One of the most popular foods, everyone likes chocolate in some form - whether you prefer sophisticated dark liqueur-filled truffles, one of the many varieties of chocolate bars on the market or a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Chocolate is made from the seeds or beans of the cacao tree and the final product can range from plain dark and bitter to sweet depending on any extra ingredients that are added such as butter, sugar or flavourings.
Uses: From sauces and puddings to bakes, biscuits, cakes and drinks, chocolate is a very versatile and popular sweet ingredient. It combines well with many other flavours but particularly coffee, nuts, mint and spirits such as rum, brandy and whisky.
To store: Chocolate should be stored in a dry, cool cupboard away from direct sunlight. Once opened store it in an airtight container. If chocolate is stored in conditions that are too damp (in the fridge) or too warm (in direct sunlight) its quality can be affected and a white bloom will appear on the surface. If the chocolate has a bloom after it has melted and re-solidified it can be re-melted and used in cooking.
However, if a bloom of sugar crystals rises to the surface after it has been stored in the fridge or in damp conditions the texture of the chocolate can be gritty and inedible. To decide whether or not you can use chocolate with a bloom on, the best test is to taste it - if the texture has altered then it shouldn't be used in cooking.
To prepare: The best way to melt chocolate is in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted into a smooth, shiny thick liquid. The water should only be very gently simmering - excess heat can cause the chocolate to go thick. It is also important not to let any water (or steam) come into contact with the chocolate because it will adversely affect the texture making it go lumpy and thick.
Small round pieces of chocolate that are used in baking - the chips do not melt during cooking and so give a 'dotty' effect to baked goods. Plain or milk chocolate chips are available from Waitrose.
Uses: Chocolate chips can be added to cakes, biscuits and cookie mixtures before cooking, to give a chocolate flavour and a speckled chocolate appearance. They can also be used as decorations.
To store: Keep in a cool, dry place and use by the best before date.
Continental milk chocolate
A smooth milk chocolate which has a distinctive rich and creamy taste. Waitrose Continental milk chocolate contains a minimum of 20% milk solids and 30% cocoa solids and is ideal for making sauces, grating over desserts or hot chocolate or just eating.
Continental plain chocolate
This is the best quality (and most expensive) chocolate with a minimum of 72% cocoa solids. It has a bitter, rich flavour. Ideal for cooking, decorations and just eating!
With a minimum of 40% cocoa solids, plain chocolate has a bitter flavour and is suitable for including in recipes and melting. Plain chocolate flavoured with ginger, coffee and orange is also available.
This contains 20% milk solids and 30% cocoa solids so it has a less chocolaty flavour than plain chocolate. It is less suitable for cooking but is great for decoration or simply eating!
This is made from cocoa butter, milk and sugar and strictly speaking isn't really chocolate at all. It is often used in recipes in conjunction with plain dark chocolate where a contrasting colour is required - the chocolate flavour is provided by the dark chocolate. Be extra careful when melting white chocolate - it has a high sugar content and so burns easily.
Chocolate-flavoured cake covering
This is available in plain, milk or white chocolate flavours and is made from a small amount of cocoa butter, fat and sugar. It is cheaper than chocolate but has a less concentrated flavour. It is suitable for melting and is best used as a decoration rather than as an ingredient in recipes.