Valentine's Day is full of chocolate indulgences. From the heart-shaped box of candy to the expensive or hard-to-find sweets, America has a love affair with chocolate.
There are many types of chocolate for cooking and baking. Supermarket shelves are adding gourmet-quality brands and flavored varieties such as mint or raspberry. Add to this the chocolate morsels, blocks, powder and liquid, and you have the world of chocolate at your fingertips.
According to the Chocolate Manufacturers Assn., there are five types of chocolate:
1. Chocolate liquor is produced by grinding the cocoa bean into a smooth liquid that is cooled and molded into blocks known as unsweetened chocolate. It is bitter. This is different from a chocolate liqueur such as Godiva, which may be used for sipping or in after-dinner drinks and dessert recipes. It is made from the same source of chocolate as those used by Godiva.
2. Semisweet (bittersweet) chocolate is the chocolate liquor to which sweeteners and cocoa butter have been added. Known as dark chocolate, it must contain at least 35 percent liquor and 27 percent fat.
3. Milk chocolate is cocoa butter, milk, sweeteners and flavors added to chocolate liquor. Milk chocolate made in the United States must contain at least 10 percent liquor and 12 percent whole milk.
4. Sweet chocolate contains more sweeteners than semisweet chocolate and at least 15 percent chocolate liquor. It is used mostly for decorating and garnishing.
5. White chocolate is a misnomer. Real chocolate must contain cocoa liquor. None is used in white chocolate, which contains sugar, cocoa butter, milk solids and flavorings.
Cocoa is made by pressing much of the cocoa butter out of the chocolate liquor. The hard brown cake is cooled, pulverized and sifted into cocoa powder.
Armed with this information, here are some ways to cook with chocolate.
Â The classic chocolate cake is delicious with homemade chocolate frosting. Bake your favorite chocolate cake recipe in heart-shaped pans. To make the frosting, add 1/2 cup baking cocoa to 8 tablespoons softened butter and mix well. Gradually add 3 cups confectioners' sugar, alternating with 3 to 4 tablespoons milk. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix to desired consistency. Spread 1/3 of frosting on bottom layer; top with second layer and spreading 1/3 of frosting on top of that layer. Use remaining 1/3 of frosting on sides, smoothing edges as you go.
Â Serve hot chocolate or cappuccino with chocolate-dipped spoons. To make your own chocolate spoons, dip plastic spoons into melted semisweet or premium white chocolate; let excess chocolate drip off. Let stand or refrigerate on a tray for 30 minutes or until chocolate is firm. Swirl a chocolate-dipped spoon into any hot beverage.
Â Prepare homemade fudge sauce. Melt 5 squares of unsweetened chocolate and 1/2 cup butter in a 2-quart saucepan over very low heat. Remove from heat and add 3 cups powdered sugar alternately with a 13-ounce can evaporated milk, stirring after each addition. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until thick and creamy. Remove from heat; add 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla. Serve warm over vanilla ice cream. This can be stored in a sealed container and refrigerated for several months.
Â Make your own chocolate hearts. Melt 4 squares semisweet or white chocolate. Pour onto wax-paper-lined cookie sheet; spread to 1/8-inch thickness with spatula. Refrigerate 15 minutes or until firm. Cut out heart shapes with cookie cutter. Immediately Â and carefully Â lift hearts from wax paper with spatula. Refrigerate until ready to use. Use to decorate cakes, pies or other desserts.
Â Make a Peanut Butter Mousse Cake (recipe follows). For the crust, crumble chocolate sandwich cookies and mix with peanuts for crunch. Real whipping cream combined with peanut butter and cream cheese gives a smooth filling. Semisweet chocolate pieces are melted and spread evenly over the mousse.
Peanut Butter Mousse Cake
2 cups chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs
1 cup finely chopped peanuts, divided use
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided use
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided use
2 cups (18-ounce jar) creamy peanut butter
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
1 (6-ounce) package semisweet chocolate pieces
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cookie crumbs, 1/2 cup peanuts, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and melted butter. Press into an ungreased 10-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes; cool.
Beat 1 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream until stiff; set aside. In mixing bowl, beat together peanut butter and cream cheese until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and vanilla, mixing well. Fold in beaten whipping cream, adding a quarter at a time.
Pour into cooled crust and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Combine remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar and remaining 1/4 cup heavy cream in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a simmer.
Remove from heat and add chocolate pieces; stir until melted and smooth. Cool 5 minutes and spread evenly over filling. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup chopped peanuts to garnish. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 4 hours. Serve chilled.
Makes 16 servings.