Say it with me... “chooooocolate.”
Again ... at almost a whisper; this time notice what shapes your mouth makes as you form the word ... “chocolate.”
Lips pucker up as if to be kissed at “ch”... the mouth opens slightly at “oco”... and widens to a grin at the “late” finish.
No wonder chocolate is considered an aphrodisiac. Just saying it makes me smile.
And it is true, the chemical components of chocolate can create a rush of euphoria, give you energy and stimulate the brain. Antioxidants found in chocolate are the same as those found in red wine and green tea, so chocolate must be good for you (in moderation, of course), right?
I wanted to know more about this delicious and ever-present, ever-changing substance so I went to the source, Harriet Rice, owner of Crescent Cacao on Millwood Avenue.
Rice knows all about chocolate: where it comes from, how it’s made, how it can be used and why it can be so darn expensive. She became interested in the history and the science behind the growing and processing of cacao to make chocolate and that has led her to a second career as a wholesale distributor.
Rice tells me if you know about the process you can begin to understand the price that is paid for some of the world’s finest quality chocolate.
For instance: did you know that cacao beans are grown within 20 degrees of the equator and are harvested by hand during the two main crop seasons? The cacao beans are then fermented for up to seven days then sun dried or mechanically dried to reduce the moisture content to about 6 percent before being shipped to companies of factories for roasting, blending and made into what we know as chocolate.
Cacao beans can be blended in the chocolate-making process or kept as single-origin designation (meaning this or that batch can be traced back to a single farm/grower in a particular region).
Prestige brands and chocolatiers form bonds with the growers to ensure quality at the source, meaning that a company such as Valrhona will buy beans from a single source or farm in order to create a single-origin brand that is then marketed like “from Madagascar” (or Ecuador or Venezuela) or labeled “Made at Origin.” They know exactly how each batch of chocolate will taste based on where it’s grown and how it’s processed.
Back to the chocolate-making process ...
During the grinding process, the now-dried cacao is separated into chocolate liquor (really a paste, 100 percent cacao) and cocoa butter (the fat of the bean that gives finished chocolate a smooth texture). Milk and sugar can then be added to enhance a caramel-like flavor before the refining stage (reduces the particle size and smoothes the texture) and conching (further development of the desired flavor profile).
An interesting side note: Valrhona has a version of white chocolate that has been conched to the point of becoming what the company markets as Blond Chocolate. The Blond Chocolate has the color of pale caramel and the taste is buttery with a hint of caramel and salt.
After conching comes tempering, the final process that gives the chocolate its finish (dull or glossy to look at and easy or hard to melt in your hand). Some candy and truffle recipes give directions for tempering chocolate at home. Meaning that you heat solid chocolate to the point of melting at a specified temperature then let it cool down a bit before heating it again to get a glossy finish and a clean snap when broken (or bitten).
Rice says that there are two types of people: temperers and melters. I admit that I am not a patient person and therefore fall squarely into the melter category.
She also says that chocolate is one of those foods that, properly stored, can keep for almost forever. Just keep chocolate between 58-68 degrees and it lasts about two years. Place it in the refrigerator to add another year, freezing makes it last even longer.
And that bloom that forms? The grayish color bloom is sugar and that will not affect flavor. The white, sometimes fuzzy, bloom is fat and that can make chocolate taste a little bitter.
Finally, Rice wants you to know what you’re getting when you buy chocolate. If the first ingredient listed on a bar or bag of chocolate is sugar, you’ve got your hands on candy. Cocoa should always be the first or main ingredient listed on a chocolate bar. And if you’re giving (or treating yourself), remember that quality does matter. And if it matters, you may have to pay the price.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
makes about 2 pounds
16 ounces white chocolate baking chips (or bars broken into 1-inch pieces)
1 1/2 cups chunky peanut butter
6 ounces bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate chips (or bars broken into 1-inch pieces)
Butter a 15- by 10-inch baking sheet and line with parchment paper.
In a second double boiler or in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water, melt the bittersweet chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth.
Remove both mixtures from the heat.
Put the bittersweet chocolate in a smaller microwaveable bowl and melt it in the microwave (about two or three minutes), stir until smooth.
Chill in the refrigerator until firm, at least two hours. Cut into small pieces to serve. Keep chilled for up to two weeks.
Flourless chocolate cake with chocolate glaze
3/4 ounce (1/4 cup) unsweetened natural cocoa powder, sifted if lumpy, more for the pan
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped (2 1/4 cups)
6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, more for the pan
5 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (3/4 cup)
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Lightly butter the bottom of a 9-by-2 inch round springform cake pan (you can use a regular cake pan, but a springform makes it easier to release the cake) and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper or waxed paper. Lightly butter the sides and the paper and dust with cocoa. Tap out any excess cocoa.
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a medium bowl and let cool slightly.
Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, combine the eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt and 2 tablespoons water. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is very foamy, pale in color and doubled in volume (about two minutes). Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the melted chocolate mixture. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and continue beating until well blended (about 30 seconds). Add the cocoa and mix on medium until just combined (about 30 seconds).
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a pick inserted in the center comes out looking wet with small gooey clumps (40 to 45 minutes). Don’t overbake. The top may be cracked, that’s normal. Let cake cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes. If you like, gently push the edges down with your fingertips until the top is even.
Run a small knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Cover the cake pan with a wire rack and invert. Remove the pan and parchment and let the cake cool completely. Transfer cake to a cake plate. Cover and refrigerate until cake is cold (6 hours or overnight).
Pour the warm glaze over the chilled cake and spread the glaze to within 1/4 inch of the edge. Refrigerate the cake until glaze is set (20 to 40 minutes). Before serving, remove the cake from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature (about 30 minutes).
Ultimate Chocolate Marquise
serves 10 or more
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Cognac or other brandy or liqueur (optional)
6 large eggs, separated
2 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
Butter an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan and line with two sheets of plastic wrap, one going the long way, one going the short way, leaving an overhang of several inches on all sides.
In a large bowl, melt the chocolate, whisk until smooth. Whisk in the sugar and Cognac (if using) until well blended.
With an electric mixer on low speed, beat in the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition and occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.
In a large, deep clean bowl and using a clean set of beaters, beat the egg whites and salt just until the whites form stiff peaks. With a whisk or rubber spatula, fold one third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining egg whites in two batches until well blended.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, pushing it into the corners and smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. Cover with the overhanging plastic wrap and then wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Freeze for at least 6 hours.
To serve, unwrap the pan, fold back the plastic wrap and run a table knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the marquise. Place a serving plate over the pan and invert the pan onto it, releasing the marquise by pulling the edges of the plastic wrap. Remove the plastic wrap. Cut marquise into 1/2-inch thick slices and serve as is or with a drizzle of chocolate syrup or a spoonful of fresh berries.