Indulge in a revelry of chocolate this holiday season
By Sally E. Smith
I know people who do handsprings at this time of year, anticipating with delight the traditional holiday dessert fare of pumpkin and mincemeat pies; tittering over cute little sugar cookies in the shapes of holly wreaths and snowmen; and even ogling Aunt Marian's fruitcake. But I'm not one of those people. My motto is, "If it's not chocolate, it's not worth it."
Perhaps it's genetic. While my sister, Sue, does include pumpkin pie in the family holiday dinner menu, one of the things I adore about her is that she also concocts a to-die-for chocolate dessert. Recently, Sue and I reminisced about our mother, who once spent two days trying to create chocolate ravioli for her gourmet club's Italian-themed dinner. The concept was sound: the "pasta" was white chocolate, softened and placed in a ravioli mold; the filling was chocolate mousse; and the sauce was dark chocolate. But the execution of this concept was another matter. While Mom eventually got enough "keepers" for the dinner, it took several pounds of white chocolate and repeated outbursts of "Jesus, Joseph and Mary" (our mother's strongest epithet).
If you share my family's passion for the fruit of the cacao tree, the holiday season presents abundant opportunities to indulge in a revelry of chocolate. Instead of having an eggnog-and-hors d'oeuvres party this year, tempt the palates of your friends with a chocolate tasting party. In her book, The New Taste of Chocolate, Maricel Presilla suggests that, when doing a taste test, you should select chocolates with similar cacao counts - in other words, don't present both milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Buy chocolate from a variety of manufacturers, break each chunk into small pieces and use a eye-catching display to arrange each brand on its own plate. Provide each of your guests with a scorecard, so they can rate the color, aroma, taste and texture of the chocolate. Then compare notes and reveal the true identity of each chocolate. For added pizzazz in a group of true chocolate lovers, develop a chocolate trivia quiz, and give out prizes for the top scorers. (Q: Who was the first European to come in contact with cacao? A: Christopher Columbus.)
Another option for the holidays or any other time of year is a chocolate dessert party. Each guest brings a chocolate dessert, which is then divided up among the other guests, who then take home a veritable smorgasbord of chocolate. For true chocolate lovers, this is a very egalitarian party - there's no need for everyone to spend hours in the kitchen trying to make the perfect chocolate soufflÈ. That's because, in our eyes, a rich chewy brownie is just as delectable as the most delicate Sachertorte.
If you want to go one step further - or to non-chocoholics, one step overboard - you can create a whole dinner out of chocolate. With a pasta machine, chocolate noodles are a snap; create a light, fruity sauce and your guess will swoon. Use a hint of chocolate in sauces for beef, or go south of the border and whip up a mole sauce of chiles and chocolate for a Mexican feast. If eggnog is a must for your holiday gathering, melt semisweet chocolate into the milk before combining with the other ingredients. One piece of advice: pass on trying to make the chocolate ravioli!
Even if you won't be hosting a holiday party this season, chances are you'll be a guest at one. Chocolate can make for intriguing variations on the typical hostess gifts. Instead of sending flowers the day after the party, why not send long-stemmed strawberry roses from Shari's Berries (www.berries.com)? Gourmet chocolate-dipped strawberries are their specialty, but they also offer chocolate-dipped wine and champagne.
Likewise, The Candy Bouquet (www.candybouquet.com) creates a variety of gorgeous and intriguing "flower" arrangements, including one made from Hershey's Kisses and Ghiradelli chocolate bars.
Or instead of arriving with a bottle of wine in hand, why not bring a bottle of Godiva Liqueur (www.godiva.com)? Over ice or over ice cream, the dark original liqueur or the white chocolate version will leave them screaming for more.
This holiday season, let's put pumpkin pie in perspective, pass on the sugar cookies and dump the fruitcake. Instead, let's deck the halls with bouquets of chocolate.
Fran Bigelow's Deep Chocolate Torte
- 1 pound dark semisweet chocolate
- 6 eggs
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 T Grand Marnier or other liqueur
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Cocoa for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 9" cake or springform pan. Cut a 9" round of waxed paper and press it over bottom of pan.
Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl on top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and allow to melt completely.
Beat the eggs, sugar, and liqueur in a large heatproof mixing bowl. Place bowl over simmering water, stirring with wooden spoon until warm but not hot. Remove from heat and transfer to electric mixer bowl. Beat with whisk attachment for 5 minutes. Slowly stir the melted chocolate.
Whip the cream to soft peaks and gently fold into the chocolate mixture. Transfer batter to pan.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until cake tester inserted 2 to 4 inches from side comes out clean. The center should be just set; do not overbake.
Let cool to room temperature, remove from pan and peel off liner. Best served with simple dusting of cocoa.
From The New Taste of Chocolate, by Maricel Presilla
- The cacao tree, from which chocolate is derived, grows near the equator
- White chocolate really isn't, since it is made from cocoa butter, rather than cacao beans
- The difference between bittersweet, semisweet and milk chocolates is the ratio of cocoa solids, sugar and total fat content. Bittersweet has the highest proportion of cocoa solids (60% or more) while milk chocolate has about 36%
- Eating chocolate may make you feel good because it contains the neurotransmitter anandamide, which has a similar effect on the brain as the active ingredient in marijuana
- The scientific name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means "food-of-the-gods cacao"
Sources: www.exploratorium.edu; The Chocolate Bible, by Christian Teubner; The New Taste of Chocolate, by Maricel Presilla
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