Saturday, December 15, 2007

Chocolate Lessons

We are having a family dinner tonight; dessert is a chocolate fondue "dip-off", a competition between the three siblings to see who makes the best chocolate fondue. So I bought five bars of good dark baking chocolate and started melting it this afternoon; when the chocolate was melted, I added the cream and Kahlua - and it promptly turned all grainy and lumpy, with lots of cocoa butter floating on top. Yuck. Now what?

I called La Chatelaine, which makes very good chocolates, and asked what I had done wrong. The chocolate master wasn't there, but the person I talked to thought that the problem was adding cold cream to the warm chocolate. I then told my sad story to a chef friend, who said, "You broke it. And you can't fix it." All her recipes call for adding the liquids before melting the chocolate, or warming them before adding to the warm chocolate. She also very nicely admitted that she had had the same problem with a batch of chocolate for mousses last week, which made me feel a little better.

While I was talking to real people, my technocentric son hopped on the computer and found this advice on the internet: "Be extremely careful not to get any water (not even a drop) into the chocolate. Water will turn the chocolate into a grainy, lumpy mess. If this happens, you can add a little vegetable oil in order to make it smooth again, but this will affect the flavor. What if your recipe calls for melting chocolate along with water or some other type of liquid? That's fine, as long as the liquid is mixed with the chocolate from the beginning of the melting process, it won't get grainy on you, (but adding even a drop in mid-melting will cause this problem)." Which makes sense of what I was hearing. (For more on what happens when you melt chocolate, see this Cooking for Engineers post on tempering chocolate.)

Sigh. So I went back into town, got more chocolate, and came home to try again. This time, I added the cream and Kahlua before turning up the heat - and it worked perfectly. So it was an expensive lesson, but I learned something.

Dark Chocolate Fondue:
Put in the top half of a double boiler (I suspended the fondue pot by the handles over a pot of water):
4 bars of chocolate (5.3 oz each)
1 3/4 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 oz Kahlua (give or take)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Turn the heat to medium low; the water shouldn't boil or even simmer. As the chocolate softens, stir regularly. DO NOT ADD ANY LIQUIDS.

Keep the chocolate mix warm and dip any or all of the following in it:
Pound cake (Sarah Lee frozen is the best for this use)
Pineapple bits
Mandarin orange segments
Banana slices
Walnuts

I will also take praline bits (ice cream topping; I would have prefered Heath bits but couldn't find any) and dark cocoa powder to dip the chocolate-coated goodies in, for a truely decadent experience.

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