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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tips: Chocolate

Chips, Bars, Cocoa + Cookie Recipe:

I am sure that by now you are all thoroughly sick of hearing my tired complaints about the heat. But, having just cooked myself for the sake of our neighbors lawn I cannot post something without at least alluding to the effects 100+ degree weather have on me. For example the only thing that looked remotely appetizing after a cold shower was the big slice of shriveled up three day old pepperoni pizza. There, that should be sufficient.

Of course, there are plenty of other things that don't perform well in extreme heat. Chocolate, for example, lasts about as long as your frosty ice cream sandwich when placed in the blistering inferno of a July afternoon. And since we have seen a narrow collection of chocolate recipes in the last two months let me set the record straight with regards to kitchen variety chocolate. But first, a little terminology. Chocolate, in its unrefined form, is called cacao (not to be confused with cocoa) and comes from the tree very modestly named theobroma cacao. Once the cacao has been roasted and ground, and mixed with other necessary products, it yields what we call chocolate in any number of forms such as bars or chips or disks. Cocoa powder is the end product of a rigorous pressing process that removes cocoa fats. This of course raises the question, "what does Dutched cocoa mean?" A "Dutched" cocoa is simply one that has been treated with an alkali solution (totally safe). Some recipes will specify "natural" over "Dutched" in an attempt to influence taste or appearance.

I know that was all terribly riveting but let us proceed to something more applicable to the everyday use of chocolate and chocolate products. As we all know chocolate comes in two varieties: milk and dark. Dark chocolate is typically more bittersweet than milk chocolate, which has been mixed with milk products and cocoa butter and is usually considered smoother and sweeter. The percentage is prominent on most packages of chocolate and refers to the percentage of cacao to other ingredients. The higher the percentage the more bittersweet the chocolate. A good quality dark chocolate should start at 60-65%.

Of course, you are probably wondering why I have yet to mention "white chocolate". The ugly truth of the matter is "white chocolate" isn't chocolate at all but a concoction of sugars, milk products and cocoa butter. Therefor we are going to very snobbishly ignore it until such a time as it warrants attention (say, Macadamia nut cookies).

Chocolate chips: Great for cookies! These chips are best stored at room temperature. Use them for melting and dipping, stirring into batters or the like. However, if a recipe for something like pudding calls for chopped chocolate "bars" do not substitute chips. Because baking chips include oil they can alter the final texture of a dish.

Unsweetened chocolate bars: These bars are great for baking but not recommended for eating. Because they are totally unsweetened the flavor is often very bitter. Recipes that call for these baking wonders will specify "unsweetened" because a sweetener will be added to the recipe at large later. It is not recommended to substitute these bars for sweetened varieties.

Chocolate bars/disks: When a recipe calls for a bar chocolate it is best to invest in your favorite good quality bar. Typically, these are found in the baking section very close to their un-sweetened cousins. Substitute a grocery shelf candy bar of your choice at your own risk. Good quality chocolate is a necessity when the dish relies almost exclusively on the chocolate flavor which is why a bittersweet chocolate is often recommended.

Cocoa: Cocoa is widely used and can very often be substituted for unsweetened bar chocolate. Check the side of the container for the appropriate substitutions. Because of its form cocoa lends itself easily to a variety of batters and beverages like smoothies or hot milk with very little effort. While cocoa lends itself to any number of chocolate recipes it should not be substituted for chocolate chips.

Chocolate Chip Cookies:
Variation on Toll House "Original Chocolate Chip Cookies". Refrigerating the batter does some wonderful things to these cookies. When they bake up they will be crispy and golden around the edges and soft in the middle like those wondrously yummy bakery style treats. There is a very chemical explanation for this that, while having read about, I don't have the stomach to relate to you here (I'm saving room for cookies). The extra refrigeration time is, of course, totally optional. The success of the batter is not contingent on the refrigeration period like in some recipes, so feel free to bake a pan right away if you can't wait. And if you have a mind to enjoy them quickly, make sure you eat them warm straight from the oven! Makes 5 dozen.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup butter flavored shortening (or butter)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs, plus one yolk
2 cups chocolate chips, of your choice
1 cup chopped peanuts, optional

1. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Beat the butter and both sugars, adding in vanilla extract.
2. Add the eggs to the butter mixture, beating after each addition.
3. Gradually stir in the flour mixture, being sure not to over mix. Fold in the chocolate chips.
4. Cover the bowl, or place in an air tight container, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
5. Preheat the oven to 350. Bake the cookies on an un-greased cookie sheet for 9-11 minutes or until slightly golden around the edges.
6. Cool the cookies for 2 minutes before removing from the pan. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container at room temperature.

Sources for this post include: Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition and "The True History of Chocolate"(2000) by Sophie D. Coe

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