How to Flavor your Chocolate

Being the food of the gods that it is, chocolate pairs well with other flavors. Here's a little primer on how to flavor chocolate to your liking

While some may consider it a sin to flavor chocolate to taste other than it naturally does, people have been doing it from the very beginning. The Aztecs used chile peppers to flavor their cacao. Today, we mostly use sugar. You won't ask why if you've ever tasted unsweetened chocolate -- it's so bitter it makes your eyes water. And who wants that?

The good points of chocolate really come out when that bitterness is masked, and the natural flavor is brought out by other tasty things. Sugar is just one of many flavorings possible -- there are a legion of other flavors. In this article, we'll provide some tips on how to jazz up your chocolates with the most common flavorings.

Melt it on down

To flavor chocolate properly, you first have to melt and temper it, a process we've covered in detail in other articles. But you need to be very careful with this process. Let the slightest amount of moisture get into your melt, and it'll turn into a gritty, clumpy mess. This is called "seizing up," and it's basically irreversible.

Also, be aware that no matter how careful you are, pure melted chocolate can't be flavored with either alcohol or alcohol based extracts; they, too, will cause seizing. You can only use liqueurs, brandy, rum, Kahlua, vanilla extract and the like with ganaches (chocolate mixtures containing an admixture of milk or cream).

This isn't to say that you should avoid these options when you flavor chocolate; you just have to be extra careful with them. Adding milk or cream will certainly add to the character of your melt (why else would milk chocolate be so popular?), and it opens the way to a wide array of delightful flavorings for your candy.

Take it easy, now...

Oil based candy flavorings, on the other hand, can be mixed directly into molten chocolate without concern for seizing. This, along with the fact that they're relatively cheap and easy to find in most cooking stores, makes them popular choices for chocolate flavoring. Flavors like cinnamon, hazelnut, strawberry, cherry, and mint are especially popular.

But beware: first time users often don't realize how potent oil-based flavorings are, especially if they're used to the alcohol based kind. If you decide to flavor chocolate with these essences, you need to use them sparingly, repeatedly tasting the chocolate mix as you go in order to avoid a confectionary disaster.