Couverture chocolate (and why chocolatiers aren’t rocket scientists)

Chef Rubber 64% dark chocolate chips

Chef Rubber 64% dark couverture chocolate

Are you confused by couverture chocolate? You aren’t alone. I hadn’t even heard of it before I began my confectionery training. But never fear — here’s the quick and dirty on couverture chocolate for your reading pleasure.

Couverture is a type of chocolate made specifically for confectionery use. Its defining characteristic is its higher cocoa butter content (32-39% ADDED cocoa butter, on top of the cocoa butter already present in the cocoa mass). The extra cocoa butter makes couverture thinner when melted, so professionals can achieve super-thin, super-shiny bonbon shells for their confections. It also gives couverture a really smooth texture and mellow flavor — in no small part because the cocoa butter significantly dilutes the flavorful (but less creamy) cocoa bean mass.

Chocolatiers refer to the more liquid quality and easy pourability of melted couverture in terms of its viscosity — specifically, they categorize couverture as “high viscosity” chocolate. When I first started working with chocolate this confused me to no end, because in physics, the higher the viscosity, the THICKER the liquid. For some reason (maybe they were high on theobromine), chocolatiers decided to reverse that — they call chocolate that is thin and runny “high viscosity.” Clearly someone wasn’t paying attention in high school physics class!

It would be remiss of me to talk about couverture chocolate without noting that, well… it’s delicious. Especially if you like that smooth, European, vanilla-forward chocolate style. But who likes that, right? ūüėČ

You may be wondering if you’ve ever tasted couverture, or if you would even recognize it if you saw it on a shelf, and my guess is that you would. Valrhona and Callebaut are two of the most well known couverture makers — you’ve probably heard of them. Michael Cluizel, Amedei and many others make excellent couverture too.

If you’re interested in a couverture starter kit, I recommend ordering it on Chocosphere, which has a great selection of bars and sampler packs (I love this one). Try the Valrhona classics like Manjari and Guanaja. Jivara is a great couverture milk chocolate (also by Valrhona), if that’s what you’re looking for.

If you do try any of these, please let me know what you think of them.

FAIL: Chocolate Chickpea Water (Aquafaba) Mousse

Chocolate aquafaba mousse

Aquafaba chocolate mousse

After this NY Times article came out last week, those of you who know me well may have guessed that it was only a matter of time before I attempted to make chocolate mousse using canned chickpea liquid.

If you’re COMPLETELY lost right now, let me back up.¬† Chickpea canning liquid — fancy name aquafaba — has been used by vegan cooks as an egg white substitute for decades. It whips up (or so I’ve been told) into a frothy white foam that looks exactly like meringue. It would be so cool — if it worked.

I’d heard of aquafaba before, mostly as a good substitute for eggs in vegan marshmallow fluff. But, quite frankly… fluff is disgusting. So I’ve never attempted that recipe — or anything else involving canned chickpea liquid, for that matter.

And then the Times article came out, and everything changed. It looked so versatile. So magical. So… weird. I had to try it.

The Times article suggests making meringues or vegan mayonnaise with aquafaba, and maybe those would have worked better. But me being me, my mind immediately went to… chocolate mousse. Because… chocolate mousse.

I did not, however, go about this experiment in a very organized fashion. Instead, one morning last week I got up, dumped chickpea canning liquid into a bowl, added a couple spoonfuls of cocoa powder and confectionery sugar, and started whipping.

Chocolate aquafaba mousse just wouldn't whip

15 minutes later, I had a little foam. I kept whipping.

Chocolate aquafaba mousse just wouldn't whip up

And whipping.

Chocolate aquafaba mousse

Nothing. Just a little froth that immediately deflated when I poured it onto a baking sheet (at this point I’d given up on mousse and was hoping to salvage the foam by making pavlova). Honestly, I couldn’t even bring myself to take a picture of the mess. It was too depressing.

So, back to the the drawing board I go.

