by Joan Saunders –
It’s February and our thoughts turn to … chocolate. This well-loved, bitter, rich, decadent, delicious ingredient is an extremely versatile kitchen staple as it can move from savoury to sweet, from main course to dessert.
One of the best ways to show some love, whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not, is to cook for family and friends. Cooking for others is a clear indicator of affection and, no matter if you’re an adventurous cook or would rather stick to the basics, there are both simple and complicated ways to put together some chocolatey treats.
The history of chocolate begins in Southern Mexico. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency.
I believe that chocolate is still a form of currency, especially around Valentine’s Day, so I thought that I’d create a chocolate-themed dinner for the family. First, a dive into some cookbooks for inspiration. There I rediscovered molé, a flavourful, versatile Mexican sauce which features chocolate. My research soon indicated that traditional molé may take up to three days to make; while I love my family, I decided that I don’t love them enough to spend three days cooking a sauce, no matter how appealing.
Eventually I found a recipe that seemed to be a reasonable facsimile of molé (albeit simpler) and forged ahead. It wasn’t too complicated and so, with some shredded chicken, I put together enchiladas. Slathered with molé and some grated cheese, baked, then topped with avocado and sour cream, the result was delicious. You could taste the chocolate and, with jalapeños in the recipe; there was a nice little kick of heat. I’ll definitely make this one again. (https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/holy-mole-sauce/).
Next, some treats. It’s nice to have some homemade chocolate goodies to give away so I decided on Secret Kiss Cookies. What’s not to love about a walnut shortbread wrapped around a Hershey’s Kiss then rolled in icing sugar? Fabulous. I usually make these in December but perhaps they’re even more appropriate in February. Packed up in a little treat bag, these make a tasty gift.
Finally? Chocolate Cake. I’ve found that you can never go wrong with a classic, and this time I stepped up my game and made a bark to decorate the top of the cake. It was a swirly mixture of dark and white chocolate studded with chopped up freeze-dried raspberries and pretzels. Very dramatic, yet surprisingly simple to create. Next time I would experiment with different flavours (I was thinking maybe chocolate and butterscotch with flakes of sea salt!).
The only issue with the chocolate shards? I had to really shove them into the top of the cake and I worried that the whole creation would start to fall apart with the seismic fissures I unwittingly created. The topping also made the cake a bit tricky to cut but, what the heck, chunks of chocolate cake taste just as good as lovely, even slices.
The result of my foray into cooking with chocolate? Cacao is definitely still a form of currency and, while you can’t buy love, you can certainly buy some appreciation with a marvelous chocolatey meal.
Secret Kiss Cookies
(from Hershey’s Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook)
1 cup butter
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1¾ cups flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Hershey Kisses (about 24 to 30)
Beat butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add flour and walnuts, beat on low until well blended. Cover and refrigerate dough about one to two hours.
Remove wrappers from Kisses. Heat oven to 375°. Using about 1 tbsp dough, shape dough around each Kiss to make ball. Be sure to cover each piece completely. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until cookies are set but not browned. Cool slightly.
While still warm, roll each cookie in icing sugar. Cool completely.
Raspberry Chocolate Bark
(from Layered by Tessa Huff)
8 ounces dark chocolate
3 ounces white chocolate
½ cup freeze dried raspberries, chopped (I got mine at Whole Foods)
½ cup chopped pretzel sticks
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the dark chocolate. Melt the white chocolate. Pour the dark chocolate onto the lined baking sheet and smooth it into a ¼-inch layer. Spoon dollops of the white chocolate on top and swirl them with a wooden skewer. Sprinkle with the raspberries and pretzels. Let the bark cool in fridge, then break into pieces. Arrange on top of the cake so it looks abstract (as pictured). Add fresh raspberries if desired.