By Melissa Clark, The New York Times
You probably think you already know everything you need to know about chocolate.
For example: the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more bitter the chocolate is, right? The term "unique origin,quot; on the label indicates that chocolate expresses a particular terroir. And wasn't it all the bean movement to the bar started by a couple of bearded men in Brooklyn?
Incorrect; not necessarily; and definitely not.
Americans spend $ 21 billion on chocolate every year, but the fact that we eat a lot does not mean we know what we are eating. And misunderstandings in the store can make it especially difficult for chocolate lovers to discover which of the innumerable cheerfully wrapped bars that cram the shelves is the best to buy, both in terms of taste and ethics.
One thing that is clear is that more varieties of artisanal chocolates are offered than ever before, at prices that reach $ 55 a bar.
According to the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, premium chocolate sales grew 19% in 2018, compared to 0.6% for conventional chocolate like the classic Hershey bar. During the last decade, the number of small US producers of bean-to-bar chocolate, of the type with cocoa percentages and places of origin printed on those hyper-chic labels, has increased from approximately five to more than 250.
But while creativity and technical acuity in chocolate making have flourished, ethical and environmental concerns still affect the supply chain. Despite a 20-year effort to combat systemic poverty, child labor and endemic deforestation of the industry, these problems can get worse.
It may seem like a lot to think about choosing your chocolates for Valentine's Day, but here are answers to some basic questions that you may not even know you had.
How is chocolate made?
All chocolate, including white chocolate, begins with the fruit of the cocoa tree, a Seussian-looking equatorial plant with plump pods, full of potholes and ovoids that grow directly from the trunk.
Cocoa beans (also called cocoa beans) are the seeds that grow inside the pod, surrounded by fleshy and juicy fruit that tastes a bit like a mango crossed with a pear that carried a lychee. After harvest, beans are fermented for up to a week to develop their flavors and dried.
To make chocolate, dried beans are roasted, then cracked to separate the outer shells from the inner tips, which have a nutty, earthy taste and crunchy texture, and are excellent for adding to baked goods. The seeds are about half cocoa solids and half cocoa butter.
Chocolate makers grind the tips in what is called chocolate liquor or chocolate paste. This liquor is ground again, along with sugar and other ingredients that may include milk powder to make milk chocolate, lecithin to soften the texture or vanilla to flavor it. Sometimes, additional cocoa butter is mixed to give creaminess to dark chocolate or to soften the taste of sweet and sour chocolates without much added sugar. The objective of this second grind, called conching, is to reduce the size of the sugar and cocoa particles until they feel like satin in the tongue, a process that can take 24 to 72 hours. Then, the chocolate is tempered (heated and cooled to specific temperatures) so that it has a characteristic bright appearance and an agile texture. After that, you are ready to savor.
What is bean-to-bar chocolate?
Strictly speaking, all chocolate is from bar beans, just like all meals are essentially from the farm to the table. But like the chef who fanatically searches for all its ingredients, even the salt flakes that adorn its sustainable raw, chocolate bar-bean makers are obsessed with the character and ethical origins of their beans.
This is in stark contrast to conventional industrial chocolate, in which the grains are a commodity, bought in bulk by price, not by quality.
"If there are infested, moldy and terrible-looking beans mixed with the good ones," the big chocolate companies will buy them anyway, said John Scharffenberger, founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker in San Francisco. This is because large companies often mix so many other ingredients that the consumer will not taste any bad beans in the final product.
The best chocolate bar bean manufacturers (also called artisanal or micro chocolate manufacturers) choose beans in the same way that chefs choose tomatoes: obsessively, they often visit farms where beans are grown. Roast and grind the beans before turning them into chocolate bars.
Pastry chef and author David Lebovitz, who wrote "The Great Chocolate Book," compares bean chocolate with a bar with natural wine. "It's exciting and I live in a way that even normal chocolate really cool isn't," he said. "It may surprise you."
Who started the bean-to-bar madness?
The new wave of artisanal chocolate began with Scharffen Berger, founded in 1996 by Scharffenberger, a winemaker, and Robert Steinberg, who had studied at the famous Bernachon chocolate shop in Lyon, France.
"When we started, there were only nine companies grinding their own cocoa in the United States and they were all huge, except Guittard," Scharffenberger said, referring to Guittard Chocolate Co., also in the San Francisco area. "We were the first new chocolate maker on the scene in 150 years."
When Gary Guittard, the owner of the fourth generation of the company, tried some of Scharffen Berger's chocolate, he encouraged him to renew his own production, in some cases returning to the way his great grandfather made chocolate when the company started in 1868 .