I have a few thoughts about what to do differently next time. I could try adding cream of tartar as a stabilizer, just like you would with traditional egg whites. Another thought I had is that I might have screwed up by adding the cocoa powder early. While cocoa powder contains only trace amounts of fat, it is not fully fat free. Egg whites won’t whip up if they are contaminated by even a drop of oil, and maybe aquafaba is the same way.

If I ever master the technique, I’d like to try incorporating real chocolate into the aquafaba instead of cocoa powder. The problem with using actual chocolate in this recipe is that the chocolate will seize when it comes into contact with aquafaba because of the temperature difference. I haven’t quite figured out a solution to that issue yet, but my wheels are turning. I might be able to incorporate the aquafaba into the chocolate slowly, in several batches. If you have any other ideas, please send them my way.

Update 7/12/16: I was finally able to make a successful aquafaba mousse! Check it out here.

 

 

 

 

3 reasons not to drink wine with chocolate

chocolate and wine pairings

Wine and chocolate

Wine and chocolate… two of my favorite things. What could possibly go wrong?

It turns out, quite a lot.

While both wine and chocolate are popular date night treats (or, if you’re like me, every night treats), many chocolate geeks agree that you’ll enjoy chocolate more if you skip the wine (interestingly,¬† sommeliers do not appear to feel the same way about avoiding chocolate while drinking wine… but this is a chocolate blog, so let’s focus on how wine affects the taste of chocolate for now).

I should clarify that when I say you shouldn’t drink wine while eating chocolate, I don’t mean chocolate cake, or chocolate¬† mousse, or even chocolate truffles. Baked items and many filled chocolate confections contain ingredients¬† (butter, cream, liquid sugars) that will counteract many of the issues I describe below. I’m only suggesting you avoid one thing: drinking a big ol’ glass of wine while nibbling a bar of solid chocolate.

Here you go: 3 reasons to avoid pairing wine and chocolate

Reason #1: Sugar rivalry

Let’s start with the most straight forward reason wine and chocolate don’t make great bedfellows: they’re too competitive. Specifically, they both want to control your sweetness-detecting taste buds. When consuming chocolate and wine together, whichever one is sweeter will increase your perception of bitter flavors in the other. Usually (but not always), the sweeter one in such a pairing will be the chocolate. The sugar in¬†chocolate may overwhelm the subtle fruity and floral notes detectable in many wines. And if you’re drinking a sweet or off-dry wine, you may lose a lot of the delicate raisin and berry flavors that are often prominent in very dark chocolate. In either case, you’re going to have a less than ideal tasting experience.

Reason #2: Some like it hot

Cocoa butter is a fussy, complicated, high-maintenance fat in many ways — and cocoa beans contain about 50% cocoa butter by weight. One of cocoa butter’s characteristic traits is its sensitivity to very small changes in ambient temperature. Solid at room temperature, cocoa butter softens steadily in warmer temperatures, beginning to melt in the high 80’s.

Knowing this, chocolate makers refine cocoa beans and sugar so the cocoa butter crystals and sugar particles in chocolate are the perfect size to melt and release their flavor in the average 97-98 degree mouth. Chocolate makers¬†know that if the particle size is too small, the chocolate will taste slimy or waxy. Too big, and it’s grainy or gritty. To avoid these flaws, particle size is calibrated with incredibly precision, and with the¬†assumption that the chocolate will be served at room temperature, and eaten by someone with a — I¬†know this sounds funny — warm mouth.

With that in mind, let’s think about how drinking wine might affect these assumptions. Red wine is typically served between 50 – 65 degrees, and white wine is usually served colder than that. For several minutes after drinking a cool beverage, the temperature of the inside of your mouth decreases dramatically. If your mouth is cool and you try to eat chocolate, the result will be… yuck. I find most chocolate tastes waxy and flavorless if I’ve just had something cold to drink.

