Greeting cards are not the only things that need to be selected with care for Valentine's Day. Before picking up your sweetie a box of chocolates or choosing ingredients for making something decadently sinful, prepare to do some label reading. The richest, most flavorful chocolate holds the highest concentration of chocolate liquor, the combination of cocoa solids and cocoa butter that is obtained when cacao beans are roasted, shelled and ground. The wrappers on quality chocolate will prominently display the percentage of chocolate contained in their product, with words like "70 percent cacao," because the standards set by manufacturers of fine chocolate far exceed that which is in place by The U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
(Currently, the FDA requires no less than 35 percent cacao for bittersweet [dark] or semisweet chocolate, 15 percent for sweet chocolate and 10 percent for milk chocolate. White chocolate is not considered chocolate because it does not contain chocolate liquor.) While it is interesting that chocolate containing the highest percentage of cacao will also have the least amount of sugar, a high percentage of cacao does not absolutely assure good chocolate. As in other factors that influence the flavor and character of chocolate, such as where the cacao plant originated, how it was cultivated and nurtured and how it was ultimately processed, chocolate's percentages matter. Even if you're not into the math, selecting chocolate by numbers is a good way to choose chocolate that is high in cacao, low in sugar, contains few ingredients and tastes like joy.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make Double Chocolate Buttermilk Loaf Cake with Hershey's Unsweetened Natural Cocoa or for a darker cake, Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa. Serve cake plain with a dusting of confectioners' sugar or top with ganache (see recipe below).
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup Hershey's unsweetened cocoa, either Natural or Special Dark
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cups whole buttermilk, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (6 ounces) mini chocolate chips
Ganache, optional (recipe follows)
Confectioners' sugar, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, toss chocolate chips with 1 teaspoon of the flour, set aside. Grease and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Sift the sugars, cocoa, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. With mixer set to low, mix for 20 seconds. In a separate bowl, blend the eggs, egg yolk, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. With the mixer still set on low, add the liquid ingredients to the dry, mixing until just combined. Turn off the mixer; fold in the chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until cake tests done. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes, before inverting onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When loaf is cool, top with ganache, or dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.
Makes1 (9-inch) loaf.
1 cup boiling water
2 ounces Ghirardelli 100 percent cacao unsweetened chocolate ( 1/2 of a 4-ounce bar)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
Ganache (optional), recipe follows
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. In a small bowl, pour water over chocolate, stirring until smooth; cool. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, soda and salt; set aside. With an electric mixer set to medium speed, beat butter with sugar, eggs and vanilla until well combined. Reducing speed to medium, beat flour into creamed mixture, alternately with sour cream. Add chocolate mixture, mixing until no streaks of chocolate remain. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for about 1 hour, or until cake tests done. Allow cake to cool, in pan, for 15 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely on wire rack. Makes one loaf. Top with ganache or dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.
1 cup (6 ounces) Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
In a small saucepan, over medium heat, bring the cream and butter to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips, blending until smooth. Allow ganache to set 10 minutes to thicken slightly before pouring over cooled cake. Makes about 1 1/2 cups ganache, enough to pour over 1 large loaf cake, an 8 or 9-inch pan of brownies, or a large Bundt cake.
1 cup whole milk or 2 percent milk
1 (4-ounce) bar Ghiradelli 60 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate baking bar
Bring the milk to a simmer in small saucepan, over low heat. Remove from heat and quickly add the chocolate, stirring until smooth. Return to heat and warm until a bubble or two forms on the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes. Froth mixture with an immersion type frother, if desired before pouring into demitasse cups to serve. Makes 4 servings.
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