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Chocolate 101. Lessons from an Expert.

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Barry Callebaut's Chef Derrick Tu Tan Pho shows off his chocoate cakes!

Not all chocolate is created equal and one bad purchase can turn your chocolate mousse into a chocolate mess.  We spent some time in the kitchen last week with Cocoa Barry chocolate expert Derrick Tu Tan Pho.  He introduced us to their new consumer line and offered some surprising tips for making magic in the kitchen with chocolate.

Chef Derrick was in town to introduce three new consumer chocolates by Cocoa Barry, the Tanzanie (75% cacao), St. Domingue (70% cacao), and Mexique (66% cacao).  All three varieties are packaged in 5kg boxes and are offered in their unique shape, "Pistoles".  These tiny little disks are easier to measure, quick to melt and microwavable – much easier than chopping blocks of chocolate.  Chef Derrick gave us some tips for purchasing and storing chocolate along with giving us a demonstration of some delicious recipes for Soft Chocolate Cakes with Truffle Centres, Chocolate Mousse, and a classic Chocolate Crème Brulee.

Yes, chocolate can be melted in the microwave, if it is better quality chocolate.

Shopping for Chocolate

Most consumers are familiar with chocolate chips for baking but what they don’t realize is that pure chocolate is actually the preferred choice for chefs.  Chocolate chips or “Easy Melt” chips contain dextrose which is why they tend to stay harder and go white when stored over a longer period of time.  These are not the best choice for melting.  What you need is a pure chocolate product with the right fat content.

“Couverture” is the term used for a chocolate with a higher grade of purity and the ideal is one with only 35% cocoa butter.  This is the desirable amount to ensure a more silky texture.  The finer the grain of sugar used is also key.  A good chocolate will have sugar that has been refined down to 20 microns – the finer the powder the finer the texture and overall quality.

For the connoisseur, chocolate can be much like wine.  Each region where beans are harvested and the specific farms can have an impact on the beans and their flavours.  That’s right, even chocolate is all about “Terroir”.  Some soils produce a floral tasting chocolate that is highly aromatic – like blends from Africa and South America.  Other regions are known for their bitterness and spicy notes like the Caribbean and Mexico.  Meanwhile, Polynesian cocoa produces a chocolate that tends to offer notes of caramel and dried fruits.  It is important to think about the dish you are creating with chocolate and where the beans come from.  Understanding the unique flavours of each region goes a long way in choosing the right chocolate to pair with your dinner.  

At the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy, they test different techniques for growing the beans and experiment with roasting, another major factor to the flavour and quality of the chocolate – much like coffee.

Filling glasses with the decadent chocolate mousse we prepared!

Understanding Price & Harvesting

Chocolate is an expensive endeavour, especially higher quality baking blends.  A cocoa tree can have 1,000 blossoms but only 60 fruits at the end suitable for harvest.  When harvested, the small amount of fruit that is suitable goes through a fermentation process to remove 70% of the water.  The end result is roughly one kilo of chocolate from 60-70 fruits – or one tree for every kilo.  This is why higher quality chocolate is so expensive.  A single tree will only produce enough fruit to make one kilo of “the best” quality cocoa and when you factor in the time and labour to grow and harvest the fruit along with refining, you essentially get what you pay for.

Berries are a natural compliment to softer chocolate mousse.

Storage – Keeping Your Investment

Once you have picked up your chocolate, storage is key.  Raw chocolate, much like finished chocolate products are highly sensitive to temperature, unpleasant odours and tastes, light, air, and storage time.  But humidity and temperature play the biggest roles in turning your gold-mine of gourmet chocolate into a mess.  Humidity should remain consistent and ideally, at 70%.  The best storage temperature for chocolate is between 12 and 20 degrees Celsius.  Lower storage temperatures provide less change to the original chocolate while higher temperatures will cause it to lose its gloss and go softer.

Fat Bloom and Sugar Bloom are the two biggest issues one will have with their chocolate if not stored properly.  Fat Bloom is a thin layer of fat crystals, often confused as mould, which will occasionally appear on the surface of the chocolate.  The chocolate loses its gloss and is replaced with a soft white film that is unappealing to the eye.  According to Chef Derrick, this is the result of the chocolate loosing the crystal fat or the migration of fatty fillings into the layer of chocolate.  It is a chemical imbalance, if you will.  The common cause of this is variable temperatures and ensuring it is stored at a consistent temperature will delay this process.

