Tag Archives: Truffles

10 Tips for Keeping Chocolate Fresh

HOW TO STORE FINE CHOCOLATE

We finished with Valentine’s not long ago and although most of you have polished off the last bits of your bounty by now, I know there are few of you out there that want to savor your chocolate over weeks or even months.  Or maybe you are building yourself a fine chocolate collection in the way that some people collect wine.  Either way, you’re in luck because chocolate bars can last several years when stored properly.  Years?  I know, I know, chocolate doesn’t last but a couple of days in your home, but keep in mind that chocolate can become a mess in a matter  of days if kept poorly.

So what do you need to know to preserve the best flavor and texture of your bars?  There are three main enemies of chocolate:

  • Heat
  • Humidity
  • Strong odors

You could add sunlight, but this is rarely an issue.  If you want to defeat the enemies of chocolate, just follow these ten tips:

Melted chocolate bars

Some completely abused and bloomed bars. My wife bought these on a summer road trip as a surprise for me and accidently left them in the hot car. Although these bars were beyond edible (I tried), your chocolate won’t even come close to this disaster state if you follow a few simple rules.

1.  Store your chocolate bars between about 60 and 65°F (about 16 – 18ºC).  Heat will slowly drive away aroma and then flavor.  In the extreme, you’ll get melting which can wreck the texture besides disturbing any art that’s molded into the bar.  A fat bloom can also develop as a whitish haze on the surface of the bar that, while unpleasant looking, won’t hurt you at all.  Bloomed chocolate may have poor texture, but more importantly, bloom is an indicator of poor storage.  What to do with a hazy bloomed bar?  Just taste it and see.  Rarely will you want to throw it away.  If it seems sub-par, but still edible, it can be used for baking, put into your oatmeal or crumbled on dessert.

Storing chocolate under too cold conditions may disturb the crystalline structure of the chocolate and affect texture, cause bloom, or both.  Chocolate makers take great care to create a bar where the cocoa butter and cocoa solids are intimately mixed.  Extremes of temperature can undo this hard work.  Still, I would worry less about cold than heat.

Now these are ideal conditions.  Your chocolate is not going to suddenly turn to junk at 66ºF, so don’t stress out.  Choose one of the storage methods in Tips 7 – 10 and your chocolate will stay smooth and potent.

2.   Store chocolate in a dry place.   Ideally, the relative humidity should be below 50%.  Excess moisture can condense on the bar and draw out the sugar onto the surface.  A sugar bloom, like a fat bloom, won’t hurt you and simply disturbs the texture.  Again, give it a taste to decide its fate – eat it, mix it or toss it.

3.   Keep chocolate out of direct sunlight.  Not only will it heat up the chocolate, but sunlight will also degrade flavors.

4.  Avoid strong odors.  Thou shalt not keep chocolate in your refrigerator next to the garlic and kimchee.  Chocolate absorbs strong odors like sponge.  Also keep flavored bars such as mint, coffee or Theo’s Chai Tea chocolate in a separate box away from your plain chocolate and everything will taste as it should.

5.  Have no fear of the “best by” date.  Here’s a confusing little secret of the chocolate industry:  they put “best by” dates on the bars because packaging laws say they have to, but the dates are somewhat arbitrary.  Some chocolate makers are at a loss as to what date to use, so they basically copy the other guy.  Food needs moisture to grow bacteria and go bad.  Chocolate contains very little moisture and most of the moisture it has is bound up with sugar.  So, chocolate doesn’t really go “bad” in the sense that it can make you sick when it gets old.  Does the sugar in your sugar bowl ever go bad? No.  What does happen is that the fats in the cocoa butter break down under the influence of heat, light and oxygen causing off flavors to develop [3].

With properly stored chocolate bars, nothing much happens except some flavor and aroma slowly, very slowly, go away.  Even milk chocolate bars are very stable since they contain milk solids with very low moisture [1].  Yes, the fresher, the better, but if you discover something that’s out of date, your tongue will tell you if it’s worth eating or not.  Give it a taste test.

6.  Keep chocolate out of reach of dogs.  For some dogs, chocolate acts as a powerful stimulant and they can have a heart attack.  The reaction will depend upon the dog and how much they eat.  If your Chocolate Lab eats a chocolate bar, call your vet and ask what to do next.  Don’t panic.  They may be just fine – it depends upon the dog.

