Unsweetened chocolate -> ??? -> Profit!
February 17, 2010 6:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I make milk chocolate, or even decent semisweet chocolate, from unsweetened chocolate? I can't use sweetened condensed milk.

A lot of recipes I've found online for this are really terrible, and the chocolate comes out super bitter. I'm getting tired of wasting materials so I thought I'd ask here.

Some things of note:
- I can't use sweetened condensed milk because my ultimate goal is to make the chocolate sugar-free. I need recipes that just require "sugar" because I have a variety of artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and other stuff that I can use to mimic both the sweetness and textural properties pretty closely.

The texture itself doesn't need to be perfect, I just want something that doesn't taste terrible and bitter, and it seems to taste like really sweet AND really bitter chocolate when I simply add more sweeteners. I've had this problem with using regular sugar to test the recipe first, too. I suspect the problem is partly the fat and the amount of fat needed, and partly the chocolate I start with...

- I have powdered milk, cream, and several other kinds of fat I can use, and I'm willing to get and use pretty much any fat that isn't trans fat. (I have the equivalent of shortening on hand.)

- As for the end texture, I am okay with anything that hardens OR stays a liquid. I'm hoping to get at least one decent recipe for something that will harden up, though. It doesn't need to be chocolate-bar hard, but hard enough to not get all over everything else if I use it to coat the outside of something.

- I had been using "baker's chocolate" and I think this is at least partly to blame for the crappy end product. I checked out Cook's Illustrated unsweetened chocolate taste test and I got Scharffen Berger instead.
posted by Nattie to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't really speak to the flavor issue, but to get that hard-crack texture you'll need to investigate tempering. Warning: this is way way harder than you'd imagine.

Unfortunately, I think getting a stays-liquid texture is even harder.. you'll certainly need an emulsifier (soy lecithin would be my first choice), and probably you'll have to thin it extensively.

Have you considered just buying 90 or greater percent dark chocolate and accepting a small amount of sugar with your chocolate? If you're merely working with a carb restriction rather than an outright ban, this might be your best choice. These bars will be kind of pricey, but are often extremely good.
posted by contrarian at 6:58 PM on February 17, 2010

Response by poster: I've used 80-85% chocolate before, but it's very hard for me to find. I've never seen 90% or greater, though I know of places I could order it online. However, I'm trying to steer away from this because even small amounts of sugar like that tear my stomach up horribly. For Valentine's day I used some 80% chocolate in a pots de creme recipe, and from the label it was only 7g of sugar, and I really regretted it. (It wasn't any of the other ingredients in the recipe either, this is a pretty standard reaction for me, even for something like Jell-O.)

Part of my confusion with the whole issue is why unsweetened chocolate tastes so much worse than even very dark chocolate, even once I add sweeteners and fat and such. It's my understanding that the only difference between unsweetened and other chocolates is how much sugar (and sometimes other ingredients) go into them, but I feel like my understanding must be wildly wrong if I can't seem to make up for the difference with sweeteners when cooking with unsweetened chocolate instead of 85% chocolate. :-/
posted by Nattie at 7:19 PM on February 17, 2010

Process is as much of a factor as ingredients. Chocolate is complex because it's a suspension of an insoluble powder in oil. (That's why it can "seize" if you blow the process.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:38 PM on February 17, 2010

I had a look at what On Food and Cooking had to say on the matter and two things struck me. The first is that fat indeed be part of the problem, specifically cocoa butter, secondly it appears that the structure of sugar in chocolate plays a part in its flavour and these two things are related.

Cocoa powder for baking has nearly all the cocoa butter removed so you will likely get better results using solid bars that contain cocoa butter.

Dealing with the second depends on what sort of alternative sweeteners used. At a guess I would say that the problems you have been having with the sweeteners might be due to the difference in size between the cocoa particles and what ever sweeteners you have been using. Chocolate undergoes extensive processing to obtain small particle size.

I don't know what kind of recipes you have been using but I would take a guess that you might get better results melting chocolate in a double boiler then thoroughly mixing in the sweeteners in a liquid form.

