Chocolate is an incredibly versatile ingredient, and dark chocolate especially has really made a massive impact on the world recently!
Today, you will find a lot more dark chocolate recipes (for both savory and sweet dishes) than you would have a few decades ago.
However, not everyone is a fan and sometimes you just want a deliciously sweet dish! But, what if you don’t have sweeter chocolate on hand? Or, what if you need to use dark chocolate whole but want it slightly sweeter?
Can you make dark chocolate sweeter? Luckily, there are two ways to sweeten dark chocolate. The first is to sweeten melted chocolate by adding sugar, honey, condensed milk, or syrup. You can also do this by blending dark chocolate with sweet chocolate like white chocolate. The other method is by pairing specific ingredients with it to enhance the sweetness in the chocolate.
Today, we will have an in-depth look at all the different ways to sweeten dark chocolate. We will first look at the structure of dark chocolate to help you better understand what needs changing.
This will help you understand how certain additions work and why. Ready to dive in?
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans. The cocoa beans are cleaned and dried after being harvested. There are several steps involved to then produce cocoa nibs.
The nibs are ground and then liquefied to produce chocolate liquor. Then, this chocolate liquor is further processed into two parts: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter is a white solid mass that is used to make virtually every type of chocolate. It gives it its richness and lusciousness.
The cocoa solids are what give chocolate their dark appearance and the unique bitter flavor (like dark chocolate has).
The ratio of cocoa butter and cocoa solids is what determines the type of chocolate you are making. For dark chocolate, by universal law, it has to contain a minimum of 35% cocoa solids.
However, some countries have much stricter laws and only consider chocolate with more than 70% cocoa solids as “dark chocolate”.
So, yes, when you think about it, that means that white and milk chocolate all fits into the “0-35%” category, while “35-100% is virtually all allocated as “dark chocolate”.
Naturally, this forced chocolatiers to develop sub-categories of dark chocolate. There are mainly three; semisweet dark chocolate, bittersweet dark chocolate, and bitter dark chocolate.
Semisweet dark chocolate contains between 35-65% cocoa solids. The lower percentage the chocolate has, the sweeter it will be.
Remember, the cocoa solids are what add the bitter flavor. So, the fewer cocoa solids there are, the sweeter the chocolate will be.
Bittersweet dark chocolate should contain between 65-80% of cocoa solids. And, bitter dark chocolate has between 80-100% cocoa solids.
Bitter dark chocolate is naturally the most bitter. Most people want to make this category of dark chocolate sweeter.
|Type Of Chocolate||Percentage Of Cocoa Solids|
|Semisweet dark chocolate||35-65%|
|Bittersweet dark chocolate||65-80%|
|Bitter dark chocolate||80-100%|
How To Make Dark Chocolate Sweeter
Okay, so there are a few different routes you can follow for this. The ways you are using the dark chocolate will to a certain extent determine which “type of fix” to use.
The first option you can follow is to sweeten the chocolate itself, essentially altering its composition. This can be done by adding some type of sweetener or blending the dark chocolate with sweeter types.
The second route you can follow is to tone down its intensity.
Now, we know this isn’t necessarily “making it sweeter”, but it is in a sense because you are reducing the bitter-flavor profile and enhancing the rest, which usually is sweet (depending on the percentage of course).
This can be done in two ways. First, by pairing the chocolate with specific ingredients. The second, by adding certain ingredients into the recipe (if it’s possible).
What To Add To Dark Chocolate To Make It Sweeter
The easiest way to make dark chocolate sweeter is to add sweetener. Or blend the chocolate with sweeter chocolate. Either way, this is the best way to still use dark chocolate in recipes as opposed to simply pairing it with sweetening ingredients.
Let’s start with arguably the “most difficult” of the sweetening methods. But, to be honest, if you understand the concept, it’s pretty easy to understand how it’s done.
Let’s say you have 99% dark chocolate. This means that the chocolate only contains 1% cocoa butter (the part that dilutes the bitter cocoa solids).
So, by adding more cocoa butter, you will change the ratio of cocoa solids and cocoa butter in the chocolate, ultimately lowering the percentage.
You can add cocoa butter in two ways. The first is by adding actual cocoa butter, but this can be expensive.
The second is by blending the dark chocolate with white chocolate (which is extremely high in cocoa butter). You can also blend semisweet dark chocolate with milk chocolate to increase the sweetness.
You can play around with this method to truly customize your chocolate to a specific sweetness. And, it honestly is a lot of fun!
Adding a sweetener is the most obvious way to make dark chocolate sweeter. But, there are many options to choose from. All of them are equally easy to incorporate though.
To incorporate any of these sweeteners, you will first have to gently melt the dark chocolate. You can do this over a double boiler, in the microwave, or simply inside of the pot or pan itself.
Just make sure the chocolate is completely melted, lump-free, and do not overheat it or it will seize.
