When you take the time to make a delicious dessert, don't shortchange the eye appeal. Save a few moments to make it look as special as it tastes, with a flourish of chocolate. The next time you need to make a showy dessert without a lot of fuss, try one of the following chocolate garnishes:
The secret to working with chocolate is to use clean, thoroughly dry utensils and the right kind of chocolate. Once your garnish is made, handle it as little as possible to prevent melting. And, if you don't use the garnish right away, cover it loosely and refrigerate until you're ready to use it.
* Chocolate Curls: glamorize cream pies and elegant tortes. The curls are easiest to make with milk chocolate, but white baking bars work, too. To make curls, use a bar of chocolate that's at room temperature. Carefully draw a vegetable peeler at an angle across the chocolate. For small curls, use the narrow side of the chocolate piece. For large curls, use the wide surface.
* Shaved Chocolate: looks dramatic piled atop a cake or cheesecake. For shaving, you can choose from unsweetened, semisweet, German sweet, or white chocolate. Just use a vegetable peeler to make short, quick strokes across the surface of a firm chocolate piece.
* Grated Chocolate: looks delicate and festive when sprinkled atop a dessert. Unsweetened, semisweet, German sweet, or white chocolate will work for grating. Start with a cool, firm square of chocolate and rub it across the grating section of a hand-held grater.
* Chocolate Leaves: dress up cakes, pies and tortes, but can also accent a dish of ice cream or a fruit plate. They should be made with fresh non-toxic leaves (that have not subjected to chemical sprays) such as mint, lemon, ivy, or strawberry. First, melt a semisweet or milk chocolate bar (three ounces makes six small leaves). Then, using a small, clean paint brush, brush several coats of the chocolate onto the underside of each leaf. Wipe off any chocolate on the top side of the leaf. Place the leaves, chocolate side up, on a waxed-paper-lined baking sheet. Chill or freeze until the chocolate hardens. Before using, peel the leaf away from the chocolate.
* Chocolate-Dipped Nuts: boldly top off tortes, pastries, or ice cream. For dipping, you can use semisweet or milk chocolate, or candy coating. For large nuts, dip the nut halfway into melted chocolate, then let any excess chocolate drip off. For small nuts, use a small, clean paintbrush to stroke on the chocolate. Place nuts on waxed paper to let the chocolate harden.
* Chocolate Cutouts: stand out atop pies or in a pool of creamy dessert sauce. To make them, melt together six ounces semisweet chocolate pieces or white baking bar and one tablespoon shortening. Cool the chocolate slightly, then pour it onto a waxed-paper-lined baking sheet, spreading until one-eighth- to one-quarter-inch thick. Chill until almost set. Firmly press hors d'oeuvre or small cookie cutters into the chocolate to make different shapes. Chill. Before serving, lift the cut-outs from the baking sheet.