What makes an outstanding sweetened dark chocolate? It looks glossy thanks to careful tempering, is crisp enough to break apart with a snap (due to an abundance of cocoa butter), and has an appetizing chocolatey smell (whether pungent, fudgy, nutty or mellow). It melts quickly on the tongue without either waxiness or grittiness. It is flavourful and full-bodied and leaves a clean, appealing aftertaste in your mouth.
Sweetened chocolates range from very dark and slightly bitter (bittersweet) through moderately dark and fairly sweet (semisweet). All chocolates in this group are blends of chocolate solids, cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin (an emulsifier) and flavourings. Porportions of sugar and added cocoa butter vary from brand to brand, but all must contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor and many of the darker, less sweet chocolates contain more than 50 percent. The proportion of chocolate solids and cocoa butter is usually about equal.
Choosing among sweetened chocolates can be confusing. If you are selecting among European brands, you will come across chocolates labelled “dark” with no information on the degree of sweetness. More and more manufacturers include the perecentage of cocoa on the labels of exported chocolate products, but this is not mandatory in all countries.
It appears I’m not alone in my fondness for El Rey – check out this review:
As a rule, semisweet chocolate is generally sweeter than bittersweet, with a pronounced chocolate flavour and a slightly less bitter edge.
European dark chocolates are comparable to American bittersweet brands, although a few are nearly as sweet as typical American semisweets. Even among American brands, there are no absolute indicators of sweetness, because there are no legal definitions of the terms bittersweet and semisweet. What one company calls semisweet may be judged bittersweet by another.
Moreover, it is the blend of ingredients and smoothness of the final product, not just the quantity of sugar, that makes any given chocolate taste bold and slightly bitter or fairly mild and sweet.
My absolute favourite brands for baking are Valrhona, Callebault, Cocoa Barry (code for Callebaut), Lindt and Ghiradelli.
These brands aren’t cheap, but they’re well worth the expense, whether I’m baking for my family and friends or for a demanding client. I don’t have much use for supermarket brands, although in my opinion Bakers chocolate is the best out of all of them, and is very affordable compared to the brands I already mentioned. Otherwise, if you are on a budget but prefer a bit more depth of flavour, I recommend Lindt.
Here are some mouthwatering recipes that highlight sweetened dark chocolate, from me to you.
Ina Garten’s Towering Flourless Chocolate Cake
It’s a double chocolate punch – dig out your unsweetened chocolate as well for this one.
Suggested wine pairing: merlot, sherry
Emeril’s Chocolate Pecan Pie with Semisweet Chocolate and Jack Ice Cream
Suggested wine pairing: sherry, merlot or pinot noir
Chocolate Covered Strawberries – this Food Network site show shows you how to make them like a pro.
Suggested wine pairing: cream sherry, champagne
Chocolate Strawberry Shortcakes
Suggested wine pairing: cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel
Use as a warm dip or sauce, pour or spread on cakes, cupcakes or cheesecakes, or make them into truffles. It’s all good!
Suggested wine pairing: tawny port