With Valentine’s Day smack in the middle, February is a big month for chocolate—especially on dessert lists. Here are some basics for getting your chocolate inventory up to speed.
All chocolate starts with cacao or cocoa beans. The beans are roasted, cooled and cracked, producing chocolate liquor or cocoa mass, slightly over half of which is cocoa butter; the remainder is cocoa solids. Most pros use couverture—a product with a rich chocolate flavor and high proportion of cocoa butter.
Chocolate is labeled with a percentage of cocoa solids; the higher the percentage, the more intense the flavor. “With high-end chocolate,” says Carolina Gavet, marketing manager for Valrhona USA, “flavor depends a lot on the origin of the chocolate as well as the percentage.” A versatile new chocolate that’s atracting chefs is Valrhona’s Nyangbo 68 percent from southern Ghana.
Green & Black’s new professional collection, developed specifically for foodservice, is a dark 70 percent couverture—a “workhorse” percentage—sourced from organic, fair trade certified beans primarily from Dominican Republic and Belize. “We’re hoping to express the terroir of the chocolate, although chefs seem more interested in fair trade over single origin and even organic,” notes associate brand manager Robert Grgurev. Green & Black’s chocolate is shaped into pistoles or discs for easy measuring and melting, packed in a 5 kg. resealable bag.
The top consideration for buyers is to match the chocolate to its end use, says Gavet. Although many professional-quality chocolates are applicable to a range of desserts, Valrhona’s new Coeur de Guanaja is a couverture with a slightly lower cocoa butter content specifically formulated for ice creams, mousses, pastry creams and higher fat items. “Chefs who want a strong chocolate flavor and color usually add more chocolate, but that also increases the cocoa butter content and can throw off a recipe,” Gavet adds. “This product enhances flavor without compromising texture.” Most users buy 3 kg. bags of feves or discs, but blocks are available, too. Another new product is Caramelia—a 36 percent milk chocolate infused with caramel; it eliminates the step of caramelizing the sugar.
Barry Callebaut markets three tiers of couverture to restaurants: Cacao Barry (high-end French), Callebaut (premium Belgian brand) and Van Leer (competitively priced domestic chocolate). Intensity ranges from 56 to 80 percent to suit many applications. The couverture, sold in 5 kg. blocks, is widely used by pastry chefs, but “many sous chefs are now in charge of making desserts,” says Parveen Werner, marketing director Americas for Barry Callebaut. To meet their needs and help operators upsell desserts, the company has launched a line of value-added chocolate products. These include garnishes, molded decorations and crispearls—chocolate crunchies that add texture to ice creams and butter cream.
Although chocolate preferences are subjective, there are certain qualities to look for when evaluating a product, Werner notes. “Melt the chocolate on your tongue—it should be fine textured and smooth. Then temper the chocolate; it should be shiny and with a desirable viscosity.”