How to Tell Good Chocolate From Bad

WHAT makes chocolate good chocolate? Nancy Baggett, author of "The International Chocolate Cookbook," has tasted a lot of good chocolate. But she remembers bad chocolate, too.

Once she had to get a red, heart-shaped box to photograph for a book, so she ran to a nearby store and bought an inexpensive box of chocolates. "The chocolate was inedible!" she recalls. "What they had done was siphon out most of the cocoa butter and put in another fat." Besides reducing cocoa butter, companies that make inexpensive chocolates probably buy inexpensive beans and do very little "conching" (a kneading process that smooths chocolate).

Baggett offers a few ways to tell good chocolate from bad: Is it shiny? Does it break in your hand with a "snap"? Does it have a clean, chocolatey taste? Baggett's favorite chocolate to eat "out of hand" is Lindt Excellence. For baking, her selection is broader. Ghirardelli makes a very nice semisweet and bittersweet, she says, and for unsweetened, Baker's or Hershey's is fine.

Here's what some other chocolatiers say:

Nancy Silverton, owner of Los Angeles's Campanile and LaBrea Bakery, and 1991's Pastry Chef of the Year. Favorite chocolate: bittersweet Valrhona.

Susan Logozzo, master baker at the Cambridge (Mass.) School of Culinary Arts: Favorite chocolate: bittersweet. Brands: Callebaut, Van Leer. For eating out of hand: Girardhelli. Supermarket picks: Tobler, Lindt.

Joseph McKenna, pastry chef-instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N.Y.: Favorite chocolate: bittersweet. Brands: Lindt, Valrhona. For eating out of hand: Lindt.

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