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Use and Handling of Chocolate

General Guidelines

While detailed knowledge of chocolate manufacturing is not essential for confectionery success, knowing how to handle and store chocolate is. The basic guidelines for handling chocolate are rather simple: always keep chocolate away from moisture and excessive heat; these are the two factors that destroy chocolate more rapidly than all others. Also, chocolate should be stored in a cool, dark place, away from strong odours that can taint its flavour, at a constant temperature between 12 and 20°C. Always ensure that the packaging used to store chocolate is properly closed.

A very small amount of moisture in chocolate will noticeably increase its viscosity, making it unacceptable for dipping or enrobing. When melting chocolate, be careful not to allow excess steam to develop, which will interface with the surface of the chocolate, moistening it and increasing the viscosity. When working with chocolate, always be certain that all utensils and surfaces are dry. Chocolate that has been exposed to moisture may still be used in some applications, such as chocolate caramels or chocolate fudge, but should not be used for dipping or enrobing.

Excessive heat will cause chocolate to form grains and to thicken. Dark chocolate should not be heated over 50 Celsius. Milk and white chocolate are especially vulnerable to damage from heat, due to the milk solids they contain; to prevent damage, do not heat them over 40 Celsius. When melting small quantities of chocolate, it is important to chop it finely, melt it over a warm bain marie, and stir it as it melts. The chocolate must be chopped in order to ensure that it melts evenly and quickly without overheating. The water bath should be warm, not boiling. A boiling water bath will not only introduce the hazard of steam, but will also overheat the chocolate in the bottom of the bowl; stirring ensures that the chocolate will melt evenly without overheating. An alternative method for melting chocolate is the very gentle dry heat of a melter. These devices can be set for the desired temperature, and the chocolate left overnight to melt, without having to be chopped beforehand or stirred while melting, making the melters the easiest way to melt larger quantities of chocolate.

Work Environment

All work with chocolate should be carried out in a temperature-controlled, low-humidity environment. Although various steps of confectionery production may be best accomplished at different temperatures, most artisan confectioners do not have the luxury of having more than one temperature-controlled room for chocolate work. For general chocolate work, including crystallization of the finished pieces, an ambient temperature of 20 Celsius is appropriate with a humidity level of 45 to 50 percent. Temperature significantly higher than this will cause the chocolate to crystallize too slowly. Temperatures that are much lower will result in rapid cooling and an increase of viscosity, as well as the formation of unstable cocoa butter crystals, causing poor gloss and snap, and the formation of bloom during storage.

Fillings: the temperature of the filling must be as near as possible to the temperature of the chocolate (where the type of filling permits). If the difference between the temperature of the filling and the temperature of the chocolate is too great, it will have a negative effect on the crystallisation of the cocoa butter and the finished product will have less gloss and will be less heat-resistant. The best result will be achieved with a filling of which the temperature is about 5°C lower than the temperature of the chocolate.

The temperature of the mould must be as near as possible to the ambient temperature of the workshop (±20°C). Slight pre-heating of the mould is recommended. Ensure above all that the temperature of the mould does not exceed the temperature of the tempered chocolate. These precautions will help to give the finished product a perfect glossy appearance.

Important: The chocolate may continue to thicken whilst it is being worked with. This is caused by rapid multiplication of the cocoa butter crystals. It is possible to solve this problem by adding a little heated chocolate or by slightly increasing the temperature of the chocolate.

How to cool chocolate: The ideal temperature for cooling chocolate used for moulding work is between 10 and 12°C. Chocolate for coating work should preferably be cooled between 15 and 18°C. Temperature variations of more than 10°C should be avoided at all costs. Please also note that during the cooling of moulding work, there should be plenty of cold air circulating, as a large quantity of heat will need to be evacuated during the process of solidification of the chocolate. Coating work should preferably be cooled without ventilation. When the moulds are ready to be cooled, they are placed in a room which is colder than the workshop. As a result, the solidification of the chocolate takes place.

Chocolate Storage Guidelines

Because chocolate contains virtually no moisture, it has very low water activity level, and is not prone to bacterial spoilage during storage, resulting in a long shelf life. The factor limiting shelf life for chocolate is rancidity, the breakdown of fats than can create off flavours. Although cocoa butter is relatively resistant to rancidity, chocolate should be stored protected from exposure to oxygen, light, heat, and moisture (humidity), and when working with chocolate, do not expose it to reactive metals such as copper and iron. All these factors shorten the potential shelf life by increasing the likelihood of the onset of rancidity. When stored under ideal conditions, dark chocolates have a shelf life of approximately 12 months, while milk and white chocolates have a shelf life of approximately 6 months. These are the maximum times suggested for storing chocolate. The artisan confectioner is well advised to turn over his chocolate inventory much more rapidly to ensure the highest-quality products with the freshest flavour.

Bloom

In confectionery, bloom refers to the grey cast, streaks, or spots that appear on poorly handled chocolate. There are two different types of bloom: fat bloom and sugar bloom. It is difficult to distinguish sugar bloom from fat bloom by sight alone, but there is a simple test to determine the source of the bloom: gently rub a sample of the bloomed chocolate on your lip or wrist. If the chocolate feels smooth, the bloom is fat bloom. If there is a noticeable rough texture to the chocolate, it is sugar bloom.

Fat bloom: is the visible crystallization of fat on the surface of chocolate. It is caused by improperly tempered or stored chocolate. Chocolate that has been allowed to set without proper tempering will immediately form fat bloom. Chocolate that has been pre-crystallized with the wrong form of crystals will form fat bloom during storage. If during storage, the chocolate melts and then re-crystallizes, it will also exhibit fat bloom.

Sugar bloom: is the formation of sugar crystals on the surface of chocolate. It is caused by the exposure of chocolate to high humidity or other moisture. When exposed to moisture, the sugar particles on the surface of the chocolate absorb the moisture, and dissolve. When the moisture subsequently evaporates, the sugar re-crystallizes, in larger crystals, resulting in sugar bloom. Sugar bloom can be prevented, if temperature variations when moving the chocolate from a cold place into a warm place are avoided (thus preventing condensation). Chocolate products leaving a cold room should be stored in a warmer room for a certain amount of time before opening the packaging. In this way, direct condensation can be avoided.

 

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