A chocolate affair!

I always come across people who have a keen interest in making chocolate and chocolate recipes at home, but, are somehow always afraid to try their hand at it. Chocolate as a commodity has always been a mystery, as it is not an easy ingredient to handle when we want to make something out of it. It has always been considered to be an alien ingredient, but not anymore. You won’t need to admire these delectable creations from a distance at bakeries and chocolate shops anymore. They can now be made by you, in your home kitchen.

Here are a few tips and pointers that you should keep in mind while handling chocolate.

How chocolate should be melted and handled

•Chop large chocolate blocks into smaller pieces and put in a plastic bowl. Avoid using glass or stainless steel bowls as they cause uneven heating.

•If using a Microwave oven, place the bowl in it and start the melting process from 40 seconds at 50% intensity of the Microwave. Then, take the bowl out, stir and continue this process till the complete chocolate is melted. Please do not ever keep for longer time at higher temperatures as chocolate needs delicate treatment.

•If using a double boiler, take a medium height pan filled one-fourth with water and heat it. When the water is at a simmer, reduce heat to minimum, place a bowl that fits on the mouth of the pan and start putting the chocolate in it to be melted, little at a time. One important point to remember here is that you should not boil the water as it will affect the viscosity of the chocolate and steam from boiling water may play havoc. Keep stirring the chocolate pieces till completely melted.

•Remember, water is the biggest enemy of chocolate! Especially, when the chocolate is being melted for use in confectionary, candy making, tempering, etc., you should be very careful that not even a single drop of water gets into it. But if this happens by mistake, keep it aside to use in recipes where it is only an ingredient, and start afresh.

•Check for blooming and any odours in the chocolate bars. When chocolate is exposed to warm temperatures, the fat softens and chocolate is then untempered, causing light grey or white areas on the surface of the chocolate. Also, sometimes you might find small white dots on the chocolate, which is due to condensation.

•Avoid overheating of chocolate as it results in making the chocolate thick after melting.

•If there is a loss of colour in the chocolate bars, this may be due to changes in the light, temperature and humidity.

•The preferred working temperatures in the Indian scenario is around 20°C with humidity not more than 50% and preferably on marble work tops. Marble helps keep the chocolate cool.

•It is always good to work with clean kitchenware and work tops when handling chocolate and also advisable to keep some kitchenware separate (especially in Indian kitchens where interaction with masalas will give unwarranted flavours to your chocolate) that can be used when working with chocolate.

•And this one is for all chocolate lovers – always remember to look at the ingredients printed on the packet. Chocolate with natural cocoa butter rather than vegetable fats is always more healthy. Not to forget, chocolate is good source of energy at any given time.

How to store chocolate
Now that we have travelled through the processes of making of chocolate and handling it, there is one more aspect that is left which is really important when working with this sinful ingredient, and, that is the storage. The following pointers will help you tackle the issues of storing chocolate perfectly:

•In the Indian climate, ideally chocolates should be stored at temperatures ranging from 15°C to 20°C at humidity not more than 50%.

•The best way to store chocolate is to put the original packing in plastic wrap, cling film or zip lock bags, place them in airtight containers and put in the refrigerator. One important point to remember is that you should never keep the chocolate in a deep freezer, as this may spoil the chocolate because of condensation that may occur.

•It is also advisable to store chocolate away from strong odours as it may absorb the strong smells from other items, thus spoiling its own aroma.

•Then for application of refrigerated chocolate, the best way to use it is to keep the chocolate at room temperature for about ten-fifteen minutes (to avoid temperature and humidity shock that may cause condensation and thickening) and then open the packets.

By now, I am sure that your interest in this wonderful ingredient has risen further than what it was before and you are now confident of trying your hand and cooking skills to dish out some amazing chocolate recipes in your kitchen. Once you keep in mind these basic tips, making chocolate concoctions in your home will be a breeze. For more chocolaty recipes you can refer to my book aah! Chocolate. It is a collection of chocolate recipes ranging from beverages to cakes to mithais all involving chocolate. As of now here are a few recipes to get you started…

Choco Coconut Ladoos
Choco Cups
Chocolate Almond Bar
Happy cooking!
Sanjeev Kapoor

Food – universal language of love

The month of February, the world over, is reserved for romance. I am sure some of you are already looking for some Valentine recipes! February the 14th, which is celebrated as Valentine’s Day, is still some five weeks or more away. But when the time comes candies, flowers, greeting cards and gifts will be exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. Food is the universal language of love and the best way to express your feelings. Roses may wither, gifts may go to the back of the cupboard (and mind!) but a specially cooked meal for your beloved will be remembered always.

To help you along, here are some pointers on important foods that could be part of your menu.
Chocolate and Cocoa: Romance and velvety enduring sweetness are associated with chocolate as also being a cure for hangovers, a booster of energy and promoter of longevity. Mostly the Aztec (Mexican) royals drank Xocolatl, a foamy fermented drink, based on cocoa. In our times chocolate has its own niche in the kitchen: cakes, biscuits, creams, mousses and ice creams all rely on it! Try something different likeChocolate Almond Bar.
Cardamom: A whiff of Eastern magic, it is believed to have originated at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and travelled to Greece and Rome and found a home in perfumes. In India it is an inherent part of our cooking – be it in the garam masala or in the paan, cardamoms cook up a fragrant freshness!
Continuing with suggestions for ingredients for Valentine recipes think about the classy and classic combination! Chilled bubbly/champagne with sensuous strawberries are perfect together. Read on…..
Fruits: Actually they should be first on the list. The best thing about them is their texture and sweetness. Specially figs. The presence of figs in amorous encounters of Cleopatra makes interesting literature. Chicken with orange, figs and barbeque sauce is lovely!
Honey: It has been noted in history that honey promotes vitality.
Milk: A warm cup of milk is recommended as a nightcap! Milk shakes that combine milk with some fruits and nuts are energy boosters too.
Olives: With love from the Mediterranean beauty come olives and olive oil now prevalent in many kitchens around the world!
Onion and Garlic: Onion is a symbol of fertility with its other member of the family including garlic. Onions can treat everyday coughs, colds and sore throats, as well as be served in countless dishes and salads. Garlic is considered good for the heart. Onions and garlic are stimulants.
And so what are the dishes one can serve as Valentine recipes? Take a look atBaked Prawns with Honey Mustard.