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Background

I've been reading Pierre Hermé's Macaron cookbook, and his recipe for bitter chocolate macarons calls for "cacao pâte (or dark chocolate 100% cocoa)". I (naiively) thought that the only thing which was 100% cocoa was cocoa powder, so this was quite confusing to me. I told my friend about the recipe, and she told me to substitute the chocolate with cocoa powder, which seems like it might end badly!

Question

What is the difference between cocoa, cacao pâte, and 100% dark chocolate?

Research I've done

I've been reading about this for the past couple of hours, without finding any resources describing how they are different, though I've found many sites which describe each thing, though often using the exact same language, frustratingly!

At the moment, my guess is it's related to the amount of the different cocoa bean derivatives in each thing (from this comment on another question), but I'd like to be able to grok it, understand more deeply how they are different (especially if it goes beyond the proportions to the way they are processed or cooked for example). Any help you could provide in this would be greatly appreciated!

2 Answers 2

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First, let's get the English terms straight. What Pierre Hermé meant is chocolate liquor, and the translator should have researched the term, instead of simply using a French word where an unambguous term exists in English.

From there, it's simply a matter of knowing how chocolate is made. First, the cocoa nibs are fermented. Then, they're ground into a paste. This paste is the cocoa liquor, an intermediate step in the production of chocolate. It can be alkalinized or left as-is.

From there, the producer can decide to produce either chocolate, or cocoa powder and cocoa butter. For producing cocoa powder, the fat (cocoa butter) is separated out of the liquor, leaving a dry-ish mass. This dryish mass is ground into powder, creating the cocoa powder you can buy in the baking aisle.

For chocolate, some cocoa butter and other ingredients are added to the cocoa liquor. Then the mass undergoes different steps (conching, tempering) until it's poured into flat shapes, packaged and sold. If no products other than chocolate liquor and cocoa butter are used, this is sold as 100% chocolate. Typically you only get up to 99%, because they also add vanilla and other minor additives. If sugar is added, you get dark chocolate. If there is both sugar and milk solids, it's milk chocolate. If no chocolate liquor is used, but only cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids, that's white chocolate.

So, they are simply three different products created from cocoa beans. They have different taste, and different applications in the kitchen. They all were created without adding anything to the beans, but the processing steps are different, so the product itself is different.

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    And if vegetable fats are used instead of cocoa butter, then that's "compound chocolate". For example, Hershey's. AKA, "not chocolate" in most of the world ;) Nov 29, 2023 at 13:42
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    @Mark 1. no, cocoa liquor has not been conched or tempered. Both of those processes are only relevant when you have a combination of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter (and possibly other ingredients) 2. 100% chocolate would be chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. This is not the same thing as chocolate liquor.
    – Esther
    Nov 30, 2023 at 4:17
  • @Esther thanks for your reply! How would you explain this description on a cacao pate product page: ..."Very finely conched"...
    – Mark
    Nov 30, 2023 at 4:56
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    @Mark human language isn't perfectly strict. The definitions are as I described it above: when cocoa nibs are ground into a paste, that's "cocoa liquor". When the non-fat solids are extracted from the liquor and ground, that's "cocoa powder". When a manufacturer creates a final edible bar from the liquor, that's "chocolate", and if everything in that bar came from the cocoa plant only, that's "100% chocolate". You found an example where a manufacturer did some processing to cocoa liquor, and started selling it (probably to chocolatiers rather than consumers) under the French term...
    – rumtscho
    Dec 1, 2023 at 15:42
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    ... for "cocoa liquor" (cacao pâte). We can't know why their marketing department made that decision, or how this one specific product is processed in comparison to other products labelled "100% chocolate". In any case, there are no firm boundaries between categories (for chocolate or anything else), so it's not possible to fit this one unusual product perfectly into one of the typical, preexisting categories. This doesn't make the category definitions any less correct.
    – rumtscho
    Dec 1, 2023 at 15:44
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Cocoa beans are processed into two different products. Cocoa powder and cocoa butter. As the names suggest, the first is a powder and the second one has a consistency similar to regular cow milk butter.

A 100% dark chocolate is a mixture of these two, proportions calibrated so that you actually get a solid bar. If you look at the ingredient list, it may give you the proportions.

I'm not sure whether cocoa pâte refers to pure cocoa butter or is also a mixture of cocoa butter and cocoa powder. As the recipe suggests replacing it with 100% chocoloate I would guess for a mixture. Either way, in your recipe you can't replace it with pure cocoa powder. That will fail. If you can't get cocoa pâte or 100% dark chocolate a high percentage dark chocolate should also work. It will additionally contain some sugar which shouldn't be a problem for macarons and could also be compensated if you want.

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