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ISLAND FLAVORS: Love, romance and chocolate combine in rich desserts
It seems odd that chocolate a food banned by the church in medieval times because it was believed to be the work of the devil would become synonymous with Valentines Day. Originally, the holiday was known as the Roman feast of Lupercalia. Then, in A.D. 270, it was made a Christian holiday in memory of the martyrdom of St. Valentine a benevolent saint who, in medieval times, helped unite young lovers during trying times.
It seems that St. Valentine would probably appreciate the romantic heart-shaped cards that we call valentines, and he would probably understand the giving of roses, but I wonder what he would think about giving chocolate as a token of love.
Well, it doesnt really matter what he would think, as hes not here to witness what has become a multi-million dollar industry. Perhaps he even had a secret passion for chocolate? We will never know, but we do know that Americans, as a whole, love chocolate. Perhaps it is because chocolate contains several compounds that create a feeling of mild euphoria (similar to the high we feel from endorphins after exercising), which enhances feelings of love and romance? In addition, the seductive flavor and sensual texture of chocolate make it a perfect food for this day of hearts and cupids.
Whenever I teach classes on cooking with chocolate, my students are infatuated with recipes that call for white chocolate instead of dark chocolate. In contrast to its dark, bold flavored cousin, white chocolate is pale, delicate, and subdued. Its subtle flavor hints of butter, cocoa, and sweetened condensed milk a soft, creamy flavor that combines beautifully with contrasting or harmonizing flavors. For example, the sweet, buttery flavor of white chocolate is offset nicely by the acidity of fresh fruits. It is enhanced by the rich flavor and crunchy texture of roasted nuts, and it harmonizes with the strong, robust flavors of coffee and dark chocolate.
White chocolate is made from the fat of cocoa beans (cocoa butter), which you may have used as tanning lotion when you were younger. The cream-colored cocoa butter is separated from the dark brown chocolate liqueur and cocoa solids by a combination of heat and pressure, and then enriched with sugar and milk solids. When cooking with white chocolate, it is worth seeking out a good quality chocolate, such as Callebaut or Vahlron, as lesser quality chocolates do not perform as well in cooking. White chocolate can be temperamental when you are melting it, as it likes to clump, rather that turn smooth and creamy. To prevent this, I combine the broken chocolate with butter or cream in the top of a double boiler, and heat it over a slow fire, whisking constantly.
Dare to be different this Valentines Day and seduce your sweetheart with white chocolate instead of dark. For those of you who cant bear the thoughts of not having dark chocolate, Ive combined the two in a White & Dark Chocolate Mousse Loaf.
White chocolate brownies
Fills one 9- by 13-inch baking pan
You can substitute other ground nuts for the almonds, or you can substitute shredded coconut instead. Let cool at least 15 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve these with a bowl of fresh raspberries or strawberries for an extra treat.
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped into small pieces (or chips)
1/2-cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2-cup ground toasted almonds
1 3/4-cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2-teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1 1/2-cups light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Oil the bottom of the baking pan and dust lightly with granulated sugar. Combine the white chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler. Place over medium heat and whisk constantly until creamy. Set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs lightly. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk the chocolate into the egg mixture, and then fold in the flour. Turn into the prepared baking pan and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, or just until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Be sure not to over cook. Dust with powdered sugar when slightly cooled.
Frozen white and dark chocolate mousse loaf
Makes 8 to 10 servings (one-1 quart loaf pan)
Plan to make this at least 4 hours ahead, or overnight, so it has time to freeze. The custard sauce can also be made one day in advance.
1/2-cup finely ground toasted hazelnuts, or other nuts
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces white chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 egg yolks, beaten
1/4-cup Frangelico (hazelnut liquor) or Crème de Cocao
4 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1 cup whipping cream
Line a 1-quart loaf pan with plastic wrap, letting excess drape over sides. Sprinkle the bottom with half of the ground hazelnuts.
Combine the bittersweet chocolate and 6 tablespoons butter in the top of a double boiler. In the top of another double boiler, combine the white chocolate and remaining butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until melted. Set aside to cool slightly. In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks until thick Gradually add sugar, until mixture is light and lemon-colored. Add Frangelico. Whisk one half of egg yolks into each chocolate mixture. Beat egg whites and salt together in a clean mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Divide and fold into the chocolate mixtures. Whip cream to soft peaks. Divide and fold into the chocolate mixtures. Alternately place large spoonfuls of each mixture into the lined loaf pan, until pan is filled. Using a long knife, swirl mixtures together to create a dark and white pattern. Top with remaining hazelnuts. Cover with plastic and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours, to overnight.
To Serve: Unmold onto a platter. Using a knife dipped in hot water, slice into 1-inch thick slices. Ladle custard sauce onto each plate and set mousse in the center. If desired, top with chocolate curls.
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon instant espresso
8 egg yolks
10 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla or coffee liqueur
In a saucepan, scald milk over medium heat. Stir in instant coffee. In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks together, gradually adding sugar and salt. Gradually add the hot milk, mixing thoroughly. Stir-cook the mixture over low heat, until the sauce becomes thick like whipped cream and coats a wooden spoon. When done, immediately strain into a clean bowl. Stir in the cream and vanilla. Serve chilled or at room temperature.