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Why crystals can ruin your chocolate

shiny-happy-chocolateI confess I’m a serious chocolate addict. I can eat it anytime, anywhere and in almost any form.

There is one type of chocolate that could potentially put me off. And that’s the stuff that has that off-putting ‘waxy’ look to it. You know what I mean don’t you? That white blotchy coating, that’s a sure-fire sign that if you take a bite, you’ll be rewarded with a slightly suspect mouthful that will have a slightly grainy feel to it. Oddly, it’ll taste fine, but that odd texture will take the edge of your treat. The culprit? Crystals.

Cocoa Crystal Chaos

So what are those crystals doing to sabotage our chocolate? Well, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to your average bar of cocoa-tastic goodness. Almost every bar of chocolate you can buy is different, but they all have a certain amount of cocoa butter which contains – you guessed it – crystals. These crystals can form themselves into 6 different structures which means the molecules in your chocolate can arrange themselves in 6 different patterns. How do you control it? By applying heat in the correct way.

Tempering Temperature

tasty-chocolate-treat-but-no-shineTo avoid that waxy white look, you need to put your chocolate through a process called ‘tempering’ where you melt the chocolate while keeping a close eye on its temperature. It needs to be 45-50 degrees Celsius. Then you need to set aside about ¼ of your hot chocolate and quickly cool the remaining ¾ to 27 degrees. The last step is to add the ¼ that you set aside BACK to the cooled batch and mix away until the whole lot is about 30 degrees. This is what coaxes those crystals into that all-important organised pattern and gives you lovely, shiny, snappy chocolate. Easy right?

Let’s assume that we’re all master chocolatiers that can temper chocolate with our eyes closed. It’s not much use when we’ve unwrapped our favourite bar only to find it looking a little sad and bloomy (a slightly more pleasant way of describing those white splodges) is it?

Handle with care, eat with pleasure

Sadly, the only answer is fridge cake. (Actually, there’s nothing sad about THAT!) But this whole crystal pattern thing tells us something really important about chocolate. For all its every day treaty-ness, it’s actually a bit of a food diva. It’s not just fussy about temperature, it doesn’t like damp environments and it doesn’t like to hang around for too long. So I’d like to leave you with my top tips for chocolate-munching-nirvana:

  • Cocoa content is king. You don’t have to go for the 80+% stuff but just make sure what you’re buying isn’t just full of vegetable fat, milk powder and sugar.
  • Keep it out of the fridge. You don’t want your chocolate to melt, but you also don’t want to dull its flavour by making it TOO cold. Just keep it somewhere cool, dry and out of direct sunlight. It’s a great reason to get your own secret stash going.
  • Eat it ASAP! No, this isn’t the addict in me talking. A cocoa bean is a fruit, and while it goes through a whole load of processes before landing in your hand in chocolate form, it still won’t be at its best if you leave it in the cupboard for a few weeks. So scoff it now and if anyone objects – tell ’em it’s just good science!

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