Americans are crazy about chocolate, though that's nothing new. Smooth, silky, sweet and intoxicating, chocolate has titillated the senses for nearly 3,000 years.
Back then, the Aztecs regarded the rich, dark cocoa beans as a gift bestowed by the great god Quetzalcoatl to ease their earthly passage to heaven. The chocolate was reserved for warriors, nobility and priests.
In the 16th century, Cortes joined Mexican Emperor Montezuma in sipping golden cupfuls of a cool brown liquid that the emperor believed enhanced his libido (it's said he drank 50 cupfuls a day). The precious beans from which the liquid was brewed was also used as money - 100 beans for a slave, 12 beans for a courtesan.
Still, chocolate did not immediately become overwhelmingly popular. In 1569, Pope Pius V declared the cocoa liquid so vile that drinking it would not break the communion fast. Fanatics denounced it as a "dangerous provoker of passion," and although Christopher Columbus, on his fourth and last voyage to the Americas, brought some cocoa beans back to Europe, they were neglected because of their bitterness.
Romantic lore identifies chocolate as an aphrodisiac, thus the familiar ritual of giving chocolates to your beloved. Though there's no firm proof that chocolate is a sexual stimulant, Drs. Donald Klein and Michael Leibowitz from the New York State Psychiatric Institute theorize that chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine, an amphetamine-like substance known as the "love chemical," which is also present in the brain. This raises blood glucose levels, resulting in a heightened sense of pleasure.
It was apparently the Jews who introduced specialty chocolates to the French. Having been driven from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition, they settled in the French city of Bayonne. These Jewish chocolate-makers went to their clients' homes in the Saint-Esprit area to create superior cocoa concoctions.
They found themselves in competition with local chocolatiers, so that in 1691, the locals obtained an injunction preventing Jews from selling chocolate to private customers inside the city walls. Happily, when brought to the parliament in Bordeaux, the injunction was overturned. Eventually, Bayonne chocolates became the city's most famous export; today, Bayonne's signature beverage is hot chocolate flavored with cinnamon and whipped to a froth.
Different types of chocolate are created by what is added to or removed from the chocolate liquor. Each has a specific chemical make-up. As defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, chocolate is a mixture containing a dark thick paste called chocolate liquor and a percentage of cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter, which has little to no chocolate flavor, is the fat extracted from cocoa beans during the process of making chocolate and cocoa powder. Chocolate liquor is produced by grinding the cocoa bean nib, or center, to a smooth, liquid state. The chocolate liquor can then be cooled and molded into blocks also known as unsweetened baking chocolate. The liquor and blocks contain roughly 53 percent cocoa butter.
Four major types of commercial chocolate exist.
• Unsweetened chocolate is the bitter, unadulterated chocolate from ground cocoa beans. It contains at least 50 percent, but not more than 58 percent, cocoa butter.
• Semisweet chocolate is made with sugar, and is softened with extra cocoa butter. It melts smoothly. It is also available as "chips." Because the chips are lightly glazed, they hold their shape during baking.
• Milk chocolate is made by combining chocolate, sugar, powdered milk and vanilla. It contains no more than 10 percent cocoa butter.
• Dark chocolate is sweetened, pure, bitter chocolate. It is darker and more brittle than semi-sweet because it lacks the extra cocoa butter. It's also the one touted for certain health benefits.
White chocolate is not really chocolate. According to the FDA, to be called "chocolate" a product must contain chocolate liquor, which is what gives the intense chocolate flavor (and color) to dark and milk chocolates. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, lecithin and flavorings, usually including vanilla. Cocoa butter has very little "chocolate" flavor.
Cocoa powder is chocolate liquor with much of the cocoa butter removed. The fine powder can pick up moisture and odors from other foods, so store it in a cool, dry place with a tight-fitting lid.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
11/4 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. dark kosher rum
1 cup light corn syrup
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 deep-dish pastry shell
softly whipped cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt butter until golden. Add the walnuts, and sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Do not let butter or walnuts brown. Remove from heat. Cool.
Stir in the chocolate chips, dark chocolate, sugar, rum, corn syrup and eggs. Mix vigorously to blend.
Pour into unbaked pastry shell. Bake for 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to 325 degrees. Bake for 50 minutes longer, or until center is almost firm (will jiggle a bit when pie dish is moved).
Cool on wire rack.
To serve, cut in wedges and top with a dollop of whipped cream (optional).
Serves 10 to 12.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 618; protein, 6 g; carbohydrates, 60 g; fat, 43 g; cholesterol, 119 mg; sodium, 241 mg.
The Belgian version of chocolate croissants.
1 crusty baguette roll (8 inches long)
1 small bar (1.55 oz.) milk chocolate, cut in pieces
1/4 cup almond paste or marzipan, crumbled
1 Tbsp. ginger preserves
1 Tbsp. butter
2 tsps. unsweetened cocoa
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 to 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. slivered almonds
Preheat oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees.
Split the roll in half lengthwise. Remove most of the soft bread from the bottom slice to make a cavity. Place the chocolate in cavity to cover. Top with almond paste or marzipan.
Spread cut side of top slice with ginger preserves. Press lightly to cover as in a sandwich. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil.
Heat through for 7 minutes in oven. Chocolate should be melted. Unwrap.