Sugar Bloom on the other hand is a rough and irregular layer on the surface of the chocolate caused by condensation.  The most common cause of this is when chocolate is stored in a refrigerator and is then removed into a warmer area.  Moisture forms and when it evaporates it leaves the sugar that was removed with the water on the surface of the chocolate as hard crystals.

For Chef Derrick, the cure to both Sugar Bloom and Fat Bloom is consistency when it comes to humidity and temperature.  The refrigerator is a death trap for your chocolate considering every time you open and close the door the humidity and temperature change dramatically.  Light and air can also cause your chocolate to disintegrate leading to a significant change in taste and potentially an unpleasant smell.  This is the result of oxidation and to prevent this, good chocolate should always be stored in dark closed packaging.  Dark chocolate contains a number of anti-oxidants unlike white chocolate so white chocolate is much more susceptible to oxidation and requires more care in storage.

If you follow these guidelines, you can expect white chocolate to last up to 12 months, Milk Chocolate up to 18 months, and dark chocolate up to 24 months.

Chef Derrick creates chocolate triangles from "re-crystalized" chocolate.

Reviving Your Chocolate

Nobody is perfect and yes, Sugar Bloom and Fat Bloom will sneak up on you when you least expect it.  That is ok according to Chef Derrick as long as you have the patience to “re-construct the chocolate”.  This technique is done through “tempering” or “re-crystallization” where you essentially melt the chocolate, re-mix, and re-set.  In our presentation, Chef Derrick showed us a simply way of doing this with your microwave.  Yes, you can do it with a microwave.

First, break up your chocolate or pour your "Pistoles" into a bowl.  To do this, the amount of chocolate should be limited to 1-2 kilograms at a time.  It is all about a magic set of three’s…

On High, microwave for 30 seconds, remove, stir and repeat the process two more times.

Next, repeat the process but using 10 second intervals instead of the 30 seconds in the first round.

At this point, the chocolate should be melted but if you are not sure, simply repeat two more times using 5 second intervals.

If you decide to use a thermometer, the ideal interior temperature should be 31 degrees Celsius.  When melted, transfer to a container lined with waxed paper and let it “re-set”.  Once cooled, you should have your chocolate back to its old self and be able to keep that $30.00 investment secured.


About Cacao Barry’s Origine Collection

Since 1842, the original house (of the new Barry Callebaut empire) has been known for its exceptional chocolate and has been a favourite among leading chocolate professionals globally.  The Origine Collection is one of Cacao Barry’s best kept secrets and only recently has been introduced for consumers. Cacao Barry was the first company to offer the unique miniature puck like shape they refer to as "Pistoles" to chocolate craftsmen.  The advantage here, and one of the major reasons we think they are great, is that it it significantly easier to measure, quick to melt and easy to microwave. No more chopping blocks of chocolate.  The new line has recently been introduced to Canada and can be purchased at the Bonnie Stern Cooking School, DISH Cooking Studio, and McEwan, in TORONTO and on-line at Golda’s Kitchen.


Thanks for catching this! It has been changed to "seconds"...could have been a disaster using 5 minute intervals!!
Post Reply By James in ETOBICOKE on 11/18/2009 11:56:04 AM

Great article - very detailed and informative, and obviously done with a great love of chocolate - something we can all relate to.

One small quibble - there is one line in the section about using the microwave, where it should read 5 SECONDS, not 5 Minutes. This is where you are just trying to make sure the chocolate is really melted.

Thanks, Ellen
Post Reply By Ellen in OTTAWA on 11/18/2009 10:35:36 AM

What a great article! Much appreciated, thank you. Fabulously thorough and timely for those of us using chocolate for holiday gifting recipes. Personally, I use a Thermomix to temper my chocolate. I've just posted a fun video recipe on my blog for "Cocoa Salami"... you can see it here: http://thermomixbimby.com/2009/3113/thermomixchocolate-salami.html

Best wishes to all the other chocolate-loving hedonists out there!
Post Reply By Helene in VICTORIA on 11/16/2009 1:09:43 PM

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