Thursday, March 03, 2005

Chocolate: Preparing the Perfect Cup

Compliments of The Good Cook:

Chocolate was not eaten in the solid form familiar today until the 19th century. Before then, it was occasionally added to other recipes, but it was most commonly served as a drink. One of the most important elements of the drink, across many cultures, was the creation of froth.

Mayan chocolate drinkers created froth in their chocolate by pouring it in a stream from high up. The Aztecs also liked frothy chocolate, which they obtained by putting the chocolate into hollow gourds and pouring it from container to container.

Colonial Mexicans in the 16th century took the Aztec idea further, developing a swizzle stick with which they stirred sugar into their chocolate and whipped up a froth. They'd drink the chocolate in one quick swallow, like a shot of tequila, a method that was said to give strength and great pleasure to the drinker.

Brillat-Savarin, the 18th-century gastronome, passed along a practical tip he had been given for making the perfect cup: prepare the chocolate in a porcelain pot a day before it's required (it should be reheated and rebeaten just before serving). As late as the 1940s this advice was still being followed in New York, on the theory that a day or two's rest allowed the chocolate to begin the slightest fermentation, to concentrate and improve the flavor.



CHOCOLATE HEART OF DARKNESS CAKES

Dark Chocolate Truffle Hearts

8 ounces semisweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream

Make the Dark Chocolate Truffle Hearts
Place 8 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate in a small bowl. Heat 3/4 cup heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Pour the boiling cream over the chopped chocolate. Set aside for 5 minutes and then stir with a whisk until smooth. Pour the mixture (called "ganache") onto a nonstick baking sheet and use a rubber spatula to spread the ganache in a smooth, even layer to within about 1 inch of the inside edges. Place the ganache in the freezer for 15 minutes, or in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, until very firm to the touch.

Line a 10- to 12-inch dinner plate with parchment paper or wax paper. Remove the firm ganache from the freezer or the refrigerator. Portion 12 heaping tablespoons (a bit more than 1 ounce each) of ganache onto the paper. Wearing a pair of disposable vinyl (or latex) gloves, individually roll each portion of ganache in your palms in a circular motion, using just enough gentle pressure to form a smooth orb. This is a traditional truffle. You should refrain from indulging in them now, since absence of a truffle in a cake will make the heart grow darker. Return each formed truffle onto the paper-lined plate, and place in the freezer while preparing the cake batter.

Chocolate Cocoa Cakes

5 ounces unsalted butter cut into 1/2-ounce pieces, plus 2 teaspoons (melted)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
8 ounces semisweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Make the Chocolate Cocoa Cakes
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly coat the inside of each individual nonstick muffin cup (3 inches in diameter cups) with some of the 2 teaspoons melted butter. Set aside until needed.
In a sifter, combine 2/3 cup flour and 1/2 cup cocoa powder. Sift onto a large piece of parchment paper (or wax paper), and set aside until needed.

Melt 8 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate and 5 ounces of butter in the top half of a double boiler, or in a microwave oven, and stir until smooth.

Place 3 eggs, 2 egg yolks, and 1/2 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes until the mixture is slightly frothy. Add the melted chocolate and butter and mix on low speed to combine, about 15 seconds. Continue to operate the mixer on low while gradually adding the sifted dry ingredients. Once they have been incorporated, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and mix on medium to combine, about 15 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the batter until thoroughly combined.

Portion 3 heaping tablespoons (about 2 1/2 ounces) of the cake batter into each muffin cup. Place the muffin tin on the center rack of the preheated oven. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove the truffles from the freezer. Remove the muffin tin from the oven, and, moving quickly, place a single frozen truffle in the center of each portion of cake batter, pressing the truffle about halfway down into the batter. Immediately return the muffin tin to the center rack of the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted into a cake (not the truffle) comes out clean, 17 to 18 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven and cool at room temperature for 20 minutes. To remove the cakes from the muffin cups, hold the top edge of a cake, and give the cake a slight jiggle to loosen it from inside the cup. Then insert the pointed tip of a knife into a an outside edge of the top of the cake and loosen it so that you can gently pull the baked cake out of the cup. Serve immediately while still warm.

From Death by Chocolate Cakes, Copyright 2000 by Marcel Desaulniers. Reprinted by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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