Everything you need to know about cooking with chocolate

4 Jun 2020

Food + Drink Recipes

We’ve put together the ultimate cooking with chocolate guide so that you can cook with chocolate, the right way

Cooking with chocolate isn’t as easy as it sounds. Chocolate is an incredibly versatile ingredient, so it’s no wonder that it features in mousses, sponges and biscuits galore around the world. At Hotel Chocolat, we like to think we know a thing or two about chocolate, which is why we’ve put together an easy guide for you to follow so that you know everything there is to know about cooking with chocolate.

What is the difference between normal chocolate and cooking chocolate?

To bake with chocolate, you might think that you can only use cooking chocolate. We explore the subtle differences between the two to help you choose the right chocolate to use in your culinary creations.

What is cooking chocolate?

The main difference between normal and cooking chocolate is how much sugar the chocolate contains. Cooking chocolate has a very high cocoa content, and contains little or no sugar. This means that it has a bold, strong cocoa flavour, making it perfect to add into baked goods, as it holds its own against other ingredients.

As cooking chocolate has a very low sugar amount, this means the cook can control how sweet they want their baked good to be. Most normal chocolate contains some sugar which can affect how your homemade goodies bake: by monitoring exactly how much sugar you use, you can be safe in the knowledge that anything you cook won’t unexpectedly catch due to any added sugar from the chocolate. It also makes sure that your baked treats don’t come out too sweet; ideal if you’re a stickler for that intense dark chocolate flavour.

dark chocolate bar

How do I use cooking chocolate?

As cooking chocolate is so easy to cook with, it can be added into almost any mixture. Whether it’s folded into cupcakes, or whipped into buttercream, cooking chocolate is a great way to add some cocoa opulence into any baked good.

Traditionally, cooking chocolate has come in the form of the most bitter dark chocolate. But, as more cooks are searching for a sweeter way to add cocoa into their baking, milk and white cooking chocolate has started to become more popular. It is normally cheaper than eating chocolate, and may be of a lower quality.

At Hotel Chocolat, however, we never compromise on quality or flavour, whether it is for cooking or eating. Our chocolate drops are perfect for cooking with, as their small size ensures that the chocolate melts smoothly and evenly, making your baking experience hassle-free! If you’re not in the mood to bake, though, feel free to snack on these chocolate drops straight out of the bag – they taste just as good as our other dark, milk and white chocolate creations.

Our 36% White Chocolate Drops use a high cocoa content and a lower amount of sugar, making these drops easy to cook with: we’ve added them to our Hazelnut and Pecan Brownies to create a creamy contrast against the indulgent cocoa taste. We also offer 40% Milk Chocolate Drops, which can be melted into a traditional Queen of Puddings recipe for an extra decadent dessert, and 70% Dark Chocolate Drops for those who prefer their chocolate on the dark side.

Can I still cook with normal chocolate?

The higher levels of sugar in normal chocolate make it an appetising treat, ideal for eating, but this is not to say that it can’t be cooked with. High cocoa dark chocolate is a good alternative to cooking chocolate, should you find yourself without any in the cupboard. Cocoa-rich dark chocolate contains very little sugar, meaning that it is unlikely the chocolate will catch and burn when melted.

In fact, in some cases it is better to cook with normal chocolate – if you want to temper chocolate for a shiny, glossy finish and a clean snap when broken, then normal chocolate is the better choice. Tempered chocolate achieves its appealing finish after the cocoa butter crystallises at a certain temperature and is cooled. As cooking chocolate doesn’t contain a lot of cocoa butter, it can be difficult to temper.

So which one should I choose?

As a rule of thumb, it’s probably best to stick to using cooking chocolate for baking with, and normal chocolate for eating. However, if you find yourself craving chocolate, but you only have the baking kind, it’s perfectly acceptable to snack on this if needs be. Likewise, if you fancy getting creative in the kitchen but only have normal chocolate lying around then cooking with it is fine, although you might have to watch it a little more closely to ensure it doesn’t burn.

What happens when you temper chocolate?

Tempering chocolate is often a necessary step if you want to use chocolate to decorate your baked goods. If you temper your chocolate right, you can make it retain its glossy shine and satisfying snap, but you’ll need a thermometer handy to achieve the perfect finish.

If you don’t temper chocolate, or don’t temper it in the correct way, then you could end up with a dull, matte appearance in your chocolate – this still tastes great, but can somewhat ruin the overall aesthetic of your baked creation.

Why do we need to temper chocolate?

Tempering chocolate is a patisserie technique that involves slowly heating and cooling the chocolate. When you melt and reset chocolate, it loses its shine and distinctive snap. This is because the crystals of fat – cocoa butter – have changed shape. Cocoa butter has three to four glycerides of fatty acids, which separate when you melt your chocolate, and if you let it harden without tempering it, the crystals don’t come back together in the same structure as before.

