Chocolate is one of my very best friends. I turn to it in times of sorrow and joy. I don’t know what I would do without it. I can say, without guilt, that I love chocolate. Who knew that such love could sprout from a small cocoa bean?
One of the best days of my life was when I walked into a small chocolate shop in Sweden. The air was so thick with cocoa, sugar, and cream that I knew I was gaining weight just by breathing. The chocolate that I met that day can only be described as glorious. A true chocolate experience like that comes along once in a lifetime.
I know that there are others of you out there that share my love for chocolate, and that is simply why we had to include it in this newsletter. From cakes to ice creams to toppings to fondue pots to just plain chocolates, chocolate can be found in just about every kind of dessert. In fact, chocolate is the most popular dessert flavor worldwide.
So to give you some chocolate inspiration we are going to turn to Laurann Claridge, Chef and Food Talk Columnist of the Houston Chronicle. She provides the following tips to baking with chocolate and some fun chocolate facts.
- Do not store chocolate in the refrigerator or freezer because when it's brought to room temperature condensation will form on the surface of the chocolate and effect it's ability to melt smoothly. In fact, in most cases chocolate and water makes a disastrous combination. If you're melting chocolate all by itself and even a drop of water accidentally makes its way into the pot, you can possibly cause the chocolate mixture to "seize", meaning the chocolate will tighten and form an unworkable mass. If this should happen when you are melting chocolate add a few drops of vegetable oil to the chocolate which will allow it to relax enough that other ingredients can be mixed in.
- Chocolate chips, also known as morsels, are fine for cookie baking but don't be tempted to melt them down and utilize them in lieu of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate. When forced to melt you'll find the consistency is thick and difficult to use because it contains significantly less cocoa butter (about 29%) than average bar chocolates.
- It stands to reason the better tasting the chocolate you elect to use the better the chocolate dessert.
- Be sure to choose chocolate that has a glossy, unblemished surface. Superficial imperfections such as bloom, that white dusty film, is an indication that the chocolate has been improperly stored and/or has melted and hardened once again, although it may not always affect its taste.
- Chocolate in fine condition will snap cleanly when you break it, poor quality chocolate on the other hand will crumble.
- Select chocolate that smells chocolately and appetizing and make sure the chocolate you buy is neither initially or subsequently stored in or around very aromatic foods like garlic, tea, coffee, or detergents, all which can affect it's flavor.
- Last, try to buy chocolate you've had a chance to try first. Wondering how to judge a good chunk of chocolate? Just place a piece on your tongue and hold it in your mouth allowing it to slowly melt. If it coats your mouth with a smooth, velvety feel that's a good sign you're eating an excellent, albeit most likely, an expensive piece of chocolate. A sandy, grainy texture however should be avoided.
Chocolate has been called the food of the Gods, and as Karl Petzke and Sara Slavin note in Chocolate, A Sweet Indulgence (Chronicle Books, 1997) "The craving for chocolate is physical, arising out of the desire for its uniquely dark, slightly bitter, rich taste. But the craving is also emotional for chocolate symbolizes, as does no other food, luxury, comfort, sensuality, gratification and love."
Although chocolate may not actually be a true aphrodisiac it does contain theobromine, a mild relative of caffeine and magnesium, a component found in some tranquilizers, so it has the unique ability to simultaneously both pick you up and calm you down. In addition, it's said eating chocolate releases a chemical in your body similar to that which is produced when you're in love.
Despite the fact we've been consuming chocolate in copious quantities since the nineteenth century (although the Aztec emperor Montezuma was drinking it -- about 50 goblets a day -- centuries earlier) Americans don't win the prize for highest world wide chocolate consumption. No that distinction goes to the Swiss whose per capita consumption is a whopping 19 pounds a year. The Swiss are followed by the citizens of Norway, the United Kingdom, Belgium/Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden -- and then the U.S.A. where every man, woman and child is said to munch down 9 pounds a year.
* DVO welcomes your kitchen hints and cooking or nutrition questions! Email us and we'll post your hints and Q/A's in upcoming newsletters! *