Tithing, Chocolate Basics and Tempering Chocolate with Jacques Torres

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The holidays are a time to give.  Sometimes we forget how lucky we are and take what we have for granted.  Try to make a point to tithe on a regular basis.  10% of what you gross is what you should be giving.  Make sure you remember those less fortunate than you during the holidays.  Need some ideas on where to donate?

Here are my favorite causes:
Heifer International,  The Smile Train, and the UN World Food Programme.

Time to brush up on our chocolate basics!  Today we are going to discuss the different types of chocolate available.  These parameters are always changing and actually vary from country to country.  Just recently the European Union court ruled that there is no such thing as pure chocolate.  I, myself, am a bit confused as to why a 100% cocoa content chocolate bar cannot be considered pure chocolate.  That’s like saying an egg isn’t an egg once it is out of its shell.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is what chocolate lovers dream about.  It is the god of chocolate.  This is where the true chocolate connoisseur begins his or her experience.  In the past, chocolate containing at least 30% cocoa solids was considered to be of high quality.  The norm is now 35%, although dark chocolate in France must contain at least 43% cocoa solids to qualify as dark chocolate.  In most cases, the higher the percent of cocoa solids in chocolate is equated with the higher quality of the chocolate and the point where chocolate is no longer considered chocolate candy.  Most chocolatiers are creating chocolate bars and bonbons with dark chocolate containing over 60% or more cocoa solids since the demand for high quality chocolates has become apparent.  The true chocolate connoisseur looks for chocolate bars containing over 70% cocoa solids.

The average highest quality chocolate is composed of 56-70% cocoa solids which includes on average 31% cocoa butter, 29-43% sugar, and the remaining 1% made up of vanilla and often soy lecithin. Soy lecithin is not always present in dark chocolate or any other chocolate. When it is added, the soy lecithin acts as an emulsifier and creates smoothness to the chocolate and a luxurious mouth-feel.  Although there is nothing wrong with adding soy lecithin to chocolate, most purist avoid the use of it.  The sugar is primarily added to the chocolate to enhance the flavors of the chocolate, but not to detract from it.  Someone once said that adding sugar to chocolate is like adding salt to food.  You need a little bit, but too much can ruin it.  It adds only the slightest amount of sweetness to the chocolate and in most cases is not even noticeable.  The vanilla found in chocolate is listed as vanilla or Bourbon vanilla.  Avoid any chocolate containing vanillin.  Vanillin comes from pine tree resin and shows the chocolate maker is substituting a low cost flavoring for a high cost enhancement.  This not only results in a lower quality chocolate bar, but it also detracts from the natural taste of the chocolate sometimes resulting in an odd aftertaste.

Milk Chocolate

The most famous and most widely consumed chocolate in the world is milk chocolate.  For all intense purposes, milk chocolate is chocolate candy, although with the surge of interest in the world of chocolate, good quality milk chocolate is now readily available.  The chocolate that most of us are familiar with is that of commercial, (think the grocery store check out lane) mass produced milk chocolate which contains only a minimum of 10% cocoa solids and at least 12% milk powder, milk or condensed milk.  European law states milk chocolate should possess at least 25% cocoa solids.  The better chocolatiers produce milk chocolate containing on average 40% cocoa solids which is really what one should look for when purchasing a milk chocolate.  Up to 50% of the content of a milk chocolate bar is composed of sugar.  Most of the lesser quality milk chocolate bars also substitute vegetable fat for cocoa butter which lessens the cost for production and they often use natural and artificial flavorings. Remember, darker is always better.  Even if you must have milk chocolate, try to buy the chocolate with the highest cocoa content.  Something that has been showing up in the chocolate market lately is dark milk chocolate.  This is still considered milk chocolate, but it does contain a higher, and probably the highest, amount of cocoa solids before legally being called dark chocolate.

White Chocolate

White chocolate isn’t really chocolate at all and it is probably the least consumed chocolate in the world.  In fact, white chocolate  is made up of cocoa butter, sugar, milk, an emulsifier (usually soy lecithin) and vanilla. It contains no cocoa solids and produces only the faintest cocoa flavor.  White chocolate is generally used in cooking and as accent to show pieces, they occasionally show up in a box of bonbons or bunnies during the Easter holiday.  Many white chocolate bars are produced with vegetable oils and other tropical fats rather than using cocoa butter to cut down on production costs.  When buying a white chocolate bar, always be sure that cocoa butter is present and that there are no artificial colorings, flavorings or oils.  More and more chocolatiers are starting to make some fantastic white chocolate bars with some wonderful infusions and fruit and nut mixes.  Don’t be afraid to give them a try as you evolve in your chocolate tasting.

This is a great video with Jacques Torres, Mr. Chocolate himself, on how to temper chocolate.  Everyone can learn how to temper chocolate after watching this video! My favorite quote by Chef Torres is “I get so excited when working with chocolate that I lose track of the time!”

Click here to watch the video of Jacques Torres tempering chocolate.

Annmarie Kostyk