"Scharffen Berger was the disruptor," Guittard said. “Tasting their chocolate was simply terrible for me. It opened my eyes to a world of flavors that had been present in our chocolates 50 years ago but that had been lost. We had to change everything to recover them. ”
Scharffen Berger was sold in 2005 to Hershey Co., which moved the operation to Illinois. But other small bar bean manufacturers quickly followed the example of Scharffen Berger. There are now more than 250 in the United States. And although Brooklyn, against popular belief, did not invent the bean-to-bar madness, it has several producers, including Kahkow, Cacao Prieto, Jacques Torres, Raaka and Fine & Raw.
Is a chocolate bar bean maker the same as a chocolate maker?
No. A bar bean maker makes chocolate with cocoa beans. A chocolate maker buys prefabricated chocolate, then melts it and combines it with other ingredients to make sweets like truffles or pralines. And this is not bad at all: the best chocolatiers buy excellent bean-bar chocolate as a starting point. (Many professional chocolatiers buy from Valrhona.) It's just that making chocolate and making chocolate candies are two different skill sets.
What is chocolate of unique origin?
To return to the wine analogy, many people think that cocoa beans of unique origin are like grapes from a vineyard, producing chocolate that expresses the nuances of that soil and harvests in particular in the same way as a wine.
And sometimes that is true. But with the same frequency, the beans labeled as of unique origin in, for example, Peru or Trinidad can come from small farms in different parts of that region, each farm with a different terroir, variety of cocoa beans and fermentation process.
"Unique origin is a flexible term," said Maricel Presilla, author of "The new taste of chocolate, revised: a cultural and natural history of cocoa with recipes." “It could refer to a specific farm known for a particular cultivar of fine cocoa. Or it could mean a larger region where they grow a mix of cultivars, some of which are of high quality and others are not. Just saying that a cocoa comes from Ecuador opens a can of worms because there are many genetic varieties. You can't be sure of what you get. "
That said, knowing the origin of a chocolate can tell you something general about its flavor. I discovered that chocolates made with fine Latin American beans tend to be complex. Some can be bright and fruity, with notes of dried apricots, fresh berries and dark fruits, while others taste like nuts or fresh herbs. West African chocolates are often more fluffy, sometimes dyed with flavors of coconut, raisins and coffee.
When buying chocolate of unique origin, Presilla's advice is to look for as many details as possible on the label, including the country and region, the farm or farm, and the genetic variety of cocoa. "It is a lot for the consumer to understand," he said, "but if the chocolate maker is transparent about it, it is a sign that they are putting thought and care on the bar."
What does the percentage of cocoa on the label mean?
The percentage of cocoa is the amount of cocoa mass (ground grains) present in the bar.
For something to be labeled as chocolate in the United States, it must have at least 10% cocoa mass. Most milk chocolate is 10% to 30% cocoa; most sweet and sour chocolates, from 35% to 55%. (For white chocolate, only cocoa butter is used, and it must constitute at least 20% of the bar).
Historically, the percentage of cocoa was printed on the back of the package in lowercase letters, if it was listed. But this had changed in 1986, when Valrhona presented its chocolate Guanaja, the first bar with a 70% cocoa content. And he said it right on the front of the label, which indicates a more intense bittersweet taste. Other chocolate makers quickly followed suit.
Here is the confusing part. While most people assume that the higher the percentage of cocoa, the more bitter the chocolate is, that is not always true. In some cases, 68% of a chocolate maker may have a more bitter taste than 74%.
This is because the percentage includes cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The solids are bitter, while the butter is soft and creamy. If a chocolate maker adds additional cocoa butter to produce a softer texture, the overall percentage of cocoa will increase, but the bitterness will not.
Carol Morse, owner of Acalli Chocolate in New Orleans, adds a small amount of cocoa butter to her dark Teapa 64% dark bar to complete the inherent roasted flavors of cocoa and make the chocolate a little creamier on the palate.
"I'm working with so few ingredients, so it's about balancing them," he told me in his workshop on the outskirts of New Orleans, where he hand wrapped the last batch of shiny brown bars in gold foil. Stacked in a corner, burlap bags of raw cocoa beans from Peru were waiting to be sorted, then roasted in a reused grill oven that was once used in a Walmart store. "A small amount of cocoa butter added can make a big difference."
What is direct trade cocoa?
One of the biggest ethical concerns about chocolate manufacturing is the cocoa supply chain. In the current system, the vast majority of cocoa beans are sold as a commodity regardless of quality. Because farmers are no longer paid for better beans, there is no incentive for them to plant cultivars with finer flavors. Nor would they have the money to do it. In West Africa, which grows 60% to 70% of the world's grains, many cocoa producers live below the poverty line, earning less than $ 1.90 per day.
