In case you missed it, here is my last column from The Petaluma Post. I hope you enjoy it.
Do you really need an excuse or a holiday to enjoy chocolate? Just as we hit the days that are rainy and gloomy chocolate is just the thing to raise the spirits; both scientists and Harry Potter (remember the Dementors?) say so. But if you are trying to be good and only have it on special occasions, Valentines Day is right around the corner.
In recent years the classic chocolates of the past have been set aside in favor of more gourmet items. As you are shopping for your sweetheart, if you are buying dark chocolate you are likely to see number like 74%, 82% or even 54%. What do these mean? It is the percentage of Cacao Liquor. Which brings up the question of what is Cacao Liquor? It is the purest form of chocolate, the beans that have been roasted and then conched (ground between two usually stone wheels) until smooth and silky. From here products like sugar and fats are added so it will hold in bar form. Having always been a dark chocolate fan, I personally like a mid range chocolate of 65-74% cacao; this is a rich but sweet dark chocolate. For those who want to go less sweet try for a higher cacao percentage anything in the 80s is likely to be on the bittersweet side, milk chocolate falls in the 35% range and also has milk solids (hence the name) added. Fat is added for texture, volume and to help it solidify. Those fats are often vegetable oils (less expensive chocolates) or for a silkier mouth feel look for one that has cocoa butter added for the fat (by the way cocoa butter is high in vitamin E). Cocoa butter has a very low melting point, so care needs to be taken not to allow finer chocolates to go over 75 to 85 degrees. But there is nothing more luscious than a square of dark chocolate that just melts on your tongue like butter.
When cooking you can use chopped block chocolate or chocolate chips. All of the recipes will work well with either. In a pinch I have learned that if you need to melt chips, then for every cup just add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil or cocoa butter which will counteract the wax coating. They coat the chips with a bit of wax to help prevent melting in transport.
Thinking of Valentines Day I have a couple of easy recipes for you to share at home. We often do a Triple Chocolate Fondue for parties, if one kind of chocolate is good three is great! Here are recipes for all three.
Chocolate Fondue (milk or dark) (serves 2 to 4)
4 oz Semisweet Chocolate or Milk Chocolate (chocolate chips work fine)
4 oz Heavy Cream (yes heavy cream people)
Bring the cream to a boil, then remove it from the heat and stir in the chocolate till melted.
White Chocolate Fondue (serves 2 to 4)
4 oz White Chocolate
3 oz Whole milk
Use the same directions as milk and dark.
Note: When working with white and milk chocolate the sugar content will be much higher and more likely to burn or scorch, so take extra caution if reheating.
Serve warm with you favorite dippers, such as Strawberries or Bananas, but any fruit is great with it. You can also dip marshmallow and put them on graham crackers for s’mores too. Think of serving the chocolate in a martini glass for a romantic touch
For something even richer try Chocolate Marquis, this is like a mousse but without the whipped cream. It does contain raw egg so it should be handled carefully and kept refrigerated.
Chocolate Marquis (serves 6-8)
10 oz Chocolate Chips
4 oz Butter
4 Eggs (separate the yolks and whites)
2 T Sugar
Place the butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pot and melt slowly, making sure not to brown. Remove the butter from heat and stir in the chocolate chips, stir till melted then return to a very low heat if necessary. Transfer the chocolate and butter mixture to a mixing bowl and cool to room temperature. Whip the egg whites till soft peaks, slowly add sugar and whip till glossy. Fold egg yolks into the chocolate butter mixture, then fold in the whipped egg whites and refrigerate till firm.
Scoop in to a beautiful glass or even a chocolate cup and serve with fresh berries.