Ode to Chocolate

by Jeanne

Valentine All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt!"             Lucy Van Pelt, Peanuts

Brooklyn Blackout Cake. M&Ms, Death by Chocolate. Chocolate covered pretzels. Fresh strawberries hand-dipped in dark chocolate. Peanut butter chocolate pie. Fudge Brownies with warm chocolate sauce. Hershey’s Kisses. Chocolate Coconut Bars. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Chocolate Streusel Bundt Cake. Triple Chocolate Brownies. Chocolate Chip Cookies. Chocolate Pecan Carmel Cheesecake. Chocolate Bread Pudding. No true chocolate lover can resist his or her ultimate temptation.

We are a nation of chocophiles. Those that can’t appreciate our obsession may call us chocoholics. There’s no curing the legions that save room for dessert no matter what the time of day. In fact the nearest 12-step program which many in this condition subscribe to is to never be more than 12 steps away from chocolate. We love chocolate in all shapes, sizes and forms. American’s consume $14 billion annually worth of the sweet. That averages out to about 12 pounds of chocolate for each one of us. That figure seems low. Some research reports state that Americans eat 100 pounds of chocolate every second. Is that possible? Whether it is or not the statistic places us firmly in eighth place in world consumption— half the level of the world’s leading chocolate lovers, the Swiss.

Many of us have personal stories that characterize what chocolate means to us. Our tastes varying from simple to sophisticated often as we mature and are able to educate ourselves through travel, dining and a general taste for culinary adventure. The protagonist of these tales is the star ingredient, chocolate appreciated for all its rich, almost earthy and sensual qualities.

My own love affair with chocolate began in a very American way with my first bite of a simple, chocolate bar—Hershey. No nuts please just the pure smooth milk chocolate with the letters carved into the top. I would eat alternately from the ends until the word “she” appeared. I would then tuck the rest away until later. I remember the validation I felt when I saw “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. Now there’s a man after my own chocolate-covered heart. Evil and sinister as he was. Over the years chocolate has helped me handle many good and bad events in my life such as college exams, ex-boyfriends, bad bosses, Valentine’s days, new jobs, a loss of ten pounds. Chocolate has always been a reliable, trustworthy companion.

We marvel and fascinate when tempted by the richness and flavor of a dessert or candy containing chocolate. We adore chocolate. With gentle prodding conversations can rise to a buzzing swirl to include memories of past seductions with tales that begin with, “…the best I ever had…” or my ultimate chocolate fantasy is…” Nothing makes people smile with wordless bliss and child-like delight as this elixir.

Our enthusiasm for chocolate can range from elegant black tie affair such as a chocolate brandy trifle served on fine bone china to a simple early morning awakening over a strong brewed coffee accompanied by a flaky warm buttery croissant wrapped around warm, smoky bittersweet chocolate. Just the words can make our pulses quicken and mouths water. And the lengths we’ll go to acquire our fixes whether it’s through candy bars, cookies, cakes, pies, drinks, breads and sauces. If there’s a dessert on the menu, whether a corner deli or a five star establishment, with chocolate as the featured ingredient there’s always room. After all it could very well be better than all the rest that have come before.

Chocolate plays a central role in many of our lives to express gratitude, love, regrets, guilt, friendship, reward and celebration. In whatever form or shape chocolate can speak for us when we are at a loss for words. Chocolate given as a gift of achievement says you’ve earned it. A heart-shaped box of chocolate signifies how precious, coveted and exceptional one’s love is for the other. Each chocolate confection is a delicious and dramatic one-of-a-kind gesture. We commemorate really grand events with chocolate—birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, marriages, holidays, a perfect expression to celebrate and capture the spirit of the day. Small indulgences that carry you through life’s ups and downs with grand rewards.

First in a series this week.

BANANA CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

excerpted from KING ARTHUR FLOUR BAKER’S COMPANION ALL-PURPOSE BAKING COOKBOOK

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground allspice

2 medium ripe bananas, mashed (3/4 cup)

1/3 cup milk

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup chocolate chips

1 cup walnuts, chopped

In a medium mixing bowl, cream together the butter until blended and add sugar mixing until smooth. Scrape the bowl down; beat in the egg, nutmeg, allspice, banana and milk. Set aside.

Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, chocolate chips and walnuts on a paper plate. Add to butter mixture, stirring to blend.

Spoon batter into 12 lightly greased muffin cups.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in muffin center comes out clean. Remove from oven. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes then remove to rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 large muffins.

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