Chocolate: A dessert for every holiday

  • Chocolate and vanilla pudding, along with chocolate chestnut truffles, are two delectable desserts made with chocolate. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Classic truffles are made with a rich mixture of butter, chocolate and cream, but you can get the same smoothness with fewer calories by using chestnuts instead. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Classic truffles are made with a rich mixture of butter, chocolate and cream, but you can get the same smoothness with fewer calories by using chestnuts instead. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Chocolate and vanilla pudding is an easy dessert to make with children. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Recorder
Published: 4/9/2019 2:07:24 PM

One of the charming things about chocolate is that it shifts shape with such ease that we can have it at every holiday in whatever guise we’d like, such as bunnies and eggs at Easter.

They are such must-haves, that it’s easy to imagine that they have been with us forever. But the first chocolate egg didn’t appear until 1873 (in Britain). Chocolate bunnies arrived in Europe at around the same time. The reason for their late arrival is that previously it was hard to make palatable chocolate because one of its components — cocoa butter — can make it greasy, while the other — cocoa solids — can make it gritty.

The Aztecs avoided this problem by drinking it. Sixteenth-century Spanish conquistadors saw the drink being made at the Aztec court by pouring it back and forth between two pitchers, one held high above the other. This raised a foam, which the Aztecs probably enjoyed as much as we like cappuccino foam. More significantly, the many pourings emulsified the cocoa solids and the cocoa butter.

The Spanish response was mixed. In 1590, Juan de Acosta noted, “The main benefit of this cacao is a beverage which they make called Chocolate, which is a crazy thing valued in this country. It disgusts those not used to it because it has foam on top, or a scum-like bubbling. The Indians offer it to the lords who pass through their land. And the Spanish men — and even more the Spanish women — are addicted.”

A century later, chocolate had reached Italy, where one cook was reported as grating two balls of it onto polenta because he was out of cheese. It had arrived in Massachusetts by 1697, when Judge Samuel Sewall described breakfasting with the Lieutenant Governor “on Venison and Chocolate. I said Massachusetts and Mexico met at his honour’s table.”

Instead of the two-pitcher method, the Spanish used a molinillo, a swizzle stick that was rolled between the palms to mix and froth the chocolate. Swizzling wasn’t fast. In Mozart’s opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” the maid sings, “I have been beating the chocolate for half an hour; now it’s ready. Am I to just to stand and smell it, my mouth dry? ... O gracious mistresses, why should you get the real thing and I only the smell of it? By Bacchus, I am going to taste it.” Of course, she loves it.

Two 19th-century inventions gave us the chocolate we now love. In 1828 in Holland, Conrad Van Houten created a hydraulic press that separated the cocoa butter from cocoa solids, making it possible to re-mix them in proportions needed to make smooth chocolate that can be molded into shapes

Later, in Switzerland, chemist Henri Nestlé invented powdered milk, and in 1873, chocolatier Daniel Peter mixed it with chocolate to make milk chocolate — the basis of Easter eggs and bunnies.

Chocolate still grows in Mexico, though most of the world’s supply comes from West Africa. The beans grow inside football-shaped pods, which are fermented and dried at the farm, then exported for manufacture.

Mexicans still enjoy thick vanilla-scented hot chocolate made from solid chocolate melted in water or milk. They also add a little chocolate to a mole sauce served with turkey. Italian and Spanish cooks follow this habit in sauces for game.

For such purposes, chocolate with 85 percent cacao is good because it has less sugar. It’s also useful in ultra-sweet dessert recipes because it doesn’t add more sugar. Usually, though, chocolate with around 60 to 70 percent cacao is best for baking.

As for semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recognize a distinction. Both must have at least 35 percent chocolate liquor and less than 12 percent milk solids.

Below are recipes for chocolate treats for spring festivities.

Chocolate Cloud cake

Chocolate desserts can be dense, but this cloud of mousse reclining on its airy sponge-cake bed seems light enough to float away. This cake is easy to make, but it needs to rest overnight or for at least eight hours in a cool place, so it’s a good do-ahead dessert for a holiday meal, when you have to attend to many other dishes screaming for last-minute attention. Serve it simply with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar or add some small Eastery doo-dads or flowers.

Cake ingredients:

¼ cup sugar

2 eggs at room temperature

¼ tsp. vanilla extract

cup cake flour

2 T butter

1 oz. dark chocolate (72 percent cacao)

1/8 cup Grand Marnier or other liqueur

Chocolate Cloud ingredients:

3 cups heavy cream

½ cup sugar

1 cups cocoa powder

1 stick unsalted butter

Start by making the cake. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with two sheets of parchment paper.

