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All About Chocolate

December 8, 2010

General, Recipe Ideas

As I sit at my desk this December morning, the thermometer tells me its 12 degrees outside. Snow is on the ground and there’s ice on the sidewalks. Yet I’m in a festive holiday mood because I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to make with chocolate this weekend. I know that no matter what I make, someone is going to be excited to try it. No one is on a diet yet and with Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips and Dark Chocolate Boom CHOCO Boom™ Bars, even those who usually can’t eat chocolate can dig in without worry. Because it is made in a dedicated nut, soy and gluten-free facility, and has only three ingredients (cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, and sugar) it is safe for those who are allergic to the rest of the Big 8.

Unless you actually have a chocolate or sugar allergy, eating a nice bar of chocolate or a handful of chocolate chips shouldn’t be a problem. In its most basic form, chocolate is produced by the picking, fermenting, roasting, winnowing, and grinding of cocoa beans. The cocoa beans are then sweetened with sugar and optionally flavored with other ingredients like vanilla, then conched (blended) and tempered, and made into bars. Chocolate is as simple or as complex as you want to make it.

When a cocoa bean is ground, it produces two components that can be mechanically separated – cocoa liquor and cocoa butter. Just to add to the confusion, the cocoa liquor isn’t alcoholic and the cocoa butter isn’t made from dairy. They’re just terms that the industry uses to describe the defatted cocoa mass or solid (the “liquor”) and the fat (the “butter”).  When a manufacturer makes chocolate from simply grinding beans and adding flavor and sugar, the method is called “bean-to-bar.” Bean-to-bar manufacturers are mostly small specialty companies producing high-end chocolate bars that fetch a premium price in the store. Only a small percentage of chocolate that is produced today is bean-to-bar and those manufacturers proudly trumpet this fact on their labels.

What makes many chocolates unsafe for more sensitive consumers are two things: the addition of soy lecithin and the presence of nuts in the plant where the chocolate is prepared into bars. Lecithin isn’t a necessary ingredient in chocolate, but its use allows manufacturers to more easily blend (or “emulsify”) ingredients that would otherwise behave like oil and water. It also allows them to reduce the amount of cocoa butter in their chocolate bar and replace it with other vegetable fats, if desired, in order to save money. At Enjoy Life, we think chocolate bars should be made with 100% cocoa butter, so we add a little more to our recipes to get them to emulsify (blend) without soy lecithin. We think it makes the chocolate taste better!

Nuts are a bigger problem for most chocolate makers. Our chocolate room is completely nut-free, and our ingredients are stored away from potential allergens and wrapped up to keep them safe for everyone. There has never been a nut in our plant or on our equipment and there never will be.

Sometimes when you buy a chocolate bar or chocolate chips, you’ll notice a white “bloom” on the surface of the chocolate, which looks a little like mold. This is called chocolate bloom and happens when the fat from the cocoa butter separates from the chocolate liquor, and rises to the surface of the bar or chip (or truffle!). This doesn’t impact the quality of the chocolate bar at all and often happens when chocolate is stored in improperly warm temperatures. When the chocolate is melted and used in a recipe, the bloom goes away. It will come back if you are making your own chocolates and don’t temper the chocolate first, but it isn’t anything to worry about.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get started on my holiday baking and candy making. I have a great idea for some dairy-free caramel truffles that I’ll drench in a layer of melted and tempered Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, and some salted buttery caramels that I’ll flavor with our chocolate. Yum!


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