With Mother’s Day on Sunday, many spouses and children are likely to rely on the old standby: the gift of chocolate.
But beyond the tried-and-true box of chocolate-covered cherries, the naturally rich, earthy and seductive character of cocoa can also be used to enhance an unexpected array of dishes.
Consider chocolate-zucchini muffins or a classic Mexican mole. Or even more unusual pairings, such as chocolate-dipped bacon or chocolate hummus (a variation on a Nutella theme). Yes, some pairings may sound odd, but they make sense on the palate.
As a general rule, salty and spicy foods work well when paired with white, milk and dark chocolate, says Rachel Freeman, chocolatier at Annedore’s Fine Chocolates in Westwood Hills. She adores bacon and dark chocolate or potato chips covered in milk chocolate.
Although Marcel Bollier, owner of André’s Confiserie Suisse with locations in Kansas City and Leawood, isn’t a fan of chocolate-dipped chips, he agrees that sea salt and caramel complement dark chocolate because the sweetness of the caramel is subdued by the salt.
When covered in dark chocolate, the spiciness of ginger is also a well-balanced combination. Meanwhile, chilies infuse Venezuelan Spice Turtles from Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolate with plenty of heat. He also has an ice cream collaboration with Häagen-Dazs that incorporates the spiced pecan turtle with chocolate ice cream.
“Dark chocolate has such a strong flavor and presence that it can stand up very well to bold spices,” says Elbow, whose headquarters is in the Crossroads Arts District. “The fruitiness of dark chocolate really helps balance the heat in chilies.”
For a more classic pairing, Andre’s infuses chocolates with scotch, bourbon, cognac or kirsch. “I think the alcohol by itself enhances the flavor of the chocolate and the liquor,” Bollier says.
Freeman of Annedore’s agrees: “If a more complex liquor, like a scotch or whiskey, is added to dark chocolate, the natural earthy notes in the dark chocolate become much more pronounced.
“Fruit purées and liquors also complement dark chocolate but need to be used more intensely so the dark chocolate doesn’t overpower them,” she adds. “For instance, using a raspberry purée in a dark chocolate bonbon would need the addition of, say, Chambord to prevent the raspberry flavor from being lost.”
Fruit-based liqueurs also enhance and bring out the natural fruitiness of milk chocolate.
“When liquors are added to the center of a truffle or bonbon, the milk chocolate base gets a surprise flavor kick,” Freeman says. “The creaminess of milk chocolate … provides smoothness for coffee and liquors.”
Meanwhile, dark chocolate accepts stronger, more intense flavor combinations, such as citrus, without losing its own unique profile.
“The vanilla content and the bitter flavor of the chocolate add a wonderful aroma and combine well with the acid of the citrus,” Bollier says. “I personally feel milk chocolate doesn’t lend itself well to any other sour fruit.”
But in another surprise twist, some bakers and confectioners think chocolate can work well with beer.
“I prefer a much darker chocolate (75 percent or more cacao) with a malt forward, less hoppy beer such as a doppelbock or a rich porter or stout,” Elbow says. “The only thing to watch out for is if the chocolate is too sweet, it can amplify the bitterness of some beers.”
At Dolce Bakery in Prairie Village, owner Erin Brown’s seasonal Dark Truth Stout Brownie Trifles and Chocolate Guinness Cake (available in March) have gained an avid fan base. Both incorporate Boulevard Brewing Co. beers.
“For me chocolate is so earthy and not super sweet and the (richness) gives a foundation of flavor,” Brown says. “I think (the Guinness Cake) appeals to the beer and chocolate lover as a unique pairing.
“Stout is delicious and you get some coffee notes,” she says. “The richness of the brownie texture enhances (the beer flavor) and you definitely taste both; the beer stands up next to the chocolate.”
Dark Truth Stout Brownie Trifles will return to the menu in time for Father’s Day.
When you really start to think about it, there seems to be no end to chocolate pairings.
Elbow Chocolates walks on the wild side with the addition of popping candy to a signature chocolate bar. “Chocolate works so well with the popping candy because of the play on textures,” Elbow says. “As the chocolate melts very smoothly, the candy begins to dissolve and you get the popping and crunchy sensation.”
Elbow and his staff are working to pair chocolate with different cheeses, too; they have done a chocolate and cheese pairing at Green Dirt Farms in Weston. “We hit on some really interesting flavor combinations,” he says.
Fans can expect something cheesy and chocolate-y in the shop soon.
Chocolate also works well with savory ingredients, such as a classic Mexican mole. Patrick Ryan, chef/owner of Port Fonda in Westport, makes a complex mole sauce with chocolate for pollo enchiladas.
“Some moles contain chocolate, but there are plenty that do not,” he says. “In a classic mole rojo, chocolate is added for a bit of sweetness, complexity and depth to the sauce. We use Abuelita brand chocolate that has some cinnamon flavor added.”
By now you might be wondering if there’s any food or drink that doesn’t work with chocolate?
Try these odd chocolate recipes — from chocolate-flavored chicken tacos to avocado-laced truffles — and you’re sure to get creativity points with mom — or dad. After all, Father’s Day is June 21.
Lisa Waterman Gray is a freelance food and travel writer who lives in Overland Park.
Chocolate recipes created at home add another sensory note to the chocolate experience: the intoxicating aroma that emerges as it bakes or simmers on the stove.
To enhance the life of chocolate purchased for recipes, here are some handy storage tips:
▪ Avoid storing chocolate in the refrigerator or freezer.
▪ Keep chocolate away from excessive heat.
