Chocolate: The Sweet Spot

Food

Oh, the irony of chocolate. It can be used to romance a lover or to mend a broken heart, and to nurture every state of mind in between. The powerful effects of chocolate are endless. Spas offer indulgent chocolate beauty treatments in the form of hair masks, facials, massages, scrubs and baths. There’s even a romantic couples treatment where paintbrushes and warm chocolate are provided — along with, we assume, some drop cloths.

Did you know?

The smell of chocolate increases theta brain waves, which triggers relaxation.

We can thank the Mayans for chocolate; they believed chocolate was a gift from the gods. Considereda form ofliquid gold, the Mayans’ chocolate beverages were associated with the upper crustand nobility. Often prepared by adding hot chili peppers and water to a thick cacao paste, the drinks were not served sweet. Experts believe the word “chocolate” derives from the Mayan word “xocolat,” for “bitter water.” Elaborate ceramic drinking vessels specifically made for drinking chocolate have been unearthed and are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That’s how seriously the Mayans — and modern civilizations — take our chocolate.

Ruby Port Chocolate Soufflés

RECIPE BY CARRIE HIRSCH
(Serves 8)

Ports are made from red grapes aged in wooden barrels, which gives them a beautiful amber color and nutty flavor. You can substitute ruby port with tawny port for this recipe. The soufflé batter can be made up to two hours in advance. Just cover it and keep it in a cool place — do not refrigerate it. Typically, a soufflé is dusted with powdered sugar, then topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream for a festive holiday treat. 

Soufflé:

1 ½ cups dark chocolate chips
1 ½ sticks salted butter
5 egg yolks
3/4 cup demerara sugar
3/4 cup ruby port
½ cup all-purpose flour, sifted
5 egg whites
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (for dusting the ramekins)

Chocolate Sauce:

1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 stick butter
2 teaspoons dark corn syrup
½ cup ruby port 
2 cups whipped cream, prepared

Soufflé: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips and butter for 1 minute, stirring once, or until thoroughly melted, or use a double boiler and combine chocolate and butter until melted, stirring well. Set aside to cool. Using a stand or hand mixer, combine egg yolks and demerara sugar in a medium bowl and beat on high for 3 minutes. Whisk in ruby port and flour, and then fold in chocolate mixture. Using a chilled bowl, beat egg whites on high until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. Fold egg whites into chocolate mixture. Butter eight 6-ounce ramekins, and then dust lightly with granulated sugar. Fill ramekins ¾ full with batter. Arrange ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until they puff.

Chocolate Sauce: (can be made a few days in advance, refrigerated and then reheated before serving) In a medium microwavable bowl, combine chocolate chips, butter and dark corn syrup and microwave for 40 seconds, or until melted, stirring once. Whisk in ruby port.

Place sauce in a gravy boat and drizzle over each soufflé just before serving.

Top with a dollop of whipped cream. Serve immediately.

TIPS FROM CHOCOLATE EXPERTS

NANCY PARIS: THE CHOCOLATE CANOPY

NOT ALL CHOCOLATE IS CREATED EQUAL

Chocolate3Many chocolates available at grocery stores contain waxes and fillers that alter the taste. At specialty boutiques like the Chocolate Canopy, we use pure chocolate that contains cocoa butter.  Pure chocolate requires tempering, a process of heating and cooling that results in a smooth and glossy finish.

MILK OR DARK?

The difference between milk and dark chocolate depends on the amount of chocolate liquor and milk fat. There’s no alcohol in chocolate liquor, though — it’s actually a combination of cocoa solids and cocoa butter that is obtained when cacao beans are processed to make chocolate products.

At The Chocolate Canopy, our milk chocolate is 34 percent cacao and our dark chocolate is 53 percent cacao.  We also make an 85 percent cacao custom blend.

FRESHNESS AND STORAGE

While the shelf life of most chocolate can exceed six months, we recommend enjoying your purchase within the first three months. Chocolate should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

SIGNE GARDO, SIGNE’S HEAVEN BOUND BAKERY

signeMy romance with chocolate all started with a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar — Chocolate 101 — and yes, it melted in my hand. I always had to lick the remaining soft silky stuff off the foil and then tried to chew the whole wrapper to get it all, but the foil squeaked on my teeth like chalk. Holidays came with the yellow boxes of Russell Stover Whitman’s Samplers, tempting bites of dark crisp thin shells filled with cream centers and nuts — always trying to find a way to eat them and keep them at the same time, my pockets filled with the little brown papers. Then I discovered baking chocolate. Melting it in a double boiler, watching it getting smooth to mix in a fudgy cake batter … one fingerful of that glistening darkness gave me a bitter surprise. There was no unctuous lingering on my lips, just bitter. Fast-forward to the fascination and touted health benefits of 87 percent chocolate, and now the romance is veiled under a haze of medicinal benefits. Chocolate once was for delight, oozing out of the corners of a child’s mouth. I am no longer drawn to the Hershey milk chocolate bar — it’s too sweet and the milk tastes sour — but the piece of chocolate that I have hidden in the drawer behind the dishtowels is the soothing compromise of Peter’s Semi-sweet Burgundy. Just one little square does it, and I am happy.