Slightly off topic, but this should also explain why chocolate should be brought to room temperature before you eat it (if it was stored in the fridge). And it’s also why chocolate chunks should be banned from ice cream recipes (my personal pet peeve… although even I have to admit that H√§agen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip is the best thing ever invented by human kind. But I digress).

Reason #3: Opposites attract

Both red wine and dark chocolate pair best with foods that balance their most pronounced flavors rather than compete with them. For example, the fattiness and blandness of cheese really complements the bright acidity of wine. In contrast, orange juice, which is acidic like wine, would be a terrible palette cleanser at a wine tasting. Can you imagine?

Wine — particularly red wine — shares many flavor components with dark chocolate, including acidity and astringency. The flavonoids (including tannins) that give structure to red wine also produce the astringency (that dry tongue feeling) and characteristic reddish-brown color of chocolate. The astringent quality of both wine and chocolate is more pronounced in an acidic environment (such as your mouth right after¬†gobbling chocolate or chugging wine), so pairing them¬†together will highlight the astringent notes in both, resulting in a less-than-ideal tasting experience.

Fantelli Merlot with dark chocolate

I hope none of this information discourages you from consuming wine and chocolate separately (or, screw it,¬† even together — there is no reason to be puritanical about it). But if you’re enjoying chocolate at home or with friends, might I suggest you try something like this instead:

Croissant, chocolate and coffee              bitter-chocolate-230307__180

 

Recipe: Chocolate Water Mousse (single serving, two ingredients, vegan)

one-ingredient chocolate mousse
Untitled
Image: Amber Latner

This two-ingredient mousse tastes like a fluffy, whipped, lightly sweetened, extremely intense chocolate bar. In a bowl. Need I say more?

Traditionally, chocolate mousses are made using cream or egg whites, and their volume and thickness is achieved by whipping air bubbles into them. This chocolate mousse, however, achieves its fluffy texture via an altogether different mechanism: the chemistry of cocoa butter.

Cocoa butter is solid at room temperature. But if you get the proportions just right, you can create a perfect mousse-like texture by adding just enough water to melted chocolate so it only partially solidifies as it cools, creating a mousse-like texture without the help of air bubbles.

I would actually classify this as a whipped water ganache rather than a mousse, if I were going to get technical about it. If you think of regular chocolate ganache as, say, a cappuccino, then water ganache is black coffee: strong, dairy free, slightly bitter and super stimulating.

Recipe: Two Ingredient Dark Chocolate Mousse

Adapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe for the New York Times

Makes one generous serving

Ingredients:

2 oz  good dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces

1.6 oz hot water (approx. 3 tbsp + 1 tsp)

Optional variations: I recommend adding a pinch of sea salt to the hot water before melting the chocolate. Alternatively, try flavoring the mixture with a few drops of peppermint oil or vanilla extract, or substituting coffee for the water to get a nice mocha flavor.

Serving recommendations: This would taste great over fresh berries, with a dollop of whipped cream or cr√®me fra√ģche on top. But it’s pretty great on its own, too.

Measuring ingredients for chocolate water ganache
Image: Amber Latner

Instructions:

Mix the chocolate and water in a small bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir. If the water feels hot to the touch and the chocolate is melting easily, you’re done with the microwave. If you still notice chunks of chocolate in the water, microwave the bowl for another 10-20 seconds. Whisk until the chocolate is completely dissolved and no graininess remains (this step is very important for a silky result).

Place the bowl of liquid chocolate in a shallow ice bath.

Melted chocolate water ganache in an ice bath
Image: Amber Latner

Using an electric whisk or egg beaters (an immersion blender would probably work too, although I haven’t tried it), whisk the chocolate as it cools. After a few minutes you should begin to see its texture thickening modestly.