This results in a dull, crumbly chocolate that is more likely to ‘bloom’, or develop white streaks on the chocolate’s surface. It also changes the way the chocolate melts, and can give a previously smooth chocolate a grainy texture.

By heating and cooling the chocolate at the right temperatures, it’s possible to bring the cocoa butter crystals back into one stable form. This will make sure your chocolate has a lustrous sheen, snap, a delicious flavour and will melt smoothly at around 37℃.

If this seems daunting, and you just want to quickly dip some strawberries in chocolate and eat them within 24 hours, then you will get away without tempering the chocolate. However, to get a more professional look that will last longer, then why not have a go at this technique – with a good thermometer, it’s not as difficult as it sounds.

How to temper chocolate

The traditional method is to cool the chocolate slowly on a marble slab, and many practised chocolatiers can do this by touch alone. For the uninitiated, however, it’s often easier to use the seeding method.

To temper your chocolate by seeding, chop up the chocolate you want to melt into small pieces, and set 30% of this chocolate aside. To save time, you can use our chocolate drops, which are perfect to ensure a smooth even melt. In a bowl over a pan of simmering water, melt the remaining 70% of chocolate gradually until it reaches a maximum of 55℃, stirring slowly and continuously.

It’s a good idea to take the chocolate off the heat just before it has completely melted to avoid overheating your chocolate. Be extra careful with white chocolate, as the high levels of sugar and milk solids mean it is easier to burn!

Once you have taken your chocolate off the heat, add the remaining 30% of unmelted chocolate. Keep stirring the chocolate until it melts and the chocolate mixture reaches around 27℃, by which point it should have thickened slightly.

Put the bowl back over the heat and stir until the chocolate reaches 31℃ – and no higher! Then you can use the liquid chocolate to dip fruit in, or pour into moulds to make your own chocolate creations.

When you are working with your tempered chocolate, be careful to keep it at a constant temperature for as long as possible, taking it on and off the heat periodically to do so. If it gets too hot or too cold, then it will have to be tempered all over again.

How to check if my chocolate is tempered

A simple way to check if you’ve tempered your chocolate correctly is to take a little of your melted chocolate mixture and spread it on some greaseproof paper. Within five minutes it should have hardened with a glossy shine. If you can peel it off easily, then you’re ready to go!

At Hotel Chocolat our chocolate is perfectly tempered to give you a perfect sheen and a delectable snap when you bite into it. If you want to take our chocolate to turn into your own creations, then take a look at our cooking chocolate collection or try a variety of our slab selectors to get the exact flavour you’re looking for.

How do you decorate a chocolate cake?

Now you know exactly how to temper chocolate, put that skill into practice! Tempered chocolate makes for a stunning design on any cake, and is relatively easy to do. However, if you still find it a bit daunting, we’ve put together some alternative decorative tips and tricks for you to follow.

Don’t worry if you’re not quite confident enough in your baking and decorating skills yet – if you need a back up, our selection of cake-inspired chocolates are a delicious plan B to fall back to.

Prepare your canvas

It’s much easier to decorate a cake if it has a uniform shape and a flat top. Most often when you bake a cake it will have a raised dome at the top, making it more difficult to decorate; icing invariably wants to slide off an angled surface. Some say that the dome is caused by your oven being at too high a temperature, but either way, when you leave your cake to cool, place it upside down on the cooling rack. This will compact the dome and give you a nice flat surface to work with.

If you’ve made a layer cake, and one layer is significantly thicker or wider than the other, feel free to use a sharp bread knife to cut it to the right size. This will result in a more professional-looking cake, and will also mean you can have a nibble on the bits of cake you remove! You can even freeze the cake first so you’ve got a more solid structure to work with.

Choose the right icing

For those looking for easy cake decorating tips, buttercream is your best friend. Just whip butter and sugar together until they form a thick creamy consistency and apply to your cake! If you want a super smooth surface, it might be worth getting a cake turntable and using a thick palette knife, but you can make rustic or stylish designs without one.

Cake decorators also sometimes opt for a crumb coat, which is where they spread a layer of buttercream onto the cake, chill it for 20 minutes, and apply another layer of icing. This ensures the cake has an even and smooth finish, ready for you to decorate!

Use the back of a spoon to create a wavy effect, or the tines of a fork to show a zig-zag striped style. Remember you can add any flavour or colours to the buttercream you want – we’d recommend adding some melted chocolate or our high quality cocoa powder for a rich chocolate flavour.

dark chocolate cake with milk chocolate buttercream

Decorate your cake with piping

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you may want to pipe a design or a message onto your cake. If you have piping attachments, you can use these to add perfect swirls and additions to your cake, but you can do your best by just cutting a small hole in the corner of a freezer bag and squeezing the buttercream out in a pattern. Use a contrasting colour to the base buttercream to make the design pop, and if you’re stuck for design ideas, have a look at this helpful piping guide.

