“From earliest days,” write the authors of Chocolate Bible, “chocolate was regarded as a substance of power, a gift from the gods, a source of vitality and life.”
Cacao, the tree and bean that yields chocolate, is believed to be native to Central America, the land of Olmecs and the Mayans, although it’s now grown all over the semi-tropical world.
The Olmec people lived about 3000 years ago, the Mayan from perhaps 100 to 900 AD. Mayan books on folding bark show cacao growers as well as priests and kings making and drinking chocolate. In 1984, excavators unearthed chocolate cups still containing cocoa residue. Later on, the Toltecs then the Aztecs settled in Mayan lands; their kind, Quetzalcoatl, was also the god of air whose mission was to bring cacao seeds to the people.
Today, we associate chocolate with passion and romance, and chocolateers worldwide vie for new heights of delectability and declarations of love.
To personalize your valentine message, make your own chocolates at home. It takes a little time, but is not difficult once you have a few tools and some bulk chocolate (I like Callebaut, which comes in the bulk section of supermarkets in dark, milk or white chocolate, and in chunks or buttons.)
Basically, you melt the chocolate and pour it. Fancier chocolates can be had with fillings—essentially a mix of sugar and flavouring, or nuts or dried fruit.
Other chocolate confectionary includes a drizzle of chocolate over almost anything—cookies, cakes, fruit, ice cream. Or dip fruit in chocolate—let it dry, or do it at the table as a fondue, for dessert.
TIP: you cannot let water touch the chocolate. This means, if you use a double boiler for melting chocolate chunks, you must be extremely careful not to let any steam or water drops into the melt. Water will “distemper” the chocolate, or make is “seize” into a solid dull mass. If you make this mistake, don’t discard the chocolate—you can use it for baking into something else. But you must start over again for poured chocolates, as the gloss that comes from tempering the chocolate (a process of working the melted chocolate then cooling it very slowly) can rarely be achieved with distempered mix.
Plain molded chocolates
These are so professional looking they will amaze your Valentine, but are so easy this is a kid-friendly project.
• Silicone chocolate molds: these make the process fun and easy. (I’ve tried solid molds and failed miserably.) You can get these at Chantilly Kitchen and Bath, along with complete kits including chocolate and fillings.
• an instant-read thermometer, or candy thermometer.
16 oz. dark or milk chocolate—use 4 oz at a time.
Wash and rinse the silicone mold thoroughly, and air dry it. (A dishcloth will leave tiny fibres that will spoil the gloss.)
Some people recommend “polishing” the mold with cotton wool, but I find that too leaves fibres in the mold.
Microwave method: set the microwave oven at medium power. One minute at a time, melt the chocolate, stirring after each minute. Depending on the power, this will take 3 to 5 minutes of stirring. For dark chocolate, make sure the temperature does not go above 50 degree C; for white or milk chocolate, the maximum temp should be 45 degrees C.
Stir the chocolate thoroughly as it melts, and then when it’s all melted, stir vigorously in the bowl but do not beat air into the mixture.
Spoon the chocolate into the molds. Scrape off extra chocolate with a flat sharp knife, being careful not to nick the silicone. Set molds on a solid surface and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Once chocolate has set firmly, you can push the little chocolates out of the mold by turning the silicone “cup” more or less inside out. This works well, and bingo, you have little chocolates. Quite a miracle.
Whiskey chocolate truffles
Wow—what a flavour hit if you use malt whiskey. A little less easy than molded chocolate in silicone molds, but truly in the “easy” category. I made some of these with a chocolate coating and some rolled in crushed nuts. You can also roll truffles in cocoa powder, icing sugar, or chocolate wafer crumbs.
• a microwaveable bowl
• a chocolate dipping fork ( a two pronged fork with an inch between the prongs)
• i• nstant-read thermometer or candy thermometer
• plastic wrap
• a small melon scooper with a moving scoop extruder
1 cup whipping cream
16 oz chocolate—dark or milk
2 -3 tbsp malt whiskey (or flavouring of your choice: for children, use vanilla.)
crushed nuts, or wafer crumbs, or cocoa.
For the truffle centre: Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is just at boiling point, then quickly remove it from the heat. Add 8 oz (half) the chocolate and melt it in the cream, stirring all the time. Add the whiskey or vanilla or other flavouring and stir again. Refrigerate until the ganache is solid.
When the ganache has cooled, lay a piece of plastic wrap on a solid surface and scoop out little balls of ganache.
Melt the rest of the chocolate in the microwave at medium heat for no more than 60 seconds at a time, until you can stir it well.
Using a chocolate dipping fork roll the truffle centre of ganache in the melted chocolate until all covered. Place on plastic wrap to cool and harden.
Chop nuts or crush chocolate wafers. For some of the truffles, roll the truffle centre in the chopped nuts or wafers, or in plain cocoa.
If you have chocolate left over, melt it and dip fruit pieces in it, or drizzle it on top of any cookie for a nifty dessert.
Store these chocolate in a cool place. Don’t refrigerate for more than a few hours if possible, as the chocolate will, if stored too long, develop a “bloom,” a grayish coating that doesn not affect he taste but covers the nice glossy finish.
These are nice as a gift if you buy a little box and use some ribbon to tie them up. You can also buy little candy wrappers (like tiny cupcake papers) for a pretty presentation.
Warning: I put mine on a plate and they disappeared before I had time to take a photograph of the whole batch!