All you need to know about chocolate

chocolate bonbons(photo: chocolate bonbons)

Introduction to chocolate

Chocolate is a unique and sensitive ingredient. It is extremely important to understand how to work with it, since it is used on many pastries in many forms. You must know how to melt, temper, handle and store chocolate especially if you are interested in entering the field of making chocolate bonbons. 

Chocolate begins with the cacao bean (cocoa bean) extracted from the cacao tree. When the cocoa bean is crushed, it results in cocoa liquor which is simply stated unsweetened chocolateCocoa solids refers to cocoa powder, without any cocoa butter. Once the cocoa liquor is pressed, cocoa butter is extracted from the cocoa bean. The greater the amount of cocoa butter in the chocolate, the richer the quality of the chocolate. 

Natural vs Acidic cocoa powder

Cocoa powder is derived by squeezing out the cocoa butter from the cocoa liquor, although cocoa powder does contain some cocoa butter. Dutch processed cocoa powder is cocoa powder that has been treated with an alkaline solution to lower its acidity. 

Natural cocoa powder is acidic, by nature, while natural cocoa powder that has been Dutch-processed, turns alkaline. If using natural cocoa powder (which is acidic) in a chocolate cake recipe,  you need to use an a alkaline ingredient, like baking soda, in order to release carbon dioxide gas, to leaven a cake.

Chocolate quality vs price

Tempering chocolate

To make different types of chocolate, different proportions of cocoa powder and cocoa butter are re-blended. There is a direct relationship between chocolate quality and price. The chocolate quality is directly proportional to the amount of cocoa butter added to the chocolate. As more cocoa butter is added to the chocolate, the more pricey the chocolate will be. 

Temperature and chocolate

Chocolate is very sensitive to changes in temperature so it must be handled extremely carefully. The chocolate must be reheated slowly either over a bain-marie (hot water bath) or in a proofer, with a thermometer in place. You may also use a microwave but you must heat it in 10 second intervals, especially if you are melting small amounts of chocolate. 

Things to avoid when working with chocolate

Two things that chocolate does not get along with are;

  • small amount of liquids especially droplets of water
  • Direct heat

Either one can seize the chocolate making it unworkable. Due to the fact that chocolate is oil-based (consists of cocoa butter) it is this reason that a drop of water in the chocolate will seize the chocolate; oil and water don't mix.

One the other hand, adding large amounts of liquid(s) in the chocolate does not harm it. For example adding cream to chocolate to make Ganache. Adding a relatively large amount of liquid to chocolate moistens all the chocolate simultaneously preventing the chocolate from seizing. 

One more thing to watch out for. Never add cold liquids to warm melted chocolate. This will cause the chocolate to seize. Always warm up the liquid before adding it to the chocolate.

Can you add liqueurs to chocolate?

Directly in chocolate, no. Adding liqueurs to a chocolate mixture, yes; eg; ganache.

What is chocolate couverture?

Chocolate couverture is chocolate that contains a higher percentage of cocoa butter in relation to other lower quality chocolates. 

How do you know if the chocolate is couverture chocolate?

Read the ingredients on the box. If it contains cocoa butter it is couverture chocolate. If it contains oil, it is NOT couverture chocolate.

How to chop chocolate?

Use a chef’s knife to cut the chocolate into hazelnut-size pieces. Start by chipping off pieces from one corner of the chocolate, working your way inwards. Cutting chocolate in small chunks helps melt the chocolate quickly and evenly all throughout. 

Why temper chocolate?

Tempering is only necessary if you wish to use the chocolate as a coating on a dessert, or when making individual chocolate candies using molds, like bonbons. In such cases, couverture chocolate must be used. Properly tempered couverture chocolate will give the desired glossy chocolate finish. 

Couverture chocolate that you buy, has already been tempered once. The couverture chocolate’s ability to be tempered comes from the fact that couverture chocolate contains cocoa butter, which helps the chocolate achieve the proper 'crystal formation' (molecule alignment). All fat molecules of the cocoa butter do not melt at the same temperature. This is why a specific procedure must be followed to properly temper couverture chocolate.  

If you temper too much chocolate, don't worry, it does not go to waste. It can be re-tempered the next day.

Improperly tempered chocolate will show visible white streaks on the chocolate and the final product will have a dull appearance. 

