The day of Love is fast approaching and the chocolate fairy has been sweetly infiltrating my dreams and prompting me to post words on this most sensuous sustenance, so rich, dark and complex. The theobroma cacao tree offers to us this food of the gods and the ultimate aphrodisiac given on St. Valentine’s Day to woo the one you desire, or to show your undying devotion to your beloved. It’s also the day that chocolatiers live for. Love, chocolates, profits. It goes together so well, does it not? Wait, what? Is there a price on love? Does it mean that if you spend $50 dollars vs. $12.50 on a box of cocoa bonbons for your heart’s desire that your love is worth 4 times as much?
Well, when it comes to chocolates , the price does not necessarily guarantee quality, although high quality chocolates are more expensive due to the higher content of cocoa solids and cocoa butter plus production methods.
Personally, any chocolate containing less than “62% cacao” is not worth disturbing my taste buds over, but for the sake of clarity; here’s a quick run down on a few different grades:
- Your run-of-the-mill, vending machine, cheap chocolates are made from inferior beans and processed with minimal amounts of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, with high amounts of sugar, milk solids, preservatives, and even hydrogenated oils. The flavor is just sugary and forgettable.
- More expensive chocolates are made from selected beans, and are often produced in small batches with an emphasis on flavor and complexity. It also has higher cocoa solids and cocoa butter along with varying amounts of sugar and milk solids. These are often labeled as “fine” chocolates.
- Dark chocolates contain cocoa solids, cocoa butters, but no milk solids. The sugar content varies from bitter (no sugar) to bittersweet to sweet. When a label reads, “70% cacao”, or “70% cocoa”, or “70% chocolate” it is referring to the weight percentage of the cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The rest is composed of sugar, small amounts of lecithin, and vanilla. (The exact ingredients depend on the manufacturer.)
Basically, for those who are after intensity, complexity, and satisfaction; the higher the cocoa solids, the better.
And of course the legendary aphrodisiac components are contained in the cocoa matters. (For the health benefits of chocolate, and an amazing savory dish using dark chocolate, chicken and prawns, please stay tuned for my next posting.)
Alas, in these times of necessary economic prudence, you may be reluctant to spend $50 on a box of chocolates. Well, why not enjoy high quality chocolate without making your wallet lighter? What better way to show your love and talents then by making some chocolate dainties with your very own hands? While it does take an expert chocolatier to create those amazing truffles and ganaches you may have spend mega bucks on, here’s a very simple recipe for chocolate pieces with nuts and candied ginger using dark chocolate.
Give it a try and infuse your chocolate creations with the unique energy and love that only you can offer while making them. Besides the ingredients for the chocolates, you will need a chocolate mold, which can be purchased at any good kitchenware store or on-line. Prices range from just a few bucks onwards. You can also improvise with a mini muffin tin, but you will need paper muffin cups to line the tin.
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa)
For purchasing details, see end of post
6 – 8 almonds, chopped
1 – 2 pieces ginger candy, or a few organic raisins
1 tsp. vanilla extract
(Plus a chocolate mold)
Makes 7 – 10 pieces, depending on the chocolate mold’s design
Chop the chocolate. Save about 1/2 oz. and place the remaining into a small stainless steel bowl and place over a pot of gently simmering water. (Please make sure that the bowl’s circumference is larger than the pot so that the bowl is suspended over the rim.) Allow chocolate to melt on it’s own accord , remove from heat and add in remaining 1/2 oz. chocolate pieces, stirring to melt it completely. (This is a very simple way of tempering chocolate. Tempering is a complicated affair and beyond the scope of this blog. Just follow my recipe, and you’ll do fine. This just ensures that your chocolate pieces look glossy and “professional”.)
Stir in the vanilla extract, and pour the mixture 1/2 way into your chocolate mold. Place mold in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to set the chocolate. While the chocolate is setting, keep the melted bowl of chocolate over the pot of hot water, off the flame.
After 10 minutes, remove from the fridge and place a few pieces of the chopped nuts and candied ginger (or raisins) over the set chocolate. Top with the remaining melted chocolate to the rim of the mold. Gently tap the mold to settle the chocolate and flatten with a spatula if necessary. If you have left over chocolate in the bowl, just lick it up. You know it’s the only decent thing to do.
Place in the fridge and allow to set, or leave in a cool place to set completely. As the chocolate pieces cool, they will pull slightly away from the mold, making it quite easy to just tap the pieces out by turning the mold upside down. Place the pieces in a nice gift box wrapped with a ribbon.
With the money that you save, buy a bottle of champagne and celebrate Love, ever so sweet and sparkling!
By the way, 6 oz. of high quality, dark chocolate costs less than $8. My favorites are El Rey, Guittard, or Valrhona. You can find small blocks of these chocolates at WholeFoods, or other fine food grocers. You can also order larger quantities on-line.
For El Rey, go to: www.chocolateselrey.com , and for Guittard, go to: www.guittard.com
And here’s the complete poem by the Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca:
The poplar lanes move on but leave their reflection.
The poplar lanes move on but leave us the wind.
The wind lies shrouded full length beneath the sky.
But floating on rivers it has left its echoes.
The world of fireflies has invaded my memories.
And a tiny little heart is sprouting at my fingertips.
For Love of Food and Friends and Love,