Chocolate—An Introduction

Few treats are as cherished as chocolate. Whether milk, dark, or white, it is savored for dessert, for snacks, and for those times when we need a "little something special."

Chocolate is for lovers, nestled in heart-shaped boxes. It's for children, molded into Easter bunnies or Santas or stirred into hot milk. It's proffered by houseguests to hosts and by dinner partners to one another, as well as by world-class hotels as a goodnight gesture to their patrons.

As universally loved as it may be, not all chocolate is created equal. The flavor and texture, and consequently the cooking properties, can vary greatly depending on how the particular chocolate is made.

All chocolate, except white, contains chocolate liquor and added cocoa butter. What else it contains (lecithin, sugar, or milk solids) and the amount added affect the way the chocolate tastes and reacts when cooked. How the cocoa beans are processed into chocolate in the first place has a great deal to do with the quality of the chocolate, too.

Unsweetened chocolate is made from chocolate liquor, the substance extracted from the cocoa beans once the cocoa butter, or fat, is removed. During processing, the cocoa butter is put back until the finished product contains 50 percent or more cocoa butter. Unsweetened chocolate is most commonly sold in one-ounce squares in boxes holding eight ounces.

Semisweet and bittersweet chocolate, also called dark chocolate, are made from chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, and such flavorings as vanillin and vanilla. European dark chocolates most often are called bittersweet (although that is not categorically true), while American darks are referred to as semisweet. For the following recipes we used American semisweet chocolate, easily available in supermarkets in boxes containing eight one-ounce squares.

Milk chocolate is most commonly purchased for eating. It is made from chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, flavorings, and milk solids. The milk solids make this chocolate sensitive to heat, causing it to displace some chocolate liquor. Thus, it cannot be substituted for dark chocolate in recipes. In this book we used milk chocolate chips, sold at supermarkets alongside the more familiar semi-sweet chips.

White chocolate contains no chocolate liquor and therefore is not officially considered chocolate in the United States. It is a mixture of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, butterfat, lecithin, and flavorings. White chocolate is very sensitive to heat and difficult to cook with.

Cocoa powder is made from chocolate liquor from which most of the cocoa butter has been removed; however, it is not fat-free. Alkalized cocoa, also called Dutch process, is treated with an alkali to produce a milder-flavored cocoa. Non-alkalized cocoa is lighter in color but has a stronger flavor. In the following recipes we used non-alkalized cocoa made by a major American manufacturer. Be careful to buy unsweetened cocoa powder.

True Confession: In Vietnam, where the temperature stayed constantly above 95° day and night for weeks at a time, it was not chocolate-friendly territory.

In the field, in addition to cartons of C-Rations, we'd receive SP Packs. Here's a description as found in a war journal:

What he's referring to there is Hershey's Tropical Chocolate. And he's absolutely on target in his description of it. No one liked the stuff. But I'd eat it. I was the only one. Because it was chocolate... said so right there on the label. Duh!