Chocolate is the mostly widely used and versatile ingredient when creating desserts. From the simplest chocolate cake, brownie or chocolate chip cookie to elaborately sculpted presentations such as the chocolate sack or chocolate bombe. From warm-out-of-the-oven molten cakes to smooth and creamy gelato, chocolate is the ultimate in comfort sweets. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like the presentation of a homemade chocolate confection.
Chocolate cakes saw the flourless craze not so long ago. These cakes were dense and very chocolatey, needing very little in the way of embellishment other than a sprinkle of confectioners sugar or a dollop of whipped cream on the side. Then the red velvet trend came along, with spoonfuls of red food coloring being heaped into chocolate batter bowls of every baker’s kitchen. In recent months, the chocolate cake has experienced another makeover fad with the addition of red wine into the batter.
Chocolate cupcakes may be crowned with a variety of frostings, from orange to peanut butter. Last year I baked red velvet cupcakes and topped them with cream cheese frosting and added a finishing touch of red casting sugar and a chocolate heart on top of each in honor of Valentine’s Day. Now cupcakes have deferred to the back of the stage as the whoopie pie makes its appearance in the spotlight. A whoopie pie is comprised of two small cakes with a creamy filling sandwiched in between; imagine a soft oreo that has morphed to four or five times its size.
Loving spoonfuls of chocolate are perhaps the most comforting of all. One of my favorite chocolate classics is a bowl of French chocolate mousse. Premium quality chocolate ice creams and gelatos are the perfect pick me up.
Brownies and cookies serve as a backdrop for numerous additions of flavor and texture, from all varieties of nuts to chocolate chips to white chocolate chunks to peanut butter chips. Other finger-friendly dining chocolate options include candies, such as truffles, bark and fudge, and chocolate dipped fruits such as strawberries and bananas. If you are fortunate enough to have access to a gourmet chocolatier, then you have a gold mine of chocolates awaiting your indulgence.
When baking with chocolate, as with any other ingredient in your culinary projects, always use a premium quality brand of cocoa. Those who prefer dark chocolate should aim for a baking chocolate with a cocoa content of 70% or higher. The higher the concentration, the stronger the flavor will be. Alternately, you can simply use my trick: if you have semi-sweet baking chocolate and unsweetened baking chocolate in the pantry, use equal parts of both in your recipe. If a recipe calls for eight ounces of semisweet chocolate, scale that down to four, or even three, and use unsweetened chocolate for the remaining four to five ounces. Another trick for enhancing the flavor is the addition of instant espresso powder into the batter. The coffee flavor melds with the chocolate and really brings the essence of the cocoa to the next level; think of it as chocolate on steroids.
I use my microwave for very few things. I reheat my coffee in it, warm up leftovers and melt chocolate. To melt chocolate in a microwave, place the chips or coarsely chopped chocolate in a microwave proof bowl. Heat at half-power for one minute, stir, and then repeat. Repeat again. Continue this cycle until the chocolate is all melted and smooth when stirred.
While blissfully delicious on its own, chocolate also has the versatility to combine with a number of other flavors. For instance, the Mexicans have incorporated cinnamon into their chocolate desserts for many years. From peppermint patties to the grasshopper pie, mint and chocolate create a refreshing combination. Dark chocolate with orange is a perfect matrimony, and we all know what wonderful things happen when peanut butter meets chocolate. Mocha was created with the union of chocolate and coffee.
The comfort of chocolate and the aroma of a chocolate delicacy baking in the oven are especially appreciated during the winter months. Conveniently, we have a holiday this month that allows us to reap such benefits. Bake a platter of chocolate goodness for your sweetie this Valentine’s Day. A heart-shaped chocolate cake will be a fitting holiday tribute; or conclude a homemade Valentine dinner for two with these individual molten chocolate-raspberry cakes.
Molten Chocolate Raspberry Cakes
1 ounce semi-sweet baking chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened baking chocolate
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon Chambord (raspberry liqueur)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons flour
Additional confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 425-degrees. Thoroughly coat the insides of two six-ounce ramekins and place them on a baking sheet.
In a medium, nonstick saucepan over medium heat, melt the chocolates and the 4 tablespoons of butter, stirring constantly, until the mixture is completely melted, combined and smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the Chambord, vanilla and sugar until blended. Whisk in the egg and the yolk. Stir in the flour. Once all ingredients are combined, transfer batter into the two prepared ramekins.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are firm but the center is still soft. Remove from the oven and let stand for one minute. Run a sharp knife blade around the sides of each ramekin to loosen the cakes. Top each ramekin with a dessert plate and invert, unmolding the cake onto the plate. Sprinkle each cake with a dusting of additional confectioners’ sugar and arrange fresh raspberries around the cake. Serve at once. Serves 2.
Note: other flavors of liqueurs can be swapped out for the Chambord, such as Cointreau (orange) or Crème de Menthe (mint).
For an afternoon of chocolate celebration, bake a batch of brownies
Food for Thought
Be sure to get your chocolate fix in liquid form. After all, a body needs fluids. There is the eternal winter favorite of hot chocolate, of which my personal fave is Williams Sonoma brand. The product is actually chocolate shavings, not powdered stuff, so it’s rich and satisfying. For cordial sipping, enjoy Godiva liqueurs. Cream de Cocao will also serve well for making martinis and other mixed cocktails. Craft beer aficionados and chocolate lovers can rejoice in a host of chocolate flavored brews, from Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and Ommegang’s Seduction to my personal favorite: Mokah by Southern Tier, the flavor is reminiscent of Tootsie Rolls.