Then, add the sweetener of your choice and mix it in well. You can easily adjust the sweetness of the chocolate by only starting with a little sweeter at a time.
Then, you can use your melted sweetened chocolate as-is inside of a recipe, or re-set it. Resetting it could pose some problems as you changed the molecular structure of the chocolate.
You may want to set the chocolate in the fridge or re-temper it.
This is the most convenient sweeter to add; however, it has some downfalls. Granulated sugar, even if you do choose fine granulated sugar, does change the structure of melted chocolate. So, think about when you are using this addition.
For example, if you are baking brownies and are using melted chocolate in the recipe, the texture changes won’t matter. But, if you are making a sauce, the sauce may come out a bit grainy.
On the plus side, everyone (at least most culinary enthusiasts) has sugar on hand at home. And, it is a very affordable sweetener, arguably the most affordable.
Honey is a naturally sweet ingredient that can easily be mixed into chocolate. The biggest downfall with using honey is that it could drastically change the flavor of the chocolate because of its strong unique flavor.
It will also make your melted chocolate a bit thicker, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing and won’t affect most recipes.
This is an easy way to use granulated sugar in a liquid form so that it doesn’t affect the texture of the chocolate. It is extremely sweet as it is a concentrated form of sugar.
You can make various consistencies of sugar syrups from light, to heavy. A medium simple syrup (made with equal parts sugar and water) will work best with melted dark chocolate.
Other types of sweetening ingredients that you can add include condensed milk, stevia, powdered sugar, or liquid glucose.
You are less likely to have these ingredients on hand and they will likely be more expensive. But, they work very well and won’t change the texture of the chocolate.
How To Pair Dark Chocolate To Make It Sweeter
So, as we have previously mentioned, by reducing the bitterness of the dark chocolate you are simultaneously enhancing the sweeter flavors it contains.
For semisweet dark chocolate, this can be achieved by pairing the chocolate with sea salt flakes or fruits. You can use these ingredients as a guideline.
Then, for the more bitter dark chocolates (like bittersweet chocolate), ingredients like chili pepper, wine, and cheese will work better.
Lastly, for the most bitter type of dark chocolate, you will have to adjust the chocolate itself, which we will still discuss in depth.
Sea Salt Flakes
First, you have to use high-quality sea salt flakes, like Maldon salt. Regular fine salt will work, but not nearly as well.
Sea salt flakes are a flavor enhancer, especially sweeter flavors. And for bitter chocolate, it naturally balances it out, essentially neutralizing it.
You can sprinkle some sea salt flakes over your chocolate bar before eating it, or sprinkle some into your chocolate recipe. Salt melts so can also be added to melted chocolate and incorporated into the recipe in that way.
This pairing is as old as time! Especially considering 3000 years ago there was only bitter dark chocolate! This method works best for platters.
You can either serve the chocolate on the side or coat the sweet fruits with melted chocolate. It helps balance out the bitterness and also adds some sweetness next to the chocolate.
Fruits that work best are ones that are extremely sweet. This includes berries, oranges, bananas, and some stone fruits, like peaches.
Chili is a fantastic ingredient to add to recipes with dark chocolate. Now, we get it, that sounds crazy! But, it works! It has been a flavor pairing in Asian cuisine especially for centuries!
Chili, strangely, is also a type of flavor enhancer and helps dilute the bitterness of dark chocolate.
You can use this pairing in both savory and sweet recipes. For example, make chili chocolate cupcakes, or a chili chocolate beef marinade.
Wine has always been a well-known pairing with chocolate and can be served alongside it or incorporated into the recipe.
But, the trick with pairing wine with dark chocolate especially, is to match the intensity. The more bitter the chocolate, the heavier your wine should be. While this sounds counter-productive, they do help cancel each other out.
So, for sweeter dark chocolates, choose a light-bodied red wine like a Gamay or Pinot Noir.
The more you increase in intensity, for example to the lower end of bittersweet dark chocolate, you can look at lighter medium-bodied red wines. This can be a Grenache, Cabernet Franc, or a Mencia.
Moving to the higher end of bittersweet chocolates, you can pair them with a Merlot, Zinfandel, Bordeaux Blends, and even Cabernet Sauvignon.
Bitter dark chocolates work best with bold wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinotage, Petit Verdot, and arguably the heaviest, Tannat.
Could you think of a better way to pair chocolate and wine than with cheese? Some cheeses have a ton of natural sweetness, even if by themselves they don’t taste very sweet.
For bitter chocolate, aged cheeses pair excellently! This includes matured cheeses, goats’ cheeses, and even moldy cheeses (like gorgonzola).
Cheese also works better alongside dark chocolate, not necessarily in a recipe containing it. It would be very difficult and often impossible to incorporate these two seamlessly into a recipe.
Not to mention that the flavor and texture of cheese change when heat is applied.
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