February is national chocolate month. While Ashkenazic Jews came to chocolate a bit late, Sephardic Jews enjoyed it for centuries. My grandmothers never used chocolate in their baking, but they both kept Hershey’s chocolate bars in drawers in their bedrooms and both were convinced Hershey was Jewish!
The love of chocolate is universal. Every country in the world eats some form of chocolate, from the rich, smooth Belgian chocolates, to the spicy and cinnamon-laced Mexican chocolate (the Aztecs, who were instrumental in its development as a common food, called chocolate “the food of the gods”). Europeans consume the most chocolate followed by North America. Countries, such as China and India, that until recently never consumed chocolate, now gobble it up to the tunes of billions of dollars’ worth.
The demand for chocolate — the cocoa that makes it — is so great that consumption is outpacing demand and cocoa stores are being depleted.
There are so many pithy sayings about chocolate that the plant-based, relatively healthful delicacy has cult followings throughout the world. Chocolate memes often populate Facebook and other social media. Here are a few:
“The answer is chocolate — who cares what the question is.”
“A balanced diet is chocolate in both hands.”
“The four food groups are: Dark, milk, white and truffles.”
“Chocolate is nature’s way of making up for Mondays.”
“Chocolate comes from cocoa which grows on a tree which makes it a plant. Therefore, chocolate is a salad.”
“There is nothing better than a friend — unless it’s a friend with chocolate.”
As you can see, chocolate has entered pop culture as well as the food chain. Chocolate takes up more real estate in a market than ever before and there are more recipes for things chocolate than practically any other food I can think of. While a steady diet of chocolate is not recommended for anyone, a small piece of dark chocolate is healthy for almost everyone.
Dark chocolate — 60 percent or more cocoa solids — is filled with many nutrients that can help with anything from blood pressure to cardiovascular health and more. A one-ounce piece of dark chocolate has about 160 calories, 15 grams of carbs, some fiber and even some protein. You can even chew on organic cocoa nibs for a chocolatey flavor and very few calories.
Let’s celebrate chocolate month with some delicious very dark treats.
Deep, Dark, Chocolate Pudding (Dairy)
I love this. I put it into very small cups (four ounces, but I only fill it about 3) and have a delicious treat with not a too terrible number of calories.
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, not Dutched
2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch
1-3/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup cream or half and half
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature and softened
5 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped -I use 72%, but anything over 60% is dark
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
OPTIONAL: whipped cream or whipped topping; chocolate shavings, white for a dramatic effect, dark for health and deliciousness
Place the sugars, cocoa powder and cornstarch together in a heavy, medium sized sauced pot. Whisk in about 3 to 4 tablespoons of the milk and mix to form a paste. Whisk in the rest of the milk and the cream or half and half. Place over medium-low heat and whisk until smooth. Then use a wooden spoon to stir constantly until bubbling. Cook for 1 minute more. Add the butter and the finely chopped chocolate and mix quickly until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the vanilla. Bring back to steaming and barely bubbling. Immediately pour into 4 to 8 heat-proof dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Serve with whipped cream and/or chocolate curls. Serves 4 to 8.
Darkest Fudge Torte with Amaretto Ganache Topping (Dairy)
You can make this with a liqueur infused ganache or a plain one.
1 cup butter, cut into pieces. Additional 2 tbsp. for the pan
8-1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao), chopped
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1/3 cup unbleached flour
OPTIONAL: 2 tbsp. instant coffee or espresso crystals
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch spring form pan and duct with cocoa powder. Shake out any excess. Set aside. Place 1 cup of butter in a microwave safe bowl and add the chocolate and instant coffee if using. Melt in 10 second increments until almost completely melted. Remove from the microwave and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Set aside to cool. When cool, scrape into the bowl of an electric mixer and add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium speed until each egg is completely incorporated.
After all the eggs are added, beat until the mixtures is the consistency of chocolate mousse or whipped cream, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed and slowly sprinkle in the flour. Beat until smooth. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and place in the oven. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the edges are a bit darkened and the top is firm. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before removing from pan. Top with ganache.
GANACHE TOPPING (Dairy)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70 to 82 percent cocoa), finely chopped
1/2 stick butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup liqueur such as crème de cacao, Amaretto, or Cassis OR
1/4 to 1/2 cup cream or half and half
Melt the butter and chocolate in a small, heavy saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly. In another saucepan, heat the liqueur or the cream until very hot, but not boiling. Add to the chocolate and whisk to blend until very smooth. Whisk in the sugar and vanilla until smooth, thickened and cooled a bit. Set aside to cool.
Remove the cake from the pan and place on a platter. Smooth the ganache over the top of the cake so some drips down the sides. Let cool and then refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with chocolate curls or fresh raspberries. Serves 8 to 12.
Darkest Chocolate Bark (Pareve)
You can use any fruits and nuts that you like in this snacking chocolate.
8 to 10 ounces dark chocolate at least 70 percent
1/4 cup shelled pistachios
1/4 cup chopped cashews
1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
OPTIONAL: 1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Chop the chocolate and place in a microwave safe bowl. Melt in 10-second increments until almost melted. Remove from the microwave and mix until completely melted. Let cool until about 98 degrees.
Pour in an even layer in the middle of the parchment lined pan. Use an offset spatula and smooth to an even thickness. Sprinkle the chopped fruits and nuts evenly over the top and then sprinkle with the coconut, if using. Let cool and then refrigerate to chill until solid. Break apart.