Covered in Chocolate

A Dark and Delicious Obsession

Often lovingly referred to as the "other food group," chocolate inspires recipes, cravings, and a host of products, from funky-flavored chocolate bars to scented bubble bath.

Turning cacao beans into the tasty sweet confection we all know and crave is a complicated process, with only a handful of companies 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. 

Take heed of the adage, "you get what you pay for." Not all chocolate is good chocolate. Great chocolate should have a high concentration of cacao, so read the label. Cacao should be listed first, and there should be just a small handful of ingredients:  CACAO PASTE or CACAO LIQUEUR, sugar, COCOA BUTTER, lecithin , and  vanilla  for dark chocolate. Milk chocolate will have the addition of milk, and white chocolate will have the addition of milk or milk powder. That's it! No other ingredients.

Cheap chocolate cannot be disguised by any amount of other ingredients in a recipe. My favorites are: Callebaut and Valrhona Cocoa powder. Buy the good stuff. You are feeding your family and friends.

PS: Follow Chef Laura's golden rule--do not use ersatz 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


Mole Negro

This sauce is all you need to keep you warm this winter. Toasty flavors, rich chocolate, and a gentle heat from mild chiles make this sauce versatile and the perfect go-to for Chicago Winter dinners. One pan and a food processor are all you need to make this luxurious, chocolate-spiked sauce. I have simplified the steps, cut down on the usual amount of frying for a mole sauce, but kept all the flavor.

Serve the Mole with roasted vegetables, fish, or poultry. Freeze extra sauce for up to 3 months.

8 dried mulato chiles, stemmed with seeds reserved

8 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed with seeds reserved

4 dried chihuacle negro chiles or ancho chiles, stemmed with seeds reserved

2 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1 tablespoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1/3 cup favorite nut, such as peanuts, almonds, pecans, or combo

1 plum tomato

½ medium onion

8 garlic cloves

Extra virgin olive oil

1 ripe plantain

6 cups vegetable stock

1 thick slice stale challah

4 ounces unsweetened or very dark bittersweet chocolate

2-4 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Kosher or sea salt

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Mix reserved chile seeds and add 2 tablespoons to the skillet. Toast seeds until fragrant and lightly browned. Transfer seeds to a spice grinder or food processor.
  2. Add pumpkin and sesame seeds to the skillet. Toast until light browned and pumpkin seeds POP. Transfer seeds to spice grinder.
  3. Toast cinnamon and allspice for just a minute until warmed and fragrant. Transfer to grinder. Finally, toast nuts until lightly browned. Grind mixture and transfer to a bowl.
  4. Using the same pan, toast chiles until lightly darkened (about 20 seconds on each side). Place in a bowl of hot water to soften. Set aside.
  5. In the same pan, char tomato, onion, and garlic, turning frequently until darkened and black spots appear. Transfer to food processor and process or a pulp.
  6. Add several tablespoons evoo and cook plantain until lightly browned. Add challah and cook until toasted. Process plantain, challah with soaked chiles until a puree.
  7. Add more evoo to skillet and add chile mixture. Cook, stirring constantly until reduced and very thick. Add spices, charred vegetable mixture and stock. Cook, stirring occasionally until thick.
  8. Add chocolate and adjust flavor with salt and brown sugar.


Sautéed Sweet Potatoes and Squash in Cacao Butter

Cooking with cacao butter is delicious, fun, and endlessly versatile. Raw and organic cacao butter can be easily found in most grocery stores, especially Whole Foods. The fragrance, flavor, and velvety swirl of chocolate--now with vegetables!

Cacao butter, about 2 ounces

2 shallots, minced

Sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

2 large sweet potatoes, skin-on, cut into 1-inch dice

2 cups peeled and diced butternut squash

2 cloves garlic, minced

Garnish: chopped flat leaf parsley

  1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add cacao butter and swirl to melt. Add shallots and sauté until lightly browned. Add sweet potatoes and squash and sauté until golden brown. Turn down heat and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes until tender.
  2. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Serve vegetables with Mole Negro.


Bittersweet Chocolate Flan

1 cup sugar plus ½ cup sugar, divided

5 large eggs plus 1 large yolk

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 cups whole milk or coconut milk

1 cup heavy cream or coconut milk

Pinch of sea salt

2 tablespoons espresso powder (optional)

2 cinnamon sticks

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Garnish: shaved chocolate and lightly whipped cream 

  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Gather a large roasting pan that can accommodate a pie pan and 1 9-inch pie or cake pan. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.
  2. Place 1 cup of sugar in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat until dark amber color. Watch this carefully as it can from perfect to a black charred mess in moments. Pour melted sugar into pan and swirl to cover the bottom of the pan.
  3. Whisk together eggs and yolk. Set aside
  4. Place chocolate in a small bowl. Heat milk, cream, salt espresso powder and cinnamon sticks until just a simmer. Turn off heat and pour over chopped chocolate.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes before whisking together. Remove cinnamon sticks. Stir in vanilla extract.
  5. Whisk chocolate mixture into eggs and transfer to pan with sugar.
  6. Place in roasting pan and fill pan with several inches of boiling water.
  7. Bake flan for 30-40 minutes until barely set and the center jiggles slightly when lightly pressed.
  8. Remove entire pan set-up and allow flan to cool for an hour in hot water bath before chilling for 4 hours or overnight before serving.
  9. Loosen flan around the edges with a knife. Place a platter with curved sides (to catch the delicious sugar syrup) over the pie or cake pan and invert on to platter. You will hear it PLOP!
  10. Serve with shaved chocolate on top and lightly whipped cream. 

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