I have loved good food and enjoyed cooking for as long as I can remember. I bought my first cookbook when I was in second grade and found my way into the kitchen as often as I could. As a child, I helped my father in the garden – watering plants and vines, and watching miracles happen. I come from a large Italian-American family with 28 first cousins (on one side of the family!) where sit-down holiday dinners for 100 people are the norm. Some of my fondest memories are of family gatherings – both large and small – with long tables full of bowls and platters piled high, the laughter of my cousins echoing and the comfort of tradition warming my soul.
There's often a bit of confusion around Cacao Butter, making it the most asked-about product of the Navitas Organics Cacao product line! Yet, once you become familiar with the potential of Cacao Butter, it's hard not to become truly enamored.
Right from the start, Cacao Butter is a bit of a misnomer. There's no butter or dairy in Cacao Butter, nor is Cacao Butter particularly buttery in flavor. Rather, Cacao Butter is technically an oil. Traditionally, when making chocolate, peeled Cacao Beans are crushed into Nibs, and then pressed and ground with very high pressure. This process creates two products: the dry, brown, powdery Cacao "cake," otherwise known as Cacao Powder, and the pure Cacao fat, otherwise known as Cacao Butter. Cacao Butter looks like a golden-hued oil when melted at low heat, and hardens into a cream-colored solid when cooled to room temperature. Cacao Butter is the reason why your chocolate bars taste so smooth, and why the chocolate chips in cookies are hard to the touch, but melt in your mouth.
Chocolate makers will recombine the Cacao Powder and Cacao Butter, along with other ingredients, to better control flavor and generate a more velvety texture in their chocolates. But to really put Cacao Butter to use, it's important to fully understand its three main properties:
1. Cacao Butter has very little chocolate flavor.
Interestingly, Cacao Butter's chocolaty aroma is greater than the flavor it actually provides, which is only a hint. It serves well as a background flavor, and mostly adds richness to recipes.
2. Cacao Butter melts very easily over low heat.
Cacao Butter is too hard to use in its solid state and must be melted before being added to a recipe to incorporate it. Luckily, this is an easy process! Simply use a chef's knife to finely chop your Cacao Butter, and add to a small sauté pan over the lowest heat. The Cacao Butter will fully melt within just a couple minutes, and you should remove it as soon as the last bits of white disappear to avoid burning (Cacao Butter has a low smoke point). For best results, use a silicone spatula to effectively gather every last drop of the Cacao butter from the pan to avoid wasting any!
3. Cacao Butter will always return to its hardened state when cooled.
Just because you've melted the Cacao Butter, doesn't mean it will stay that way! Cacao Butter will slowly re-solidify at room temperature, and can be more rapidly hardened in the refrigerator or freezer. (In fact, you can transform the Cacao Butter from liquid to solid form back and forth indefinitely.) Because of this hardening property, melted Cacao Butter needs to be thoroughly incorporated into recipes to avoid forming solid chunks or veins of hard fat, and should be added to room temperature or warmer ingredients.
Now for the fun part: how to use Cacao Butter! Cacao Butter is absolutely fantastic in all kinds of desserts, whether they are chocolate-themed or not! Use melted Cacao Butter in the place of other kinds of oil, margarine or dairy butter in recipes like cookies, brownies and cakes for a subtle chocolate innuendo (for best results, use a partial substitute only, keeping in mind that Cacao Butter will continue to firm up the recipe a little after cooking).