Wednesday, February 11, 2015

For The Love of Chocolate

Chocolate: One of the more versatile and most loved foods in the world. We associate it with quality, social class, love, and romance. We use it to end a fine meal, and share as gifts with friends and family. So why do we have such a fascination with chocolate? One of the biggest reasons is obvious: its flavor. The rich aroma and taste of chocolate is identical, which is not true for many foods. Women may actually enjoy eating chocolate just a little bit more than men because they have a better sense of smell. Chocolate seems to pair well with anything from caramel to raspberries to habaneros. But it is best all by itself.

For centuries, chocolate has been a tried and true staple for lovers. Now there is actual proof from the scientific community that there are some benefits. Besides the jolt of caffeine served up in a piece of chocolate, this savory candy also contains PEA, or phenylethylamine, the very same molecule that courses through the veins of one who is in love. Combine our internal stores of the natural amphetamine with chocolate and it will serve to heighten that giddy sensation. Both dark and milk chocolate contain roughly the same amount of calories per gram, but dark chocolate contains more cocoa which is believed to have some additional health benefits. Eating chocolate one or two times a week may lead to a reduction in heart risk. There are also studies that suggest a regular intake of cocoa will improve mental function. Oddly enough, it seems there is a connection. It has been observed that the countries which have the most Nobel prize winners also enjoy the highest consumption of chocolate. But lets not kid ourselves. Were not eating it for those reasons. It simply makes us feel good.

Chocolate takes on many shapes and textures. It is amazing how many beautiful things are made with chocolate. We see it as lively bunnies or a lovely chocolate rose. It can be solid enough to create large statues. Or soft enough to dip into it, drink it, spread it, or roll it in nuts. Chocolate plays a part in most of the major holidays we hold dear: Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and Valentines Day. It has deeply woven its way into the fabric of our daily lives.

As with all foods, desserts have grown to become an artful and creative business. Since many of our favorite desserts are made with chocolate, Pastry Chefs are challenged to make fresh and unique items that one simply cannot resist, even after a fulfilling meal. That was how the Sin of the Inn was born. Pastry Chef, Joni Marty, wanted to create a delectable delight that people could not resist. The Sin of the Inn is just that: an amazing creation of pecan crust, layered with caramel, white satin, chocolate ganache, and topped with white chocolate mousse. It is truly exquisite! Ganache is another popular way chocolate is used. Ganache is made by simply heating cream, then mixing it into solid chocolate pieces. You may add liqueurs or flavors to this mixture as well. The result is a soft, rich chocolate substance that can be used in many different ways. Pastry Chef Joni also makes the most perfect chocolate dipped strawberries. She has made literally tens-of-thousands of them during her pastry career, making over 7000 last December alone. Joni suggests that if you are planning to dip your own strawberries, or any other items in chocolate, you need to use a high quality melting chocolate, heating it very slowly so it doesnt seize up or lose its smooth texture. Melting chocolate is superior for dipping as it hardens nicely when it cools and isnt sticky.

The many ways chocolate is used in desserts is endless: Decadent Chocolate Lava Cake, Chocolate Cheesecake, Chocolate and White Chocolate Mouse, Chocolate Tortes, Fudge, Turtles, Cakes, Cupcakes, and Cookies. This list goes on and on. But theres an old Midwest favorite that has made an appearance at almost every family reunion and graduation party for decades: the Brownie.

Pastry Chef Joni has been perfecting the art of bars and cookies for many years, and she shared her favorite Brownie recipe with us to try:

            Jonis Favorite Brownies

            3-1/4 cup Sugar
            13 oz. Butter
            Cream together, scrape bowl.
            Add 6 Eggs
            Blend well, scrape bowl.
            Add 1-1/3 cups Flour
            2 cups Cocoa
            1/8 cup Vanilla
            Blend well, scrape bowl.
            Add 8 oz. Chocolate Chips
            Spread in a Parchment Lined Pan 15-1/2 x 10-1/2
            You may use Foil Greased with Shortening
            Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
So, enjoy your chocolate, in moderation. Now you know, there are many reasons why you should. The marvelous flavor is only one of them.

-Christine Schiltz
Owner & Catering Director
Lake Elmo Inn Event Center