Whisking chocoate ganaceh in an ice bath
Image: Amber Latner

Stop mixing and remove from ice bath once the mousse has reached the thickness of softly beaten egg whites.

single serving chocolate mousse on counter with whisk
Image: Amber Latner

Serve immediately.

one-ingredient chocolate mousse
Image: Amber Latner

Btw: If the chocolate mixture cools too much it will develop a texture like that of chocolate frosting (you can see an example of this in the picture below). If you accidentally over-thicken it, try whisking in another teaspoon of hot water.

Water ganache gets thick like chocolate frosting when too cool
This is what happens if you leave the mousse in the ice bath for too long!

 

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Gianduja (aka healthy Nutella)

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Smooth, creamy homemade Nutella
Photo credit: Allyso/Shutterstock via MMN Recipes

That’s right, another gianduja recipe…

I know, I know, enough with the gianduja already! I promise this is my last post about the chocolate-hazelnut deliciousness known as gianduja for, well… at least a week.

My recent recipe for Gianduja Crunch Truffles included directions for making your own gianduja (a wholesome, less processed version of Nutella) at home. Shortly after publishing that post, I was contacted by a happy reader who had made gianduja for the first time. He was spreading it on toast and mixing it into everything imaginable (he warned against mixing it into coffee — seems like good advice!). Anyway, the reader loved homemade gianduja so much that I was inspired to make it easier for readers to locate my gianduja recipe without sifting through lengthy instructions on truffle-making and chocolate tempering.

Notes about this recipe:

I love this gianduja recipe because it’s so simple and so wholesome. If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients on a jar of Nutella, you’re aware that there’s nothing healthy about that mixture of sugar and palm oil (ew). So it was important to me that this recipe include only the highest quality ingredients: roasted nuts and super dark chocolate. No fillers, and no added sugar (the only sugar in this recipe is what’s already in the dark chocolate).

A quick note on substitutions: If you want to eliminate sugar from this recipe completely, try substituting 8 oz. unsweetened chocolate plus your sugar substitute of choice for the dark chocolate. After blending the other ingredients, add the sugar substitute to the food processor slowly, tasting until it’s sweet enough. As I’ve mentioned before, I personally like stevia as an alternative sweetener, and stevia works well to sweeten nut butters so it might actually be a good choice for this recipe (I’ve never tried it though, so don’t quote me on that). Other sugar substitutes (honey, xylitol) and noncaloric sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame) would likely work as well. You could also substitute cocoa powder and sugar (or a sugar substitute) for the dark chocolate in this recipe — if you try this, please let me know how it tastes!

So here you go: a super simple recipe for making your own delicious, addictive, healthy chocolate-hazelnut spread using nothing more than your oven/toaster, a microwave and a food processor or Vitamix.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Hazelnut (Gianduja) Spread

Makes 13 oz gianduja (about 1 2/3 cups)

Ingredients:

5 oz dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa*) chopped into small pieces (can substitute bittersweet chocolate chips, or even milk chocolate for a sweeter gianduja)

8 oz whole hazelnuts

* The higher the % cocoa, the lower the relative % sugar in your gianduja

Instructions:

To roast the nuts: On a baking tray on the center rack of your oven, toast the hazelnuts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until they’re fragrant and golden brown (but not burnt). Wrap them in a clean dish towel to cool on the counter. Once cool, use the towel to rub off the skins, removing any stubborn skins with your fingers (leaving the skins on won’t ruin the gianduja, but they do taste a little bitter).

To melt the chocolate: Melt 8 oz¬† dark chocolate in the microwave. To do this without burning the chocolate, place the chopped chocolate pieces in a plastic container (glass or ceramic will retain too much heat) and microwave for 2 minutes, stirring every 45 to 60 seconds. Continue microwaving at 10 second intervals, stirring well after each interval. To avoid burning it, stop when the chocolate is 80% melted — its residual heat will melt the remaining solid chocolate pieces as you continue to stir. The whole process should take less than 5 minutes.

To make the gianduja: In a food processor or Vitamix, blend the hazelnuts into a paste, scraping down the sides as needed. The consistency should be like that of creamy peanut butter. Add the melted chocolate and blend until creamy.

