Some of my fondest gastronomic memories involve chocolate. I’d venture to guess that I’m not alone here. What is it about chocolate that causes our hearts to skip a beat when it’s presented to us in its many sumptuous forms? Nay…even the thought of chocolate for some can trigger and inner longing that may lead to heady, euphoric ecstasy – causing faintness of breath! OK, maybe I exaggerate, as I am wont to do. (After all, I am Italian. It’s genetic.) The point is chocolate to most of us is a luxury we cannot do without. I’m in that league.
When I was a child, my grandmother often made me chocolate sandwiches. Yes, you read correctly. She’d take crusty Italian bread, toast it in the oven, and then sandwich a chocolate bar in between the slices. She’d press it with her hands, and the heat from the toasted bread sufficiently softened the chocolate bar to a silky consistency. I was in heaven. And I wanted more of it. She also prepared something called cuccia for me on St. Lucy’s Day (December 13th). This was a pudding made from cooked wheat berries, milk, candied fruit and chocolate. Oh yes, it was as good as it sounds. There were usually lots of wheat berries left over. These were served to me the rest of the week for breakfast, swimming in warm chocolate milk. Beats cold cereal any day. Of course, I was often treated to the chocolate candies, cakes and brownies every kid begs for at the supermarket. What can I say…they spoiled me!
At Easter…well, is there anything more heartwarming than a chocolate bunny? My Mom procured the best, of course, from a chocolatier shoppe on 86th Street in Brooklyn. The ears were solid, and so they were my preference. And let’s not forget the chocolate drives at school. My aunts and uncles would buy boxes of those bars from me, only to hand them right back for my sister and I to enjoy. I especially loved the smell that wafted from the boxes as I opened them. Those bars of chocolate were ridiculously delicious – melt-in-your-mouth velvetiness and studded with tons of roasted almonds to boot. Amazing!
So you see, I was predestined to love chocolate. Naturally, as my culinary tastes grew more sophisticated, I searched for even more heightened chocolate experiences. Not hard to find. Every fine restaurant has at least two chocolate creations on the dessert menu. My first foray into that world began with chocolate mousse. (Please check out Phyllis’ recipe below. It’s outstanding.) Then I was enamored by the molten chocolate cake. Who could resist that hot chocolate lava oozing from a petite cake. Looks innocent until your fork breaks the crust. Then watch out! Black Forest Cake also became an uncontrollable passion for me. After all, chocolate and cherries were destined to fall in love.
And so it goes. Double, triple, quadruple chocolate cakes and pastries…love them all. Hot or cold chocolate puddings…bring them on. Chocolate covered donuts…hot fudge sundaes…chocolate chip cookies…chocolate dipped strawberries…chocolate liqueurs. Can’t get enough of them. Extravagant? By all means. I mean, we must live to eat. That’s my motto.
Want someone to fall in love with you? Bake something chocolaty for them. If the recipe calls for hard baker’s chocolate, be sure to melt it in a double boiler. Easy. Just place a mixing bowl over simmering water, and stir continuously until the desired consistency is achieved. Then you’re good to go with whatever recipe you have on hand. Watch out though; it’s intoxicating. The person you serve it to might take this as a proposal of marriage. The rest is up to you.
Chocoholic Heaven: Chocolate Mousse
Is there a more Romantic dessert than chocolate mousse? Simple, yet elegant. The quintessence of velvety richness. Topped perhaps with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and a few chocolate shavings. However, it can certainly stand on its own. Many identify Julia Child’s chocolate mousse as the classic version and true, it has a unique mouthfeel that is airy, almost foamy. However, it uses eggs that are never cooked and, even though there is only a tiny chance of salmonella, I prefer a safer version that is rich and velvety.
There are just a few ingredients so the quality of the chocolate plays an important role in the outcome. Also, I suggest a bittersweet or semisweet chocolate containing between 50 and 60% cacao. A higher percentage will produce a drier result. Be sure to serve the mousse in pretty dessert goblets. And ladies, if you have ever doubted that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, you’ve never served him chocolate mousse.
Ingredients (8 servings)
2 cups heavy cream
4 yolks from large eggs
3 T superfine sugar
1 t pure vanilla extract
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted
1. In a small saucepan heat 2/3 cup cream just until it starts to steam.
2. Whisk together egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl.
3. Slowly add half of the hot cream to the egg yolk mixture until thoroughly combined.
4. Add the warm egg-cream back into the hot cream in the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture reaches 165 on a digital thermometer.
5. Off heat, stir in the vanilla and melted chocolate.
6. Chill thoroughly.
7. Whip remaining 1 1/3 cups cream in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form.
8. Stir about 1/3 of the whipped cream into the chocolate custard and then gently fold in the remainder until no streaks appear. Serve chilled.
(Adapted from a recipe by Rebecca Franklin)
Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell except for chocolate mousse cake and chocolate mousse
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