Chocolate ‘hearts’ for Valentine’s Day

By TINKY WEISBLAT

For the Recorder

Published: 02-07-2023 4:20 PM

I saw my first heart-shaped box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day when I was four. My father presented it to my mother, who gave me a piece. I swooned, both at the delectable taste and texture of the chocolate and at the romance of the whole idea.

I hoped that when I grew up some devoted swain would present me with my own heart-shaped chocolate collection. I have had a swain or two in my day, but somehow none of them ever picked up on this particular longing.

That has never prevented me from initiating my own chocolate celebration of Valentine’s Day. In early February of most years, I make some kind of chocolate treat to share with family and friends. It might be bark or brownies or truffles. It might be fudge. It might be some form of cookie.

Chocolate just feels right on Valentine’s Day. As most readers probably know, chocolate was first enjoyed several thousand years ago in what is now Mexico. The bitter beans of the cacao plant were ground up and made into a drink that was used as a medicine and in religious rituals.

Eventually, as the “Times of India” colorfully put it, “when 16th-century ruler Montezuma noticed that his ability to ‘please the ladies’ was enhanced after drinking cocoa, he realized a connection between love and chocolate.” In other words, the product of the cacao plant was an aphrodisiac.

The Spanish brought chocolate to the old world, where it was still drunk rather than eaten, although European chocolate was sweetened much more than its Mesoamerican counterpart. It was viewed as an elegant beverage and also (again!) as an aphrodisiac; Giacomo Casanova called it the “elixir of love.”

In the 19th century, like many other foods, chocolate was finally introduced to a mass audience in Europe and the United States. Industrialization made the process of processing it more affordable, and the availability of cheap sugar made the liquid and soon the solid form of chocolate accessible to the masses.

In 1868, the English businessman Richard Cadbury linked chocolate to Valentine’s Day by selling the first heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. The Victorians delighted in creating and exchanging paper valentines, and the idea of a Valentine chocolate box caught on.

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It has never lost its popularity. Last year in the United States retailers sold more than 4 billion dollars worth of candy for this holiday, much of it chocolate, according to “Candy & Snack Today.” (Yes, there is such a publication!)

This year I plan to make chocolate-covered strawberries for Valentine’s Day. I don’t purchase a lot of strawberries out of season; our plump, juicy local strawberries in June and July are so luscious that I can’t generally face the ones that are available in the winter. They come from far away and can’t compare to the real thing.

Nevertheless, I can make an exception to this rule for Valentine’s Day. We are, after all, far enough away from last year’s strawberry season that our local crops are a distant memory. The chocolate coating certainly adds flavor to even the most ho-hum berries. The berries are (sort of) heart shaped, to boot.

The trick to this recipe is to find really good chocolate. Unfortunately, when I tried it last week there wasn’t a lot of white chocolate to choose from, and I ended up with white chocolate that tasted fine but didn’t melt very well, even when I chopped it finely and added a tiny bit of vegetable oil to encourage it.

Consequently, my berries had a very rustic look. (Rustic is my code word for “messy.”) No one who tasted them seemed to mind, however. They were delicious.

The recipe below doesn’t have exact proportions because it’s a very free formula.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Ingredients:

fresh strawberries as needed

high-quality milk, dark, or white chocolate (or a combination)

Instructions:

Wash your berries and thoroughly and dry them. If they have water adhering to them, they won’t be able to absorb the chocolate. Do not hull the berries; their stems will aid you when you coat them. Chop the chocolate into small, fairly uniform pieces.

In the bottom of a double boiler, heat an inch or two of water. (If you are using more than one type of chocolate, you will need to rig up more than one double boiler.)

Turn the heat below the water down, and place the chocolate in the top of the double boiler. Stir the chocolate as it melts.

When the chocolate has melted, remove the upper portion of the double boiler from the bottom. Wipe the outside off carefully to make sure no water will drip from its edges.

Let the chocolate cool for a moment or two so it won’t cook your strawberries; then carefully dip the berries in the chocolate, holding them by their stems.

Place the dipped berries on wax paper, parchment, or silicone. If you want more than one type of chocolate on each berry, drizzle another color on the finished product.

Allow the berries to cool. As soon as they are at room temperature, either eat them or refrigerate them until you want to use them. Eat them within 24 hours. (This is not a difficult task.)

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning author and singer. Her most recent book is “Pot Luck: Random Acts of Cooking.” Visit her website, TinkyCooks.com.

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