If the final temperature of the chocolate is exceeded, you must start tempering the chocolate from the beginning. 

Equipment needed for tempering chocolate

All you need to temper chocolate at home is an stainless steel pot, a metal bowl, a thermometer and a rubber spatula. Alternatively a proofer would be of great help.

How to temper chocolate

If you have a proofer, simply set the temperature to the desired final temperature of the chocolate. For example, if you are melting dark chocolate, set the temperature to about 28 deg. C.

If you don't have a proofer, you will have to temper the chocolate by hand, as shown below.

Guidelines for tempering chocolate
Stage 1
Stage 2 
Stage 3 

Procedure for tempering chocolate

To temper chocolate follow the guidelines from the table above or even better follow the chocolate manufacturer's instructions found in the back of the box. Each box of couverture chocolate, has a crystallization chart on the reverse side of the box. Simply follow those temperature guidelines to properly temper that particular chocolate.

What we are about to describe next, is to be used as a guideline or a rule of thumb for tempering chocolate.

Stage 1

Gently melt over a bain marie (hot water bath) that is barely simmering, about 2/3 of the total amount of couverture chocolate you wish to use (1cm discs) to 48 deg. C for dark couverture chocolate, to 46 deg.C for milk chocolate,to 45deg. C for white chocolate. Stir occasionally during the melting stage. You do not need to exactly follow these temperatures, but instead check to see if the chocolate is melted. For example, if the chocolate is melted at 42 deg. C, you do not need to continue heating the dark chocolate to the range specified above (45-50deg. C). Simply seed1 the chocolate with a lesser amount.

Stage 2

Once you have reached the proper temperature as specified in stage 1, this is the point where you will begin seeding the melted chocolate. What does this means? Simply add the remaining 1/3 of the couverture chocolate pieces to the already melted chocolate of stage 1. You do this in order to cool down the chocolate to the temperature specified in the table above, according to the chocolate you are using. You must stir continuously until all chocolate disks are melted and the temperature of the chocolate lowers to the specified temperature shown in table above. If the chocolate has reached the right temperature, but you still have chocolate disks that are not melted, you may place the bowl of chocolate over a bain marie for 10 second intervals at a time. Continue stirring until all chocolate is melted. 

Stage 3

In this stage you will need to reheat the chocolate  to the specified temperature without going over. If you go over that specified temperature, you will have to begin the complete procedure from scratch, redoing all 3 stages from the beginning. At this point you must practice estimating the chocolate temperature using your little finger (pinky). As a beginner you may first use your little finger to feel and guess what the temperature is, and right afterwards use a digital thermometer to check if the actual temperature is as close to your guess.

Once the temperature of the couverture chocolate reaches the final temperature, the chocolate should be ready for use. However, how do you know if the chocolate is properly tempered?

How to test if chocolate has been properly tempered?

Once the temperature of the couverture chocolate has reached the final temperature, you need to test the chocolate to see if the it has been properly tempered, before using it. Cut a 1x2" parchment paper and dip one side of it into the tempered chocolate, and let it sit for about 2 minutes on the worktable. If the chocolate sets within 2 minutes, the chocolate has been properly tempered. If the chocolate does not set, even after 5 minutes, the chocolate is either too hot or not been properly tempered; you must restart the complete process from the beginning.

If you see white streaks on the chocolate, once it dries, it has not been tempered properly.

Making decorations using tempered chocolate

decorations using tempered chocolate

Making cigarettes 

Pour the tempered chocolate (32deg. C) over a marble surface, about 1-2-inches wide and about 1 ½ feet long.

Thin the chocolate using an offset spatula. Finger of left hand should be pushing down on the end of the offset spatula, while spreading the chocolate. Thin the tempered chocolate to about 2mm thickness.

Wait about 10-20 seconds or until the chocolate begins to set. If you lightly rub your index finger on the chocolate without any chocolate sticking to your finger, the chocolate has set enough to immediately begin making cigarettes. If you wait longer than that, the chocolate will set and you will not be able to make cigarettes.

If after spreading the chocolate the surface of the chocolate seems dry but the inside of the chocolate looks wet, the chocolate has not been tempered properly. You must re-temper the chocolate from the beginning.

