Cooking with Chocolate
A great way to add richness and bite to your cooking is by adding chocolate as an ingredient. How can you go wrong with chocolate-flavored desserts and pastries? Cooking and baking with chocolate can be made simple, following a few general guidelines for handling chocolate.
Storing Chocolate Properly
Chocolate should be stored in a cool, dry place where there are relatively insignificant temperature fluctuations and in an area that is far from direct sunlight.
Chocolate should be contained in its original wrapping or tightly wrapped in foil, so that it does not absorb moisture. As much as possible, do not store chocolate in the refrigerator because its sugar rises up and crystallizes. Dark chocolate has a longer shelf life than milk or white chocolate, usually can retain its flavor for several years.
White and milk chocolate should only be kept in storage for a year or less. If your place can get very hot and melt the chocolate wherever you put it, the best alternative is to put it in the refrigerator. Doing so will not really tamper with the chocolate's taste but will only ruin its color because of the sugar crystallizing on the surface. Once you melt, the chocolate, it will all mix in together.
Melting chocolate requires your full attention because it can produce too much grain or can easily burn. Milk chocolate is more likely to end up in a grainy mess than darker varieties.
The best way to melt chocolate is to heat it at low temperatures, taking care that you do not go above 115° F. Expert chocolatiers use a candy thermometer for better precision. Also, it is best to use a double boiler-a pot that actually consists of two pots, one on top of the other. The pot that holds the chocolate is the one on top and the pot at the bottom holds an inch of simmering water.
An alternative to double boilers is a heat proof bowl that is large enough to suspend over a pot without its bottom having to touch the simmering water. The water should be simmered over low heat and the chocolate stirred often. As soon as the chocolate is melted, remove it from the heat and stir it until it becomes evenly smooth.
It is very important not to get any water into the chocolate, not even a small drop as it can turn the chocolate lumpy and grainy. If this should happen, however, you can add a little vegetable oil to make the mixture smooth again, but you will have compromised the flavor. If the recipe calls for chocolate mixed in with water or other forms of liquid, then make sure that you mix in the liquid with the chocolate right from the beginning of the melting procedure. You can also melt chocolate in a dry oven that is set at 110° F.
Some ovens may not be able to go that low a temperature. If yours doesn't you can set the heat at the lowest possible and then just keep the door ajar. Grate the chocolate and put it in a metal bowl and place inside the oven. The chocolate should melt in an hour's time.
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