You can either pipe your iced message directly onto the cake, or if you’re cautious about making an error, pipe it onto a piece of parchment paper and leave in the fridge until the icing is solid and can be easily peeled from the paper. We suggest using melted chocolate for your decorations: once cooled it has a solid structure, meaning you can create 3-D decorations with it as it doesn’t need to be propped up with anything.

Add some edible accessories

If you’ve tried to make a perfect petalled rose from pink buttercream, you’ll know how difficult it is! However, if you’re in a rush but still want a professional look to your chocolate cake, why not take a shortcut and find some tasty treats to put onto your cake?

At Hotel Chocolat, our milk, white and dark chocolate drops could be used to create a mosaic-like appearance to your cake, or even simply create stripes of the different colours. If you’re looking for something a little more adorable, why not grab a box of our chocolate bunnies and have them standing up around the base of your cake?

Of course, if you’re confident in your tempering skills, you could always melt some chocolate, pipe your decorations of choice and cool them on some baking paper before putting them on top of your baked goods.

Whichever way you decide to decorate your chocolate cake, we hope these cake decorating tips have given you a helping hand on the way. As with everything, practice makes perfect, and what better excuse to make yourself a cake than to practice decorating it?

How do you make a vegan chocolate cake?

Just because you’re vegan, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make your very own vegan chocolate cake! Although eggs, butter, flour, milk, sugar and chocolate are the ingredients that typically come to mind when you think of baking a cake, there are substitutes available, so that you can bake a vegan chocolate cake which tastes just as good as the original!

Luckily, you don’t have to worry about substituting the chocolate element – just look for anything in our dark chocolate cooking chocolate range and it should be ready to add to a vegan chocolate cake!

To be able to substitute the non-vegan ingredients of a vegan chocolate cake (eggs, milk and butter), it’s important to understand what role they play in the baking process; they all add moisture to a cake batter, and eggs also add thickness and structure. With that in mind, let’s have a look at what vegan alternatives you can use instead!

Egg substitutes

Flax seeds or Chia seeds – Mix around one and a half tablespoons of ground flax seeds to two tablespoons of water to replace an egg in a recipe. For chia seeds, add three tablespoons of water. These react with the water to form a thick consistency, adding that moisture and thickening agent to your vegan chocolate cake batter.

Aquafaba – If you’ve never heard of this before, it is the drained water from a can of chickpeas! They can replace egg whites if the recipe calls to whip egg whites to form peaks, and are often used in vegan meringues or vegan chocolate mousse. Just use a whisk or a hand-held blender and whip until they are thick and foamy.

Banana This is one of the easiest egg substitutes; just mash the banana and mix it into your vegan cake batter! If your banana is very ripe and sweet then you may need to adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe to counteract it. Use an underripe banana if you don’t want your vegan chocolate cake to have a banana flavour.

Milk substitutes

Non-dairy milk – Almost any non-dairy milk can be substituted in a recipe to add moisture to your batter, but remember to get an unsweetened milk alternative so your vegan chocolate cake doesn’t turn out overly sugary. Hazelnut milk adds a toasty, nutty flavour that really complements chocolate, but soy or oat milk works equally well if you’re looking for a flavourless alternative.

Coconut cream – If the recipe calls for cream, coconut cream is a decadent alternative! If you can’t find canned cream, chill a tin of coconut milk. The thick cream will rise to the surface, so when you open it you can just scoop out the cream from the top.

Butter substitutes

Coconut oil – A classic vegan baking alternative, virgin coconut oil is easy to work with and adds a delicious coconutty flavour to your vegan chocolate cake.

Neutral-flavoured oil – Vegetable, peanut, canola or sunflower oil are good butter alternatives when you don’t want your oil to add an extra flavour to your vegan chocolate cake, and, if you love coconut oil, refined coconut oil is neutral in taste and smell, making it a great butter substitute.

Avocado puree – Avocado’s buttery flesh is a great alternative to butter, but as it goes brown when cooked, it’s better to use for a chocolate cake or brownie batter rather than a vanilla sponge. You also don’t need to use as much as dairy butter.

You can use any chocolate cake recipe you want and use these alternatives instead, or you can search for a specific vegan chocolate cake recipe. Often vegan chocolate cake is denser and moister than traditional chocolate cake, but it is still just as delicious!

All our dark chocolate is vegan, but we also have a vegan chocolate range that includes nut-milk chocolate, chocolate-covered orange or ginger pieces – a great way to add a finishing decorative touch to your vegan chocolate cake.

If all this reading has worked up an appetite, then don your apron, open up a recipe book and bake your favourite chocolate treat! From the Hotel Chocolate team – happy baking!