THE SWEET AND SPICY OF ALL THINGS LOVE
When chocolate comes in the room all other sweets stand back and wait. There is nothing quiet or sublime about chocolate, it sits and melts and charges the senses with everything that is good about the pleasure of the plate. When unsweetened chocolate hits a sauce of tomatoes and peppers it lifts the veil of hot fruit tastes and forces the flavors into a poetic of taste that is elegant, seductive and smooth. In the darkest months we seek the grandest celebrations of self, society, body and soul. What better food than chocolate to fuel them all?
A cup of hot chocolate with browned marshmallows and a dash of cinnamon warms. A plate of chocolate covered strawberries and cherries charms. White chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, palm sugar, a plate of sliced fruits, all melting together under the blue broiler flames delight. Classic South American mole sauce, a small bowl, deep burgundy seared big eye tuna, just a touch, a spot of sauce on this perfect fish hypnotizes. Dusting a plate of Cajun blackened beef with powdered chocolate ignites. Chocolate and rosemary brushed over roasting beef ribs just before pulling them away from the fire seduces. In high gravity beers chocolate bubbles inside the bite of coffee, hops and yeast and soothes.
You really can’t eat pure chocolate, as the bitterness would turn your mouth inside out like eating a lemon, or worse. For the native Mayan and Incas of Central and South America cacao beans were a form of currency, and yes, chocolate is in a sense American since it is from the southern part of our hemisphere. We owe much more to native Central and South American cuisine than is readily acknowledged especially when it comes to things like grains and chocolate. Originally chocolate was just a drink. The French perfected the liquid nature chocolate by having chocolate houses like coffee houses, you know places to drink and talk. The Swiss perfected the confectionery uses of chocolate.
There are the familiar names of Ghirardelli, Godiva, Sharffen Berger, Lindt, Cadbury, Valhrona, Callebaut, Nestle, Hershey’s and Ambrosia. Ghirardelli, Godiva, Nestle and Hershey’s are the likely suspects in the American pantry and these are the chocolatiers to whom I will refer when discussing American made chocolate. Any of these companies make a good chocolate. The overall best are from Godiva, Valhrona, Sharffen Berger and Lindt. Ghirardelli is best right out of the shop in San Francisco. The rest are good for moles and sauces. In the name of research I sit here with fresh bars and bags of semi-sweet, 100% cacao unsweetened, 62% bittersweet, 58% dark chocolate pistoles, white chocolate bar, bakers powdered chocolate, and Nestle and Hershey’s milk chocolate chips. It’s a hard life. I know. Cacao is pronounced “ka-KOW”.
Ghirardelli chocolate bars have instructions on the inside of the foil package that it is wrapped in. Open carefully. There are melting instructions as well as recipes.
The percentages indicate chocolate to sugar and soy lecithin content. More chocolate means deeper, almost bitter taste, whereas the less chocolate means that it will be sweeter. More or less percentage chocolate is neither a good nor a bad thing. The percentage use all depends on what you are making. Bittersweet is more for baking. Sweeter is for direct eating and for candies. Chocolate for coating fruits needs to have more fat and milk solids so if using a bitter chocolate you will need to temper it with a little cream or half and half. Some baking requires milk or powdered milk to make it smoother. Chocolate is not just a Hershey bar.
Cacao beans grow inside pods on cacao trees, the beans are about 8 inches long and three inches wide. They are red, yellow, green and orange. They grow close to the Equator. Harvested October through May, and since they do not ripen much when taken from the tree it may be two to three weeks before the beans are processed with no loss of quality to the bean. There are three kinds of cocoa trees, they are Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario. Criollo chocolate will be light in color and slightly fruity with complex background flavors. Today, most are grown in Madagascar and Venezuela. Forastero is very hearty and disease resistant as opposed to the more fragile Criollo. Forastero produce 90% of the commercial cocoa, are intense in flavor, and are very good for bittersweet baking bars. A blight in the 18th century almost destroyed the Criollo trees in Latin America. A blend was necessary to save the tree. The Trinitario is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero, so the finished product of this bean is somewhat complex and fruity with the depth of cocoa flavor evident in Forastero beans. As the name indicates it is primarily grown in Trinidad.
Does chocolate make everything better? Yes. Does freshness matter with chocolate after it has been processed? Yes. The fresher the better with chocolate is always the case. You can taste the difference between chocolate that has been stored for a long period in the refrigerator or opened on the shelf, and that of fresh from the factory or fresh from the sealed package. Dark chocolate will last 18 months on the shelf. When you see the slight grey haze or spots on chocolate this does not mean that it has spoiled, it just means that it has either experienced warm temperatures or been exposed to moisture, you can still cook with it. Dark chocolate does have caffeine whereas white chocolate does not because of the water method of extracting the cocoa butter from the cacao nibs. The butter and fat is cocoa, and the bean is cacao. The beans are roasted to acquire different levels of intensity in flavor, and to separate the pod from the nib.