Store the gianduja in a tightly sealed container away from sunlight for 1-2 months, or in the refrigerator for 6-12 months.

Note: if you store gianduja in the fridge, you’ll need to microwave it (or leave it at room temperature for a couple of hours) to bring back its soft, spreadable consistency.

 

Recipe: Gianduja Crunch Truffles

Gianduja Hazelnut Crunch Truffles
Gianduja Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles
Image: Amber Latner

This truffle was inspired by Perugina’s Baci, those addictive Italian chocolate-hazelnut confections that have started showing up in American supermarkets everywhere.  I wanted to add some texture to the classic round truffle by pressing a whole hazelnut into its center. The result is delightful; the hazelnut provides a wonderful textural contrast to the otherwise uniform creaminess of the gianduja.

And since we were talking about sugar-free chocolate last week, here’s another cool thing about these truffles: other than what’s already in the chocolate, there’s no added sugar in these. The ingredients are nuts and dark chocolate. That’s it. As noted in a previous post, homemade gianduja is so much more wholesome than Nutella. You could almost consider these truffles… healthy?

Two ways of decorating Gianduja Crunch Truffles
Don’t want to temper chocolate? Roll them in nuts instead.

I decorated the truffles using a piping bag filled with tempered milk chocolate. It’s a really fun technique — I felt like I was in kindergarten art class. But feel free to skip this part. In fact, you can make these truffles without any tempering at all! Dip the truffle centers in untempered chocolate (melted in the microwave as described below) and then roll them in chopped hazelnuts, sugar, crushed corn flakes or whatever else you think of. Nobody will know the chocolate shell is untempered if it’s hidden this way.

Btw, this recipe can easily be doubled or halved. The important thing is that there be a 1:1 ratio of chocolate to hazelnuts in the gianduja filling. If you’re on the fence, I would make a larger batch rather than a smaller one… gianduja keeps for several months at room temperature and much longer in the fridge, so having some extra around to spread on toast or drizzle on pancakes wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world…

Gianduja Crunch Truffles
Image: Amber Latner

Gianduja Crunch Truffles

  • Makes approximately 30 truffles.
  • Shelf life: at least two months at room temperature; up to six months in the refrigerator.

Ingredients:

Gianduja crunch centers:

  • 8 oz dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces (I used DeZaan‚Äôs 64% dark couverture, but any bittersweet chocolate will work — or use milk chocolate for a sweeter truffle)
  • 12 oz whole hazelnuts

Truffle shells:

  • 8 oz tempered dark chocolate for enrobing (optional)
  • 2-3¬† oz tempered milk chocolate for decorating (optional)

You can also can skip the chocolate shells entirely and roll the centers in chopped hazelnuts, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, crushed corn flakes, sugar, ground coffee beans — be creative!

Instructions:

To roast the nuts: On a baking tray on the center rack of your oven, toast the hazelnuts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re fragrant and brown but not burnt. Wrap them in a clean dish towel to cool on the counter. Use the towel to rub off the skins, and remove any stubborn skins with your fingers. Leaving the skins on won’t ruin the gianduja, but I think they taste a little bitter.

To melt the chocolate: Melt 8 oz chopped dark chocolate in the microwave. To do this without burning the chocolate, place it in a plastic container (glass or ceramic will retain too much heat) and microwave for 2 minutes, stirring every 45 to 60 seconds. Stir well.Continue microwaving at 10 second intervals, stirring well after each interval. To avoid burning the chocolate, stop when it’s 80% melted — the residual heat of the chocolate will melt the remaining pieces as you stir. The whole process should take less than 5 minutes.

To make the gianduja filling: Reserve 4 oz toasted hazelnuts. In a food processor, blend the remaining 8 oz hazelnuts into a paste. The consistency should be like that of peanut butter. Add the melted chocolate. Blend until creamy.

