Basic Ingredients for Melting Fondues
Melting fondues focus on one main ingredient such as cheese or chocolate. The liquid used to melt the primary ingredient also plays a key role. It's important to choose both with care.
The best type of cheese for fondue is a hard cheese that has been aged for several months. Hard cheeses have a sharp flavor, are easy to dice or shred, and melt easily due to their high fat content. The two standard Swiss fondue cheeses, Gruyère and Emmenthal, both fall into this category.
Semisoft cheeses contain more moisture than hard cheeses but still melt fairly easily. They can be used alone or combined with other cheeses in a fondue. Examples of semisoft cheeses include Dutch Gouda, Danish Havarti, and Italian provolone and Fontina.
While valued for their sharp flavor, fresh cheeses such as Brie, feta, and Gorgonzola usually play a secondary role in a fondue. A small amount of the crumbled cheese is paired with a larger amount of hard or semisoft cheese. Finally, soft cheeses such as cottage or ricotta are normally used only in dessert fondues.
There are a number of ways to classify cheese, from the region of origin to the type of milk used. For fondue purposes, it's best to look at the fat and moisture content of the cheese. A good fondue cheese has a high-fat content and a medium-to-low moisture content.
Alcohol plays a role in both the beginning and the final stages of preparing cheese fondue. Traditionally, white wine is used to melt the fondue cheese. When it's time to add the cornstarch thickener, a small amount of alcohol helps dissolve the cornstarch while providing extra flavor.
For best results, use a dry white wine or flat beer with cheese fondue. Both have a high acidity level, which helps the cheese melt more easily. In addition, unlike more robust red wines, their flavor will not interfere with the taste of the cheese.
Kirsch is traditionally added in the final stages of preparing cheese fondue. A type of cherry brandy, the high alcohol content of kirsch means that only a small amount is required. However, choosing which alcohol to finish off the fondue is really a matter of personal taste. Feel free to experiment with other types of brandy, or to dissolve the cornstarch in the same type of wine used to melt the cheese. Another option is to forego extra alcohol altogether and dissolve the cornstarch in water.
Cheese fondues can also be made by melting cheese with milk. This is a good choice when you're serving fondue for the whole family or melting softer cheeses such as ricotta. Expect to use less liquid when replacing wine with milk in a fondue recipe.
When entertaining, always use the highest-quality chocolate possible for the fondue. Couverture, the best type of chocolate, must contain at least 32 percent cocoa butter. At the other end of the spectrum, compound chocolate contains no cocoa butter at all. Instead, cocoa powder and vegetable oil are used in its composition.
Designed to hold their shape when baked in cookies, chocolate chips contain less cocoa butter and are harder to melt than other chocolate types. (Some brands remove the cocoa butter altogether and replace it with vegetable fat). Normally, this makes them a poor choice for dessert fondues. However, they come in a variety of intriguing flavors, from peppermint to butterscotch. Feel free to use chocolate chips when entertaining family and friends, but stick with other types of chocolate for more formal occasions.
Chocolate is also classified based on the amount of chocolate liquor (chocolate solids made by grinding the cocoa bean) it contains, and what other ingredients have been added. Semisweet chocolate, also known as dark and bittersweet chocolate, must contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor. Milk chocolate replaces a portion of the chocolate liquor used in semisweet chocolate with milk solids. This gives it a smoother texture.
As the name implies, sweet chocolate contains a higher amount of sweeteners than semisweet chocolate does. It must contain at least 15 percent chocolate liquor. Finally, unsweetened chocolate is basically chocolate liquor without any added sweeteners.
There are no hard and fast rules about what type of chocolate to use in dessert fondues. However, most people prefer the taste of semisweet chocolate. Milk chocolate can also be used and has the advantage of being less expensive. Avoid using unsweetened chocolate unless the recipe calls for it, or be prepared to add a large quantity of sugar to compensate.
Cream — the Fresher the Better!
Cream is the second most important ingredient in a dessert fondue. Formed when whole milk is allowed to stand to the point where the fatty part rises to the top, cream is classified based on the amount of fat it contains. The longer the milk stands, the greater the fat content of the cream that is produced.
How long does it take to make cream?
It all depends on the type of cream you want to produce. Light cream comes from milk that has been left standing for at least twelve hours, while it takes over twenty-four hours to produce whipping cream.
The lightest type of cream is half-and-half, which combines equal parts light cream and milk. The fat content of half-and-half falls between 10 and 18 percent. Light cream — also known as coffee cream — has a fat content of between 18 and 30 percent.
Whipping cream is separated into two categories. The fat content of light whipping cream is between 30 and 36 percent. Heavy whipping cream — also known as heavy cream or double cream — has a fat content of over 36 percent.
The texture and cooking properties of heavy cream mean that it is frequently partnered with chocolate in fondue recipes. Besides having a rich texture, heavy cream is less likely to curdle than creams with a lower fat content. However, it can be hard to find, as many supermarkets stock only light whipping cream. Half-and-half, light cream, and light whipping cream can all be used in fondue recipes. Devonshire cream, which has an even higher fat content than heavy cream, is too thick to work well in chocolate fondues.
In addition to real cream, canned evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk are also used in chocolate fondues. As its name implies, evaporated milk is milk with moisture (approximately 60 percent) removed through evaporation. Sweetened condensed milk goes through a similar process, but sugar is added to replace the evaporated milk.