Hitting the sweet spot with European chocolate

January 23, 1994|By Madeline Davidson | Madeline Davidson,McClatchy News Service

Charles Hiigel doesn't fudge around when he talks about chocolate.

"It's the No. 1 food addiction in the entire world," says Mr. Hiigel, speaking at his cooking school, Conklin-Chase, in Fresno, Calif. He wonders if there isn't a wing in the Betty Ford Clinic that nobody talks about. For chocoholics.

During a brief lecture on the history of chocolate, Mr. Hiigel whisks his listeners through the jungles of Central America, to the Spanish court where Columbus and Cortez introduced the bitter bean, and on to chocolate tastings in the French court and the growth of the Dutch and Swiss chocolate industries.

He doesn't test his students in chocolate history, but he does recommend that they observe some basic rules when cooking with chocolate.

"It's easy to remember," says Mr. Hiigel. "Always, always use European chocolate."

European chocolate has a higher cocoa-butter content than American chocolate, he said, and "you want that drop-dead taste."

Mr. Hiigel says bittersweet and semisweet chocolate are interchangeable. Some manufacturers might add a bit more sugar, but either chocolate may be used in a recipe calling for semisweet or bittersweet chocolate.

Never use milk chocolate in a recipe unless it's specified. The same for white chocolate. White chocolate and dark chocolate contain different amounts of fat and are not interchangeable in recipes.

Mr. Hiigel suggests several good European chocolates -- Lindt from Switzerland; Valrhona (dark-roasted, like coffee beans) from France; and Callebaut (pronounced KI-BO) from Belgium.

If a brand is not familiar, try the taste test. You may discover a new chocolate.

For the best quality in a cocoa powder, buy an alkalized brand. Mr. Hiigel prefers Dutch cocoa powder.

Another piece of advice from the chocolate master: Chocolate scorches easily in the microwave.

The best method for melting chocolate is to chop it evenly, place it in a bowl and melt it over simmering water.


Chocolate mousse with hazelnuts and whisky

2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) skinned hazelnuts (see note), crushed

1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar, divided

6 egg yolks

6 tablespoons Scotch whisky

6 eggs whites

sweetened whipped cream

TO SKIN HAZELNUTS: Place dry-roasted hazelnuts on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove and wrap in a dry dish towel. Rub vigorously and the skins will peel off.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spread crushed hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast until fragrant and golden brown. Set aside. Bring a small quantity of water to simmer in saucepan. Combine chocolate, butter and 1/2 cup of sugar in bowl and set over the simmering water.

The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Let stand without stirring until the chocolate has melted. If you stir, the chocolate may stiffen or "seize" and become unworkable. Remove bowl from the heat and stir in the egg yolks. Stir in hazelnuts and whiskey.

Beat the egg whites with a hand or electric whisk until stiff peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form again.

Whisk approximately 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the remaining whites with a spatula. Pour the mousse into pots de creme or individual dessert glasses. Refrigerate until firm, 2-3 hours.

To serve: Pipe or spoon sweetened whipped cream on top of the desserts and serve any remaining cream in a bowl on the side.

The sweetened whipped cream decoration should not be made and applied more than an hour before serving.

The mousse can be made 2 days in advance.

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