Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, which means it’s time for chocolate to make an appearance on the menu. Sure, you could head out to the store and get a box of mystery chocolates. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the kind that has a map so you know what you’re getting into – otherwise you have to dive in teeth-first and deal with whatever’s inside.
Or, you could make your own chocolate treats! Whether you’re working on a dessert to finish off a romantic meal, or simply coming up with a treat for yourself, your friends, or your family, chocolate should do the trick. Here are a few tips you can keep in mind when working with this sometimes finicky, but ultimately wonderful, ingredient.
Chocolate is somewhat delicate when it comes to heat. It can’t handle too much all at once, or it will scorch. As a result, you have to be gentle with it. Don’t cook it directly over heat – even if you’re the best stirrer in the world, you won’t be able to stop it from burning. Instead, use a double boiler. This way, you’ll be able to warm your chocolate slowly so it doesn’t take in too much energy at once. Keep an eye on the heat of your water – you don’t want a full boil beneath your chocolate. Keep it around a simmer, and let the excess warmth from the water melt your finely chopped chocolate.
Be Patient! If you’d rather use a process that’s faster (and uses fewer pans) you can also melt chocolate in the microwave. Simply stick it in a microwave-safe bowl and heat it at half-power for a minute. When you take it out, it will probably look the same as when it went in. That’s OK. Chocolate doesn’t change shape in the microwave until you mix it. Once you give it a stir, it should start to actually look like it’s melted. If it’s not the right consistency yet, stick it back in the microwave for another 15 seconds. Repeat this until the chocolate is the way you like it.
Chocolate doesn’t require a whole lot of work, but it does call for a little extra time. If you rush yourself, particularly with a new recipe, you’re probably going to end up incredibly stressed out. Instead, give yourself some padding time. If you’ve never worked with chocolate before, add an extra half of the total time the recipe calls for. Best-case scenario, you’ll have some downtime once you’re done and the chocolate can set a little longer. Worst case, you’ll have wiggle room if something goes wrong.
Keep Things Dry
“Even a few drops of water can cause chocolate to split.”
Water kills chocolate. People who have never worked with chocolate before often underestimate the effect water will have, but just a few drops or even some excess steam can cause your chocolate to split. This means it will be stiff and grainy, making it hard to work with and destroying that perfectly creamy texture. Take extra care to ensure that all of your utensils are perfectly dry before using them in the chocolate. You should also pay attention when you’re moving it on and off the double boiler so you don’t allow any steam to make its way into the bowl.
If you’re dipping anything into the chocolate, that needs to be dry as well. Chocolate strawberries are a common Valentine’s treat, and many an at-home attempt has been ruined by using freshly rinsed berries. If you’re planning to make this sweet treat yourself, rinse them a few hours ahead so they have plenty of time to dry. If you’re still not sure whether their surface is water-free, gently pat them with paper towels. This will save you from getting suddenly lumpy chocolate once you start dipping.
Don’t Fear the Split
If the heat goes too high, or some water makes its way into your chocolate, never fear – there is a solution. Split chocolate, while disconcerting, is hardly the end of the world. Allow me to introduce you to your secret weapon: vegetable oil. Keep a bottle on hand while you’re melting. If the chocolate starts to get gross and grainy, simply mix in a tablespoonful. This should help the chocolate return to the proper consistency.
Chocolate is super fun to work with, and the results are always impressive. You can pretty effectively trick people into thinking you’re a kitchen superstar by getting just a little bit fancy with your chocolate. Because it requires some patience and a bit of trial and error, chocolate intimidates a lot of people. It shouldn’t, and if you give it a shot, you’ll end up with something incredible.
For a simple treat that’s sure to impress, use balloons to make chocolate bowls. Melt your chocolate, then give your inflated balloons a quick once-over with cooking spray. Once your chocolate is melted, let it cool for 5-10 minutes. If it’s still super warm, the balloons are likely to pop. Once the chocolate has cooled a bit, quickly dip in the balloon, holding it by the knot. Lift it out, let any excess chocolate drip off, then set the balloon on a sheet of parchment paper. Stick it in the fridge for 10-30 minutes to let it set, then pop and remove the balloon.
You’ll be left with a cute little chocolate bowl you can fill with anything room temperature or cooler. Any kind of ice cream is always a safe bet for an edible bowl, but for Valentine’s Day, we suggest raspberry sorbet. This will be particularly decadent if you use dark chocolate to make the bowl. The bitterness of the chocolate will mix perfectly with the sweet tartness of the raspberry, and your dinner partner is sure to love it.