Hold a spatula at about 30 degrees from the working surface, and using your left hand push down on the middle edge of the spatula. Quickly scrape off about 2 inches of the chocolate.

Once a thin cigarette has formed on the spatula, simply roll it off onto the marble surface to give you a tighter cigar. Do NOT lift it off the spatula using your fingers, or it may be deformed or even melt.

If you have no success in making chocolate cigarettes, there is a very good chance that the spatula you are using is no good. Try another spatula. A 4-inch spatula found in hardware stores is best. The edge of the spatula should be very thin. 

Leaving the cigarettes in the fridge for 48 hours will give the cigarettes a harder texture, and a higher melting point.


1 - Seeding is when you add unmelted couverture chocolate to the melted couverture chocoalate in order to bring down the temperature of the couverture chocolate to the proper range.

Cocoa nibs is the inner part of the cocoa bean when the outer shell is removed.

cocoa mass = unsweetened chocolate = cocoa liquor 

Bloomed chocolate - Bloomed chocolate is chocolate that has been stored to improper temperatures causing the chocolate to have a whitish coating on the surface. This chocolate can be repaired by re-tempering the chocolate and seeding it with some fresh chocolate. Bloomed chocolate is still safe to eat, but may have a dull appearance and texture.


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Small personal-size cakes

In French pastry, there are a lot of personal size cakes that are categorized according to their size, assembly or ingredients.

All small size-cakes fall into the category called petits fours. Literal translation of petits four is 'small oven'. We'll start by explaining the sub-categories of petits fours. 


miniandrise french dessert example

Miniardise are desserts that are the smallest of them all in terms of size. They are one-bite size. Examples of Miniardises are mini tartlets, truffles, marshmallows, etc.

Petits fours sec

petits fours sec

Petits fours sec are a sub-category of petits fours. They are desserts that are two-bite size that are dry, for example, cookies, macarons, etc.

Petits fours frais

petits four frais 

The Petits fours frais initially are very large cakes. These cakes are baked in a large tray. Once baked, they are sub-divided into 6 large portions of desired size using cake rings (round or square, etc). Each of these six portions is assembled individually resulting to the final product. Each of these finished products is further sub-divided into small-size portions of one to two size bites called Petits fours frais. Petits fours frais are slightly larger in size than miniardise; they are 2-bite size desserts.

Petits fours glacé

Some Petits fours frais are dipped into chocolate couverture or white fondant. They are called Petits fours glacé.

Petit gateaux

petits fours frais

Petit gateaux are slightly larger than petits fours frais. Examples of petit gateaux are desserts that are made with pate à choux batter, like eclairs or religieuses, fruit tartlets, etc.





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Introduction to making bread

Chemical reactions involved when making bread

basic tools for making bread

Bread making is an art of its own. The wheat grain is where everything begins. Mixing ingredients to make bread involves many chemical reactions that take place in order to give you the final product.

Bread making involves 3 stages;

  • Gluten development.
  • Gluten and starch break down.
  • Yeast by-products.

Gluten development.

developing the gluten by mixing 

Wheat is the grain from which flour is derived. The wheat grain consists of the bran (outer skin), the germ and the endosperm (gluten protein). Gluten (which is a type of protein) develops in flour when the flour gets hydrated with a liquid (eg; water). What we mean by this is that gluten does not exist in flour, prior to adding a liquid to the flour.

Once flour gets hydrated with water (or other liquids) and is mixed for a certain amount of time, smaller proteins (glutenin and gliadin) join together to develop a larger protein called gluten (complex protein). The higher the gluten in flour, the more water is absorbed by the flour. The dough must be mixed just enough (not too much or too little) to maximize gluten development.

The gluten amount depends on the kind of wheat (soft, hard, spring or winter) used in the flour. Wheat flour is classified by the amount of gluten protein (endosperm) it contains. Most popular flours starting from flours with the least amount of gluten, are; cake flour, pastry flour, all-purpose flour and bread flour.

How do you know that the gluten is fully developed from kneading the dough? The gluten is sufficiently developed when you can stretch a piece from the raw dough to a thin see-through layer, without breaking. Do not continue mixing dough any further or you may overdevelop the gluten resulting in inferior bread. One should stop kneading, when the raw bread dough has an internal temperature of about 85deg.C. The high-gluten flours require more mixing time to fully develop the gluten.

