Chocolate Basics


Taking the time to understand some chocolate basics is a great idea when you decide to start cooking with chocolate in your kitchen.  Each of the chocolate types will behave quite differently and so understanding the basic nuances will short circuit a few of the common errors.

Because the chocolate types vary in their composition and their behaviour it’s usually not a straight substitution for one over the other in a recipe. Often the brownie recipe or chocolate cake recipe for example, will need to be adjusted to accommodate the different chocolate type. Sometimes it’s simply not possible to substitute one chocolate for another in a brownie or chocolate cake recipe..

So lets take a look at some chocolate basics:

Unsweetened Chocolate

Unsweetened chocolate is 99% chocolate. It contains nothing else and as a result has a very strong, rugged and intense flavour. It’s very bitter and I think most people would say it is very unpleasant to eat in this form. Unsweetened chocolate is  rarely used in baking although can be used to bake brownies when you are looking for something that has a very intense and interesting flavour.

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is a lovely eating chocolate. It performs equally as well as a baking chocolate as it does a chocolate bon bon. Dark Chocolates may contain varying degrees of sugar. The % chocolate means the percentage of chocolate liquor the chocolate contains.

Usually the % chocolate liqor indicates the amount of sugar in the block. For example a 60% chocolate will contain a little under 40% sugar and usually some emulsifier and a vanilla.

The greater the amount of sugar the more the actual chocolate liquor flavour is masked. It’s important to remember when choosing a  chocolate that the higher the solids level the more the fuller flavour profile of the chocolate will appear.

Take note though, that the higher the chocolate solids (higher chocolate liquor) does make the chocolate a little more difficult to use. This issue arises often when making emulsions such as a dark chocolate ganache where separation may occur . If you decide to use a higher solids chocolate then you may need to add a little extra sugar to your brownie recipe just to round and soften out the flavour.

If you are tempering Dark Chocolate then follow this guide:

Melting Temperature 45-50C

Cooling Temperature 28-29C

Tempering Temperature 31-32 C

Milk Chocolate

Milk chocolate contains milk solids that generally replace some of the cocoa solids. The result is a chocolate that is creamier and smoother in taste and texture. It generally contains more sugar.

Because milk chocolate contains milk solids, it’s very sensitive to heat. This also makes it very difficult to use in cooking and it definitely cannot be substituted for dark chocolate in a brownie recipe.

Milk chocolate is best used in no bake recipes for items like chocolate sauce or of course bon bons.

Milk chocolate has a great purpose – to eat it as a chocolate rather than use it as a baking chocolate!

If you are tempering Milk Chocolate then follow this guide:

Melting Temperature 45-50C

Cooling Temperature 28-29C

Tempering Temperature 31-32 C

White Chocolate

White chocolate continues to confound the chocolate purist. Strictly speaking, white chocolate is not a chocolate – but try telling that to a white chocolate lover!

White chocolate contains no cocoa liquor only cocoa butter. It contains sugar, milk solids, emulsifier and vanilla. It is, as a result the sweetest of chocolates.

The combination of milk solids and high cocoa butter make it very heat sensitive and the most temperamental chocolate to temper and to use in baking.

The flavour of white chocolate varies significantly amongst different types. Flavour profiles range depending on the milk and sugar types and combinations.

Brownies made with white chocolate are generally called blondies.

If you are tempering white chocolate then follow this guide:

Melting Temperature 45C

Cooling Termperature 26-27C

Tempering Temperature 29-30 C

Courveture Chocolate

Courveture is French and means to literally cover. Chocolate makers use courveture as the higher cocoa butter content makes it easier to use when tempering and chocolate making. Because of its high cocoa butter content, courveture chocolate is predictably very well behaved for the chocolate maker.

Courveture is the chocolate to use if you are coating chocolates and want a very shiny appearance, smooth texture and great snap in your bonbon chocolates.

Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder is manufactured by pressing the cocoa butter out of the cocoa mass. Naturally this cocoa powder is red or brown in colour and is very acidic.

Alkalised or Dutch Cocoa has been treated with an alkali such as Potassium Carbonate to reduce the acidity of the natural cocoa powder. This process results in a more subtle flavour.

Neither Natural nor Dutch cocoa is better than the other. Importantly though, if you are baking a brownie or a chocolate cake and using a leavening agent, it’s important to consider the cocoa powder type. If your recipe calls for baking soda then for best results use Natural cocoa powder as the combination of acid in the cocoa powder and soda will create a leavening agent, assisting in cake rising. In recipes that call for baking powder use alkalised cocoa to assist in leavening.

Cocoa nibs

Cocoa nibs are produced once the cocoa bean has been roasted. They are little parts of the bean that have been roasted but not ground.  Their flavour is an intense, astringent, chocolate flavour. Their texture is nut like crunchy and they exhibit a range of flavours including  fruity, spicy and acid notes.

Cocoa nibs can easily be used as a replacement for nuts. We use them here at Dello Mano to crust around cakes and as cake toppings. They add a delicious texture and flavour to brownies and cakes.

Interestingly the cocoa nib can be used in both sweet and savoury foods.

Compound Chocolate

Commonly referred  to as “Compound Chocolate” this product is not chocolate at all. Compound ( let’s drop the chocolate) contains vegetable oil and no cocoa butter. It does not requre tempering and so is favoured by many home cooks due to its ease of use in the kitchen. It’s also used by manufacturers looking to cut costs. It

Just understanding the basics of chocolate will really assist you as you begin to use the various different chocolates in your brownies, chocolate cakes or chocolate gifts. It’s a little more effort for sure  to use real chocolate in your brownies or other baked goods. One thing is certain though and that’s that there’s nothing better than a brownie or chocolate cake or cookie or anything for that matter – that’s made using real chocolate.

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.



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