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

Everything’s fair in love, war and…chocolate!

 Yes, everything is fair when it comes to this sinful, yet so lovable thing called “chocolate.” As far as I know, I haven’t seen or met anyone who does not like chocolate, in one or the other form! To be true, I can have dozens of chocolates, but just don’t have them so often for health sake and even if I end up gorging, I make sure to run that extra mile to burn it. This is the reason, why I had to come up with a book which was all dedicated to this incredible ingredient – aah! Chocolate is out on stands now, and I’m sure if you get it, you will definitely not regret!

From being one of the most popular flavours in the world to an aphrodisiac, chocolate surely is sinful in the truest sense! Rightly termed as the wonder ingredient, who knew that the discovery of an ordinary bean from the tree Theobroma cacao found in the jungles of South and Central America would become a hot favourite of all ages around the world.

Existing since ages
The cacao plant, from which the cocoa powder is made, is said to have originated in the Amazon area of South America in 2000 BC. The earliest record of chocolate being consumed as a beverage, dates from over 15000 years ago in the rainforests of Central America, where conditions for the growth of the cacao tree were perfect. The Olmec, one of the first civilizations in America, are believed to have been the first to grow cocoa beans as a domestic crop.

The Mayan word for the cacao tree was cacahuaguchtl and the word cacao means ‘God Food.’ We get the word chocolate from the Mayan word xocoatl, meaning ‘bitter water.’

The cacao tree was held in high esteem by the Mayan civilization and by AD 300 cacao was used in ceremonies to celebrate life and fertility. Evidences of cacao pods have been found in the carvings remaining on temples and palaces. Later, archeological finds have included whole cacao beans and wood fragments from the cacao trees in Guatemala. Vessels found to come from around 600-400 BC in Belize and 1100 BC in Honduras have been found, on scientific examination, to contain residue of theobromine and caffeine, which are both contained in cacao beans. Cacao is named in text on one of the vessels, which had a stirrup handle and a complicated locking lid.

There are several mixtures of cacao described in ancient texts, for ceremonial and medicinal uses, as well as culinary purposes. It was used as a remedy and a way of delivering other herbal medicines. The cacao beans were roasted and pounded with chilli and maize for added flavour and then mixed with water. The bitter, unsweetened mixture was left to ferment and was originally reserved for ceremonies and for drinking by the rich, influential and religious elite. Women prepared the brew but, usually, only men drank it, as it was considered too strong or possibly even toxic for women and children. Some mixtures included maize, chilli, vanilla, peanut butter and honey. Chocolate was also mixed with a variety of flowers, and sometimes it was thickened with corn gruel to make a kind of porridge.

Chocolate origin
This fantastic ingredient hails from the cocoa beans of the cacao tree, majorly native to the tropical and subtropical countries, at about 15º-20° N-S of the equator on the world map. The source of the cocoa bean plays an essential role in deciding the quality of the chocolate, relating to which, regions such as South America, West Africa, Ecuador, Madagascar, etc. are some of the places where you would find the most superior quality cocoa beans. The four major varieties of cacao beans are Criollo, Forastero, Trinitario and Arriba/Nacional.

Cooking with chocolate
The two broad categories, into which chocolate is divided into, in terms of cooking, are ‘Couverture’ and ‘Coating’ chocolate. The latter is also known as Glazing and Pate Glace. When comparing, which among the two is best suited for cooking, the ‘Couverture’ scores over the ‘Coating’ type, inspite of the ‘Coating’ type being cheaper and easy to handle. Some obvious reasons for the ‘Couverture’ type to be better are: it provides a better flavour to the recipe, it provides a better mouth-feel, it makes the recipe the most appealing and it is healthier.

Easy to store and handle, the ‘Coating’ type is usually darker and bitter and also seen more in the market. On the other hand, you must look for a fruity taste, acidic nature, cocoa content and cocoa butter content in a piece of chocolate to get the best quality of ‘Couverture’ chocolate.