Gluten and starch break down

Once the gluten has developed, the gluten and the starches from the flour must be broken down into simple sugars. Some simple sugars are available in the flour, but they are not enough to give rise to the bread. The majority of the simple sugars needed by the yeast are derived from the flour’s starch molecules. The gluten (and starch) breakdown into simple sugars results from enzymes that are found in the flour and in the yeast. It is those enzymes that begin the chemical reaction, breaking down of the starches and the gluten.

Amylase is one of the enzymes that acts as a catalyst or another words causes a chemical reaction. Specifically, the chemical reaction of the amylase is to break down the flour’s starch molecules (complex carbohydrates) or proteins (gluten) into food (simple sugars such as; glucose) that the yeast can digest.

Feeding the yeast

The end result of the breakdown of the gluten and the starches is simple sugars.

While some enzymes present in the yeast, break down the starch and complex proteins of the flour into glucose molecules (simple sugar), others enzymes present in the yeast feed from the glucose molecules to produce carbon dioxide gas (CO2) and ethanol. It is the expansion of the CO2 gas that causes the bread dough to rise. When the yeast breaks down the sugars, it causes more flavor to be released from the wheat.  The rising of the dough due to the carbon dioxide gaz, is called fermentation. The ethanol evaporates when the bread is baked.

An average time for the first fermentation is about 60-90 minutes. A longer fermentation period is required when the dough does not contain any milk, eggs, sugar or fat. You can slow down fermentation (retard fermentation) by placing the dough in the fridge.

That’s why if you use too much yeast in the dough, it will eat up all the sugars prematurely ending up with a bread that has an alcohol off taste.

These gases (CO2) form air pockets in the dough and expand during baking. The air pockets in the bread are large upon initial mixing, and become smaller as mixing continues. The mixing time in turn determines the texture of the bread. The dough structure around the air cells becomes hard when baked, giving a solid structure to the baked bread.

Breads that contain milk and/or sugar and/or eggs are considered enriched doughs. These type of doughs do not need long fermentation times, because the flavor comes from the fat, milk, eggs, and sugar. Also the baking temperature should be lower for enriched doughs as compared to lean doughs, like french baguette.

Enhancing the flavor of breads

rustic bread

In order to enhance the flavor of breads, especially lean breads (breads that contain no fat, sugar, milk, or eggs), you may use a bread ‘starter’ using yeast, called yeast starter OR a sourdough starter using wild yeast. The starter dough is simply part of the bread recipe that is made the day before, giving the yeast sufficient time to fully develop the gluten to maximize bread flavor. The starters contribute a lot of flavor due to the extended fermentation period of the dough.

Anotherwords to enhance the flavor of the bread, you need to use pre-ferments. What are pre-ferments? These are simple doughs that are prepared the day before. What do pre-ferments do? They enhance the flavor and texture of the bread, when mixed with the raw bread dough. One advantage of using pre-ferments is that the amount of yeast needed in a bread recipe is reduced.

You have two types of pre-ferments;

  • Yeast starters or yeast pre-ferments
  • Sourdough starters or sourdough pre-ferments


 For more information on the subject, and the exact quantity of ingredients used, see our step by step video tutorials on how to make bread.



Bran - inhibits gluten development.

Dough conditioners - Dough conditioners are used to strengthen the gluten.

Fat - Fat prevents the formation of gluten development, because fat surrounds the smaller protein molecules which prevents them from getting hydrated with water, which in turn prevents gluten development.

Fruit juices - Give softness to the dough due to their acidity pH level.

Milk - inhibits gluten development.

Salt - Salt works against the yeast, by slowing down fermentation. That’s why salt and yeast should not come in contact with each other.  Avoid direct contact of yeast and salt, because the salt will kill the yeast. Salt also strengthens the gluten making it more elastic. Without any salt in the dough, the gluten would be weak giving an inferior texture to the bread.

Sugar - Sugar prevents gluten development, because sugar absorbs the water that is needed to hydrate the flour.

Simple sugars - Simple sugars are converted to carbon dioxide and alcohol (ethanol) by the yeast.

Water - Amount of water used in a dough determines the hardness or softness of the bread dough. Using warm water gives the baker control of the dough temperature.

