Chocolate seems like such a sweet and simple pleasure but there’s really nothing simple about chocolate. About 380 individual chemicals have been identified in chocolate, including six kinds of fat in the cocoa butter. The proportion of cocoa butter to chocolate solids, or cocoa liquor, does determine how fast or slow chocolate melts. The chocolates with the highest ratio of cocoa butter to cocoa solids, such as white and milk chocolates, will melt faster than those with less cocoa butter, such as the dark chocolates.
Cocoa Liquor and Cocoa Butter
Once cocoa beans are roasted, shelled and ground into nibs, they’re crushed into cocoa mass. Cocoa mass is then separated into two major components -- cocoa liquor, which gives chocolate its bitter flavor, and cocoa butter, the fat that makes chocolate melt. The higher the cocoa butter content of the chocolate used in a recipe, the faster it will melt. The cocoa liquor, the flavorful liquid extracted from the cocoa mass, contains no alcohol and bears no relationship to the alcohol used in cocktails.
Kinds of Chocolate
Cocoa butter content is the basis for the different kinds of chocolates used in cooking, and it determines how fast or slow each kind of chocolate melts. The ratio of cocoa liquor to butter determines the kind of chocolate that is made. White chocolate, which is easiest to melt, is all cocoa butter -- and no cocoa liquor-- with milk, sugar and vanilla added. Milk chocolate combines a high ratio of cocoa butter with cocoa liquor, milk or cream, sweeteners and a proprietary blend of other flavors. Bittersweet and semisweet dark chocolate contains a higher concentration of cocoa liquor than butter plus added flavors. Unsweetened, or baking, chocolate is cocoa mass that’s been dried and ground to a powder after all of the cocoa butter has been removed.
Cocoa butter itself is so complex that its fats are categorized in six different molecular compounds. Each of these compounds melts at a different temperature. Melting point is the temperature at which each type of fat begins to melt. The range of melting points for cocoa butter and thus all chocolates used in baking or cooking is from 63 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit. Chocolate quickly scorches and burns at temperatures higher than 100 degrees.
Tips for Melting Success
Don’t rush when working with chocolate. Chop or break the chocolate into uniformly sized pieces so that they all melt at the same speed. Small chunks melt faster than large chunks. Large chunks tend to scorch if they are not carefully monitored during melting. Use a double boiler with simmering, not boiling, water in the lower vessel to minimize the risk of scorching. Put enough water in the lower vessel to simmer without touching the bottom of the upper vessel containing the chocolate. Avoid all water, including steam from the double boiler, to prevent grainy crystals from forming in a process called seizing. Stir the melting chocolate often to minimize the risk of scorching. Store handmade chocolate candies at room temperature, not in the refrigerator where it might absorb other flavors or become discolored by humidity.
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