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The Chocolate Files

When chocolate first found its way to Europe (via Spain) it was praised for its medicinal virtues. It was believed that chocolate could cure fever, tuberculosis and liver disease. It was pitched as an aphrodisiac that aided conception, eased childbirth and improved the complexion.

Recent studies have confirmed that chocolate can be good for your health. The consumption of dark chocolate has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Cacao, the active ingredient in chocolate, also contains anti-oxidants and minerals, and is also believed to release serotonin in the brain.

Unfortunately, as the taste for sugar has developed, the percentage of cacao in chocolate has decreased. Chocolate has become more palatable, cheaper to manufacture yet less nutritious.

Try to avoid chocolate bars that are heavy in sugars and cheap vegetable fats; these bars will only serve to expand your waistline. Instead seek chocolate that has a percentage of cocoa solids that is between 70 and 80 percent. That way you can indulge in the delightful knowledge that not only will you feel better for it, your body will thank you too.

Manufacturing process -

Cacao seeds are first roasted and then ground. The mass that emerges from this process is known as chocolate liquor. It is the primary ingredient in chocolate. Cocoa butter is the fat component of the cacao seed that is expelled during production. The solid residue that is left behind after the cacao bean has been processed is known as cocoa.

“Dutch-processed” cocoa has been treated with an alkaline solution and is best for culinary purposes.

Varieties of chocolate -

Dark chocolate is distinguished by its high percentage of cocoa solids. It is made with cocoa butter, cocoa liquor and sugar. Sometimes vanilla is added. It has a bitter taste and a high percentage of cocoa solids.

Milk chocolate is made with cocoa butter and cocoa liquor enhanced with milk solids or cream as well as sugar.

White chocolate is not, by definition, a chocolate at all. Instead it is a concoction of milks solids, sugar, vanilla and cocoa butter.

Melting chocolate –

Chocolate turns from a solid to a liquid very quickly. It is also notoriously easy to burn and, when burnt, will become grainy, dry and crumbly.

To melt chocolate in a saucepan break it into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl suspended over a small saucepan of just simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Also, make sure the flame is not licking the sides of the saucepan as this will heat the bowl directly and also burn the chocolate. Stir constantly and remove the heatproof bowl as soon as all the chocolate has melted.

If melting chocolate in a microwave use short 30 second bursts on low power.

Check out some of our delicious, simple chocolate recipes including -

Nigella Lawson's delicious Old-fashioned Chocolate Cake

Bill Granger's unctuous Chocolate Self-saucing Pudding

Jamie Oliver's simple Chocolate Fridge Cake

Neil Perry's classic Chocolate Cake


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