Cocoa beans are the fruit of the theobroma cacao tree. They are cleaned and dried, then crushed to remove their shells. The remaining cocoa nibs are then roasted and finely ground, rendering liquid cocoa liquor. Cocoa liquor, sometimes referred to as the “essence of chocolate,” is made up of cocoa butter (the fat component) and cocoa powder. It does not contain alcohol.
Dark Chocolate is made with cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and sugar. The higher the percentage of cocoa liquor, the darker the chocolate and the less sugar it contains.
Bittersweet Chocolate is a very lightly sweetened dark chocolate. It is less sweet than semisweet, but the two can be used interchangeably.
Semisweet Chocolate is a dark chocolate with more sugar than bittersweet, yet less than in chocolate candy. It is commonly used in baking.
Milk Chocolate contains milk or milk powder. It is more sweet, creamy and mellow in flavor.
White Chocolate is made with cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder. It is white because of the absence of cocoa liquor, or cocoa solids.
Dip and drizzle
The safest way to melt chocolate for dipping it is to use a double-boiler. If you don’t have a double-boiler, you can easily assemble one with a heat-proof metal bowl that rests on top of a sauce pan.
Heat a few inches of water in the pan. Place chopped chocolate in top of double-boiler or the metal bowl, making sure it doesn’t touch the water in the pan. Stir occasionally until chocolate melts. Don’t boil the water. If too much steam is coming up around the bowl, reduce the heat. Steam can condense and drip water into the chocolate, causing it to seize up.
Once chocolate is melted, you can use it for dipping or drizzling just about anything, including the following:
- Fresh fruit: Satsuma or orange sections, strawberries, apple wedges, sliced kiwi.
- Dried fruits: Apricots, pineapple, dates, papaya.
- Cookies: Drizzle over macaroons, shortbread or rolled cookies. Dip half a biscotti, peanut butter or chocolate chip cookie.
- Frozen Bananas: Cut peeled bananas in half; insert popsicle stick in each half. Freeze for 15 minutes. Dip in melted chocolate, then roll in chopped nuts or other toppings. Freeze until chocolate is firm.
- Miscellaneous: Dip or drizzle pretzels, graham crackers, marshmallows, rice crispy treats or nuts.