Culinary Curious

Maximizing Chocolate Flavor

Maximizing Chocolate Flavor



Chocolate is a very delicate substance, full of highly sensitive, volatile compounds that give chocolate much of its flavor. When chocolate is heated, the liquids in it turn to steam and carry away these volatile compounds. That's what makes the kitchen smell so good when brownies are in the oven. The bad news is that these volatile compounds are no longer in the brownies-which is where you really want them to be. This situation is made even more acute by the fact that unwanted volatile compounds have already been driven off during the manufacturing processes of roasting and conching (kneading, grinding, and smoothing the chocolate), both of which improve the flavor of chocolate beans. Additional exposure to heat, therefore, has no benefits; it simply makes the chocolate more bitter and less complex tasting. What are the lessons to be learned for home cooks who bake with chocolate?

  • First, err on the side of under-baking rather than over-baking. Dry chocolate desserts will have much less flavor and tend to be bitter.
  • Second, use as much fat as possible. Fat increases the retention of volatile compounds. That's why low-fat chocolate desserts usually taste like sugar but not chocolate.
  • Third, if the recipe calls for dry cocoa powder, "bloom" the cocoa powder (and unsweetened chocolate, if using) in hot water. And if you add some of the sugar from the recipe (creating a chocolate "pudding") to the hot water, the chocolate flavor will be even more enhanced. The sugar molecules bond tightly with the water molecules, leaving the flavorful cocoa solids free to dissolve in the cocoa butter (the fat) a better medium than water for conveying chocolate flavor.