February is National Dark Chocolate Month
Dark chocolate is one of my favorite flavors to use at home when baking, creating cocktails, or even enjoying a piece with a glass of red wine. The Aztecs first cultivated cacao seeds around 1100 BC, turning the seeds into Xocolãtl, or “bitter water.” Aztecs traditionally brewed the cacao seeds with water and chili powder, creating an ancient form of hot cocoa. During the Industrial Revolution, mills pressed cocoa butter out of the cocoa seeds, leading to the chocolate being sold in stores today. Today, chocolate varieties sell in a range of cacao content, with white chocolate containing the lowest percentage and dark chocolate having the most. The more cacao present, the more bitter the flavor is. February honors the history and taste of dark chocolate.
The Potential Health Benefits
Cacao is a popular ingredient choice not only for the flavor profile but also for the health benefits. Loaded with antioxidants, cacao can help fight free radicals in the body. If the level of free radicals rises, it can lead to heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Regularly consuming foods with antioxidants can help lower the risk of illnesses that free radicals may contribute. Cacao also contains fiber, minerals, and heart-healthy fatty acids, boosting its nutrition. Dark chocolate may even help improve blood flow, reduce blood pressure, and support brain function. To see the full potential health benefits of dark chocolate, head over to Healthline.
When purchasing chocolate for health benefits, not all chocolate is created equal. If you want the most benefits, shop for chocolate that contains at least 70% cacao. The darker the chocolate, the higher the percentage of cacao. Chocolate with a higher cacao content will also have less added sugar. This information does not replace professional medical advice, however. Always consult your doctor or a licensed professional for health and nutrition advice.
Dark Chocolate in Baking
Chocolate can incorporate into baked goods in a variety of forms. Recipes will either add unsweetened cocoa powder or chopped chocolate or chips directly into a batter for baked goods. Baker’s tip! If you’ve ever cut into a homemade recipe only to see the chocolate chips have sunk to the bottom, chopping and flour can help!
Before adding chocolate chips to a recipe, place them in a small bowl and add a tablespoon of flour for every half cup of chocolate chips. Shake the bowl to coat the chips evenly and fold them in. The flour coating will slightly increase the recipe’s dry ingredients, reducing the batter’s thinness. If you have larger chocolate chips, rough chopping them first will reduce the weight and lower the risk of sinking.
Tempering chocolate introduces fat crystals into chocolate when melting by keeping chocolate within a temperature range. Chocolate that is properly tempered shines and snaps when broken. There aren’t many steps to the process, but a thermometer and a double boiler are required. It helps if bars are finely chopped to shorten the melting time. Once chopped, set the chocolate aside.
- Fill a pot with two inches of water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the double boiler.
- Add 75% of the chopped chocolate to the double boiler, and set aside. Reserve the remaining chocolate.
- Place the pot of water over medium-low heat. Once the water forms wisps of steam, place the double boiler on top of the pot.
- Stir the chocolate as it melts, monitoring the temperature. Once dark chocolate reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit (115 F for milk chocolate and 110 F for white chocolate,) stop stirring and remove the double boiler from the pot.
- Add the remaining chocolate, stirring to melt the reserved chocolate.
- Continue stirring until dark chocolate cools to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Milk chocolate cools to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and white chocolate to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Once cooled to the proper temperature, return the double boiler to the pot of water. Until the chocolate is ready to set and harden, chocolate needs to stay in the following temperature ranges: dark chocolate between 86 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and milk and white chocolate between 84 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit
If properly tempered, chocolate will set within a few minutes once resting at room temperature. While tempering chocolate, should you need to step away, remove the chocolate from heat. You can always start the process over. Baker’s Tip! Be careful not to introduce water to the chocolate! Only a few drops can cause the chocolate to form clumps, ruining the entire batch.
Uses for Tempered Dark Chocolate
Tempered chocolate requires time and patience, but the final finish is worth the effort. Adding shine creates magazine cover presentations and a snap when biting into chocolate. You can use tempered chocolate in a variety of recipes, including:
- Cream Cheese Filled Chocolate Covered Strawberries
- Chocolate covered pretzels
- Almond barks
- Handmade chocolate bars
- Chocolate candies, and more!
Creating beverages made with chocolate, whether it’s a cup of Ultimate Hot Chocolate, a chocolate martini, or sprinkling some shavings onto a vanilla sundae, the process is much easier than tempering. Since you lose the shine once added, tempering chocolate is not required when creating beverages made with chocolate. Instead, you can add chocolate to the liquids of a recipe, usually milk or cream, and melt in over medium-low heat.
If adding a decorative chocolate rim, you can use a vegetable peeler to create chocolate shavings from a bar. By adjusting the angle of the shaver, you can create wider or tighter curls of chocolate. Dip an empty glass upside down in a shallow plate filled with water when coating the rim. Once dipped, rotate the glass in a second plate filled with chocolate shavings.
Celebrate Dark Chocolate in February
While the colder weather is here, it’s a perfect time of the year for filling a home with the aroma of chocolate cakes and brownies and sipping hot chocolate by a fire. Chocolate has become synonymous with Valentine’s Day, so it’s no wonder February celebrates dark chocolate. Whether relaxing in the evening with a piece of chocolate as a dessert or as an ingredient for your favorite recipes, take a moment to appreciate chocolate’s history the next time you open a bar. Had the Aztecs not discovered cacao and created Xocolãtl, who knows how the history of chocolate may have evolved. What are some of your favorite recipes to make using dark chocolate?