Direct trade refers to beans that are purchased outside this system, most often directly from farmers or farmers' cooperatives. These grains are generally of higher quality, and farmers are paid between 50% and 300% more than the market price of cocoa. Currently, however, direct trade accounts for less than 1% of cocoa beans in the market.
While some chocolate manufacturers buy directly from farmers, most bar bean microentrepreneurs in the United States obtain beans from one of two direct-trade cocoa importers, Uncommon Cacao and Meridian Cacao. Both have strong social goals that include decent wages for farmers.
"Ninety percent of the world's cocoa is grown on 6 million small farms, and most farmers cannot survive on what they get paid," said Emily Stone, founder of Uncommon Cacao. "Our mission is to build a more equitable and transparent supply chain."
What about the ethics and environmental impact of chocolate production?
The last two decades have brought reports on the use of child labor, sometimes under dangerous conditions, on cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, and on the widespread destruction of forests in cocoa-growing regions throughout the world.
In 2001, consumer outrage had prompted major chocolate companies to commit to ending the worst forms of child labor in the cocoa industry. But laws were never passed in the United States to demand this (those same companies pressed against the legislation and annulled it). Reports have emerged that little has changed.
It is a similar story with environmental impact. In 2017, 34 chocolate companies agreed to end deforestation in their industry. But according to a 2018 report by the Mighty Earth environmental group, cocoa production continued to dazzle the forests, and the animals that live in them, at an alarming rate.
Even when the industry acts, top-down efforts can fail to take root. Both child labor and deforestation are part of the daily realities of systemic poverty that affects West Africa, said Kristy Leissle, founder of the Cocoapreneurship Institute of Ghana and author of the 2018 book "Cocoa."
To really improve the lives of farmers and their families, Leissle said, farmers must be included in the conversation. "Current initiatives have been imposed in Africa on European and North American people who are not engaged in the daily work of cocoa farming," he said. “The solutions must come from the cocoa industry in Africa. That's where the experience is. "
Cocoa, a shade-tolerant plant, can be grown under the forest canopy without drastic cleaning. And when grown sustainably, it can have a low carbon footprint.
Consumers looking for sustainably and ethically grown chocolate should analyze many labels and ask many questions. A good start is to look for Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance and organic certifications. These independent third party audits can be an important part of the process, even if they are only partially effective.
Many artisanal chocolate manufacturers do not seek certification. Instead, companies like Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco publish detailed sourcing reports on their websites, indicating where they buy their beans and for how much. "It's a transparency that goes beyond what fits on a label," said Greg D'Alesandre, owner of Dandelion.
"Everyone wants to be able to buy chocolate and go to heaven," said Presilla, "but the problems are complicated."
Chocolate Tahini Mousse
Performance: 6 to 8 servings
Total Time: 1 hour, colder
For the chocolate mousse:
- 1 cup / 240 milliliters of cold thick cream
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- A pinch of fine sea salt
- 5 ounces / 140 grams of extra bittersweet chocolate (about 70%), chopped
For the tahini mousse:
- 1/2 cup / 65 grams of powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup / 60 milliliters of tahini
- 1/3 cup / 80 milliliters of fresh cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- A pinch of fine sea salt
- 2/3 cup / 160 milliliters of thick cream
For candied cocoa beans (optional):
- 1/4 cup / 50 grams of sugar
- 1/2 cup / 60 grams of cocoa beans
- Flaky sea salt, to serve
1. Prepare the cream for the chocolate mousse: with an electric mixer equipped with a mixer or blenders, combine 3/4 cup of cream, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt. Beat medium firm peaks, then transfer the whipped cream to a bowl and refrigerate until you are ready to finish the mousse in Step 6.
2. Prepare the tahini mousse: In the same mixing bowl (it is not necessary to clean it), combine the powdered sugar, tahini, fresh cream, vanilla extract and salt. Beat all together until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat the cream slowly until the tahini foam thickens. It will be thinner than whipped cream, but it should still be piled up in a spoon. Refrigerate while you finish preparing the chocolate mousse.
4. Place the chocolate in a small bowl. Melt in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring after each burst. Heat an inch of water in a medium saucepan over medium high heat until simmering. (Alternatively, place the chocolate in a large heat-resistant bowl and place it over the boiling water. Stir the chocolate occasionally with a silicone spatula until it melts.)
5. Remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the pot. Pour the rest of 1/4 cup of cream and let stand for 1 minute. Beat until smooth.
6. Using a rubber spatula, double 1/3 of the whipped cream prepared in the chocolate mixture, then fold the remaining whipped cream.