Old Theo Jane Dark in Good Condition

I discovered this Theo dark chocolate bar hiding in my stash. Although it’s now 18 months out of date, with proper storage, it’s in good condition with no bloom. The flavor, while not the same as a new bar, is still enjoyable with floral notes and honey. I’ll be keeping these.

7.  Store your chocolate in tightly sealed bags in a cooler in a dry basement.  This is how I keep most of my personal chocolate stash. Put the bars into good quality freezer bags and squeeze the air out before sealing.  Then put it all into a clean cooler or insulated box.  You should put mint and other strongly favored chocolates in their own sealed box or a separate cooler altogether.  Make sure there are no odors in the cooler or buy a new cooler for the purpose.   The basement should be reasonably dry – use a dehumidifier if needed and keep the chocolate well sealed.   No basement?  The bottom of a closet is the next best option as long as it doesn’t get too hot.  Your closet is too hot? Consider Tips 8 – 10 below.

8.  Invest in a wine cooler – This is a more expensive option, but allows you to control temperature best.  Most wine coolers  will have a temperature adjustment, so you can get it up into the 60-65°F range.  You can store wine and chocolate together, but be  sure the unit is clean and dry [2].  Wrap the bars as in Tip 7.

9.  Invest in a mini fridge and dedicate it to chocolate –  You know, the kind you find in dorm rooms.  Set it on the warmest temperature (you can check with a refrigerator thermometer).  Keep it clean and wrap the bars as in Tip 7.

10.  Wrap it up well for the fridge.  If you’ve come this far and you really must insist on putting chocolate in your refrigerator along with the rest of your food, I’m going to say OK, with a few conditions.  Put the bars into freezer bags, include a paper towel and squeeze out all the air.  Put the bags into tightly sealed food storage bins (A.K.A. “tupperware”).  As before, separate the strongly flavored bars such as mint with their own bin.  When it’s time to eat some chocolate, take out only the bag you need and allow it to warm up for 1 hour or more before opening the bag. This will prevent moisture from condensing on the chocolate [2].

ENJOYING WELL-KEPT CHOCOLATE

No matter how you store the chocolate, give it about 1 hour to warm up to room temperature before opening the bag and serving.  This will bring the flavors to life.  If you just can’t bear to wait that long, then take a square of chocolate and press it against the roof of your mouth with your tongue until it starts to melt.  Enjoy the release of flavors that ensues.  Repeat until satisfied.

Should you have any questions on keeping your chocolate well, just leave a comment.

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Notes and References:

[1] We’re talking about solid bars here – not truffles or bars filled with some fruit or dairy product.  Depending upon the filling, truffles can go bad quite quickly and are capable of growing mold and all sorts of maladies.    We’ll discuss storing truffles in another post.

[2] Credit goes to Clay Gordon for the wine cooler idea.  See C. Gordon, Discover Chocolate:  The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolate.  Gotham, 2007.

[3] Greweling, Peter ., CMB, Chocolates and Confections, Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner, 2007, Wiley.

Aequare Fine Chocolates Filled Chocolate Truffles

Aequare Chocolate Truffles

Aequare Chocolate Truffles (L to R): Mocha, Salted Caramel, Blackberry Cobbler, Ecuador, Le Citron

Most often I taste and rate chocolate bars in the morning before I’ve had anything to eat or drink besides water.  This way, I start off fresh with a clean palate.  But this time, it just didn’t seem right to be eating such luxurious little works of art so early in the morning.  It would be like whipping out a bottle of vintage port and pouring a healthy glass at 7:30 AM.  So, I asked my wife to join me on a Friday night and we went through a six-piece assortment of fine filled chocolates together.  Even thought these are closer to European sized truffles (smaller than the gargantuan American standard – usually called bonbons), they were still big enough to cut in half and share.   I’m not providing a numerical rating for these chocolates since they can’t be compared to plain bars, but we did vote for our favorites – and our pick for number one was unanimous.