▪ Wrapping chocolate in plastic wrap enhances its freshness.
▪ While a whitish gray tint on the chocolate may look a little odd, it typically won’t impact recipes.
Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
Dutch-processed cocoa powder is richer and darker than regular varieties. It is treated with an alkali, which helps neutralize the natural acidic flavor of cocoa.
Because this batter is delicate, muffin papers are essential to maintain appropriate texture.
Makes 21/2-3 dozen muffins
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest
3 tablespoons juice from 1 orange
2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
1/2 cup milk
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (optional)
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan.
In a large mixing bowl, sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon together and set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar, blending until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla, orange zest and juice, and zucchini. Then alternate adding the dry ingredients with the milk. Add chopped nuts, if desired. Pour batter into pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Allow muffins to cool, then dust with powdered sugar to serve.
Per muffin, based on 21/2 dozen: 145 calories (33 percent from fat), 5 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 31 milligrams cholesterol, 23 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 143 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Source: Lisa Waterman Gray
Avocado-Chili Pepper Truffles
Makes approximately 20 truffles
3/8 cup pureed avocado
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 ounces dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder, optional
In a saucepan, combine avocado with cream, chili powder, cinnamon, cayenne and salt. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Cover and let stand to steep for 1 hour.
Reheat the mixture over medium heat until it just comes to a boil, stirring occasionally. Immediately pour mixture over the chocolate chips in a bowl. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour mixture into a shallow glass pie pan. Chill for 2 hours, until firm.
With a 1-inch scoop or tablespoon, scoop out chocolate and roll in the palm of your hand to a rough ball. Shape and place on a sheet pan covered with wax paper. Chill for 5 to 10 minutes.
Pour the cocoa powder for coating (and chili powder, if desired) in a small bowl. Roll balls in cocoa until coated, place the truffles back on the sheet pan with the wax paper. Chill until ready to serve.
If chilled longer than 2 hours let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature before serving. Store the truffles in a tightly covered container for up to 2 weeks.
Per truffle: 94 calories (58 percent from fat), 6 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 5 milligrams cholesterol, 9 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 19 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Source: Lisa Waterman Gray
Think of this recipe as a healthier version of the increasingly popular, commercially produced chocolate-and nut-infused spreads. One of the oldest name brands uses hazelnuts, so here is some interesting nutrition information: 1 ounce raw hazelnuts equals 4.24 grams protein, while 1 ounce canned chickpeas (1/2 cup) equals 7 grams protein.
Makes 24 servings
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons peanut butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt, with more to taste
5 to 8 tablespoons water
Toast, fruit or chocolate graham crackers, to serve
Put chickpeas, peanut butter, olive oil, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla, coffee powder and salt in food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse, scraping down the sides; continue mixing until well blended. While the processor is running slowly, add water by the tablespoon and check frequently until you reach the desired texture.
Enjoy on toast, fruit or chocolate graham crackers.
Per (1-tablespoon) serving: 68 calories (53 percent from fat), 4 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 114 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Source: Adapted from Food.com
Chocolate Chicken Tacos
Makes 4 servings
1/2 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup chocolate syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Taco shells or tortillas
1 avocado, thinly sliced, for garnish
Cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Greek yogurt, sour cream or crema
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Pour water into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Whisk oil, chocolate syrup, egg, vanilla and salt together in a bowl.
Mix bread crumbs and cocoa powder together in a shallow bowl.
Poke holes into chicken breasts using a fork. Dip chicken in the oil mixture, covering completely. Press chicken into bread crumb mixture until both sides are coated. Arrange chicken in the prepared baking dish.
Bake until no longer pink in the center and the juices run clear, about 45 minutes and until instant-read thermometer reads at least 165 degrees.
Allow chicken to rest for 5 minutes, then slice chicken in 1/8-inch slices. Assemble tacos, using chicken slices and desired additional ingredients.
Per serving: 665 calories (56 percent from fat), 44 grams total fat (7 grams saturated), 119 milligrams cholesterol, 42 grams carbohydrates, 35 grams protein, 344 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.
Source: Lisa Waterman Gray
Raspberry and Chocolate With Almonds Grilled Cheese
Some angel food cake loaves are considerably smaller than others, so add ingredients in proportion to size of cake slices. Slices from our loaf made 4 small sandwiches.
Makes 2 servings
4 slices angel food cake from a loaf
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
4 slices havarti cheese
4 tablespoons mascarpone cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon sugar, optional
Zest from 1 large or 2 small oranges, divided
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup almond slivers or walnut bits approximately 1/8-inch size
1/2 cup fresh raspberries, halved
1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
Spread 1/2 tablespoon butter on one side of each slice of the angel food cake and turn the unbuttered side up, laying the buttered side on a piece of parchment paper or cutting board.
Layer each slice of angel food cake with a slice of havarti, and then set two of the havarti-topped slices aside. Stir sugar into mascarpone and spread half of the mascarpone across each of the other two slices. Top each of these slices with 1 teaspoon of the orange zest and then add liberal sprinkles of chocolate and nuts. Top each slice with berries.
Drizzle the oil into a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Place the two sandwich slices with only the havarti cheese on top of the other slices. Carefully transfer each sandwich to the pan. Cook until golden on each side and the cheese and chocolate have melted, flipping frequently as needed. Transfer to a plate and serve hot.
Per serving: 722 calories (56 percent from fat), 47 grams total fat (18 grams saturated), 82 milligrams cholesterol, 66 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 591 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.
Source: Adapted from foodiecrush.com