Chocoholics, Beware:

Although chocolate is an effortless way to bake in richness, working with it has its quirks. First, there is the melting of it. Chocolate burns easily, which is why most cookbooks warn against ever melting chocolate without the protection of a double boiler. But the following recipes avoid the trouble of a double boiler by melting the chocolate in a microwave, or in a saucepan along with butter or milk to protect it from scorching.

A warning about microwave melting: These appliances are notoriously inconsistent. Therefore, use the timing given in a recipe as a guideline, not as gospel. I would start checking 30 seconds before the recipe recommends and be prepared to heat the chocolate another 30 seconds after the stated time, if need be.

Moreover, when deciding that the chocolate is fully melted, do not go by appearance alone. Microwaved chocolate will remain solid looking, even after it has completely softened.

Once it's melted, chocolate can become grainy if it is contacted by even a small amount of liquid, such as an egg or a liquid flavoring. Cookbooks often warn about having bowls and mixing equipment scrupulously dry to prevent such a mishap, but the situation is only problematic if the amount of liquid is minuscule — less than 1 tablespoon per ounce of chocolate. Chocolate can be melted in a large amount of liquid without incident.

Chocolate comes in several forms. The main distinction among them is the sweetening. Unsweetened chocolate is bitter, very dark and quite brittle. Taken out of hand, it is inedible, but in baking, it packs the biggest chocolate punch per pound. The principal brands are Baker's, Nestle and Hershey's.

Partially sweetened chocolates can be called bittersweet or semisweet, depending on the manufacturer. They vary in flavor and sugar content, though they generally have about half the amount of chocolate solids as unsweetened chocolate and four-tenths of an ounce of sugar added to every ounce of chocolate.

Fully sweetened chocolates are called sweet chocolate (if they are dark) or milk chocolate (if they are light).

Cocoa powder is unsweetened chocolate that has about 75 percent of its fat removed. In a cake, it produces a darker and more chocolaty-tasting product. European cocoas are Dutch-processed, which means that the chocolate is treated with a mild alkaline, causing the cocoa to become milder and darker, and to mix more easily into liquid. Whatever you make, be sure to make plenty of it; chocolate dishes go fast!

Three-Minute Hot-Fudge Sauce

1/2 cup Dutch cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup water (or brewed coffee)
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. vanilla

In a heavy saucepan, mix the cocoa, sugar and salt together.

Add the water and stir until smooth.

Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and heat until boiling, stirring constantly.

Remove from the heat.

Stir in the butter and vanilla until butter is melted.

Use while still warm; the sauce will start to thicken as it cools.

Makes 1 cup (about 6 servings).

Hot-Pepper Pink-Chocolate Sauce

1/2 cup milk
6 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. honey
2 tsps. mild hot sauce, such as Red Hot Sauce or Crystal Hot Sauce

In a heavy saucepan, heat the milk to a simmer.

Add the chocolate and stir until melted, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Stir in the honey and hot sauce.

Serve either warm or cool, but stir before serving.

Makes 1 cup (about 6 servings).

Chocolate Coronary

1 cup milk
1 lb. high-quality semi- or bittersweet chocolate, broken in pieces
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsps. brandy
1/2 lb. butter
8 egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350°.

Grease a 9-inch springform pan, and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper. Grease the paper.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the milk until simmering.

Turn the heat to low, add the chocolate, and stir until melted.

Add the vanilla, brandy and butter; stir until smooth. Mix in the egg yolks. Pour and scrape into the prepared pan.

Bake for 23 minutes. It will look undone. Take it out.

Cool and refrigerate until completely firm. Cut around the sides and remove springform.

Serve with whipped cream and garnish with berries, if desired.

Makes 16 servings.

Chocolate Junkies

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, broken in pieces
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, broken in pieces
6 Tbsps. (3 oz.) butter, cut in chunks
2 extra-large eggs
2 tsps. instant coffee (optional)
2 tsps. vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Grease a cookie sheet with spray oil. Do not use insulated sheets.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the two chocolates and the butter. Cover and microwave at full power for 2 minutes. Uncover and set aside to cool.

With a mixer at high speed, beat the eggs, coffee powder, vanilla and sugar until light and fluffy.

Meanwhile, mix the flour and baking powder into the chocolate mixture with a whisk. Add to the beaten egg mixture and mix until smooth with the whisk. Fold in the nuts, if using.

Place 11/2 tablespoon mounds 11/2-inches apart on the cookie sheet. You will get about 8 cookies to a sheet.

Bake for 9 minutes, until the cookies are puffed and slightly crispy around the edges.

Cool on the pan for 1 minute.

Remove with a spatula.

Cool the rest of the way on a wire rack.