Dutch chocolate means that it has been chemically treated to reduce the harshness or bitterness in chocolate powder. Dutched chocolate powder is dark. Natural chocolate powder is reddish is made from high quality chocolate nibs. Lesser quality chocolate is used for Dutch chocolate. It does not mean that it from the Netherlands. Since the alkaline is reduced in Dutch chocolate it is sometimes better for baked goods than ‘natural’. If you are substituting Dutch for ‘natural’ you will need to increase baking powder or soda to compensate for the difference in taste. Dutched is what we usually have in chocolate powder for mixing with powder sugar in dusting, drinks and to smooth out the flavor in chocolate cakes.
What it white chocolate? White chocolate is made from the fat that remains after pressing cacao beans to make cocoa powder. The processor mixes the cocoa butter with milk solids, sugar and vanilla to make the solid white chocolate. The best white chocolate is made only with cocoa butter, sugar, soy lecithin and pure vanilla extract. The vanilla can be either Madagascar or Tahitian. White chocolate may also have coconut butter mixed in to add texture.
We sometimes add coconut oil to white chocolate for melting and coating chocolate on cakes and candies.
Chocolate was the bounty of the Aztec empire taken back to Europe and perfected in the 1700’s when milk chocolate was first made. Cocoa beans were currency for the Aztecs and also used as barter for sexual affections, which extends to the tradition of giving chocolates as a symbol of courtship today.
The endorphin change that gives the sense of love from eating chocolate is a great and interesting thing too as it is a real chemical change and not the imagined effect of sugar. So yes, cacao was originally Latin American. So yes, cacao does fill one with the sense of love and well being.
What does it mean to ‘temper’ chocolate? Tempering is when chocolate is slowly cooked and stirred in a double boiler or microwave to a temperature between 88 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Chocolate for candies and for dipping and coating have to be tempered. If a chocolate is not tempered then the result will be soft and sweaty with a grayish tinge to the color. Tempering is easy. It will be glossy, no sweat marks, will “Crack” when you bite into it after dipping fruit, and will form nicely into shapes for chocolate confections.
The first step is breaking the chocolate into pieces. If you are using chips or pistoles then you don’t need to chop it up. For chocolate bars just lay it flat on the cutting board and tap with the back of a broad 8 inch chef knife. Put the chocolate into a mixing bowl. Set the mixing bowl on top of a pot of water that is at 130~. Melt the chocolate in the mixing bowl over the water. The bottom of the bowl should touch just the top of the water. Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon in a gentle sweeping motion to stir the chocolate continually until about 2/3 of the chunks become liquid and about 1/3 are in soft lumps. The temperature of the liquid chocolate at this point will be about 95°F. At this point move the mixing bowl to a cool part of the kitchen and keep stirring until it is completely smooth and is 89~. It will be 87°F for milk chocolate. At this point the chocolate should be tempered and ready to use.
Check it by dripping a little chocolate on parchment paper. Let it set for two to three minutes, if it is smooth and will crack when you bend the paper then you are there. If it just smoothes out into a dull dark mass and bends rather than cracks then it is not ready. If it is not ready then just keep warming and stirring for a few more minutes and then try again.
You can do it in the microwave at half power at 30 second intervals stirring each time you check it. The tempered temperature will be 100~ when it is tempered in the microwave.
STRAWBERRIES DIPPED IN CHOCOLATE
Let’s say you have tempered 8 ounces of 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate. Set this in a deep pan. Wash and dry two dozen strawberries. Set a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan next to the dipping chocolate. Hold the strawberry by the stem and dip into the chocolate. Set it on the parchment. Do this until you have coated all of the strawberries. Let cool in an area that is close to 70~ and has good air circulation. This will cool without chilling and allow any moisture to evaporate from the surface of the chocolate. They will be glossy and have a nice snap or crunch when you bite into them. You can do this with any fruit. If you put them in the refrigerator before the chocolate has properly set then it will be dull, have sweat spots and will be soft to the bite.
Feeling frisky? Want to make a great chocolate cake, no flour? Ok. This will make one 12 inch cake. Use a spring form pan for this version. This particular recipe is from my pastry chef, Kathy High.
