By Sarah O'Meara
When it comes to choosing chocolate, these days the options are infinite.
Old favourites like Dairy Milk line up next to brand new products with fair-trade credentials, stunningly high levels of cocoa solids and increasingly eccentric packing.
But if you're planning to cook with the stuff, which are the best products to choose?
According to Kate Adams, Galaxy Chocolate's Product Innovation Scientist, cooks should go for the taste, rather than the label.
"On the shelves you'll see 'cooking chocolate' but you don't have to use that for cooking. That label just means it's lower quality, perhaps contains less cocoa butter, and can have less taste, and it'll be cheaper as a result, so it can be more economical to use when cooking."
In the last few decades the chocolate industry has transformed and so have our palates, Adams points out.
The popularity of high street artisan-style chocolate shops such as Hotel Chocolat demonstrate how open we are to different, and often more intense, flavours.
And as we've become a nation of chocolate aficionados, it seems natural that this should influence our cooking decisions.
If your budget can cope, seek out the products you enjoy and let the treats do the talking, says Adams.
"Different chocolates have all got different properties depending on whether they're milk, dark, white and depending on the brand."
"If you're making brownies then you want a good quality chocolate, so that those chunks are intense and delicious.
"If you're making a cake, people often like to use milk chocolate. Whereas for a recipe that's served in small portions, dark chocolate can be good - as it offers more intense blasts of flavour."
The main thing to consider when cooking with chocolate is how to use it.
There are three cardinal rules that Kate suggest chefs follow to the letter.
Firstly, water and chocolate don't mix.
"If you even get a tiny bit in it, the mixture will turn stiff and grainy. It's called seizing," Kate explains. "And then you won't be able to use it any more."
Melt your chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, and gently stir it.
"That's the preferred method," says Kate.
"You can can use a microwave but it's easy to burn it. I know, I've tried! If you want to use the microwave... do it in short bursts."
Secondly, as chocolate is designed to melt at body temperature, this can also make it difficult to handle, she adds. So be aware that you'll need to make your recipes quickly and efficiently.
Finally, once you've finished cooking, store your cake or confectionery at the correct temperature.
"If it's too hot, then the cocoa butter will come to the surface and that causes the chocolate to get that white effect we sometimes see," says Kate. "That's known as bloom.
"It's not mould and it's fine to eat although it might affect the texture slightly."
She adds that if the chocolate in your cupboard has gone into 'bloom' that it's still fine to use for cooking.
"It'll melt and go back to normal," she says.
Kate also points out that it's wise to keep your cooking chocolate away from strong smelling food.
"Chocolate can pick up other flavours quite easily, so don't store it next to anything with a really strong test - like an open bag of fresh coffee."
Here are some recipes that you can try with your favourite chocolate...
Galaxy and Vanilla Marble Cake
(Makes 1 loaf)
225g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
1tsp cocoa powder
4 eggs, beaten
225g self-raising flour
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 5. Lightly grease and base line a 900g loaf tin.
Melt the chocolate in a small bowl over simmering water - do not let the water touch the bowl. Leave to cool slightly.
Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds - add these to the butter and sugar. Cream the ingredients together until light and fluffy.
Gradually add the beaten egg, a little at a time, using a little flour to help if the mixture starts to curdle.
Fold in the flour, then spoon half the mixture into another bowl.
Fold the melted chocolate and cocoa powder into one bowl of mixture.
Spoon alternate spoonfuls of each mixture into the loaf tin. When all the mixture has been used, drag a knife through the mixture to give a marble effect when it is cooked.
Bake for 1 1/4 hours until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Remove from the tin and leave to cool on a cooling rack.
Galaxy Fondants (Makes 4) 110g butter (plus extra for greasing moulds)
1tsp cocoa powder (plus more for dusting)
110g Galaxy Cookie Crumble
2 eggs 2 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
flour, sifted Creme fraiche to serve Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas mark 3.
Butter 4 dariole moulds with a little butter then shake the cocoa powder around each one to coat it.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bowl over simmering water.
Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar, until light.
Fold in the melted chocolate and butter and then the flour.
Divide between the 4 dariole moulds and cook for 17-18 minutes. The fondants should still be very 'springy' on top.
Gently run a knife around the edge before turning them out onto a plate.
Serve dusted with more cocoa powder and a dollop of creme fraiche.
Cookie Crumble Cheesecake
(Serves 6-8) 180g digestive biscuits
275g Galaxy Cookie Crumble chocolate
300g cream cheese
200g double cream
2tsp lime juice
50g caster sugar To serve
- Galaxy Cookie Crumble chocolate shavings
Lightly grease a 20cm (8in) flan or tart tin.
Place the digestive biscuits in a large bowl and bash with the end of a rolling pin, until they are randomly broken, with some chunks and crumbs.
Melt 120g of Galaxy Cookie Crumble in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir this into the biscuits and mix really well, to coat all the crumbs with chocolate.
Pour the mixture into the tart tin and press down evenly with the back of a spoon. Place the tin in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Melt the remaining Galaxy Cookie Crumble in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
Beat together the cream cheese, double cream, lime juice and sugar.
Pour in the melted chocolate and just stir a little - do not mix it in completely.
Spoon the cheese mixture on top of the biscuit base and smooth over very roughly.
Decorate with shavings of Galaxy Cookie Crumble.
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