Guest Author - Deborah Markus
Living as I do in a mild, temperate region, I didn't have much first-hand experience with how vulnerable chocolate is to fluctuations of temperature until I visited Florida in late spring. There I made the mistake of buying chocolate and tucking it into my purse for future consumption.
As you've probably guessed, tomorrow never came -- at least not for me and that particular treat. Tying a bar of chocolate in a bow can be amusing, but for those who would rather be able to consume their treats as the manufacturer intended, here are some tips on keeping your chocolate happy and firm.
You don't need to install a refrigeration unit in your purse, but if you're going to be carrying chocolate any distance on a hot day and you have the time to plan ahead, you really might want to bring along a small cooler to put it in.
The temperature in my home town spiked to the high eighties today. As an experiment, I put a few squares of chocolate out in a plastic bag. In the shade, and in less than ten minutes, they were chocolate sauce. They've been inside my low-seventies apartment for several hours now, and still aren't solid.
Dropping them on top of some ice cream is probably my best bet, because chocolate that gets overheated can turn ugly if you can ever coax it back to solid form again. It's edible, but it may taste waxy.
It will also develop what's called a bloom, though it really ought to be called a cloud, since that's what it looks like. The chocolate will have white or grayish splotches, because the cocoa butter has risen to the top (hence the initial waxy mouth feel).
If you have chocolate suffering from this unattractive malady, either use it in a recipe that requires melting it, or, as the authors of "How to Repair Food" wryly suggest, "serve it in a darkened room."
Just because heat is no good for chocolate doesn't mean that the answer is as close as your friendly refrigerator. Chocolate is the diva of the food world, and has ways to make you regret treating it too coolly.
Chilled chocolate can develop its own bloom. This one is powdery and rough, because it comes from the sugar in the chocolate coming to the surface. This will really have an impact on the taste, quite aside from aesthetic issues.
Most chocolate writers I've read agree that the best way to store chocolate is in a cupboard, away from direct light and strong-smelling food. So keep it out of the onion bin. A low shelf is best if you can manage it -- remember, heat rises. And try to keep the temperature in the sixties, or seventy at the highest.
However, there is a small but stalwart contingent of chocolate lovers who insist that if you do it right, you can refrigerate or even freeze chocolate to no ill effect. You simply have to make sure that it's completely sealed, so that no moisture can get to it. As anyone knows who has begun melting a pot of chocolate and watched in horror as a single drop of water made the whole thing seize up like a two-year-old in a toy store, moisture is the enemy of chocolate.
I put part of a bar of chocolate in a food storage bag specifically intended for freezer use, sealed it up properly, and put it on top of my ice cubes, just to really tempt fate. I took it out several hours later and waited until it had completely returned to room temperature before opening it. The chocolate looked and tasted exactly the same as the portion of the bar I'd left in the cupboard.
I also sealed up a few squares from the same bar and refrigerated them, with the same results.
Because you have a lot more to worry about in terms of both moisture and odors (especially in the fridge), I wouldn't recommend refrigeration or freezing as a regular thing. But if your house starts overheating and you don't have air conditioning, you might want to give it a shot.
Wherever you keep your chocolate, use or eat it reasonably promptly. Homemade chocolates should be consumed within a few days; filled treats from your favorite shop should be eaten within the month. (Neither of these time constraints usually pose a problem for the serious chocolate lover, and the casual one doesn't deserve truffles anyway.)
Dark chocolate lasts longer than milk. Both can stay good for months in a cool dry place. Cocoa lasts almost indefinitely under the same circumstances.
Whatever chocolate you're storing, keep it sealed up until you're ready to enjoy it.