12 ounces heavy cream 12 ounces 64% chocolate
1 ounce butter, ½ for cake, ½ for for buttering pan 4 eggs 3/4 ounce Tuaca or Kahlua Preheat convection oven to 260 degrees F – this cake needs to cook at a low temperature so check the thermometer inside the oven. Prep the springform pan. First butter the pan, then line the bottom and sides with parchment. Make sure the parchment is taller than the sides of the pan as the cake will rise up while cooking. Place prepared pan on the sheet pan. Melt the chocolate and butter together over a water bath. While chocolate is melting whip the cream to just barely a soft peak stage. Then, in a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and coffee liqueur. When chocolate is completely melted whisk the egg mixture and warm chocolate to form an emulsion. Fold in the whipped cream with the spatula, until just combined and batter has the texture of a fine mousse. Pour batter in prepared springform pan, and place with the half sheet pan in the middle of the oven, on the lower rack. Cook for an hour. After one hour, insert thermometer into center of cake. If the temperature reads 176 degrees Farenhiet, the cake is done. If it hasn’t reached this temperature, return to the oven. When the cake is finished it will still appear very loose in the center. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack. The cake will fall while cooling, so don’t worry as this is natural. Refrigerate for half an hour. The hardest thing to do sometimes is just let the food be the food, so when you see it is runny and loose in the center this is good, resist the temptation to cook it dry or firm.
Remove cake from pan and invert on larger plate. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least over night before slicing Slice with a hot, wet knife. Garnish with raspberry puree and lightly whipped cream.
CHOCOLATE COCONUT AND CHERRY BAR
16 ounces semi sweet dark chocolate
3 ounces Cabernet Sauvignon
1 ounce Cherry liquor
2 tablespoons coconut, toasted, shredded
12 cherries, stemmed and pitted
3 ounces almonds
Combine and chop coconut and almonds. They should be almost diced size, not minced and not chunky. Set aside.
Mix chocolate, wine and liquor together in plastic microwave safe dish. The dish needs to be about an inch and a half deep and six inches long. Melt in microwave in four thirty second intervals. Stir between sessions. It will be a little chunky when you take it out of the microwave, if it is still coarse after stirring it then return and melt for thirty seconds. Do not over cook as it will become too grainy and won’t work properly for a smooth and delicious dessert.
Quickly fold the coconut and almond mix into the chocolate. Sprinkle 2 twelve inch sheets of plastic wrap with confectioner’s sugar and divide the chocolate between the two sheets into two eight inch long sections. Press the cherries into the mix. Roll into a cylinder shape. Set in flat pan and let cool in 70~ area for at least two hours. Slice into little bites and set on serving tray. Dust with powdered chocolate and slivered mint leaves.
Want to make the current popular molten chocolate cake? Make a conventional chocolate cake. Cook in soufflé dishes. Fill dish half full with mix, ladle an ounce of melted chocolate, fill rest of dish with cake mix. Take out of oven ten minutes before it is done as you would know chocolate cake or a souflee to be done.
HOT CHOCOLATE WITH MARSHMALLOWS
As I write this I am drinking one of the most delicious and frothy cups of hot chocolate I have ever made.
8 ounces milk
4 ounces heavy cream
4 ounces milk chocolate chips
Heat the milk and heavy cream to just under 210 degrees, don’t let it boil. Stir as it heats. Put the chocolate chips into a blender. Pour the milk into the blender. Cover. Let it set for thirty seconds. Puree for 45 seconds. Pour into two cups. If the drink is not hot enough, then microwave on high for a few seconds. Put marshmallows on top of hot chocolate. Using a home kitchen torch toast the top of them marshmallows.
Want to jazz it up? Add a dash of vanilla or ground cinnamon. After that it’s up to you and your chocolate favorites to season this delightful and warming cup of hot chocolate.
TUNA MOLE (MO-LAY)
Ok, here’s the wild card. You think that chocolate is a limited ingredient. You believe it is all about desserts and drinks. You’ve heard of Central American dishes that are baked in clay pots with a mix of peppers, tomato and chocolate, and may have even made moles before. I have presented mole recipes in past articles but always with chicken, duck or some other kind of game bird. Today we go where no mole has gone before, East by Southwest where the sun always shines and the fish is always fresh.
EAST BY SOUTHWEST MOLE
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoons poblano, diced
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1 tablespoon onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ cup raspberry or peach puree
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 teaspoons Chinese 5 Spice Powder
½ teaspoon coriander
¼ cup fresh Cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened Chocolate, melted
½ cup apple juice or sake
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon sea salt
Combine all of the ingredients and puree. Pour into large sauce pot and simmer for one hour. If it starts to reduce too much just add a little water to thin it out. Set aside and let cool. If it gets too pasty then thin again, but this time with sake or apple juice.
Sear an eight ounce big eye or yellow fin tuna steak just to crisp the outside. Try not to cook it inside at all, this is what it is to sear tuna, i.e. Tataki. Cut into squares. Arrange on serving plate with basil leaves, pickled ginger, cashews, shizu leaves (if you have access), and seaweed salad. Put just a small dot of this unique mole on top of each square of tuna tataki. Eat a tuna square, eat a cashew, drink, have a small bite of pickled ginger and wakamai (seaweed salad) and then the tuna again.
Filling me with love
With hope and expectation
Charming me in every moment.
That’s the way it is when I am with
You my Beloved, warm my life,
My best of all in anything everlasting
Ever-beautiful bride, ever my love,
Like kisses and chocolate you make
These days so cherished and bright
So complete, so much alive.