7. Gently fold the tahini mousse into the chocolate mousse, leaving visible stripes. Place the mixture in bowls or molds and cool until firm, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
8. While preparing the mousse, prepare the candied cocoa tips (if using them): heat the oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper edge. In a small pot, boil the sugar and 1/4 cup / 60 milliliters of water, and simmer, stirring, until the sugar melts completely, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cocoa beans.
9. Spread the tips in a uniform layer on a prepared baking sheet. Bake until dry and crispy, about 20 minutes, stirring in half. Let cool completely.
10. With a spoon, pour the tips, if using, on top of the mousse, sprinkle with flaky sea salt and serve.
Flavors of cocoa bean with flaky sea salt
Performance: About 2 dozen
Total Time: 1 hour, more cooling and setting
- 1 cup / 225 grams of European-style salted butter (2 bars), at room temperature
- 3/4 cup / 95 grams of powdered sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 1/2 cups / 320 grams of all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup / 65 grams of cocoa beans or mini chocolate chips
- 2 ounces sweet and sour chocolate, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon coconut oil
- Flaky sea salt
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer equipped with the paddle attachment or beaters, beat the butter and powdered sugar until it is soft and fluffy. Beat the egg yolk, vanilla and fine sea salt until combined. Beat the flour until combined, then fold the cocoa beans.
2. Shape the dough into a 1-inch thick disk, wrap it in a plastic wrap and cool for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
3. Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick, then cool the dough for at least 30 minutes or until firm.
4. Place the grills in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
5. Use a 2-inch round cutter to cut the cookies and transfer them to lined trays. Rewind and cut the remains.
6. Bake the cookies until they are swollen and golden, 18 to 25 minutes, turning and changing the trays on the grids in half. Chill the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer them to the racks to finish cooling completely.
7. Place the sweet and sour chocolate in a small bowl with coconut oil. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring after each burst. Alternatively, place the bowl over a pot of boiling water and stir until the chocolate is soft and melted.
8. With a fork, sprinkle the chocolate over the cooled cookies. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt while the chocolate is still melted. Let stand at least an hour or two before serving cookies. Or store it in an airtight container, between layers of parchment or wax paper, for up to 3 days.
Sweet and Sour Brownie Sweet Cake
Performance: 32 bars
Total Time: 1 1/2 hours, more cooling
For the shortbread:
- 1 1/2 cups / 340 grams of cold unsalted butter (3 bars), cut into 1/2 inch pieces, plus more to grease the pan
- 3 cups / 385 grams of all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup / 150 grams of sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
For the brownie:
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 1/4 bars)
- 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
- 1 1/4 cups / 265 grams of light brown sugar
- 1 cup / 200 grams of sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon / 45 grams of cocoa powder
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups / 190 grams of all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3/4 cup / 90 grams of sliced almonds, chopped nuts or walnuts (optional)
- Flaky sea salt
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and cover with parchment paper so that a 2-inch ledge is left on both long sides.
2. Prepare the sweet bread: In the bowl of an electric mixer equipped with a paddle attachment or beaters, mix the flour, sugar and salt. Beat the butter at low speed until the dough comes together but crumbles a bit. (Or gather the ingredients in a food processor).
3. Press the dough into the prepared pan. Prick the dough with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven. Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
4. When baking butter cookies, prepare the brownie: place the butter and chocolate in a large bowl. Melt in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring after each burst, until smooth. (Alternatively, place the bowl over a pot of boiling water over low heat and heat the chocolate and butter, stirring until soft and melted.) Add the sugars and cocoa powder until smooth, then mix the eggs and vanilla.
5. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and sea salt. Beat in the chocolate mixture until there are no remains of flour. Fold the nuts, if you use them. Spread the mixture on the hot base of butter cookies. Sprinkle lightly but evenly with flaky sea salt.
6. Bake until the top is firm, the center is smooth and the edges begin to separate from the pan, 23 to 28 minutes. (A stick inserted in the center will be sticky). Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Cut into bars before serving.
And for drink …
As Valentine's Day approaches, wine and chocolate have a way of meeting as lovers whose attraction transcends their commitments. They don't belong together, but they can't help it. This is a couple dictated by mood and opportunity instead of rationality, so drink what you like best and don't worry. If you care what wine combines well with chocolate, a small set of fortified wines surpasses all others. It includes Madeira, which is simply wonderful, and some lesser-known wines, Maury, Banyuls and Rivesalts, collectively known as vins doux naturels, which can be even better. Puerto and Marsala can also work well. I'm not a fan of red wine and chocolate, but if that's what you prefer, look for large reds and port, an extravagant zinfandel, for example, or an Amarone.
– Eric Asimov
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