Exploring Chocolate: Sweet and Savory Baking and Cooking with this Popular Ingredient
I Have No Shame
I love chocolate. I am an unabashed chocoholic.
- If given a choice between a savory, juicy Porterhouse steak or Lindt dark chocolate with a hint of chili pepper, I’d choose the Lindt.
- If either a sweet, succulent lobster tail with drawn butter, or a Ghirardelli 70 percent cacao, there’s no need for a bib.
- If it were George Clooney on a deserted island or a Fran‘s dark chocolate/sea salt caramel, well I’m afraid I’d have to break someone’s heart.
Recently I wrote a hub about chocolate ganache. Although ganache is made of two (and only two) ingredients, the process of creating it can be a bit intimidating--especially for inexperienced cooks.
You know, of course, that chocolate can be used in any number of amazing and easy desserts--cakes, pies, and cookies. I will share a few of my favorite recipes for those with you. But did you know that you can cook with chocolate too?
What Makes Chocolate So "Dandy"?
- 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine ( caffeine) Excites the central nervous system in a way that mimics the “fight or flight” response (heart rate goes up and muscles contract).
- Cannabinoids—Closely related to THC-9, the active ingredient in marijuana. Gives a relaxed, intoxicated feeling.
- Phenylethylamine--often called the "love drug," since it releases the same chemicals that are introduced into the human body when love comes to call. It acts on the dopamine receptors in the brain—pushing our happy button.
What Is It About Chocolate?
I did a Google search on "chocolate" and got 66,700,000 hits. That's a lot of interest in a mere bean.
...I'm joking, of course. Referring to chocolate as a mere bean is like calling Handel's "Messiah" a nice little song, or Water Lilies by Monet a pretty painting.
I have had a love affair with chocolate for as long as I can remember (although some days that's not saying much).
But even as a child I didn't care much for Hershey bars. My tastes leaned more toward the dark chocolate of Sno-Caps or nonpareil wafers.
Baking with Chocolate
When you read through recipes for chocolate cakes, brownies, or cookies you might notice the inclusion of an unlikely ingredient—coffee. Believe it or not, a touch of coffee will not impart a mocha flavor to your baked goods. (You would need to add a LOT of coffee for that to happen.)
So, why add coffee at all?
Experiencing chocolate is actually very similar to tasting wine. As wine grapes are influenced by soil and climate, chocolate also picks up nuanced flavors from variances in altitude, terrain, and weather. Good-quality chocolate contains hints of fruit and spice--coffee contains those same flavors. So the addition of a bit coffee enhances and deepens the perceived chocolate experience.
When I want something a bit more indulgent than a chocolate bar to satisfy my craving, I often bake cookies. Chocolate chip are OK in a pinch, but I prefer something a bit more intense. Brownies are comforting (I prefer the fudgey kind). And then there are chocolate crackle cookies. Sinfully dark and dense, moist on the inside and covered in a crisp coating of powdered sugar.
Today I was wondering if there was some way to make them even more enchanting? What about turning a chocolate crackle cookie into a thumbprint cookie, and then filling the indentation with chocolate hazelnut spread?
Chocolate Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1/2 tsp. espresso powder
- ¼ tsp. salt
- Confectioners sugar for rolling cookies
- About ½ cup Chocolate/hazelnut spread (such as Nutella)
- In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk, milk, and vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, espresso powder and salt and gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Cover and chill for at least one hour or overnight.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Form dough into 1-inch balls (this recipe makes about 2 ½ dozen cookies). Roll in confectioners sugar to cover. Place cookies 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet.
- Using the end of a wooden spoon handle, make a ½-inch indentation in the center of each ball. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks to cool. Fill the indentations with about ½ tsp of chocolate/hazelnut spread.
Other Carb Diva Chocolate Dessert Recipes
In Heaven, chocolate has no calories, and is served as the main course.— Anon.
Cooking with Chocolate
There are five distinct tastes that the human tongue recognizes--sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.
The first four you are probably familiar with:
- sweet is a pleasurable sensation produced by sugars.
- Sourness is the detection of acidity--the most common foods that contain the sour taste are citrus fruits, some melons, and some unripened fruits.
- Saltiness is mostly from the presence of sodium.
- A bitter taste is usually deemed unpleasant or disagreeable. Black coffee and unsweetened chocolate fall into this category.
And then there is umami. Umami is a Japanese word for "pleasant savory taste"--a MEATY taste. There are several natural, non-meat foods that have a umami flavor--tomatoes, mushrooms, soy, potatoes, carrots, Parmesan cheese. And, unsweetened chocolate.
