America’s premier artisan chocolatier Jacques Torres, lovingly known as “Mr. Chocolate,” enlightens us on how to properly buy, work with, and enjoy the most craved of all confections.
When buying chocolate, is there anything in particular that home cooks should look for on the label?
Jacques Torres: Always make sure the five ingredients you need to make chocolate are included: butter, sugar, lecithin, vanilla, and milk powder for milk chocolate. I stay away from labels that include phrases like “natural flavoring,” “essential oil,” “added fat,” which is when another fat is added in place of the cocoa butter, or “vanillin,” a fake vanilla.
What are some of your favorite chocolate brands?
Why should you use unsweetened cocoa powder when baking?
JT: You want to be able to control how much sugar you put in the recipe. It’s very difficult to know how much sugar is in sweetened cocoa powder. It just makes things more complicated, so it’s better to use unsweetened.
Do you prefer working with bars, chips, or discs?
JT: The chocolate you bake with should be chocolate that you would eat by itself. Bars are very versatile because they can be chopped into smaller pieces to melt or fold into dough for cookies, cakes, and puddings. You can use smaller morsels or discs for anything that requires melted chocolate like a ganache, frosting, or glaze.
What does cacao percentage mean, and why does it matter?
JT: Cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can consume, and the percentage of cacao in chocolate is the composition of the chocolate that comes directly from the cacao plant. I like my chocolate between 62 and 75 percent cacao. That range means you have between 38 and 25 percent sugar. For a stronger chocolate flavor, I would go between 72 and 75 percent. I like to bake with 60 to 62 percent.
Is there specific equipment bakers should have for working with chocolate?
JT: I always have three pieces of equipment: an immersion blender, hair dryer, and a laser thermometer. If you have these three tools, you can temper and work with chocolate very well. If your chocolate becomes too cold when you are tempering, you can blow on it with a gentle setting on a hair dryer to warm it back up. When it reaches 80 degrees, the chocolate is ready.
Is there a technique that home cooks should master for working with chocolate?
JT: Knowing how to temper your chocolate is essential. To temper, you melt and cool your chocolate so it will be glossy and smooth when it sets. Tempering gives chocolate that crisp “snap” when you break or bite into it.
What’s the best way to store your chocolate?
JT: Well, the very best place is in your stomach. Chocolate is not like wine. It is not something that should age a lot. If you do need to store chocolate, put it in a sealable plastic bag or wrap it in cellophane, and keep it in a cool place. If you store chocolate in your fridge, be sure to take it out two or three hours before you are going to eat it. Leave the chocolate enclosed in the plastic bag or cellophane wrap until it reaches room temperature. If you expose chocolate to the air when it’s still cold, condensation will form on the chocolate’s surface, and it will become wet. Moisture will melt the sugar on the surface of the chocolate, and the sugar will become white. It’s called “blooming,” and you don’t want that. When you melt chocolate that has been exposed to moisture, it’s a little bit thicker with less appealing flavor.