Hervé This has an intriguing suggestion in Molecular Gastronomy for a Chocolate Chantilly. He suggests flavouring a little water with some orange juice then dissolving in gelatin (or egg yolk/white) before whisking in chocolate to form an emulsion/smooth sauce.

Then chill the sauce and whisk to form a foam. He says to use 6 oz of water to half a pound of chocolate. At some point in the whisking it should change colour and increase in volume. The mixture can be remelted and more water/chocolate added to deal with textural problems.

N.B. He is suggesting that foam here be stabilized by the fat in the chocolate rather that the cream that is traditionally used so it is not milk chocolate. Also traditional recipes for chantilly creame do involve sugar though vanilla is also often used which would help with the flavour. Since creme fraiche is often used, an in any case cream is not so susceptible to curdling, I think it might be possible to come up with a recipe that combines orange juice, vanilla, chocolate and creme fraiche in a chantilly creme ( Harold Mcgee mentions that orange flower water was often used as an early addition to chocolate which would b another good adition). it would not be as sweet as traditional recipes but the lighter texture of the foam (and the action of the fat) might help with the bitterness factor.
posted by tallus at 9:43 PM on February 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the info! I'm a bit wary of dissolving the sugars in liquid before adding them to the chocolate because I don't want it to seize, but I guess I could try it...

To clarify a few things:

- I have not been using cocoa powder, just using solid bars of unsweetened chocolate (so they're powder + cocoa butter).

- I'm not having any texture issues, and for the stuff I want to make I don't mind if the texture is imperfect; it's mostly for baking purposes, and sometimes for putting a thin coating on the outside of things like nuts. I don't want to make pure chocolate bars so they don't have to be smooth or creamy really. (So I should note here I'm not having any problems melting it properly, and it is not seizing. The texture of the disgusting bitter stuff I'm making is actually pretty good, lol.)

It's purely a bitterness problem. I mentioned earlier that when I use real sugar to test the recipe the first time around I have the same problem with bitterness, so at least for now I don't think it's an issue with the artificial sweeteners. I'm really wondering now if I'm just starting with crappy chocolate.

- I've melted it successfully a ton of ways, including double-boiler, microwave on low power, and directly in a sauce-pan over low heat. None of this seems to have any effect on the bitterness -- and really, not on the texture either. It seems to melt fine as long as I'm careful with it and stir it frequently.
posted by Nattie at 10:06 PM on February 17, 2010

What about using sugar free baking chocolate? Like these chocolate chips from King Arthur Flour? It doesn't solve the how to fix unsweetened chocolate problem, but it would give you chocolate you can dip and bake with.


* Chowhound may have some good suggestions.
* It's been my experience that splenda works better for baking than most anything else.
* Have you tried sweetening everything else and then adding the melted chocolate? Or coating nuts in the chocolate and then rolling in the artificial sweetener?
posted by eleanna at 10:52 PM on February 17, 2010

Best answer: I'm really wondering now if I'm just starting with crappy chocolate.

This is probably the main issue. The baking chocolate that you buy at the grocery store is often terrible stuff. Not only is it just not good chocolate, but it is also relatively low in cocoa butter (if you are baking, you'll usually be adding butter or some other fat anyways) as cocoa butter is more expensive than cocoa powder. You can't turn bad chocolate into good chocolate just by adding sugar.

What you need is couverture, which is unsweetened chocolate that is much higher in fat (and is usually much higher quality as well). Once you have some couverture, you can start melting it with your sweeteners, cream (don't be afraid to try whipping cream or at least heavy cream), and possibly some extra fat (butter is good for baking purposes). Experiment to get the taste you want and then you can worry about texture later.