Congratulations — you’ve just made gianduja!

Hand made gianduja
Image: Amber Latner

You can stop here if you want, storing the gianduja in a tightly sealed container away from sunlight for 1-2 months, or in the refrigerator for 6 months or more. Note that if you store gianduja in the fridge, you’ll need to leave it at room temperature (or microwave it) to bring it back to a soft, spreadable consistency.

Or, continue on to the next step to make truffles with it.

Note: If the gianduja is too soft immediately after making it, refrigerate for 30-60 minutes before rolling it into balls. Just remember it’s very important to bring the balls to room temperature before enrobing them in tempered chocolate.

To enrobe the centers: Melt and temper the remaining 8 oz chocolate. One at a time, drop each truffle into the chocolate and scoop it out with enrobing forks (a kitchen fork will work in a pinch). Place them on parchment paper to set. If you chose to use untempered chocolate for this step, you’ll need to roll the balls in a bowl of chopped hazelnuts (or your coating of choice) before the chocolate has a chance to set.

To decorate the enrobed truffles: Melt and temper* the milk chocolate and pour it into a large plastic sandwich bag. Twist the end of the bag to push the chocolate into one of the bottom corners. Using scissors, snip off the tip of the corner¬† (ta-da — you have a piping bag!) and, squeezing from the twisted end of the bag, pipe milk chocolate stripes, swirls or dots onto the truffles. Work on parchment paper for easy cleanup. Fun, right?

*Milk chocolate should be tempered at a slightly lower temperature than dark chocolate, so my seeding instructions won’t be that helpful for this. For now I recommend you check out the instructions for tempering milk chocolate on Ecole Chocolat’s website.

Decorating truffles with piped chocolate
Image: Amber Latner

Gianduja part III: where to find it

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A little while back I wrote about the history of traditional Italian gianduja and its more modern, spreadable cousin. Since that post, a couple of readers have asked me where they can buy gianduja, since all they’ve been able to find at their local supermarket is Nutella.

You have three options if you’re trying to locate real gianduja in North America. First, you can probably find it at a specialty chocolate retailer in your city or town. To find the closest retailer, search on chocomap.com or download the Find Chocolate! app on your device. Yes, there’s an app to help you find chocolate!

Another option: you can search the shelves of a European food import store (think Dean & Deluca).

And finally — and this is my own preferred method — you can buy gianduja online.

Why buying gianduja online makes sense:

Besides the fact that it’s clearly awesome to buy chocolate without leaving the house or speaking to another human being, I like buying gianduja online because the selection is much, much better online than anything you’ll find in a brick and mortar shop — this I promise. I’m guessing the average specialty Italian food importer will carry one or two types of gianduja. In contrast, online retailers carry dozens.

Favorite online gianduja retailers:

For starters, Amazon carries a respectable number of gianduja products of both the solid and spreadable varieties,¬†so it¬†may be a good place to start. I recommend also checking out the selection at Chocosphere and World Wide Chocolate. If you live outside the U.S. and know an online retailer that delivers to your region, I would love to know about it — send me a link!

Europeans may want to order directly from one of the acclaimed Italian gianduja makers’ websites, such as Venchi’s. Or¬†even better,¬†find¬†an excuse to go to Turin (remember that obscure work conference your boss mentioned a while back…?) and pick up gianduja from one of the many specialty shops scattered¬†around the city. I hear Turin is lovely this time of year…

Want a more hands-on way to get your, um, hands on some gianduja?

Rather than buying gianduja, I highly recommend you try making it at home in your food processor. After seeing how easy it is, you may never buy the ready-made kind again.

See my recipe in the next post… But in the meantime, I leave you with this picture of deliciousness from Sarah Reid’s Flickr page.

I dare you to stare at this for 5 seconds without your mouth watering… ūüôā

homemade chocolate hazelnut spread

Image above: Sarah Reid via Flickr

Featured image: Houang Stephane via Flickr