Components of the cocoa bean
The two main components of the cocoa bean are basically the ‘fats’ or the ‘cocoa butter’ and constitutes about 50-55% of the whole bean. The rest of the bean is composed of ‘non-fat solids’ and together, both these components make the ‘cocoa mass’ or ‘cocoa solids.’

Cocoa butter (fats) is colourless, the flavour carrier and is responsible for giving the texture and mouth-feel to the chocolate. On the other hand, non-fat solids are the flavouring component and gives taste in the chocolate.

The more preferred category of chocolate, i.e., the ‘Couverture’ chocolate, is made by combining the ‘cocoa mass’ with sugar, vanilla and the emulsifier lecithin (usually extracted from soya) where as the inexpensive category of chocolate, i.e., the ‘Coating/Glaze’ chocolate is derived by combining the ‘non-fat solids’ with vegetable fat, sugar, vanilla and emulsifier lecithin.

The separation of the ‘non-fat solids’ from the cocoa bean results in what is commonly known as ‘cocoa powder’ with some variable fat content. The higher the percentage of fat content in the ‘cocoa powder’, the superior is the quality. Also, this powder is acidic in nature, so it is treated with an alkali, in a process called Dutch Process, to make it richer, darker, less acidic and has less tendency to settle out when combined with liquids. This way it is also made suitable for dishes that call for baking powder.

The white partner
There’s a white counterpart of the rich, dark brown chocolate called ‘white chocolate’ that is nothing but cocoa butter along with sugar, milk powder, vanilla and the emulsifier lecithin. One thing to keep in mind while buying a good white chocolate is to make sure that it contains cocoa butter as some inferior brands contain vegetable fats.

This rich, creamy, sweet and subtle-flavoured chocolate makes it best suited for baking purposes as it complements other ingredients. This chocolate is very delicate and thus, should be always melted on very low heat in order to avoid burning. Also while setting, it happens to be softer than the dark chocolate as it contains milk solids.

Melt thy chocolate – right!
Have you ever experienced that while melting chocolate in a double boiler, the steam from the pot under the bowl gets into the chocolate and solidifies it? The chocolate is ruined isn’t it? Let us see what causes this and how can we repair the damage.

Chocolate has many moods! Sometimes it melts to a satiny pool of liquid chocolate and sometimes it becomes a grainy mess. Chocolate while being melted simply cannot tolerate small drops of water. In this case, the steam escaping from the bottom of the double boiler is sufficient to put the chocolate in trouble. The same thing will happen if you cover the pan in which chocolate is melting. Then moisture condenses on the inside of the lid and drips down on the melting chocolate with the same result. Once chocolate has solidified it is not easy to coax it back to liquid form. When melting chocolate, make sure the water in the bottom of a double boiler is hot, but not boiling. Or consider melting chocolate in a very heavy saucepan with a metal ring placed on the element to insulate it from direct heat. Or better still melt it in a microwave oven.

Store thy chocolate – right!
Improper storage causes ‘bloom’ (discolouration) in the chocolate, which could be one of the two substances: it could be cocoa fat that rises to the surface of a solid chocolate mixture that is stored for too long at room temperature, or it could be sugar that is drawn to the surface by the condensation of a loosely wrapped, refrigerated chocolate mixture. The moisture extracts sugar from the mixture’s interior. Although it might look a little less appetizing than a lustrous, rich chocolaty-brown piece of sweet, chocolate that has suffered bloom is still okay to eat! You may find the texture of sugar-bloomed chocolate to be a bit grainy on the outside, but it should still taste good. To prevent this from happening to your chocolate, simply use proper storage methods.

Since chocolate can easily absorb flavours from food or other products stored alongside, chocolate should be tightly wrapped and stored away from pungent odours. The ideal temperature for storage is somewhere between 18°C-20°C. If stored properly, you can expect milk chocolate and white chocolate to be good for up to six months. Other types of chocolate can have an even longer shelf life.

Chocolaty tips
•When melting chocolate, make sure all the equipments are completely dry. Any moisture in the utensils/container may cause the chocolate to stiffen. To rectify the error, stir in half to one teaspoon of melted shortening for every ounce of chocolate.

