How to avoid clumping, nail the perfect cookie — and what to do if the outside of your chocolate turns white.
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Chocolate is delicious, but working with it at home can be intimidating. Sometimes it clumps up, sometimes it burns — it’s not an easy thing to master.
So we talked to Kyle Bartone, pastry sous chef at Eataly in New York City, to get some of his best tips for working with it at home.
When working with chocolate, make sure all your surfaces and tools — bowls, spoons, measuring cups — are completely dry.
That's because when water hits melted chocolate, the chocolate will seize — or clump up. “A single drop of water can ruin a whole batch of melted chocolate,” says Bartone. “This is why before I start melting any chocolate, I always take the time to wipe out the bowl and make sure there's no water in it.” Water can actually act like glue and cause chocolate to clump up — so make sure to always keep things dry.
For chocolate doughs and cake batters, use cocoa powder instead of flour to prevent them from sticking to the counter or in their baking tins.
“For any dough or batter that is chocolate flavored,” explains Bartone, “I prefer to use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of flour when prepping my cake pans.” This will help prevent sticking, but also give your baked goods a double hit of chocolate flavor.
If your recipe calls for melted chocolate, don’t use chocolate chips — some of them are actually designed not to melt.
“A lot of chocolate chips are designed to hold their shape and not melt,” explains Bartone. “This is because they're sometimes made with added soy lecithin to increase their melting temperature.” For maximum melting, chop up whole bars of chocolate, or use products labeled “couverture” — which is a type of chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter.
Don’t stir your melted chocolate with a metal spoon — the coldness might “shock” your chocolate.
Chocolate doesn't like being hot or cold, and extreme temperature changes will cause it to seize. “I always stir my chocolate with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula,” shares Bartone. “This makes sure that it doesn't shock the chocolate and cause it to clump up.”
Let chocolate set (AKA harden) on plastic wrap to give it a shiny finish — perfect for chocolate bark or fancy garnishes.
“Sometimes, if I'm trying to set melted chocolate but don't have acetate (fancy film sheets that make chocolate look shiny), I pour it onto plastic wrap,” shares Bartone. “This gives it a super shiny finish — and if you crinkle the plastic wrap up a bit, it'll give you a cool texture that makes chocolate bark look really cool.”
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If you’re trying to dip something in chocolate, but it’s too thick to coat it nicely, add a little bit of vegetable oil.
Not only will this help thin it out, but it'll also give it a nice glossy finish. “Chocolate is a fat system,” explains Bartone, “so without getting too nerdy, this means you can add fat to it without it seizing up.” So, if you need to thin out your chocolate, make sure to use fat (like vegetable oil, butter, or cocoa butter), not a liquid.
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To safely melt chocolate at home, either melt it in a double boiler or in the microwave — never over direct heat.
“Chocolate is delicate and can burn very easily,” says Bartone. “This is why we usually melt it in either a double boiler or the microwave.” To melt it in a double boiler, just place a bowl of chocolate over a gently simmering pot of water (making sure not to let the bowl touch the water) and slowly let it melt. To melt it in the microwave, Bartone has his own method: “Just melt it in 10 second increments — I know this sounds like a pain, but it'll make sure the chocolate doesn't burn.”
Use a serrated knife to chop up bars of chocolate — it’s much easier and will save your hand from hurting.
“Trust me on this one — it saves my hand from cramping up on a daily basis,” explains Bartone.
Keep in mind that white chocolate can be a bit trickier to work with — because it burns much easier.
“White chocolate is more sensitive to heat — meaning that it can burn pretty easily,” says Bartone. “When melting white chocolate, just keep this in mind and go very slowly. As soon as it's warm, it's melted.” If you do happen to burn it, Bartone suggests going with the flow and making caramelized white chocolate (a fancy technique pastry chefs like to use).
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Don’t store it in the fridge.
Because chocolate doesn't like extreme temperatures, you should avoid storing it in the fridge. “This can actually cause the chocolate to bloom,” explains Bartone, “so don't do it!”