By Ashley Hubbard
It’s nearly Valentine’s Day, which means an abundance of love and potentially awkward interactions are in the air.
No need to worry, though. Equipped with some trivia tidbits about the most romantic food in human history, you can keep the conversation flowing all night long. Of course, I’m talking about chocolate.
As a little activity for you and your date on Valentine’s Day, hold a chocolate tasting. Get an assortment of single origin chocolates from different regions and producers.
Much like wine, coffee and olive oils, the flavor profile of chocolate depends largely on the conditions under which the cocoa was grown, as well as the fermentation and processing methods. Though cocoa percentages will impact the taste of chocolate in the same way that alcohol percentages will impact the taste of wine, it is just as important to consider the region and terroir of the cocoa plant and processing method of the maker when deciding on a chocolate.
As you taste, take note of the subtleties. You may find that chocolate from Madagascar generally has strong red fruit notes, whereas chocolate from Ghana is nuttier. In fact, you may find that chocolates with the exact same percentage of cocoa solids often have vastly different flavors.
During this activity, impress your partner with some fun chocolate facts:
• Chocolate has more than 600 flavor compounds, while red wine has 200.
• It takes 400 cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate.
• Theobroma Cacao, the scientific name for the cocoa tree, means food of the gods.
• Technically, melted chocolate is considered a dry ingredient despite its liquid state because all moisture is removed from the cocoa beans during the refining process.
• Chocolate is a difficult ingredient to work with.
Your date will certainly ask, “Why is chocolate so difficult to work with?”
One reason is that cocoa butter, which gives chocolate its physical structure, is polymorphic and can form six different crystal structures with different physical traits such as melting point, gloss and hardness. Type V crystals are the only ones you want to form in order to achieve super shiny chocolate that will melt in your mouth, but not in your hand. Controlled temperature manipulation called tempering allows chocolatiers to destroy all the bad crystals and force the chocolate to crystallize in form V exclusively.
Another touchy subject for chocolate is its temperamental relationship with moisture. Remember how melted chocolate is a dry ingredient because it is just cocoa butter, cocoa solids and sugar? This means that when small amounts of moisture get into melted chocolate, the whole thing will seize or transform into a stiff, grainy mess.
Once you’ve impressed your date with your chocolate knowledge, it’s time to transition to the second activity of the evening, and dazzle your date with your own chocolate-making prowess.
Below is a simple recipe for a chocolate ganache. This recipe does not require any tempering, because why add unnecessary pressure? Instead, you can create a luxurious chocolate sauce to drizzle over ice cream, serve with strawberries or eat by the spoonful like soup. I trust you to read your audience on this one.
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pinch of sea salt
- 1 ¼ cup couverture dark chocolate, preferably from Madagascar
- In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine sugar, heavy cream, corn syrup, vanilla and salt.
- In a large bowl, melt the chocolate in the microwave using 30 second increments.
- In three batches, slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the melted chocolate while stirring continuously. Wait until the cream mixture is completely incorporated before adding more.
- Stir until smooth and shiny.
- Cool slightly before using.
The writer is co-owner of Fleurir Chocolates, located at 110 S. Payne St. For more information, visit www.fleurirchocolates.com.