I also think it might be helpful for you to try eating some cocoa nibs or even some full cocoa beans (fermented, of course). For me, tasting cocoa in less processed forms made it easier to taste the differences in chocolate products. You may find it easier to tell which unsweetened chocolates will yield the results you want after experimenting with nibs or beans. I'm not a big fan of bitter flavours, but I found both nibs and beans palatable. You should be able to buy at least nibs at a good health food store.
posted by ssg at 11:03 PM on February 17, 2010

Just a brief note that couverture chocolate is less for taste and more for decoration or coating.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:04 AM on February 18, 2010

Response by poster: Eleanna: the chocolate chips there are sweetened with maltitol, which is a hardcore laxative. Unfortunately, most sugar-free chocolate products and candies are made with maltitol, which is why I have to make my own stuff at home from other sweeteners. :(

I also hate the aftertaste of Splenda, heh, plus it's full of dextrose as filler which is just a sugar. A packet or two of Splenda isn't a big deal, but once you get into half a cup or so it starts to add up and it makes a difference in my blood sugar. I've had zero luck getting it to make unsweetened chocolate taste any better as well. It also doesn't mimic a lot of the properties of sugar very well; for example, it won't liquify or caramalize, and I've found that a lot of recipes turn out grainier because it doesn't provide the smoothness sugar does. I used it years ago when there weren't better alternatives, but I've had far better results using erythritol and xylitol combined with tiny amounts (1/16th to an 1/8th tsp) of NuNaturals Stevia (it's not bitter like the other Stevias I've tried). They have a much rounder sugar taste and no aftertaste, plus they provide almost all the same properties as sugar; you can liquify and caramalize them, and they make a huge difference in smoothness as long as you use them in recipes where they can't leech out and recrystalize. They also have no effect on my blood sugar. (fwiw, when I want packets of stuff I use Truvia, which is erythritol and Stevia and no fillers.)

Chowhound is a good idea, I might ask around there as well.

I don't think adding the chocolate last, or coating the stuff would really make a difference; the problem isn't that the chocolate isn't sweet enough, but that it's too bitter, if that makes sense. I can take really bitter chocolate and add a ton of sweetener, but it just makes really sweet, bitter chocolate. :-/

Ssg: I think you're right about the main issue being the chocolate. I didn't want to waste any of the Scharffen Berger for fear that there might be something else wrong with the recipes I'm trying, but I got desperate tonight and decided to use 2oz of it on the milk chocolate "egg shell" recipe further down the page on this blog (which is awesome, by the way). The only difference was I added a little salt.

It was really good. Not bitter at all, and still very rich. It hardens up fairly well, too, and I used it to coat some stuff with success. I can't believe how horrible the standard unsweetened "baker's chocolate" is compared to that; I figured it was probably contributing to the problem, but I had no idea it was the whole problem. That stuff is seriously garbage! The Scarffen Berger is great, though, even though it's expensive.

One more thing I've figured out from reading various parts of the Ghirardelli page: I think one of my problems before was that when I wanted to substitute unsweetened chocolate for semisweet chocolate, I would just use the same amount and try to increase the amount of sugar. This was dumb because the actual chocolate content of the recipe would still be tons higher. Instead, I should just try to match the amount of chocolate content in the recipe; if it uses 6oz 70% chocolate, I should use about 4oz unsweetened.

Another thing I found out, in case anyone else following this is curious: if a recipe just says semisweet or bittersweet chocolate with no percentage listed, assume 60%.
posted by Nattie at 12:31 AM on February 18, 2010

Just a brief note that couverture chocolate is less for taste and more for decoration or coating.

To be absolutely clear here, couverture can mean whatever liquid chocolate gunk that you are using to coat something (i.e. pretty much the literal meaning of the French word). However, it also (and I think more commonly) means the chocolate that you use to make quality truffles, bars, etc. This stuff is all about the taste. Obviously, there can be some overlap between the two meanings (e.g. I'll use some couverture to make a coating for a cake). Here is a bit of an introduction to couverture (but be aware that couverture does not necessarily contain sugar or anything else other than cocoa).

I have about 5 lbs of pure cocoa Lindt couverture* sitting on my desk here and I can assure you that it is very tasty. It evens smells delicious if I open the bag. I'll eat a little bit of it without any sugar at all, which is not something I can say about unsweetened baking chocolate.

* Lindt has outlet stores at which you can buy big bags of couverture for prices that are comparable to what you pay for baking chocolate at the grocery store.
posted by ssg at 8:11 AM on February 18, 2010

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