Nowadays there are so many different types of chocolate on the market, that we are literally ‘spoiled for choice’.
With so much publicity on what we should and should not eat, many people are now eating plain chocolate. Not only does plain chocolate have less sugar than other types, but it also contains a high proportion of cocoa solids. These are formed of pure chocolate and cocoa butter - a hard, white fat. The percentage of cocoa solids is always listed on the wrapper of the chocolate. Some percentages are as high as 75% or even higher, indicating the chocolate is exceptionally smooth and of high quality.
The most popular chocolate of all is milk chocolate. Most children adore it. Sweeter than plain chocolate it has extra sugar, full cream milk, and vanilla added to it.
Then there is white chocolate, which contains only cocoa butter, milk, sugar and vanilla. Because of the added milk, both this type of chocolate, and also milk chocolate, need melting with care over a gentle heat. Otherwise they will thicken, and although edible, will not re-melt.
Chocolate drops (or nibs, as they are sometimes called) are easy to melt. They can be used as a decoration on cakes or as an ingredient in the popular chocolate brownie cakes.
Chocolate is used in the spectacular ‘chocolate fountains’. These make an eye-catching image for a special occasion, with the melted chocolate continually flowing like a colored waterfall - just ready for guests to dip marshmallows, strawberry's and other small fruits, into the ‘fountain’. It is a good idea to have plenty napkins around to catch the drips!
Those who are diabetic often complain about how restricted their diet is, but at least they can have a piece of chocolate. Diabetic chocolate is on sale in various outlets, and has a lower percentage of sugar than other chocolate.
Apart from chocolates and bars of chocolate, we can also buy chocolate flakes, these contain both cocoa butter and vegetable oil. The butter adds flavor, and the oil helps give the flake its crumbly consistency
Some specialist shops sell blocks of cocoa butter, which can be melted, mixed with cocoa powder and used to paint sepia colored pictures onto cakes or plaques.
Vermicelli is yet another type of chocolate. These tiny strands are used for coating truffles and cakes. Occasionally the name can becomes confused with Italian vermicelli - fine strands of pasta!
A current fashion is to decorate a wedding cake with curls of chocolate, standing like tall rods around the sides of a cake. They can be home made but it is a time-consuming job and it is not easy to make them all a similar size. So it is a good idea to buy from a specialist shop, when you can be sure they will all be an equal length and thickness
Another type of coating used by confectioners is known as Ganache. This mixture of cream and chocolate is very versatile. Melted and flooded over cakes, it is delicious to eat, and sets with a gloss. The higher the quality of the chocolate used, the greater the sheen on the coating. Alternatively, Ganache can be left to firm and then piped on cakes, or made into truffles.
Modeling chocolate another commodity which can either be bought or home-made. This consists of liquid glucose and chocolate. The glucose makes the paste pliable and easy to model - chocolate roses are particularly popular.
And finally, we come to a type of ‘so called chocolate’ which can cause confusion. Packaged under various headings it is often called Chocolate Flavor Cake covering, or Chocolate Flavored Coating. But whatever the title they all have one thing in common - although containing cocoa powder, the cocoa butter has been extracted and replaced with vegetable fat, which is why the manufacturers cannot call it chocolate.
The addition of vegetable fat makes the ‘chocolate’ easier to melt and work with. But it has a drawback - because of the lack of cocoa butter it does not have the same eating quality as pure chocolate.
Pat Lock is a cake decorating expert with over 25 years experience who runs the excellent Cake Decorating Tips website. She has won awards at the prestigious international competition at Hotel Olympia, London and is also an accomplished author.