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The Alternative to Crap Chocolate

February 14, 2014

You know how to tell someone special you love them? It’s not with partially hydrogenated oils, artificial vanilla flavor and FD&C Yellow 5. But those ingredients can be found in boxes of supermarket chocolates from Whitman’s, Russell Stover, and even the much fancier sounding Ferrero Rocher.

If you’ve forgotten that it’s Va-Day-Day and you’ve got to get something quick, don’t panic. Whether you need to get something for your valentine, or just to sit and munch on yourself while watching a Breaking Bad marathon, you don’t have to resort to desperate measures.

The solution is easy. At its core, you really just need two ingredients in addition to a spoon and a small pot. If you can boil water and stir, you’ve got this nailed. If you want to get fancy, you can add a couple more ingredients and knock your lover’s socks right off. Or the two of you could even make this together at the end of the night for a little sensuous fun.

It starts with a chocolate bar.

Get the best plain chocolate bar you can find. Maybe two. What you’re looking for is something dark, but enjoyable. That will vary based on your tastes. I like 85% cocoa, but 72% is fine. 100% may sound badass, but that’s not going to work here. If you need to drop into the 60% range, that’s okay. I won’t judge you… much.

Ideally this chocolate will be fair trade or be sourced from somewhere that doesn’t use the slave labor of children in the harvesting of the cocoa beans. It’s a problem, and it’s one that we should never forget.

I try to avoid soy lecithin in my chocolate, because good chocolate doesn’t need it. And I make sure the chocolate I buy uses real vanilla instead of artificial vanillin, because real things are better than fake things. That’s a good Valentines Day message if I ever heard one.

Anyhow, you want to make sure to have at least four ounces of chocolate. More is fine.

The second critical ingredient is cream. Sadly, this one is a bit harder to come by. If you must buy some inferior product that’s sullied with thickeners and emulsifiers, this is an emergency, and I begrudgingly give you the green light. But cream should just have one ingredient, and that’s cream. No carrageenan. No mono or diglycerides. No polysorbate. Nada.

All you need is a cup of cream at most. Well, it depends on how much chocolate you bought. If you’ve got more than eight ounces of chocolate, you should probably put some back.

Do you know what we’re making yet?

We’re making chocolate ganache, and few things that are this sexy are this easy. If you want to get fancy, you can easily turn chocolate ganache into rustic truffles. But you can also just pour it into small bowls and eat it with a spoon. There’s also no shame in devouring it warm out of the pot.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is adding vanilla extract to the ganache, which you should totally use if you have some around and want to go the extra mile. But there’s already some in your chocolate, so don’t sweat it. You can also easily make these boozy if you are so inclined. Just try to stick to something sweet like rum or brandy. Grand Marnier would be excellent. I suspect gin would be awful. Use your judgement.

How easy are these to make?

Well, take out a small heavy bottomed pot. Look to see how many ounces of chocolate you have. Remember that number. Break up the bars into small pieces, because you’re going to be melting these things down in cream. Measure out one scant fluid ounce of cream for every ounce of chocolate, and throw it all into the pot.

Now turn on the stove to something medium-ish and stir continuously until the chocolate melts and forms a smooth mass of silky chocolate goo. A few small slow bubbles coming up the sides of the pot are okay, but you aren’t boiling this. Chocolate can burn, so it’s better to take it slow. Don’t be afraid to turn down the heat if it’s going too fast. Think of it like foreplay.

Take the pot off the stove, and if you are so inclined, add about a teaspoon of vanilla extract for every four ounces of chocolate. And if you are using booze a tablespoon should add some pizzaz. Remember you can always add more, but you can’t take any away if you put in too much.

Congratulations, you’ve made an awesome chocolate ganache. Now that I think of it, if you added a bit more cream, you could thin this out and make some deliciously silky chocolate body paint. But I like eating food off of spoons. I know, I’m no fun at all.

So at this point you can pour that ganache into small decorative vessels and chill it in the fridge to be eaten with teeny tiny spoons. That’s super easy.

If you were inclined to be fancier and actually make truffles, you’ll need a few more things and a couple additional steps. Specifically, cocoa powder and some small frilled paper cups (you know, like cupcake wrappers, except maybe an inch across at most).

Even this isn’t hard. Just turn the hot ganache out into a metal bowl, and place that metal bowl within a large bowl filled with ice. The goal here is to chill the ganache and watch as it firms up. So stir that sucker well to bring down its temperature. You may want to consider using a whisk. When it’s relatively firm and cool to the touch, spoon a chunk of it into your hands, quickly form it into a ball, and roll it on a plate covered with cocoa powder. They don’t have to be perfect. These are supposed to be rustic.

Congratulations! You just made a truffle.

Put that bad boy in one of the cups, and repeat. When you are done, place your absolutely amazing handmade chocolates in the fridge (covered) until you are ready to feed them to whoever is worthy of your affection.

Just know the truffle making process is a little messy, but that’s one reason why it can be a fun activity to do with someone who you’re spending the holiday.

Have fun with it. It’s pretty much foolproof. No matter what you do, it’s going to taste good. And what you get will be so much better than any other last minute treat you’ll find at the supermarket.

Happy Va-Day-Day. Now go out and make some love.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Randy K permalink
    February 14, 2014 11:19 am

    delish! have you tried melting the chocolate in a double boiler? that’s usually my trick to avoid the burning… you’re making my mouth water and it’s only 9am!

  2. Melissa permalink
    February 14, 2014 11:29 am

    I make ganache by breaking the chocolate into a glass bowl. I heat the cream until I see steam rising, then pour the cream over the chocolate. I let it stand without stirring for ten minutes, then I whisk it together (or fold it, depending on whether I grab a whisk or a spatula from the drawer).