Aequare Fine Chocolates was created by classically trained American Chef Jeffrey Stern who is now living and making fine chocolates in Quito, Ecuador.  Aequare makes single origin bars and ganache-filled confections in small batches using ingredients sourced almost entirely in Ecuador.  Aequare also follows a fair trade model that provides fair wages for cacao farmers.   Jeff has developed personal relationships with his growers and frequently visits the farms in Los Rios province that produce the beans.  I’ll write more about Aequare’s story when I taste and rate their single origin bars in a later post.

Aequare six piece assorted chocolates

Aequare six piece assorted chocolates

What:  Aequare Fine Chocolates Six Piece Assortment.  Filled single origin chocolate confections from Ecuador.  66g (2.4oz).  Price – about $14.

These were our impressions, in order of tasting.  Next to each name is the description provided by Aequare in the mini-booklet included with each assortment to help you identify each piece.  I took more notes on my own comments than Genevieve’s, so her comments here are more terse.

Ecuador –  Pure 70% single origin ganache with Tahitian vanilla, enrobed in dark chocolate.

Genevieve: Apricot jam notes, rich buttery ganache.

Me: A light buttery fudge texture on the inside, hints of whipped crème.  The chocolate is not as intense as I thought it might be, probably because there is more filling than “shell.”

Mocha – The finest Ecuadorian coffee in a milk chocolate ganache, covered in dark chocolate.

Genevieve: “Oh that’s good.”  Velvety smoothness.  The coffee is not very intense.

Me: The coffee flavor rises up fast and early but is not overwhelming. Very creamy.  Mocha on a buttery, milky backdrop.

Amazon – Dark chocolate ganache with Ishpingo, a unique flavor from the Amazon, and a hint of cinnamon.

Genevieve: Nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, brown sugar.  Not overpowering, silky, round, and luscious.  These flavors were more exotic and Genevieve is real good at picking these things out – she caught the nutmeg notes before I did.  It’s hard to find familiar comparisons to  Ishpingo, but the nutmeg and cardamom comes pretty close.

Me: A very interesting flavor combination.  Ishpingo came through as aromatic nutmeg notes that really paired well with the dark Chocolate.

Salted Caramel – The finest caramel ganache with specks of French fleur d’sel.

Genevieve: If just lick the ganache, you can taste more salt, but if you chew the whole thing, the flavors mix into a fine balance.

Me: A very satisfying combination.  Again, subtle use of salt provides a nice complement to the chocolate. Do you see a trend here?

Blackberry Cobbler – Pure blackberry puree, almond praline, and semi-sweet chocolate enrobed in 70% single origin chocolate.

Genevieve (just enjoying herself despite my seriousness): Wow! What is this?

Me: The acid of the berries was a nice, clean contrast to the chocolate.  The flavoring in the filling was definitely more pronounced in this case, but if you’re expecting blackberries, you want them to come through.  These were made from the real thing as evidenced by the tiny bits of blackberry seeds.

Le Citroen – Meyer Lemon infused semi-sweet chocolate ganache, enrobed in dark chocolate.

Genevieve: Not my favorite combination.  Maybe at this point in the tasting we were blown away by the rest of the chocolates, so whichever one we tasted last was doomed to be judged in the shadow of the previous five.

Me: Not my favorite either.  Something doesn’t work well for me, but the citrus is a nice clean note against the chocolate.  This is a matter of taste, of course, and you may totally love this one.  Enjoyable yes, but it comes in at #6 for both of us.

Overall Impressions:

Me: It seems that Chef Sterm is not at all heavy handed with the flavorings.  Rather, he achieves this subtle balance necessary to let this special single-origin chocolate shine through like a conductor that draws out the flutes and the French horns at just the right volume while making sure the rest of the orchestra doesn’t drown them out.  I think this is critical if you are going to call something “fine” chocolates – you can’t be clumsy with the flavorings or use them to mask inferior chocolate.  Clearly Chef Stern gets this and has only the highest respect for the Arriba chocolate that is the basis for all these confections.

Genevieve: “That’s really *&%^in’ good chocolate!”  The kids are asleep; she can use whatever colorful descriptors she wants!

Here’s our vote for top three:

Genevieve: #1 Amazon, #2 Salted Caramel, #3 Blackberry Cobbler

Me: #1 Amazon,  #2 Blackberry Cobbler, #3 Salted Caramel

Update:  To our  Aequare Fine Chocolates are no longer available.  It was fun while it lasted.

Disclosures:  I paid for these chocolates myself.