When you add one of these ingredients to your savory cooking, you deepen and enhance all of the other flavors. It's like adding an MSG kick in the pants to your cooking--without the side effects. Here are two suggestions for using chocolate in your savory dishes.
Beef Chili with Stout (and a Secret Ingredient)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 large white onions, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 pounds ground chuck
- 7 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. paprika
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 6-oz. can tomato paste
- 12 oz. stout beer
- 1 15-oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 1 ½ tbsp. brown sugar
- 2 ½ cups chicken stock
- Two 15-oz cans kidney beans, drained
- Add the olive oil to a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onions and saute until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until just fragrant.
- Stir in the beef, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, and cook until browned, about 6 minutes.
- Drain the beef mixture through a colander. Add it back to the Dutch oven and stir in the chili powder, cocoa powder, oregano, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, and salt and pepper.
- Cook for about 2 minutes.
- Stir the tomato paste into the beef mixture; this will "toast" it and give the chili more flavor. Add the beer and stir up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, and then add the canned tomatoes, sugar, stock, and beans. Simmer on medium-low for 2 hours, stirring on occasion to keep the bottom from sticking.
And, then there is mole.
Notice How They Swoon at the Taste of the Mole Sauce
Keith Schroeder, former editor of Cooking Light magazine, and famous author gives the following mole recipe in his new cookbook "Mad Delicious".
Slow Cooker Turkey Mole
- 1/3 cup fresh orange juice
- 1/3 cup fresh lime juice, divided
- 3 1/2 pounds turkey drumsticks (skin on)
- 5 dried Ancho chiles
- 5 dried Guajillo chiles
- 6 cups unsalted chicken stock
- 1 cup diced plantain, soft, black and very ripe
- 1/2 cup pecan halves, deeply toasted
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves (or 1 tsp. dried)
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- cooking spray
- 1/2 cup diced celery
- 24 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
- 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced vertically
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar (optional)
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional, for garnish)
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes (optional, for garnish)
- Combine orange juice, 1/4 cup lime juice, and turkey; refrigerate 30 minutes. Remove turkey from marinade; discard marinade. Pat turkey dry.
- While turkey marinates, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles; toast 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly charred. Cool slightly. Remove and discard stems; keep seeds.
- Bring stock to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add plantain, chiles, and pecans; simmer 20 minutes or until chiles are very soft.
- Reduce heat to low. Add chocolate, stirring to prevent scorching. Add oregano, salt, and cumin; simmer 10 minutes.
- Pour sauce into a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure lid on blender. Place a towel over opening in lid. Blend until smooth.
- Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add turkey; cook 10 minutes, browning on all sides.
- Scatter celery, garlic, and onion in a 6-quart slow cooker. Top with turkey and sauce; cover and cook on low for 5 hours or until meat is very tender.
- Remove turkey. Shred meat; discard bones and skin. Stir meat, remaining lime juice, and sugar, if desired, into sauce. Top with cilantro and radishes.
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The Chocolate Family Tree
Cacao (Cocoa) Beans--This is where chocolate begins. Cacao beans are the fruit of the cacao tree, a tree which grows in a very limited climate zone--only 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.
Cacao Nibs--These are the "meat" of the beans. The beans are cleaned and then roasted in carefully controlled temperatures to bring out their full flavor and aroma. The outer shells are then removed and the nibs are ready for the next step.
Chocolate Liquor--This is what makes all real chocolate products. The nibs are ground by a process that creates enough heat to liquefy the cocoa butter, thus creating the liquor.
Cocoa Butter--This is the vegetable fat that is extracted when the chocolate liquor is pressed under high pressure. This butter has a unique melting quality that gives chocolate its wonderful texture.
Cocoa Powder--There are two types of cocoa powder. American Process is the what remains after cocoa butter is extracted from the liquor. There are no additives or preservatives--it is 100 percent pure and has the lowest fat content of any chocolate product. Dutch Process cocoa is made from chocolate liquor that has been treated with an alkali agent. This makes a darker powder with a more intense cocoa flavor.
Bitter Chocolate--This is commonly called unsweetened, baking, or cooking chocolate. It is pure chocolate liquor, cooled and molded.
Semi-Sweet Chocolate--A combination of chocolate liquor with added cocoa butter and sugar. Technically it must contain 35 percent chocolate liquor. Available in bars and chips.
Sweet (Dark) Chocolate--Combines the same ingredients as semi-sweet chocolate, but in different proportions. It has a higher sugar content and at least 15 percent chocolate liquor.
Milk Chocolate--Again, like semi-sweet chocolate but also contains milk or cream and at least 10 percent chocolate liquor.
© 2015 Linda Lum
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