7 February 2013

No chocolate - no problem, easy and quick substitutes

One of the lessons my home economy teacher drummed into me at school was that I must never use ordinary chocolate for cooking.  She never explained why but my guess is that it is due to the high sugar and low cocoa content of eating chocolate.  

I have seen huge 5kg bags of cooking chocolate buttons on sale at the cash and carry here in Astana, but I rarely use cooking chocolate.  I prefer to use a really good quality dark chocolate in my cooking, it is usually possible to buy 75% or even 90% chocolate very easily here and this gives excellent results and you don’t need to reduce the amount of sugar in your recipe.  Good chocolate like this melts very easily or you can chop it into chips.  I now use my food processor to do this but for many years my kitchen was too small to accommodate one and I used a mezzaluna to good effect.  Aside from saving my wrists I find the real advantage of the food processor is the by-product. 
Home made chocolate chips
Chocolate chips in the food processor.
As well as the chocolate chip rubble you get a considerable amount of powdered chocolate.  I love hot chocolate, it is one of my real failings and I add the powder to warm milk to make a really luxurious drink.  If you are using very high percentage chocolate you may want to add some sugar - I like my hot chocolate strong and bitter, my husband has to have sugar.  This is the sort of luxury product you pay over the odds for if it comes in a packet, in fact you could, if you are that way inclined, get some natty cellophane packages, ribbon and labels and make up some gift packages.  I can usually not bear to part with the extra.
A tasty byproduct from home made chocolate chips
Luxurious hot chocolate is a tasty by-product.
I never bake with ordinary milk chocolate as I find that even the best quality eating milk chocolate is too sweet.  The quality of milk chocolate is also very variable, popular brands such as Cadbury’s (UK) and Hershey’s (US) have very little actual chocolate in them.  Not at all pleasant to cook with and probably explains why supermarkets in those countries carry an extensive range of cooking chocolates. 

If very sweet milky chocolate is the only stuff available you can still use it.  Look for the highest level of cocoa solids you can find and remember to cut the amount of sugar in your recipe.  Substitute the milk chocolate for the cooking chocolate on a 1:1 ratio and then remove 1 teaspoon of sugar for each 6 grams of chocolate so, if your recipe calls for 100g of sugar you will need to remove 16-17 teaspoons of sugar from your measured weight. 

If I can only find milk chocolate I prefer to make my own cooking chocolate.  It is very easy to do and I speak from experience when I say that the ingredients are available almost everywhere in the world even in the middle of the African bush.  All you need is butter and cocoa powder on a 1:1 ratio.  1 table spoon of  butter combined with 1 tablespoon of cocoa is equivalent to about 25 grams of solid chocolate. 
How to make your own baking chocolate
Simple ingredients make a good substitute for cooking chocolate.
Just melt the butter (I use a microwave but otherwise place a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water without letting the water touch the bottom of the bowl).  Sieve the cocoa powder into the butter and whisk together to a smooth paste.  
make your own baking chocolate
The paste can be used immediately or kept until later
You can either use this directly in your cake mix or pour it into a container lined with baking paper or buttered cling film and refrigerate it for later use.  Remember that because this is butter based it will melt at room temperature so it has to be kept in the fridge.
Chocolate ready to go
Once set keep in the fridge until needed.
Don't be tempted to eat this, it does not have a pleasant taste on its own but it does give a wonderfully chocolaty flavour hit in any cake.

Click on the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat cooking.

Ersatz Expat

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