Some months ago, as I was wondering the aisles of my local Foodland, I found Nestlé Plaistowe 70% cooking chocolate. I was curious, but decided to come back to it some other time.
Then, more recently, I found alongside it, Lindt Dessert 70% specialty cooking chocolate. Now I was intrigued, for two reasons, one slightly more off-beat than the other.
For years, the kind of chocolate I ate was pretty much limited to Cadbury Dairy Milk, and there’s only so much of that I could take anyhow. When I was a kid and teenager, Mum had this strange stuff now and again called “cooking chocolate”. And later after I was married, my wife would sometimes be making chocolatey things and it would appear in the fridge as well.
This cooking chocolate always seemed to have the magical properties that anybody who broke lumps off and walked away munching on it would get their fingers smacked; that by the cooking this chocolate somehow became “better”. And of course when I found it, the amount of it would somehow shrink.
It was not until much later that I looked at labels to find that most common supermarket cooking chocolates are 40% cocoa solids at most, and packed with vegetable fats and other things that, these days, I regard as unacceptable.
The second reason for being intrigued was that I still don’t understand the idea of most home-grade cooking chocolate being low grade junk. OK, its often a bit less milky, but a 40% cocoa chocolate padded with palm oil and god-knows-what puts me in the mind of what cooks are told about wine: If It’s Not Good Enough To Drink You Should Not Cook With It. So how come it’s OK to cook with crappy “cooking chocolate”?
Professional cooks have couverture chocolates available – high quality, and packaged to allow easy use in cooking, usually without the need to smash a block to pieces; its home cooks who suffer the low grade muck.
So having found two readily available cooking chocolates, both 70% cocoa, both aimed at the home cook, it seemed time to put them to the test. And the only sensible test I can think of is to use that approach about wine: don’t cook with them. Eat them, and see what they are like.
So without further ado:
Nestlé Plaistowe 70%
The label proudly proclaims “Intense and Indulgent Real Chocolate for Cooking”. A check on the back of the pack shows typical ingredients for a 70% cocoa: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin, flavour. But there are also two that are a little unusual: milk solids and butter oil. I’ve eaten plenty of eating chocolates like this, so its no big deal. I’m guessing butter oil will make it slightly softer. Milk solids is a bit odd.
The label isn’t exaggerating – this is a very pleasant, rich, powerful 70% chocolate which you could happily cook with or just eat as it is. It’s not excessively sweet, there is a very tiny hint of a cocoa powderiness, but you really have to search to find it.
I wondered if perhaps the Plaistowe name had some kind of long and colourful tradition, in the manner of Cadbury Bourneville. As far as my research shows the name is just the creation of the marketing department.
Lindt Dessert 70% Specialty Cooking Chocolate
The chap with the big hat and his whisk on the front of the pack certainly leaves no illusions about the intended purpose of this product. Again, it was time to check the ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, reduced fat cocoa powder, cocoa butter, lecithin, flavour. Seeing “reduced fat cocoa powder” is the unusual one here. I’d take a wild guess that many chocolates are fortified with cocoa powder and it can be wrapped up in the guise of “cocoa mass”. Actually saying so on a label is the odd part.
Again, this is a pleasant, rich, powerful 70% chocolate. Again, I’d quite happily cook with it. It’s also a pretty good eating chocolate, but by comparison with the Plaistowe, this has a slightly harsh note. I can’t really pick what or how – it just seems a little less refined – in the genteel rather than industrial sense of the word. If anything this is slightly more bitter.
Neither of these 200g blocks are especially cheap, coming in at about A$5 each – so the no-name brands are around only because they are very cheap. For cooking, either of these will do a reasonable job. Depending on what you make them into, you could choose either and be well served; if making something with minimal other ingredients go for the Nestlé Plaistowe.