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Cookbook author (and Queen of Chocolate) Alice Medrich talks cacao

August 21, 2008 |  5:23 pm

MedrichAlice Medrich, author of award-winning cookbooks such as "Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate" and "Pure Dessert," stopped by the Test Kitchen today to talk about how to use chocolate with different percentages of cacao content in different recipes.

"Bittersweet and semisweet -- those are not very useful terms anymore," Medrich says. "We need more specificity."

Chocolate makers use the terms "bittersweet" and "semisweet" interchangeably and in any way they want, she explained. A sampling of supermarket chocolate labeled "semisweet" had a range of cacao content -- 53%, 54%, 61% or 62%. A sampling of "bittersweet" chocolate referred to 55% to 72% cacao content. And a bar labeled "extra bittersweet" had 71% cacao content.

Medrich made two versions of her chocolate sauce (recipe follows), one made with chocolate with 55% cacao content and the other... 

Chocosauce made with chocolate with 70% cacao content. Because chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa solids is drier (it has less sugar and less cocoa butter), the sauce with 70% chocolate required more liquid for a smooth and fluid consistency (about 1 cup of milk compared with the about 1/2 cup for the sauce with the 55% chocolate). Her chocolate sauce recipe is highly adaptable -- you just add more milk (or cream or half and half) as needed. Cakes and mousses are another story.

Alice's Chocolate Sauce

10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped finely

1/2 to 1 cup milk, half and half or heavy cream, or any combination

2 tablespoons butter if using milk instead of cream, but optional

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

Pinch of salt

Place the chocolate and one-half cup of the milk or cream in a medium heatproof bowl set in a pan of not quite simmering water. Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Add more milk or cream if the sauce is too thick or looks curdled, or if it hardens too much when you spoon a little "test" over ice cream: the higher the cacao percentage of the chocolate, the more milk or cream you will need to make the sauce smooth and fluid.

If you are using milk, taste the sauce and add some or all of the butter if you want to tone down the flavor intensity. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt.

Use the warm sauce immediately or set it aside and rewarm it briefly in a pan of hot water when needed. Sauce keeps several days in the refrigerator or may be frozen. Makes 1 3/4 cups.

-- Betty Hallock

Photos of Alice Medrich and Alice's chocolate sauce by Betty Hallock