I wanted to talk about some of the elements that go into creating a ‘premium’ chocolate confection. I also want to give you some tasting tips and I have examples that may help you with knowing what to look for in quality chocolate.
Firstly, I’ve noted the important factors that go into making a quality chocolate. The first is the utilisation of impeccable ingredients. These are ingredients sourced locally or imported from afar, but they are perfect because they are fresh, in season and/or have been made with love from natural ingredients.
Technique and craftsmanship earned through hard work and dedication is the next necessary step. Learning how to do things correctly from the beginning is imperative in setting the right foundations. Doing all the little things right and not cutting corners will bring rewarding and consistent results. Technology is constantly evolving and without it there would be little advancements in the industry. Therefore we need to grow with it and adapt to new techniques afforded by these new machines.
Customisation and creativity offers the chocolatier the freedom to express his or her style. Without the ability to innovate or be creative it can quickly stunt the growth and development of a business. People often request something out of the ordinary so being able to develop a customised product will be to your benefit.
The leaders in the industry will believe they have all these key factors accounted for and will mark them down as their strengths.
Chocolate tasting tips
When learning to taste chocolate, it is easier to train your palate if you also train all five senses. Initial sight of the chocolate, touch of the chocolate, smell of the chocolate, the essential ‘snap’ trademark of a good chocolate bar and finally the taste.
When it comes to sampling chocolate, look at it closely to study if it is shiny or dull. Chocolate that is well-made and properly tempered has a nice sheen. When you rub your finger across the chocolate, how does it feel? Chocolate that has ‘bloomed’, or lost its temper, will feel grainy when you rub it, while tempered chocolate will feel smooth and satiny. Next, check the snap by breaking a piece of a bar of chocolate. If it has a clear distinct snap it is well tempered and made with quality ingredients.
Next, smell the chocolate. Fresh chocolate will have a gorgeous chocolate aroma, while older chocolate will not smell as potent. There is a palpable difference in smell between different dark chocolates – semi-sweet chocolates (around 55 per cent cacao) smell milder than chocolates in the 70-80 per cent range, which have a more acidic fragrance. Mostly dark chocolates will have a blend of cocoa beans sourced from around the world while others will be sourced from a single plantation. Each chocolate differs slightly from the next and before you take you first bite the first difference you will detect is in the smell and aromas.
Finally, taste the chocolate. Place the chocolate between your tongue and the roof of your mouth and let it melt slowly. Then begin to move the chocolate throughout your mouth allowing the flavours to reach all your taste buds. By doing this slowly you will have a better chance of tasting all the flavours that are within the chocolate. Again this is the time when you may pick up fruity notes or vanilla and spice.
I’ve chosen three chocolates to discuss as I taste; they are a white chocolate heart with caramel passionfruit ganache, a milk chocolate square with a cinnamon praline filling, and a dark chocolate square with a chocolate and vanilla ganache.
I start with the passionfruit heart. The ganache is silky smooth and intensely flavoured. Passionfruit has a lot of citric acid, so the flavour is very fruity and slightly tart, causing my mouth to water. The passionfruit was the first flavour note to hit, then after a few seconds the smooth, sweet white chocolate came through which calmed down the passionfruit creating a pleasant harmony of flavours.
After the chocolate has been swallowed, the flavour quickly leaves the mouth, which is another sign of a well-made chocolate. The smooth texture, or what is often called mouth feel, signifies the quality of the chocolate. If the chocolate was cheaper and did not have enough cocoa butter, or replaced some of the cocoa butter with other inferior fats, the texture might be grainy and the feel of the fats might coat the mouth long after the chocolate has melted. Additionally, if the taste of the filling lingers long after the chocolate is gone, this means that artificial flavouring or essential oils were used. If the filling flavour disappears quickly, you can be reasonably sure that natural flavourings, like fruit purees, were used instead.
As for the praline chocolate square, the initial sensation is a slight grain from the sugary praline, then a strong cinnamon note comes through, nicely complementing the hazelnut flavour. The cinnamon ‘hits you on the nose’, but quickly disappears once the chocolate is gone.
The dark chocolate square has a dark chocolate ganache inside infused with vanilla bean. The addition of vanilla may take a little longer to detect but once you taste it it’s unmistakable.
Chocolate is the hero in any good recipe and the lasting taste should be the chocolate. Commercially produced chocolates or confectionary will often contain higher amounts of sugars. This will generally leave you with a sweet taste in your mouth and not usually that of chocolate.
It’s obviously more enjoyable tasting chocolate for yourself but my aim is to give you a better understanding of how to approach and analyse chocolates. I encourage you to apply these techniques to any chocolates you try.
By Tim Clark, Cacao Fine Chocolates & Patesserie
500g almond meal
500g icing sugar
400g castor sugar
400g egg whites
20g cocoa powder
5g colour brown
1 Whisk whites with castor sugar.
2 Mix to stiff peaks.
3 Add dry ingredients to meringue and mix to a shine.
4 Bake: pre-heat oven to 160°C then turn down to 146°C and bake for 13 minutes.
pinch of salt
512g milk chocolate
512g dark chocolate 70 per cent
1 Bring the cream and salt to boil.
2 Make a caramel with the sugar and glucose, then deglaze with the butter.
3 Add the hot cream.
4 Strain mixture and cool to 80°C.
5 Pour mixture over chocolate.