  3. February 14, 2014 4:48 pm

    Great post.

  4. February 17, 2014 12:47 am

    On the mention of Heavy Cream: Last I checked, Stewart’s brand Heavy Cream only has one ingredient: Heavy Cream, and it has a nice clean taste to it.

  5. February 17, 2014 11:01 am

    Carrageenan, a Versatile and Safe Food Ingredient
    Let Science and Facts Guide You

    Carrageenan has become an essential ingredient in a wide variety of foods we consume every day such as flavored milks, stabilized milk substitutes such as soy, processed deli and fresh meats, and as a vegetable-based gelatin replacer.
    Carrageenan has a number of positive attributes in today’s food environment. Carrageenan can be used in foods labeled Organic and is considered Natural. Ingredients Solutions Inc. has carved out a niche in the US market by being the leading marketer of Natural Grade (Semi-Refined) carrageenan, a minimally-processed type of carrageenan. Natural Grade carrageenan is lower in cost than the highly refined types but equally effective in the applications noted above.
    The fact that carrageenan is a seaweed extract gives it a certain cache among those consumers seeking “green” and “sustainable” products. Seaweeds grow in seawater without the need for fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. The predominant seaweed types producing carrageenan (Kappaphycus and Eucheuma spinosum) grow naturally on tropical reefs. To augment the natural harvest these two seaweeds have been farmed by coastal fisherman predominantly in Philippines and Indonesia for the last forty years. As fishing in these areas has declined, seaweed farming has become the principal income for this population. So, there is a social-economic empowerment associated with the carrageenan industry.
    Let’s return to carrageenan’s attributes as a food ingredient. Carrageenan from the two tropical seaweeds noted in the previous paragraph give a wide range of textures or “mouth feel”. These textures range from rigid to elastic gels and in suitable blends with other gums can have the texture of salves or pastes. If carrageenan from cold water seaweeds are added to the mix free flowing viscous solutions can be formulated.
    Another attribute of carrageenan is its ability to bind water. Syneresis control is important in processed meats. Without carrageenan in the mix of gums used in processed meats, controlling package purge would be an even bigger problem than it already is. Syneresis control also plays a role in fragrance release in air fresher gels an important application for carrageenan. While not a food application it is worth mentioning. Carrageenan is also a synergistic gum. That is, it can be formulated into blends of gums to make stronger gels than with a single gum. Blends can also be formulated with lower syneresis than can be achieved with a single gum.
    Probably the most unique property of carrageenan is its ability to interact with proteins, a special type of synergistic behavior. Milk protein forms a particularly strong bond with carrageenan. Suspending the cocoa in chocolate milk requires only a few hundred parts per million while also imparting a whole milk-like mouthfeel in a low fat milk. Protein synergy in meat is less than in milk, but it still plays a role in enhancing the sliceability of deli meats. Carrageenan is also gaining use in fresh meats to improve juiciness and reduce cook loss.
    Turning to the safety of carrageenan, there has been an amazing amount of unsubstantiated blogging about carrageenan being unsafe as a food ingredient. In spite of this misinformation, carrageenan continues as the safe food ingredient it has always been. If it were not, the principal regulatory agencies of the world (US FDA, FAO/WHO JECFA, EU EFSA, and Japan Ministry of Health) would not continue to approve its use, and all of them give the necessary approvals for use in all the applications noted above. The only application restricted as a precautionary measure is stabilizing liquid infant formula. Definitive toxicology is about to be published that is expected to remove this restriction. One fact very much in carrageenan’s favor on the safety front stems from very low use levels. Furthermore, being a relatively expensive ingredient it is only used in applications where its unique functionalities justify its use.
    Why all the concern about the safety of using carrageenan in foods? Starting in the 1960s there have been research studies showing that if excessive doses of carrageenan are consumed in animal trials inflammation can be induced in the small intestine. Likewise, inappropriate methods of introducing the carrageenan into the animals can create a similar inflammatory response, i.e. feeding carrageenan to the animals in their only source of drinking water. However, there has never been a validated inflammatory response in humans over the seventy plus years carrageenan has been used in foods. The anecdotal “upset tummies” reported in blogs as coming from consuming a food containing carrageenan are hardly reliable sources of toxicological information on the safety of carrageenan.
    Inflammatory responses in animals only occur when carrageenan can cross the blood membrane barrier of the small intestine. This only occurs when the extreme feeding conditions mentioned above are employed. Normal feeding regimes induce no such response.
    Over the last decade a group of molecular biologists at the University of Illinois at Chicago lead by Dr Joanne Tobacman have explored the in vitro interaction of carrageenan with various genes involved in inflammatory diseases. They concluded that carrageenan can cause inflammation in the gut via a binding mechanism involving TLR-4 receptors. This group also concluded that carrageenan degrades in the gut and the degraded carrageenan can permeate the membrane barrier. Recent studies sponsored by the carrageenan industry (in press) provide scientific evidence refuting both of these claims. The industry-sponsored studies also raise the caution that in vitro studies may not be a good model for in vivo events in the GI tract after a carrageenan-containing food has been consumed.
    There is no scientific evidence known to Ingredients Solutions Inc. that would require your company to abandon using carrageenan in your product because of safety concerns. Likewise, there is no reason for you or your company to stop developing new products with carrageenan as an ingredient based on safety issues. Of course consumer concerns, no matter how ill-founded, must be considered, and the carrageenan industry is trying to get ahead of the bloggers with a positive PR program.

  6. enough already! permalink
    February 19, 2014 8:51 pm

    Interestingly, iota-carrageenan has been shown to have antiviral properties and as a nasal spray to reduce the viral load and shorten the length of a cold.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24219370
    I do not, however, want it in my heavy cream, or any other food for that matter.

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