Bakery blogger Amy Davies reveals the top five things she's learnt from baking with chocolate.
Chocolate is the tempestuous teenager of the baking world. Never quite sure what it wants to be, it can be your best friend one minute and your worst enemy the next. In spite of this, it’s one of my favourite ingredients to work with.
Here are 5 things I wish I knew before I started baking...
Trick 1) Don't always follow the recipe
At one time I couldn’t believe that people used to make chocolate cake from a packet mix. I’d seen recipes and I was a fairly confident baker. Why would you want a packet mix when the real thing is easy?
Or so I thought. My arrogance came back to bite me on the nose as my first attempt at brownies ended in disaster.
“How can this be? I followed the recipe to the letter!” I wailed in vain.
What I hadn’t countered on was my oven being ever so slightly different from the presumably perfect oven belonging to the recipe writer.
I’d managed to turn out the cake onto a rack and it looked reasonable enough, so I left it to cool. When I returned the middle had sunk into what can only be described as brown sludge. Not so cocksure now!
Lesson learned: Be sure to test the centre of a cake is cooked by checking a skewer comes out clear, oh, and keep your eye on it.
Trick 2) Keep your cool
One minute you’ll have a gorgeously glossy river of beautiful brown decadence and the next thing you know it’ll have evilly transformed into a gooey, gritty, lumpy mess. When this happened to me while I was making chocolate tiffin, I almost wept.
Like a spoiled diva, get it too hot or have it accidentally come into contact with some water, and that’s that. It’s extremely difficult to get it back from the brink, you just have to watch it like a hawk and as soon as you’ve achieved the beautiful stage, whip it off the heat.
Lesson learned: If you want chocolate perfection, keep your cool – which brings me to my next lesson.
Trick 3) Buy expensive cooking chocolate
In other areas of cooking you can get away with using cheap ingredients. You’d never dream of drinking cooking sherry, or eating a cooking apple raw for instance. But with chocolate, the opposite is almost always true.
What you should be looking out for is cocoa solids. The higher the number, the better, and consequently, the easier it will be to work with as you’ll be able to heat it to higher temperatures with less worry. You can still use milk and white chocolate, but it’s a little more fragile.
Unfortunately, you just don’t really get 70% cocoa solids or higher very cheaply. But it really is worth spending a little bit more money on an ingredient that will not only taste nicer and do your baking justice, but will also be harder to ruin and save you (yet another) trip to the corner shop.
If you want proof of just how much difference it can make, you should try a chocolate baked by Paul A Young, a master chocolatier celebrated for bringing together flavours that otherwise appear as unlikely bedfellows. I promise you, you will never go back to baking with cheap chocolate again.
Lesson learned: Cheap chocolate is for mindlessly scoffing in front of very bad romantic comedies. Not for baking.
Trick 4) Be patient
Can’t wait to get your mitts on some tiffin or a brownie? Think, I know, I’ll melt this chocolate quickly by whacking up the temperature? Think again my friend. Chocolate won’t let you rush and you’ll spend even more time going back to the corner shop to buy yet more chocolate (and have the shopkeeper think you have a serious chocoholism problem) after it’s completely ruined.
Furthermore, if you’re making something like Eric Lanlard’s delicious hot chocolate fondants (an amazingly easy recipe and perfect for parties if you want to serve a warm dessert) or something even more fancy like Paul A Young’s port and stilton chocolate truffles, you’ll need the patience of a saint if you decide to prepare the mixtures beforehand and leave them to cool in the fridge. Knowing the pain of waiting will be surpassed by the pleasure of eating doesn’t make it any easier, I find!
Other recipes that drive me wild are those which ask you to wait until melted chocolate is at room temperature before using it. It’s cruelty to greedy people if you ask me. Fay Ripley’s Quick Chocolate Torte recipe is prime example of this, as undeniably tasty (and relatively quick) it is, you still have 2 instructions to wait – pure sadism.
Lesson learned: Hold your horses – and always have a few blocks spare to hand if you really can’t wait to get your fix.
Trick 5) Keep your eyes on the prize
Honestly. You can have (what feels like) the biggest disaster in the world. You can traipse back and forth to restock three times. You can wonder if your sanity is worth it. But in the end, you will always get the most ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the lucky recipients of your efforts of a chocolate bake than almost anything else.
Whether it’s chocolate cheesecake, chocolate brownies, tiffin, truffles or just plain old chocolate cake, stick with it and the reward will not be far behind. Trust me.
Lesson learned: Nothing goes down better than a chocolately slice of heaven (in my book anyway).
Are you a keen amateur baker? Are you passionate about your hobby? Can you turn out a an exceptional celebration cake, mouth-watering pastries or a great loaf of bread? Do you fancy putting your skills to the test?
BBC Two is looking for amateur bakers across the country to take part in The Great British Bake Off series two. If you’re interested and would like to find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7067 4876.
Also worth your attention:
Recipe: Mulled-wine hot chocolate
Recipe: Chocolate and Chestnut Yule Log
*Photo by Amy Davies
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