90 degrees F) so you don’t need too much heat. Overheated chocolate can be saved by blending it or passing it through a sieve, as long as it is not burned.

Why do we need to temper chocolate

What is the reason why we remove the chocolate from the heat not completely melted? By leaving few solid pieces and then melting them through whisking, we will temper the chocolate. Tempering is needed in order to keep the chocolate shiny and with a firm consistency after melting. That means: The crystallization of the cocoa solids has happened evenly and the chocolate looks and feels smooth, shiny and even. Tempering is required always when you want to use the chocolate alone after melting: for coating, candies and bars or chocolate shapes. You don’t need to temper it when you plan to mix it within a batter or frosting.
You might have seen these chocolatiers that use marble boards in order to temper the chocolate by bringing it slowly to the desired temperature. However many of us don’t own marble boards or don’t have the time and the skills to temper the melted chocolate like this. But there is an easier way which is through “seeding”. This is to melt part of the chocolate, then to add more solid blocks to it and to whisk vigorously until all the chocolate is melted and brought to the right temperature. The tricky part is that every chocolate reacts differently so the tempering temperature is not always the same. I usually just leave part of the chocolate solid while melting it and keep whisking after removing the bowl from the heat: it usually works fine but you might need a bit of experience in order to do it this way. If you don’t manage to temper correctly the chocolate the first time, you would need to melt it again and repeat the process.

More about tempering at home:
How To Temper Chocolate Without a Thermometer
A basic guide to tempering chocolate

how to work with chocolate

Chocolate Ganache

One of the easiest things you can make at home with chocolate is a chocolate ganache. It can be used for many different purposes: from glazing and coating desserts to piping on them. Chocolate ganache might sound like high-end patisserie but is something very easy which you can make at home too. It is a gooey, thick and deliciously creamy chocolate mixture made of heavy cream (at least 30% fat) and dark chocolate, usually in 1:1 proportion. If you want a thicker ganache, you might increase the quantity of the chocolate a bit. Making it is very simple: heat the cream to the point of boiling and then pour it on top of chocolate, broken into small pieces. Let it stay for 15 minutes until the chocolate melts and then whisk it thoroughly until smooth. At this point you can use it for coating and glazing (e.g. spoon it on top of a cake) or you can refrigerate it. It will harden further when cold so you can easily make truffles out of it or even whip it and pipe it. The options are endless: chocolate ganache is very versatile and you can always use it for your homemade desserts when you are not sure what frosting to prepare.
For more detailed step-by-step instructions check the frosting in this recipe:
Keto Chocolate Walnut Cake – Garash

Double Chocolate Cookie Cake

Adding melted chocolate to frosting

There are times when you may want to add just a bit of chocolate to a whipped frosting: buttercream, mascarpone or whipped cream. This might seem challenging and it might end up badly if you don’t know how to do it. I’ve done it countless times so here are my advices.
The kind of chocolate matters. It is much easier to add chocolate with higher sugar content to a whipped frosting than a very dark chocolate with over 70% cocoa content. The reason is simple: dark chocolate is harder to melt but it also hardens much easier. The sugar and the milk keep the chocolate melted for a longer time and also you need a lower temperature to bring them to a liquid state.
You can follow the below general rules when adding chocolate to frosting:

  • After melting the chocolate, ensure it is not very hot when you start adding it to the frosting. If it is too hot, it may harden quickly from the temperature change.
  • If you work with very dark chocolate (over 70%) you may want to add a piece of butter to melt in the chocolate. That would “dilute” the chocolate and keep it melted for a longer time. The butter should be about 30% the quantity of the chocolate.
  • Ensure also that the whipped frosting is not too cold. Leave it for 10-15 minutes at room temperature before adding the chocolate to it.
  • Add a small portion from the frosting to the chocolate first and mix it well to “temper” it. This will improve the chances your chocolate to be absorbed smoothly in the frosting
  • For whipped cream, mascarpone or cream cheese use a rubber spatula and fold gently the chocolate into the frosting. For buttercream use a mixer and add the slightly cooled chocolate in small portions, beating well after each addition, until absorbed.

Did you find this post useful? Let me know if you still have some questions unanswered: I would love to update it with more information! If you find it useful, feel free to share the link in social media so more people can benefit from it!

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