It's Valentine's Day and that means stress, especially if you're a bit of a procrastinator and/or you think that the card you bought just isn't enough. If you've got some chocolate on hand, even in bar form, you can make the best hand-made valentine ever. Better yet, this is a one or two-ingredient recipe. It's also a lesson in tempering chocolate.
Years ago, when Bryant Gumble was on the Today Show, Martha Stewart made something with chocolate; I can't remember what. I do remember Gumble's post-recipe remark. To paraphrase: So, first I melt the chocolate to 115 degrees, then I cool it to 80-something degrees, then I heat it again to 90-odd degrees and stir in some unmelted chocolate... Her procedure may have involved an electric blanket.
Stewart was tempering chocolate, which is the process of melting chocolate in a way that allows it to harden again when it cools. Her demo put me off working with chocolate for a decade. If done wrong, the melted chocolate won't firm up when it cools. Tempering is the secret to everything from getting a thin coat of crisp-hard chocolate on truffles to making chocolate bark. It's also relatively easy to temper chocolate with a bowl, a spatula, and a microwave.
Many sources suggest that melting chocolate in a microwave requires the cook to put the chocolate in for 15 seconds on high, stir it, and repeat until melted - which often require as many as ten repetitions. If you let it go for 30 seconds the chocolate burns. The secret to a much less onerous process is to melt it on the defrost setting - which is power level 3. Then you can let it melt for two or three minutes and it won't burn. Stir it once and put it back in on defrost for another minute or two.
Melting the chocolate is the first half of the tempering process. The second half is seeding the chocolate. The easiest way to do this is to put a little unmelted chocolate into the bowl with the just-melted chocolate, and stir until it melts too. Generally that's allows you to achieve a temper. To hedge my bets I like to stir for an extra minute or two, and as I do that I hold the spatula a foot above the bowl and allow the melted chocolate to flow like a ribbon into the pool of melted chocolate. This extra bit of assisted cooling ensures a temper.
For a chocolate heart I draw a heart on parchment paper, then turn it over so the chocolate never touches the ink. You can also do this on foil, and just scratch the outline of the heart. I pour the melted chocolate into the center of the heart and use a spatula to spread it to the edges in an even thickness. Then I sprinkle salt (or nuts) on top. Salt doesn't dissolve in fat (cocoa butter is what makes the melted chocolate shiny) so you can sprinkle when it looks wet. Let it firm up at room temperature - which may take up to an hour depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Then carefully peel it off the parchment. If it breaks you have two options. You can break it all up and give your sweetie chocolate bark, or you can piece it together and give him/her a chocolate heart puzzle.
I used pink salt from Australia's Murray River for the Valentine, but any salt works. I also made some chocolate bark with smoked salt, and although it tastes great it's visually less appealing because the salt is the same color as the chocolate.
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I used about six ounces of dark chocolate to make a 10-inch heart. Happy Valentine's Day.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.