Chocolate is one of the most delicate baking materials, since everything from temperature to timing plays a crucial role in the outcome of a dessert. One splash of water could easily spell sabotage, but don’t let that deter you from trying recipes that go beyond simple, chocolate-covered strawberries (although there’s nothing wrong with this romantic classic).
We’ve polled the pastry pros on their no-fail tips so you never have to worry about burning anything when baking with chocolate again. From cocoa powder and nibs to bars to blocks, here’s what to keep in mind next time you’re perusing the baking aisle at the supermarket — and the tricks to master when you’re back home in the kitchen.
20 important tips when baking with chocolate:
Microwave in Intervals
“The microwave can be your best friend or your worst enemy. With some care, you can melt chocolate faster than in a double boiler — and with fewer dishes to do afterwards.
However, this doesn’t mean you can blast your chocolate for several minutes and it’s magically melted. Microwave it in short intervals (30 to 45 seconds), and stir your chocolate in between each time to ensure even heat distribution.” — Jillian Bartolome, executive chef/pastry chef of Sightglass Los Angeles
Don’t Fear Salt
“A lot of people will remove the salt from a recipe because they don’t want it to be salty or they want to make sure that they can taste the chocolate. The salt will help to bring out the flavour of the chocolate.” — Jamie Hornby, pastry chef of José Andrés’s Bazaar Meat & Bar Mar in Chicago
Beware of Burning
“If you’re using a recipe that calls for melting chocolate, even if it’s just to dip strawberries, go low and slow. Good chocolate — which is what you should always use, because you’ll taste the difference — is delicate and can burn very easily.” — Ursula XVII, chocolatier and founder of Disset Chocolate
Use Thinly Chopped Chocolate
“I find using thinly chopped chocolate is always best when baking. It melts faster and more evenly, and therefore cools down faster, so I can keep a good pace in the process of my recipes.” — Marie-Aude Rose, chef and partner of La Mercerie in NYC
Taste Your Chocolate Before Baking
“If you can, taste your chocolate before baking with it. For example, not all 70% chocolates have the same flavour profiles. Some have fruitier tones, while some are more vanilla-caramel forward. This will come through in a lot of baked items, like a simple chocolate cake.” — Jen Yee, executive pastry chef of Atlanta-based Hopkins and Company
“One of the most common mistakes to avoid when working with chocolate is overheating — the temperature should never exceed 56°C. If cooking in a bain-marie, you must ensure the container does not touch the water, which can quickly reach 100°C.” — Johan Giachetti, chief chocolate maker at Le Bristol Paris
Store Chocolate Separately
White Chocolate Should Stay White
“When baking with white chocolate, the chocolate should still stay white in colour, not turn a light caramel colour. A tip for avoiding overbaking is to remember that when you take a baking sheet of cookies out of the oven, it still has a lot of residual heat, so the cookies will cook a little more even out of the oven. You want to pull your cookies out at least two minutes early, and let them finish ‘baking’ on the cookie sheet while they cool. This way, your white chocolate will stay perfectly white and delicious.” — John Martinez, pastry chef of 1 Hotel South Beach in Miami
Skip Chocolate Chips
“When melting chocolate, avoid chocolate chips! Chocolate chips tend to have stabilisers in them, which makes them ideal for cookie baking or holding up in other applications, but doesn’t make them the best to use for melting. Instead, use your favourite high-quality chocolate bar.” — Antonia Grandberry, pastry chef of Alpareno Restaurant Group (which includes Orno and Mamey in Miami)
Pay Attention to Percentage
“The flavour of your chocolate dessert can vary in flavour, texture, and quality depending on the percentage of chocolate used. The higher the percentage, the less sweet.” — Dominique Lombardo, executive pastry chef of Rezdôra in NYC
Don’t Trust Temperature Settings
“The biggest mistake when baking with chocolate is to trust the oven temperature setting. Always have an oven thermometer inside so you can adjust.” — Bradley Herron, senior director of culinary at The Genuine Hospitality Group
Use a Sifter
“If you have to chop your chocolate into smaller pieces, always sift the chopped chocolate through a strainer to get rid of any small shavings that break off. These little pieces can change the colour of your cookie dough or batter. You can always save them for pancakes or hot chocolate.” — Ryan Schmidtberger, executive chef of Hancock St. in NYC
Water is the Enemy
“When making chocolate bars, truffles, or glaze, ensure that not even a drop of water enters your mix. Water is the enemy of chocolate and spoils its consistency.” — Divya Alter, founder of Divya’s Kitchen in NYC
Go for Quality
“Using bad quality or cheap chocolate is the number one mistake to avoid. When looking for quality in texture and flavour of the final product, it is important to splurge on ingredients — especially with chocolate.” — Natalia Ocampo, pastry chef of Pura Vida Miami
Fully Melt Your Chocolate
“The mistake people often make when using chocolate is not melting it enough! If you only heat it until ‘just’ melted, it won’t incorporate smoothly into batters and mixes. Chocolate needs to be melted completely — and be hot. If you don’t do it right, your batters will be too heavy and the desserts will not reach their full expression.” — Marc Aumont, chocolatier of Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate
Avoid Quick Temperature Changes
“Be very careful with quick temperature changes. For example, if you want a homogenous chocolate cream, be careful when adding the chocolate to the cream, as they’re not the same temperature. The cream and chocolate must reach a similar temperature before mixing.” — Elisabeth Hot, pastry chef of Dorchester Collection’s Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris
Cocoa Powder Is the Secret Against Sticking
“When you make a chocolate soufflé or a cake, instead of using sugar or flour to prevent sticking around your mould, use cocoa powder.”— Loic Leperlier, executive chef of The Point Resort in Saranac Lake, NY
Go Grand Cru
“For baking, use a chocolate made from a blend of grand cru — not just from one single type. The result will be a chocolate rich in flavour with strong sensorial notes.” — Ezio Redolfi, pastry chef of Dorchester Collection’s Hotel Eden in Rome
Add Butter — Not Water
“Sometimes, when melting chocolate over a water bath (never straight in the pot — it’ll burn and become bitter), I’ve seen people add water when the chocolate seems too thick or pasty. Never do that! Add butter instead — it will become luscious and smooth.” — Gabriel Kreuther, chef of Gabriel Kreuther Restaurant in NYC
Play with Textures
“When cooking and creating layers with different types of chocolate, avoid components that offer the same texture. For example, a light and luscious gianduja chocolate mousse can be layered with a dense, fruity dark chocolate crémeux and dipped in a crisp dark chocolate shell. All of these components will coat and melt in your mouth harmoniously.” — Tiffany Pascua, executive pastry chef of Dorchester Collection’s Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles
This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com.
(Main and Feature Image Credit: Pamela Joe McFarlane / Getty Images)
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