Cocoa: The Essence Of Chocolate

It's hard to think of a food that inspires more passion than chocolate. You don't hear about people who are driven to eat asparagus; addictions are always to chocolate. You'll never see Death by Butterscotch on a menu; execution-style desserts are always chocolate. Milton Hershey had it right back in 1890 when he said, "Caramels are only a fad. Chocolate is a permanent thing."

If you find the many forms of chocolate confusing, let me explain. All chocolate comes from the cocoa bean, which goes through a process of drying, fermenting, cleaning, roasting, and grinding until it emerges as its two parts: cocoa butter and cocoa powder. These two components can be used separately or combined, in different proportions, to make the products with which we're familiar. Unsweetened chocolate used for cooking preserves the cocoa butter-to-powder ratio of the original bean (more than half of which is cocoa butter). The chocolate we eat has sugar and additional proportions of cocoa butter. White chocolate is cocoa butter - with milk solids and sugar added.

The flavor we think of as chocolate comes from cocoa powder - it's the essence of chocolate. Using cocoa powder is an easy way to add chocolate taste (without adding much fat) to sweet and savory dishes. And there's no need to fear chocolate - neither addiction nor execution will result.

It's worth buying a high-quality brand of cocoa. Flavors vary; experiment to find a brand you like.

  • Add cocoa to egg whites for chocolate meringue cookies.
  • Put cocoa in the custard when making bread pudding.
  • Try a chocolate sorbet, or add cocoa to another sorbet flavor like coconut or strawberry.
  • For a different take on chili, add cocoa and a little cinnamon.
  • Get your fondue pot down from its dusty closet shelf and make a chocolate dip, using strawberries and toasted pound-cake cubes for dunking.
  • Add cocoa to desserts such as gingerbread and spice cake, or to banana bread.
  • Make an easy chocolate sauce with 1/3 cup cocoa, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup buttermilk, and a dash of vanilla. Heat gently until everything dissolves, and serve over ice cream, cake, cheesecake, or bread pudding.

Or, for chocolate in one of its purest forms, make the perfect chocolate milk or cocoa. Combine a tablespoon of cocoa, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1/4 cup hot water (for dissolving the cocoa and sugar), and one cup of milk. Make it hot for cocoa, cold for chocolate milk.

Blended Mocha Coffee Drink

Coffee Extract:

1/2 pound espresso, ground
1 quart cold water

Flavor Mixture:

1/4 cup cocoa powder
5 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup chocolate instant pudding mix

Blended Drink:

6 cups crushed ice
1 cup coffee extract
Flavor mixture
1 cup skim milk

Coffee Extract: Cut a piece of cheesecloth 2 feet in length. Fold into quarters. Place ground espresso in middle of cheesecloth; gather corners together and secure with a rubber band. Place "coffee bag" in pitcher and pour cold water over it; place lid on pitcher and refrigerate overnight.

Flavor Mixture: In a small bowl, stir together the cocoa powder, sugar, and instant pudding mix.

Blended Drink: Combine crushed ice, coffee extract, flavor mixture, and skim milk in blender, and whirl until smooth.

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