Since Cadbury popularized the fancy box of chocolates in the 19th century, the link between love and those darkly sweet treats has only grown stronger — thanks partly to years of clever marketing.
“If you look at advertising over the years, chocolate companies emphasized love and romance, and that you could win hearts and maybe a kiss for a box of chocolate,” said Sue Quinn, author of “The Little Chocolate Cookbook” and “Cocoa.”
We still love indulging in chocolate on Valentine's Day. This year, however, why not up the gift cache and, instead of buying chocolates, make your own?
With no special equipment required, many recipes are simple enough for novices — and making them together is a fun way to spend the evening.
Quinn’s template for chocolate bark requires little more than melting the right kind of chocolate bar, spreading it onto a baking sheet and adding a variety of toppings. She suggested combining sweet-tart ingredients like dried cranberries or cherries with chopped nuts for contrasting flavor and texture. And she always sprinkles the bark with flaky sea salt to bring out the chocolate’s nuanced flavor.
Besides being a special gift from the heart, homemade chocolates also are free from preservatives, extra sugar and artificial ingredients, said Jennifer Bell, who blogs about cooking at A Sweet Alternative. Her simple recipes for 20 homemade chocolates include three-ingredient truffles stuffed with strawberries, mango or almond butter, their creamy center enveloped in a crispy chocolate shell. Or try her chocolate-covered coconut bars, blackberry clusters and pears.
“They’re such an easy gift that’s got that homemade touch,” Bell said. “And really all you need in terms of equipment is parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.”
With homemade recipes like these, there is no need to worry about “tempering.” That’s a technique professionals use, slowly melting the chocolate and resetting it in a particular way to maintain its shine and characteristic snap.
It is critical, however, to melt the chocolate gently or it will become grainy as the cocoa butter separates from the solids under high heat. Bell prefers doing so in the microwave in a heatproof bowl, nuking chopped dark chocolate or chips on high power in 20 second increments, and stirring in between until it's smooth.
Because Quinn accidentally has burned chocolate before in the microwave, she now blasts it with a hair dryer in 30 second increments, while stirring, so it doesn’t overheat. Or she rigs a bain-marie (a double boiler), placing the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Make sure the bottom doesn’t touch the water.
It's worth springing for high-quality dark chocolate made from about 70% cacao that lists only three to five ingredients. Sugar should not be the first ingredient listed; soy lecithin, a common additive to make melted chocolate more pourable, is fine and does not affect flavor.
The quality of chocolate is key for such basic recipes. But even the most basic homemade chocolates convey something special, Quinn said.
“You can buy them from the gas station on the way to a date. But goodness, someone who makes you some chocolates? They’re a keeper, aren’t they?”
HOMEMADE CHOCOLATE BARK
Time: 50 minutes (20 minutes active)
600 grams/21 ounces dark chocolate
2 to 3 tablespoons of chopped toppings, such as pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, dried fruit, candied ginger, toasted coconut, crumbled cookies or sprinkles
Flaky sea salt
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment, letting the paper hang over the sides. Gently melt the chocolate (see note in story above) and pour onto the prepared sheet, tilting it to spread the chocolate toward the edges. While it is still soft, add the toppings of your choice. Leave to set completely before breaking into shards.
HOMEMADE STRAWBERRY TRUFFLES
Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (25 minutes active)
Makes 12 truffles
1 1/2 cups chopped dark chocolate or chips
3/4 cup chopped fresh or frozen strawberries
Optional topping: freeze-dried strawberry powder
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, cook the strawberries for 2 to 3 minutes, mashing them while they cook. Turn off the heat and add half the chocolate to the fruit, allowing the residual heat to melt it. Mix well until all the chocolate is melted.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl, then chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Take it out and let it sit at room temperature for 5 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop 1 tablespoon of the mixture and use your hands to roll it into a ball (using kitchen gloves if preferred). Place it on the prepared sheet and make the remaining balls. If the mixture is too sticky, chill it in the freezer for 5 minutes and try again. In a heatproof bowl, melt the remaining 3/4 cup chocolate (see note in story above).
Add one ball to the bowl at a time, gently stirring to coat each completely. Use two forks to transfer each coated ball to the prepared baking sheet. Add a sprinkle of freeze-dried strawberry powder, if using.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Albert Stumm lives in Barcelona and writes about food, travel and wellness. Find his work at https://www.albertstumm.com
Albert Stumm (), The Associated Press