Perfect for Valentine’s Day celebrations — Chocolate! Chocolate, the name comes from the Aztec, “ XOCOLALT,” meaning bitter water, and was prepared from cocoa beans and spices pounded together. It was very bitter to the taste. Exported to Europe (and combined with sugar) it became “theobroma,” the food of the gods. Pure unadulterated chocolate is marketed as Unsweetened, Baking, or Bittersweet chocolate. With the addition of sugar and vanilla, and depending on the amount of sugar, it becomes semi-sweet or sweet chocolate. Adding milk (dry milk powder) and sugar creates milk chocolate. The removal of all cocoa from the chocolate, leaving only the cocoa butter and then adding sugar, vanilla and milk, creates “white chocolate” which has no chocolate liquor in it at all.

To achieve the shine and the snap associated with chocolate, it must first be “tempered,” a process by which melted chocolate is returned to its original crystalline form. It is easiest to temper chocolate by melting. In short stages, three-fourths of the chocolate is tempered, reserving the final one-fourth to add at the end.

Melt the chopped chocolate (or chips) slowly over a pan of slightly boiling water, stirring frequently to melt completely, or microwave in stages, stirring between each stage. Remove from heat and slowly stir the remaining one-fourths chocolate into the melted chocolate and continue to stir until all the chocolate has melted. Test your tempering by dipping a spoon into the chocolate and set it aside. In a few minutes the chocolate on the spoon will dry and be shiny. Then it is tempered.

Tips: Always use chocolate containing cocoa butter. Cocoa butter will be listed as an ingredient on the package. “Chocolate products” using palm oil or other fats will not temper correctly, will taste artificial, and have little or no shine. Enjoy!

Chocolate Ganache for Truffles

Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, White Chocolate

Dark Chocolate Ganache:

11 ounces dark, semisweet chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions: Bring heavy whipping cream to a full boil. Pour over chocolate. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Gently stir to completely mix. Flavor as desired for truffles with nuts, dried fruit, liquors, flavoring extracts of your choice. Refrigerate to set up. Scoop truffle mixture and roll by hand into small balls. Set on rimmed baking pan lined with parchment paper. Chill again for 20 minutes. Finish with cocoa powder, the traditional finish, or ground nuts, sprinkles, coating chocolate. Place in truffle papers. Mini-muffin papers work well. Store in a cool place. Yield: 3 to 4 dozen small truffles

Milk Chocolate Ganache:

11 ounces milk chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate

3/4 cup (6 ounces) heavy cream

Prepare, flavor and finish the same as dark chocolate truffles.

White Chocolate Ganache:

11 ounces white chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate

1/2 cup heavy cream

Prepare, flavor and finish the same as dark chocolate truffles.

Chocolate Truffles were first hand-rolled, misshapen and rolled in cocoa powder. They were named truffles for their resemblance to the exotic truffles of the European forests.

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Absolutely the Best and Easiest Chocolate Mousse Ever

Full Recipe

Yield: 1½ to 2 quarts before whipping. Serves 12 to 14

1 pound bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chopped or chips 1 quart heavy whipping cream 3/4 cup whole milk

One Half Recipe

Yield: 3 cups to 1 quart. Serves 6

8 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chopped or chips

2 cups (16 oz.) heavy whipping cream

3 ounces (6 tbsp.) whole milk

Directions: Place chocolate in heat proof bowl. Bring heavy whipping cream and whole milk to a full boil. Pour over chopped chocolate. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon to completely dissolve chocolate. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. The mousse base will keep refrigerated for up to one week. To serve: Whip, as you would whip cream. Pipe, or place into serving glasses. Decorate with whipped cream, fresh berries, chocolate curls, or grated chocolate. Remember, the mousse base will take 24 hours in the refrigerator to set up! Make one day ahead.

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Dipping Strawberries and Other Fruits & Cookies

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries: 1 pint strawberries, should yield 20-plus berries 1/2 cup chocolate chips, melted 2 teaspoons Crisco* shortening, melted

*If you do not have Crisco, use canola oil. This can not be used for coating truffles, it is too soft.

Rinse and dry strawberries. Set aside. Melt chocolate chips and mix with Crisco. Melt again to combine. Dip strawberry in chocolate, Shake gently, or scrape along edge of bowl to remove excess chocolate. Set strawberry down on a parchment paper or wax paper lined baking sheet. Allow to completely set up and dry. Decorate if desired. Place in truffle papers. Mini muffin size works well. Dip and serve the same day. Do not refrigerate.

Dip other fruits and cookies

Dried Apricots: Dip in either White or Dark Chocolate, place on parchment or wax paper, and allow to dry completely. Cookies: Dip one-half or one edge in chocolate, Place on parchment paper or wax paper, allow to dry completely . When you place the strawberry (apricot or cookie) on the paper, push the strawberry slightly forward. This will help the strawberry not to form a large “glob” of excess chocolate underneath. The strawberry will look much better.

Tips: Fruits, cookies, candy should be at room temperature to be dipped. Place a small amount of chocolate in a zip-lock bag, cut the corner to create a small hole; then make a decorative design.