FOOD WISE: Know the differences when cooking with chocolate



Chocolate shavings are a delicious and decorative addition to cupcakes. (Courtesy Photo)

My oldest grandson, Nathaniel, is turning the big 1-0 this Sunday, or as he says, “double-digits.” I’m sure you are thinking, how could that young chef (that would be me) possibly be a grandmother at all, much less to a 10-year old? I know, right? How did this happen?

If you’ve read my column, you know that Nathaniel is my cooking buddy. I’m very fortunate that all my grandchildren are interested in cooking. They all have kitchen tasks they are able to tackle, according to their ages. But since Nathaniel is the oldest, he cooks with me the most. He’s really blossomed and is able to produce some pretty impressive dishes all by himself. I’ll never forget the day my husband, John, told him to make himself a bowl of cereal after which he left the kitchen to go get dressed. John returned in a couple of minutes to find Nathaniel making perfect sunny-side up eggs because he didn’t want cereal.

Since Nathaniel is turning double digits, I dutifully took his birthday cake order. He didn’t come by his request easily. He took several days to carefully consider his decision. Ultimately, he asked for the following: one small chocolate cake for the candles and cutting. He also wanted two kinds of cupcakes so everybody could have the kind they like – double chocolate with chocolate mousse filling and fudgy chocolate frosting (his favorite) and vanilla cupcakes with strawberry creme filling and butter creme frosting (his mom’s favorite), and finally, he wanted us to make the sweet treats together. Guess what we are doing on Saturday?

As I’m preparing to work with chocolate again, I feel I must confess I don’t really like chocolate. I know that is practically sacrilege. Luckily, my husband doesn’t really care for chocolate either, except for white chocolate which isn’t really chocolate at all, but we’ll get into that later. I’m definitely in the minority, especially as a woman. In fact, folks usually look at me like I have two heads when I tell them I don’t like chocolate. Oh, I’ll eat a piece here and there, but a chocolate kiss is usually plenty for me for about a year.  I really think it’s a good thing since I work with chocolate so much. Could you imagine the trouble I’d get into if I loved chocolate like most ladies?

Now even though chocolate isn’t my favorite, I’ve had an opportunity to learn quite a bit about it and thought this might be a good time to pass on some of the basics. There is a lot to say about chocolate, whether talking about a favorite dessert, nutritional information, health benefits, different kinds and brands of chocolate, or even how to and what is tempering chocolate. I’ll spend the next couple of weeks sharing all things chocolate.

There are many different kinds of chocolate, including milk chocolate, semi-sweet, bittersweet, bitter, dark, unsweetened, white chocolate, German chocolate, coating, couverture, baking and natural and dutch processed cocoa. It can really be confusing.

To begin to understand the different kinds of chocolate, we need to know about the ingredients. All chocolate is made of cocoa butter, cocoa liquor (except in white chocolate), sugar (except in 99 percent), vanillin, lethicin and milk solids (only in milk and white chocolate).

One ingredient that will help you understand the most about chocolate is the cocoa liquor. People often ask me what the percentages listed on chocolate packaging means.  The percent listed on the packaging refers to how much cocoa liquor is in the mix. The higher the number, the darker and more bitter the chocolate. So a 70 percent chocolate will typically be a high quality, bittersweet baking chocolate. White chocolate, on the other hand, does not contain cocoa liquor so it is not technically chocolate at all.

Couverture is a high quality chocolate with only cocoa butter as its fat. On the other hand, coating chocolate is a confectionary candy in which the cocoa butter is replaced by another type of vegetable fat. It is a much lower quality product but does not require tempering in order for it to set up at room temperature. Most pastry chefs, however; do not believe the convenience of not having to temper the chocolate is worth the sacrifice of taste. We’ll talk more about tempering chocolate next week.

I’m sure you’ve probably read stories lately touting the positive health benefits of eating chocolate. The good news is it’s true. Here’s how it works. Chocolate is plant based. It’s made from the cocoa bean of the cacao tree. Since it’s plant based the benefits are largely the same as dark vegetables, full of flavonoids that act as antioxidants, protecting us from disease caused by free-radicals. In fact, it contains eight times the antioxidants of strawberries, helps to regulate and reduce blood pressure and some hormones, and lowers LDL (the bad one) cholesterol.

This isn’t a free-for-all license to eat all the chocolate you want, though. To reap the health benefits and avoid the high sugar and fat content, you must eat the dark kind of chocolate and no more than one small piece per day. In addition to the other health benefits mentioned, chocolate also stimulates the production of endorphins and contains serotonin, both of which help us to feel better mentally and emotionally.

Next week, we’ll talk more about tempering chocolate, how to check for proper temper and avoiding problems like “bloom,” the difference between regular and dutch process chocolate and more. In the meantime, I’ve included the recipes for Nate’s favorite double chocolate cupcakes. I hope you’ll email me with your favorite chocolate recipes. As always, I welcome your questions and comments at  and check out my website at

Chef Reneé is an award-winning, classically trained chef. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats and chickens.

 Magnolia Chocolate Cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

 1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter,softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Baking Temperature: 350 degrees                        Baking Time: 20-25 minutes

1. To melt the chocolate, place in a double boiler over simmering water on low heat for approximately 5–10 minutes. Stir occasionally until completely smooth and no pieces of chocolate remain. Remove from the heat and let cool to lukewarm 5–10 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking soda. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

5. Add the chocolate, mixing until well incorporated.

6. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth.

7. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

8. Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

9. Fill cupcakes with Chocolate Mousse. See recipe.

 Magnolia Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons milk

9 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups sifted confectioners sugar

1. To melt the chocolate, place in a double boiler over simmering water on low heat for about 5-10 minutes. Stir occasionally until completely smooth and no pieces of chocolate remain. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5-15 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the milk carefully and beat until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and beat well, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat for 3 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat on low speed until a desired consistency is reached.

 Chocolate Espresso Mousse

1/2 cup whole milk

3 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

3 large egg whites

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat stir together the milk with the sugar and the espresso powder until the milk is hot, but not boiling, and the sugar is dissolved. Place the chocolate chips in a blender.

2. Pour the hot milk over the chips. Run the blender on high until combined, a few seconds. Add the egg whites and run the blender on high until light, about 1 minute. Transfer the mousse to a pastry bag and place in the refrigerator until firm, about 3 hours. Then pipe into cupcakes.