Warm the mixing bowl of an electric mixer by filling it with very hot water and letting it stand for a minute or so until it has warmed up. Empty and dry it, and then put in the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. Mix to combine, then increase the speed and beat for 10 minutes. The mixture should become pale primrose in color; thicken so that it holds the tracks of the beater.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter in a small pan. Let cool to room temperature but don’t let it re-solidify.

When the eggs and sugar are pale and very foamy, remove the bowl from the mixer stand. Sift in half the flour and fold it in with a spatula. Repeat this step with the remaining flour.

Finally, fold in the butter and chocolate mixture. When it is completely mixed in, pour it gently into the prepared spring form pan. Put it into the preheated oven, and place a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil lightly over the top to prevent the surface from getting crusty. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until the cake feels firm but springs back when gently pressed.

Remove and let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes before releasing the clasp on the pan and cooling the cake completely.

To make the Chocolate Cloud, boil 1 cup of the heavy cream. Stir in the sugar and then the cocoa powder to make a smooth thick paste. Remove from the heat, and fold in the butter, adding about a tablespoon or so at a time. Stir until the paste is shiny. Let it cool down to blood heat.

While the chocolate mixture is cooling, whip the remaining 2 cups of cream. With a spatula, fold about one-third of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture. When it has blended in, thoroughly fold in another third, and then finally the remainder.

To finish the cake, soak the cake with the Grand Marnier, then gently pour the chocolate cloud mixture on top. Cool in the fridge overnight or for at least eight hours. Makes eight to 10 servings.

Chocolate and vanilla pudding

Children love chocolate pudding. It’s an easy treat to make together — especially at holidays, when they can stir the cornstarch and cocoa into the cold liquids. After an adult has handled the boiling part and the pudding has cooled, they can add fanciful decorations. Serving it in individual glass dishes with a stripe of vanilla pudding underneath adds to the pleasure.

Vanilla pudding ingredients:

2 cups whole milk

2½ tablespoons cornstarch

3 T sugar

1½ tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate pudding ingredients:

2 cups whole milk

2½ T cornstarch

2 T cocoa

3 T sugar

1 T vanilla extract

½ tsp. almond extract (optional)

To make the vanilla pudding, mix ¼ cup of milk with the cornstarch. Put the remainder in a saucepan with the vanilla extract and sugar, and heat over moderate heat until there are tiny bubbles at the edges.

Pour onto the cornstarch stirring all the time, then return to the pan and continue stirring until it boils and thickens. Take a taste to make sure it doesn’t taste floury. If so, cook a little longer. Pour portions into four or five glass dishes. Cool to room temperature.

To make the chocolate pudding, mix ¼ cup of milk with the cornstarch. In another bowl, mix the cocoa with 2 teaspoons of sugar and ¼ cup warm water until all the powder has dissolved.

Put the remainder of the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla extract (and almond extract if using), and the sugar. Heat over moderate heat until there are tiny bubbles at the edges.

Pour roughly half onto the chocolate mixture and half onto the cornstarch mixture and stir. Tip both mixtures back into the pan and continue stirring until it boils and thickens. Let cool slightly, then pour over the vanilla pudding.

Let cool and set and decorate with jimmies, sprinkles, flowers, or tiny Easter eggs or jelly beans.

Chocolate chestnut truffles

Classic truffles are made with a rich mixture of butter, chocolate and cream. You can get the same smoothness with fewer calories by using chestnuts instead. Look for chestnut puree or fully cooked prepared chestnuts. These can sometimes be found frozen; sometimes in jars or plastic bags.

Ingredients:

4 T unsalted butter at room temperature

4 to 5 T confectioners’ sugar

1½ tsp. vanilla extract

6 oz. (¾ cup tightly packed) chestnut puree or same weight cooked chestnuts

1½ oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (¼ cup), melted

1 T dark rum

1 to 2 T cocoa powder

Cream the butter and 4 tablespoons sugar. Use an extra spoonful only if you want more sweetness. Put this mixture in a food processor with the vanilla extract and the chestnut puree or chopped chestnuts. Process until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and rum, and process again. (If you have no processor, do this by hand or with a hand-held electric mixer.) Spread the mixture in a ½-inch layer on a plate and chill for 30 minutes.

Put the cocoa powder on a plate. Dust your hands with cocoa, too. Using the large end of a melon-baller or a teaspoon, scoop small portions and roll into balls about the size of a large marble. Roll them in the cocoa and place on parchment paper in a box. Cover and chill for several hours before serving.

Chilled, they keep for a week, but as time passes they absorb the cocoa, so dust them with extra for serving. Makes 20 to 24 truffles.


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