Gluten - Gives structure to bread, another words gives firmness and chewyness.

pH of water - pH level is the measure of acidity or alkalinity of water. At about room temperature the pH of pure water is about 7, where 0 is strongly acidic and 14 is strongly alkaline. For best gluten development the water should be slightly acidic (6). To alter the pH level of water you may use fruit juices to lower the pH level or make the pH level acidic or baking soda to raise the pH level or make the pH level alkali.

Water hardness - refers to the mineral content of water. High mineral content in water is referred to as hard water, while soft water refers to low mineral content. Hard water filters through deposits of calcium and magnesium-containing minerals such as limestone (Wikipedia). The harder the water the higher the pH level of water. Hard water results in a dough that is very elastic and hard to work with. 

Yeast - Yeast feeds on simple sugars and produces carbon dioxide gas (CO2) which is what makes the dough rise, called fermentation. Yeast dies at 60deg. C. At this point it stops producing carbon dioxide gas.


Coagulation - refers to the hardening of the gluten when baked which gives the end result of a firm bread structure.

Crust - Crust is the exterior surface of a baked bread.

Crumb - Crumb is the interior of a baked bread.

Fermentation - When the yeast feeds on simple sugars and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, which causes the rising of the dough, this is called fermentation

Hydration - The process of combining a substance with water. Water is essential for the formation of gluten in flour.

Proofing – final fermentation of the bread dough.

Gluten – Gluten is the protein that develops once the flour is hydrated with a liquid.

Proofing the yeast – This is when you hydrate the yeast with a bit of water and a pinch of sugar and wait to see if it will foam up within a few minutes. If it does, the yeast is active and may be used in the recipe. If it does not foam up, it means that the yeast is no good and should be discarded.


Poorly kneaded bread will translate to a heavy and dense dough. This is because not enough carbon dioxide gas was trapped into the dough in order to form sufficient air pockets in the dough.

 Over-fermented dough results in poor bread texture.






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Meringue types and their uses

 Meringues are delicious desserts that mainly comprise of egg whites and sugar. The trick in making them is in beating the egg whites and adding the sugar syrup at the right temperature so that the dish stays in a single semi-solid state when it is served. The difficult part about making a meringue is getting the consistency right. First, you will have to get through the entire process of how to beat eggs efficiently to get the perfect peaks. One small error and you will find yourself repeating the entire process. Once you get the hang of whisking the egg whites to the right consistency, the rest is rather easy. Keep in mind that you cannot use a sugar substitute or an artificial sweetener to make your meringue. The dish can only be made when you use actual sugar, as it is vital to the composition of the dessert, and the reactions that take place in order to achieve the texture and taste. 

The French meringue

piping french meringue cookies

The most commonly made meringue is the French meringue. Most home cooks follow this recipe, as it is easy, and quick. To make a French meringue, all you have to do is beat the sugar into the egg whites while you search for the required consistency. Once you are done, you can make different cookie shapes to make your dessert look fancier. To get the slightly crunchy feel to the meringue, you will have to bake it very lightly. You may also sprinkle some roasted almonds on top of each raw cookie, just before baking. This dish melts in your mouth if made perfectly. Perfection in making french meringue cookies depends on two factors;

  • baking temperature
  • length of baking time

WARNING: French meringue is NOT intended to be eaten as is on top of desserts. Why? It consists of raw egg whites. The raw egg whites could contain a bacteria known as Salmonella which can result in food poisoning.

The Swiss meringue

 how to make swiss meringue

The Swiss meringue is slightly more complicated than the French one. Here, you will have to perform the same basic process. However, you will be doing it over a double boiler, so that the egg whites are warmed while you whisk them. Once you are done with this, you will have to whisk them again, without the boiler this time, and allow the whites to cool. Later you may bake lightly to get a slightly crunchy feel.

The Italian meringue

thermometer reading for Italian meringue

An Italian meringue is probably the most stable form of the dessert. In this case, you will be beating sugar syrup that is boiling hot into the egg whites. Other meringues require you to use powdered sugar. Here, the boiling syrup stabilizes the dish, making it easy to use even without having to cook it. You could use this for multiple purposes, but for a meringue, you will have to bake it for a little while.

For more information on the subject, and the exact quantity of ingredients used, see our step by step video tutorials on meringue types and their uses.



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