Makes 20 to 22 cookies.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Crunch Balls

1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 cup rice cereal (like Rice Krispies)
8 oz. milk chocolate, broken in pieces

In a mixing bowl, beat peanut butter with the corn syrup and rice cereal.

Scoop rounded teaspoons of the peanut-butter mixture and form into balls by rolling between your palms. Place on a sheet tray and chill for several hours until solid.

Melt 6 oz. of the chocolate in a covered, microwave-safe bowl in microwave at full power for about 2 minutes. Mix to blend.

Add the remaining chocolate and continue mixing until all is melted.

Dip the peanut-butter centers into the chocolate and turn with a small fork to coat completely. Lift with the fork. Shake excess chocolate from the candy by rapping the fork on the edge of the dipping pot. Allow the candies to slide from the fork onto a sheet of foil or wax paper.

Cool completely, for about 2 hours, before removing from the paper. They may be refrigerated to hasten the setting of the chocolate; however, they are likely to loose their sheen.

Makes about 36 pieces.

Chocolate Chubbies

4 Tbsps. butter
5 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, broken in pieces
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsps. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs, large or extra-large
1 tsp. baking powder
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°.

Coat the interior of a 9-inch square baking pan with spray shortening. Set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter halfway.

Add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is half-melted. Remove from heat and continue stirring until the mixture is completely melted.

Add the sugar, cocoa and vanilla; stir until smooth. Beat in the eggs until completely incorporated.

Add baking powder in pinches to break up any lumps; stir to incorporate. Stir in the flour.

Pour and scrape the batter into prepared pan, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until top is dry, but a tester inserted in the center comes out with a damp crumb clinging to it. Do not overbake!

Remove from oven and cool in the pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Cut into 16 brownies and lift out with a small spatula.

Note: Don't be concerned if the first one to come out of the pan crumbles. These brownies are delicate and easily marred. Just keep going and transfer to a cooling rack. Most will turn out just fine, though they will all look a little ragged around the edges.

Makes 16 servings.

Hunks of Milk-Chocolate Crunch

2 large (7 oz.) milk-chocolate bars, broken in pieces
11/2 cups rice cereal
1 cup raisins

Melt chocolate in a microwave safe bowl at full power for 2 to 21/2 minutes. Add cereal and raisins; stir well.

Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with foil.

Scrape the chocolate mixture into the pan and spread it in an even layer. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Invert to unpan and peel foil from the back of the chocolate.

Cut into 49 squares (7-by-7) about 11/2 inches square.

Makes 49 pieces.

White- and Dark-Chocolate Apricots

24 dried apricot halves
12 pistachio nuts, shelled
12 toasted hazelnuts
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, broken in pieces
4 oz. white chocolate, broken in pieces

Place apricots skin-side down on a sheet of wax paper or foil.

Place a pistachio or hazelnut in the center of each apricot.

Fold apricot in half over nut, and press the edges together.

Melt 3 ounces of the semi-sweet chocolate in a covered, microwave-safe bowl in microwave at full power for 1 to 11/2 minutes. Mix to blend.

Add remaining semi-sweet chocolate and continue mixing until all is melted. Do the same thing with the white chocolate in a separate microwave-safe bowl.

Place 12 nut-stuffed apricots, one or two at a time, into the white chocolate. With a small fork, gently turn over the apricots to coat the other side. Lift with the fork and tap on the side of the bowl, allowing excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl.

Set the chocolate-dipped apricots back on the sheet of wax paper or foil. Continue the procedure with the remaining apricots, dipping them into the semisweet chocolate.

Allow to set at room temperature until the chocolate coating is hard and dry, about 3 hours.

Store at room temperature or freeze for longer storage.

Makes 24 pieces.

Mochaccino Pudding

3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3 Tbsps. cornstarch
1/4 cup cocoa, preferably Dutch-process
2 tsps. instant coffee powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 cups milk
3 extra-large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. cognac (optional)

In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, salt, cornstarch, cocoa, instant coffee and cinnamon.

Add 1 cup of the milk, and mix until the cornstarch is dissolved. Little bits of cocoa may be visible. Don't worry; they'll go away as the pudding cooks.

Beat in the egg yolks. Add the remaining milk; stir to combine.

Place over medium heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the pudding thickens. If lumps appear on the bottom of your stirring spoon at the beginning of thickening, don't panic. Remove the pudding from the heat and mix vigorously with a whisk until the lumps blend in.

Continue cooking until the pudding is boiling and thick, stirring constantly. Make sure to stir across the bottom of the pan and into the corners.

Remove pan from heat. Stir in the vanilla, then the cognac.

While still warm, pour into 6 dessert dishes. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill.

If desired, serve garnished with whipped cream.



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