Often lovingly referred to as the “other food group,” chocolate has found its way into our daily lives. Inspiring everything from recipes, stories, cravings and a host of products from funky-flavored chocolate bars to bubble bath— chocolate is an obsession.
Cacao trees are native to Mexico, Central and South America. Cultivated for over 3,000 years, Mayans drank chocolate both as an everyday beverage as well as for ceremonial purposes. The frothy bitter concoction was mixed with vanilla, chile peppers and achiote (annatto). Brought to Central Europe by Jewish traders, chocolate is a food we can add to the list of Jewish Foods!
Turning cacao beans into the tasty sweet confection we all know and crave is a complicated process with only a handful of companies all over the world truly making their own chocolate. Most candy shops buy chocolate in blocks, melt it and shape it into candies and other sweet treats.
Xocoatl as it was known in the Mayan culture was believed to be used to fight fatigue. This is due to the theobromine content in chocolate. Chocolate then and now is considered to have many therapeutic benefits including cancer fighter antioxidants, circulatory benefits and many studies are being conducted on using chocolate to fight obesity. While this is certainly good news and really any excuse to eat chocolate is a good one, I urge you to take heed of the adage, “you get what you pay for.”
Not all chocolate is good chocolate. In fact, there is a lot of bad chocolate out there. Thankfully it is easy to find the good stuff. Look at the ingredients on the label. There should be just a small handful of ingredients. They should be: CACAO PASTE, sugar, COCOA BUTTER, lecithin, and vanilla for dark chocolate. Milk chocolate will have the addition of milk listed and white chocolate, which is not really chocolate due to the fact that it does not have cocoa paste or cocoa mass but does have cocoa butter, will have sugar, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder, and vanilla. That’s it! No other ingredients should be in the chocolate. Notice that CACAO Paste is listed first. Great chocolate should have a high concentration of cacao, not other ingredients.
There are many great chocolates on the market that are kosher. In fact, there is no reason that great chocolate cannot be kosher. I am lucky enough to have recently been in Paris where I slurped and stuffed myself full of chocolate for one solid week. Armed with my list of kosher chocolate companies and bakeries, I ate my way through the city of lights. You also can enjoy amazing chocolate if you follow a few simple rules:
• Buy the good stuff. You are feeding your family and friends. They deserve the good chocolate. Do not cut corners. Cheap chocolate cannot be disguised by any amount of other ingredients in a recipe. My favorites are: Callebaut chocolates for cooking, baking and eating. Valrhona Cocoa powder. This is an amazing cocoa powder with a deep, dark color and flavor.
• Chef Laura’s golden rule-do not use substitute ingredients. Butter is butter, cream is cream, Margarine is never good and non-dairy whipped topping comes from a laboratory and should not be ingested by humans.
Chocolate Crepe Cake
This gorgeous cake is simple and delicious, fun to make as a family project, and easy do-ahead of time. This is a perfect recipe and works every time. You may need to try out a couple of crepes until you get the feel of your pan and range. The crepes can be made one day ahead of assembling the cake and can be stored overnight, covered in the refrigerator or frozen for up to one month. You will need one Teflon or non-stick coated crepe pan.
¾ cup flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
⅔ cup cold milk
⅔ cup cold water
3 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons melted butter, plus more for brushing on pan
1. Mix all ingredients until smooth in a blender or with a whisk. Refrigerate at least one hour.
2. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Brush with melted butter.
3. Pour in 2 to 3 tablespoons of batter into the center of the pan and then tilt the pan in all directions to cover the bottom evenly. Cook about 1 minute, or until browned on the bottom. Turn and cook briefly on the other side.
4. Cool on a plate as you finish making the rest. You can stack the crepes-they will not stick together.
This recipe makes about twenty 5-inch crepes or ten 8-inch crepes.
Chocolate-Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
This is a basic recipe that you will turn to over and over again. The fragrant, sweet pastry cream can be used as a filling for cakes, éclairs, homemade doughnuts, shortcakes etc…It can also be thinned out and used as a topping for any dairy dessert. This is one those recipes that can be used as a base and adapted. You can: infuse jasmine or your favorite tea into the milk, and add ginger or lemongrass …you get the idea. Oh yeah-this recipe is DAIRY. Please do not try and make it pareve. It is perfect they way it is and will lose all of its integrity, not to mention flavor, if made pareve.
2 ¼ cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
⅔ cup sugar
⅓ cup cornstarch
1 vanilla bean split, lengthwise
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1. In medium bowl, whisk together ½ cup milk, egg yolks, ⅓ cup sugar, and cornstarch.
2. Transfer remaining 1 ¾ cups milk to heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean and the seed and the pod to the pan. Sprinkle remaining ⅓ cup sugar over, letting sugar sink undisturbed to bottom. Add the chopped chocolate. Set pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.
3. Whisk hot milk mixture, then gradually whisk into egg yolk mixture-this is called tempering. You want to do this slowly or you will have scrambled eggs.
4. Return to saucepan over moderate heat and cook, whisking constantly, until pastry cream simmers and thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, discard vanilla pod, and whisk cream until smooth. Transfer to bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto surface. Chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Pastry cream can be made ahead and refrigerated, wrapped well with plastic wrap on surface, up to 3 days.)
1 cup purchased or homemade raspberry preserves
1. Strain out the seeds using a mesh sieve.
Assemble the Cake
Place one crepe on a cake plate. Lightly brush the raspberry preserves over the crepe. Spread one tablespoon of pastry cream evenly over the crepe. Layer another crepe on top and continue with preserves and pastry cream until the final crepe has been added. Leave the top plain.
Chill the cake for 2 hours or overnight to firm up. Top with fresh whipped cream and berries.