•In order to minimize the cooking time, chop chocolate bars into squares or smaller pieces before melting them.

•Chocolate melts easily in a microwave and there is less danger of scorching.

•Store grated chocolate in the freezer. It is easier to work with frozen chocolate, since you can scoop out as much as you need.

•White or milk chocolate make better chocolate shavings because they are a softer chocolates and will curl better.

•While melting chocolate add a spoonful of butter to the chocolate for a smoother consistency and richer flavour.

•To prevent your chocolate cake from having white streaks on the brown crusts, dust greased cake pans with cocoa instead of flour.

•For bananas that are ripe and ready to eat but you have too many, peel the bananas and freeze them then dip in melted chocolate and freeze again, this makes a nice treat!

•Have a bag of chocolate chips in hand? Just sit with the whole bag in a bowl of very hot water, and mush the bag up every couple of minutes until all the chocolate has melted and there are no lumps. Snip the corner of the bag and squeeze out the melted chocolate directly onto the cake.

•When you are looking for dark cooking chocolate remember that it can be available as pure unsweetened chocolate under the name of bitter chocolate or baking chocolate.

•When making chocolate cake, add dried and powdered orange peels for yummy taste.

•Never use a wooden spoon to stir chocolate because it adds unwanted moisture.

And in the end, I have made pizzas with chocolate and fruit topping and many times I have also stuffed the favourite samosas with chocolate. Pair it up with almost anything and everything, and still you will have a surprise to yourself! Such is the marvel of this super ingredient. As for now, try some dishes like Chocolate Kheer, German Chocolate Cake, Peach and White Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Rice Pudding, choco-coconut Laddoo’s from my website www.sanjeevkapoor.com and enjoy those chocolaty moments!


 Choco-coconut Laddoo       German Chocolate Cake     Chocolate Kheer

Karanjis and gujiyas – recipes for this Diwali

Karanjis are half moon shaped mithais with fluted ends: unmistakable pieces of art that bring joy every Diwali. Interestingly, these were made exactly the same way in ancient times as today but then they were called ‘samyavas’. There is mention in ‘Kalpastham’ of Shri Sarth Charak Samhita about ‘Karanjis’ and ‘Anarsas’ and their ingredients like cardamoms, aniseeds, dry coriander and cinnamon having medicinal values.
Call the Maharashtrian karanji, gujiya in Hindi and ghughra in Gujarati, the name might change but the basic structure and content remains similar. Made with superfine flour covering, it is the stuffing that adds variety. In Maharashtra, stuffing is prepared with lightly roasted fine semolina, grated dry or fresh coconut, sugar and lots of sliced dry fruits. In North India, a stuffing of khoya (mawa) is preferred. What with an eye-catching shape, karanjis are consumed almost as soon as they are ready. Mawa Gujiya does not have shelf life whereas karanjis with a well roasted nutty filling will keep well in airtight containers for a week or so.
Here is old fashioned Coconut Karanji also called Ole Naralachi Karanji.
Sieve 1 cup refined flour (maida) into a bowl. Add 1½ tablespoons semolina (rava) and 4 tablespoons ghee and mix with fingertips till mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Knead into semi-soft dough with ¼ cup milk and sufficient water. Once the dough is ready, cover it with a damp cloth and keep it aside for half an hour. For stuffing, roast 1 cup scraped coconut in a non stick pan till lightly browned. Add 15-20 chopped raisins, 1 cup powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon green cardamom powder and mix well. Let it cool. Knead the dough once again and divide into twelve small balls. Roll out each ball into a circle, place it in a greased karanji mould. Place a small portion of the prepared filling in the hollow. Apply a little water on edges, close the mould and press firmly. Heat sufficient ghee in a kadai and fry the karanjis till crisp and golden brown on medium heat. Drain on absorbent paper and allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.
For adding variety to your karanji collection do try Date And Anjeer Baked Karanji and Chocolate and Nuts Karanji too.