Drizzle glaze over top. Sprinkle with almonds. Cut into slices with a serrated knife.
For the Glaze: In a cup, melt the butter in the microwave at high for 20 seconds, or until melted.
Stir in the cocoa and water.
Add enough powdered sugar to make a consistency similar to heavy cream.
Makes 6 pieces.
Approximate nutrients per piece: calories, 186; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 29 g; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 7 mg; sodium, 26 mg.
Chocolate-Caramel Tea Scones
Refrigerate chocolate for easier chopping. Leftover scones may be wrapped in paper towels and zapped in microwave for 10 to 15 seconds to barely warm. Do not overcook.
2 cups, plus 2 tsps., all-purpose flour, divided
3 Tbsps. margarine
2 Tbsps. sugar
1/2 (3.5 oz.) caramel-filled chocolate bar, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp., plus 2 tsps., unsweetened cocoa
4 tsps. baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
unsweetened cocoa to dust
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Dust a baking sheet with about 2 teaspoons flour, shaking off any excess.
In a medium bowl, cut the margarine into remaining flour to resemble fine breadcrumbs.
Stir in the sugar, chopped chocolate, 1 tablespoon cocoa and baking powder.
Make a well in center. Pour in enough buttermilk to make a soft dough.
Turn out onto a floured board.
Pat into a round about three-quarters of an inch thick. Cut out with a 2-inch round, fluted cookie-cutter.
Place on baking sheet. Sift remaining cocoa over top.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until risen and golden.
Serve warm with butter.
Makes 1 dozen.
Approximate nutrients per scone: calories, 130; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 21 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 2 mg; sodium, 222 mg.
Molten Chocolate Soufflés
This recipe has made the rounds. My Florida neighbor got it from a friend, who got it from a friend. The origin has been lost in the shuffle, but each mouthful is wickedly rich.
6 Tbsps. sweet butter, cut in 6 pieces
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp., plus 2 tsps., cornstarch
1/2 tsp. orange extract
Spray 6 custard cups with nonstick cooking spray.
Place the butter and chocolate in a medium microwave bowl. Microwave on high for 11/2 minutes, or until butter is melted and chocolate is softened.
Mix to blend smoothly. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks.
Add the melted-butter mixture and stir to blend. Whisk in the sugar, cornstarch and orange extract.
Divide the chocolate mixture equally between the prepared custard cups. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until sides are firm to touch but center is still wet.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 280; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 24 g; fat, 19 g; cholesterol, 173 mg; sodium, 34 mg.
Pale Mocha Mousse With Apricot Sauce
1 cup white "chocolate" chips
2 Tbsps. unsalted butter
2 cups nondairy whipped topping or whipped cream
1 Tbsp., plus 1 tsp., finely ground coffee
1 cup canned apricots, drained
2 tsps. orange juice
2 tsps. cornstarch
2 tsps. honey or to taste
Melt white "chocolate" and butter in a small bowl in microwave for 1 minute at high, or until soft enough to blend smoothly.
Fold into the whipped topping or whipped cream. Stir in the coffee. Spoon into small dessert dishes or espresso cups. Chill.
To Prepare Sauce: Place apricots in the blender or food processor. Add orange juice, cornstarch and 1 tablespoon cold water. Process to blend.
Transfer to a small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, and simmer about 1 minute until thickened.
Add honey to taste.
Cool to room temperature.
To Serve: Before serving, spoon a little sauce over the Pale Mocha Mousse.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 256; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 25 g; fat, 16 g; cholesterol, 11 mg; sodium, 30 mg.
Chocolate Rum Cake
While coffee perks, whip up this irresistible cake.
1 angel-food cake
1/3 cup kosher rum, or as much as desired
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
11/2 cups whipping cream, whipped, or 2 cups nondairy whipped topping
11/2 cups half-and-half sour cream
3/4 cup milk-chocolate chips, melted
Cut a 11/2-inch thick slice, horizontally, from the angel-food cake. Set aside.
From the bottom layer, pull out the soft cake to form a tunnel, leaving a 1-inch shell. Sprinkle with rum. Set aside. (Freeze soft cake crumbs to use for trifles or toast, and sprinkle over fruits or ice-cream.)
Fold the chopped chocolate into the whipped cream or nondairy whipped topping. Spoon into the cavity.
Place the remaining cake layer on top pressing down lightly.
Fold the sour cream into the melted chocolate. Spread over the top of cake, letting some drip down the sides.
Rough up surface with a fork.
Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 370; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 36 g; fat, 23 g; cholesterol, 54 mg; sodium, 243 mg.
Bayonne Hot Chocolate
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 squares (4 oz.) semi- sweet chocolate, cut in 8 pieces
2 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
1/2 cup boiling water
3/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper or to taste
pinch of salt
sugar to taste
4 cinnamon sticks
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and cream. Do not boil. Set aside.
Place the chocolate in a large microwave bowl.
Microwave for 2 minutes on medium, or until chocolate is soft and may be stirred until smooth.
Whisk in the coffee, water, pepper and salt. Mix well.
Add the hot milk mixture and sugar to taste. Whisk till frothy.
Pour into warm mugs. Insert a cinnamon stick as stirrer.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 384; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 23 g; fat, 32 g; cholesterol, 90 mg; sodium, 52 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a cookbook author and a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Reach her at: www.kosherfoodconsultants.com .