Choosing a Chocolate
So you’re looking to bake chocolate brownies or at least use real chocolate in some cooking. Great idea! Using real chocolate is worth the expense and the time as you’ll finish with a superior treat or chocolate gift in every way.
Let’s take one step back then. Learning how to taste chocolate is essential in your quest to use chocolate in your brownie baking or other cooking endeavours.
We experimented with brownie recipes for 2 years before pioneering our Luxury Brownies in Australia. And believe me, we tried every ingredient possible! With two small children at the time, I would test bake brownies and then take each new batch for tasting to everything from P&F meetings to ballet rehearsal.
Of course, there were always lots of willing (and hungry!) volunteers to try each of the recipes, as I slowly honed in to my final brownie recipe launch in 2006. At that time, and after much deliberation and lots of happy mums, dads and kids, we decided on a brownie recipe that would contain generous amounts of real chocolate. We thought our luxury brownies would be the perfect option for people looking to buy online premium chocolate gifts, so it was essential to include a quality premium Belgian Chocolate in our brownies.
There are about 300 chemical compounds in chocolate. Many of these are very subtle. Different growing conditions, regions and blends will result in so many, many flavour profiles. Try buying chocolate from different regions and producers so that you can taste the various flavours. Then, let the fun begin and treat yourself to a chocolate tasting session.
Tips on Chocolate Tasting
The art and science of Chocolate tasting does take time and practice. It uses all of your senses, so sit back, enjoy and use these chocolate tasting tips to get you started:
Allow the chocolate to sit and come to room temperature. Make sure all of the chocolates are out on the bench at the same temperature when you begin your chocolate tasting session.
Cleanse your Palate
Before any chocolate. Drink some water and eat a small piece of dry cracker or soft bread. Some people will use an apple. The idea is to remove all lingering flavours from you palate and allow the really soft nuances of the chocolate flavour profile to exhibit and dance on your palate.
A great quality, well tempered chocolate makes a very clean snap sound when it is broken. It should not be “plastic like” when it breaks and nor should it crumble.
A quiet tasting environment will help you savour the moments and for that matter enjoy more fully all of the aspects of the tasting session
Always smell your chocolate – just like a good wine! A good quality chocolate will generally have odours that are very pleasant like fruity, nutty and vanilla aromas.
If the chocolate smells like chemicals, petroleum or other unpleasant odours, then it has either been contaminated or it is a very poor quality chocolate. Equally, any burnt odour is not a good sign. Watch out too, for harsh artificial vanillas which are typically used by inferior chocolate manufacturers. In the later cases, I suggest discarding the chocolate and not wasting any of your precious time attempting to work with inferior chocolate in the kitchen.
Note that chocolate should have an odour – no odour present, is a sign of a poor chocolate.
Chocolate should be a beautiful rich brown to dark brown colour. The colour should be even across the piece. If it’s in “temper” then there will be no white streaks caused from either chocolate bloom or sugar bloom. These “blooms” are generally the result of significant changes in chocolate temperature resulting in destabilisation of the chocolate temper.
A great quality chocolate will be shiny and fresh looking.
For those of you that have managed to hold off, now you can finally taste the chocolate! Place the chocolate on your tongue and just let it sit there. Don’t chew the chocolate. Let it slowly begin to melt on your tongue.
The quality of the melt on your tongue is a sign of the purity of the chocolate. If the chocolate is really slow to melt or is chalky on the tongue then it is generally a sign of a poor quality chocolate. Such undesirable chocolate textures may be as a result of cheaper fats added at some point in the chocolate making process.
As the chocolate melts, note the volatile aromas of the chocolate rise up into your nasal area. At this point the many more different flavours can be detected including both the natural elements of the cocoa itself as well as the flavour complexities that are developed in the chocolate making process.
The roasting, conching and blending of beans can all contribute to flavour development and will give chocolate different flavours.
A great chocolate should feel wonderful on your tongue. Soft, smooth and free of any graininess or chalkiness is the sign of great quality chocolate.
Grainy and chalky chocolate is the sign of shortcuts in conching. Similarily a chalky texture is the usual result of a more simple process known as stone ground conching .
A grainy texture may also be the result of a poor temper.
A glutinous or sticky texture suggests that less desirable fats have been substituted in the chocolate making process for the more expensive cocoa butter.
Savour the moment
Continue with the chocolate slowly. The lingering taste should be full and strong. Take note that some of the chocolate flavours do appear late and often at the very end of the chocolate. The final flavour should be clean and not bitter or in anyway unpleasant.
Consider the Tasting Order
Tasting samples in the correct order will really help with the chocolate tasting process. Keep these rules in mind.to ensure you palate is protected and refreshed as it receives each new chocolate sensation:
- always taste the chocolate with the lowest percentage cocoa first as this is generally the simplest flavour chocolate and will reduce the chance of overwhelming your taste buds!
- rinse with water (at room temperature) between chocolate samples
- clean your palate with a small piece of bread or cracker between chocolates
- work through the chocolates slowly as the chocolate tasting process cannot be rushed
Chocolate is an expensive cooking ingredient. But just like cooking with a good wine, the quality is important. Remember, the quality you put in, will be the quality you get out. Invest in great quality chocolate and you’ll reap amazing results.
And whatever you decide to bake whether it be brownies or cake or cookies or fudge, the result will be so much more pleasing with a chocolate you have voted best in your chocolate tasting session.
Learning to taste chocolate will take some time and commitment but hey, tasting chocolate is a heck of a great way to spend some hours – all in the quest of learning!
Deborah Peralta is co-founder of Dello Mano Luxury Belgian Chocolate Brownies. Known with her partner Mr. Brownie (Bien Peralta) as the Brownie Pioneers. Deborah is a Food Scientist with broad food research, development and brand marketing experience. She was Product Development Manager for a leading international chocolatier.
Dello Mano brownies pioneered the Australian brownie market and are handmade by artisan brownie makers using real Belgian Chocolate in small batches – Brownie Pioneers since 2006.