Crafter and local artist, Rebecca Shapiro, grew up with a mother who was a chocolatier so she learned all the tricks of the trade! Rebecca shared her tips and recipes with us. To learn how to make "Cup o'Smores," "Nut Butter Cups," and "Coconut Marshmallows" go to our recipe page.
She also shared some helpful information and fun facts about chocolate.
National Chocolate week is March 14th through the 20th
Where does chocolate come from?
- A pod that grows on a small tropical tree called Theobroma cacao.
- Cacao is pronounced ka-KOW.
- Theobroma is the Greek word for “food of the gods.”
- Cacao is native to Central and South America, but it is grown commercially throughout the tropics. About 70% of the world's cacao is grown in Africa.
- The pods are harvested about twice a year and fermented. The heat from fermentation changes the bitter bean flavors into something more chocolatey.
- After fermentation, the beans are dried in the sun for about a week and the flavor continues to develop.
- The cacao beans are sorted by type and roasted in large ovens bringing out more flavor and aroma.
- Then the cacao beans are cracked and the outer shells blown away, leaving crushed and broken pieces called "nibs." They are very bitter.
- The cacao nibs are ground into a thick paste called cocoa liquor (there is no alcohol in it).
- The cocoa liquor is slammed by a hydraulic press removing most of the fat or cocoa butter. The cocoa butter is used in making chocolate but also in cosmetics and medicine. What’s left is very dry and is ground into cocoa.
How is chocolate made?
- Chocolate liquor is bitter and grainy. Ingredients like sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, lecithin and milk are added to sweeten it up. These ingredients go through a series of processes to make it silky smooth. Chocolate will taste different depending upon the cacao content, ingredients and handling.
- Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate liquor, also known as bitter or baking chocolate, mixed with some fat to produce a solid substance.
- • Dark chocolate is made by adding fat and sugar to cacao. As a general rule, the darker and more bitter a chocolate bar, the more cacao it has.
- • Milk chocolate is chocolate with milk powder or condensed milk added.
- • Semisweet chocolate is a dark chocolate often used in cooking with a low (typically half) sugar content.
- • Bittersweet chocolate has less sugar and more liquor than semisweet chocolate.
- • Couverture is chocolate that has 70% or more cocoa butter. Popular brands of couverture used by professional pastry chefs and sold in gourmet and specialty food stores include: Valrhona, Felchlin, Lindt & Sprüngli, Scharffen Berger, Cacao Barry, Callebaut, and Guittard.
- • White chocolate is a confection made of sugar and fat and doesn’t contain cocoa solids. It is not chocolate.
- Properties of chocolate:
- • Like coffee and wine, chocolate is chemically complex, exhibiting characteristics such as acidity and earthy flavors.
- • Chocolate is unique among vegetables because it’s fat, cocoa butter, is solid at room temperature. Since this fat melts at mouth temperature, chocolate is an excellent flavor conductor and satisfying to eat.
- • Contrary to popular belief, caffeine doesn’t naturally occur in chocolate. It does contain Theobromine which is similar to caffeine because it’s a stimulant but they are two different alkaloids.
- • Theobromine is the active ingredient in chocolate and it occurs only in cacao. It has been linked to serotonin levels in the brain.
- Theobromine is toxic to some animals which is why you should never feed chocolate to dogs and cats.
- Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature and humidity. Ideal storage temperatures are between 59° to 63°F, with a humidity of less than 50%.
- It’s a good idea to store chocolate away from other foods because it can absorb different aromas.
Tips for Melting Chocolate:
- In order to get the glossy look of professionally made chocolate, you will need to temper the chocolate. Tempering melds the chocolate's molecules together.
- Chocolate melts better and faster at lower temperatures. Never let your chocolate get above 115° F.
- The chocolate should be only slightly warmer than your bottom lip.
- And easy way to temper chocolate is to place it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time on high until it’s melted. Be careful not to overheat. The chocolate may look as if it hasn’t completely melted because it retains its shape. You may see lumps but once you stir it the residual heat will continue to melt the rest.
- One of the best ways to temper chocolate is to place a heat resistant glass bowl over a pot of simmering water. The glass keeps the chocolate tempered for a long time. Simmer the water over low heat and stir the chocolate often. Remove from heat as soon as it’s melted and stir until smooth.
- Be careful not to get any water (not even a drop) into the chocolate because it will turn the chocolate into a grainy, lumpy mess.
- You can check your tempering by applying a small amount of chocolate to a piece of paper or to the point of a knife. If the chocolate has been correctly tempered, it will harden evenly and show a good gloss within five minutes.
For more information about Rebecca Shapiro, check out this website .
For more information about her crafts, check out this website.