Choosing a chocolate.

In response to the chocolate and olive oil mousse posting yesterday, a reader asks:

“Any particular type of chocolate that you recommend? Cocoa content? I would love to make this for Christmas.”

I like a variety of chocolates, across a range of prices. Price and quality sometimes are related, but not necessarily, so you should go with what you know you like. If you are fortunate enough to have access to artisanal chocolate, try it out here. Look for a chocolate with fruit notes, especially fig, raisin, and grape, if using a fruitier oil from Spain, or spice notes if choosing a peppery oil, like a Tuscan oil.

In case you wondered, the percentage on the label refers to the combined cocoa solids and cocoa butter in the chocolate – the ratios of each tend to be proprietary – so if you see “70%,” that means 70% cocoa solids and cocoa butter, but the resulting chocolate may be more or less bitter, or more or less rich, depending on the maker. For the mousse, if you want to keep this nondairy, I recommend a percentage between 55 and 70 – more tends to be too bitter and less often contains milk. Full disclosure: I’m really a milk chocolate fan when it comes to pure eating enjoyment – the dairy really smooths out and complements the chocolate and gives it a great texture. But this dish calls for something stronger.

For inexpensive, widely available chocolate, I like the “Belgian dark chocolate” in the lavender colored wrappers sold three to a pack at Trader Joe’s. Each bar weighs about 1.75 ounces. I’m not a prepared food buyer, so I don’t do a lot of shopping there, but Trader Joe’s carries some useful product at good prices – freeze dried fruit and vacuum packed chestnuts come to mind – and this chocolate, which costs less than $3 for 5 ounces, is one of my buys. Supermarkets often carry Lindt Bittersweet Fine Dark and Ghirardelli 60% and 70% Bittersweet, which are great choices if you’re trying to control costs.

Several high quality chocolates are in wide distribution, so if you’re checking out your local Whole Foods or specialty market, look for Scharffen Berger70% or 62%, or Valrhona Caraibe or Manjari. The fruity notes in the Valrhona are particularly suited to this dish. I also am a Callebaut fan, and recommend the Grenade and Madagascar in particular, but Callebaut distribution is not as wide.

If organic chocolate is important to you, Green and Blacks organic chocolates are widely available in organic food stores and at Whole Foods. The 70% is well suited to this dessert.

Among artisanal chocolates, the bean-to-bar producers are your best bet for this recipe and the chocolate toast, since they specialize in chocolate blending, not candymaking (e.g., truffles). Amano Chocolate is one or my favorites – I especially like the Jembrana and Madagascar for this dessert.


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