As the holidays near, it seems there's always an occasion that calls for a treat. Whether it's your contribution to an office party, a no-fuss hostess gift or a special present for the teacher, quick-to-fix chocolate confections are lifesavers when you can't spend hours in the kitchen.
With that in mind, the home economists in our test kitchen came up with two rapid recipes for chocolate goodies that rely on ingredients you probably have in your cupboard right now.
Types of Chocolate
Many holiday recipes call for chocolate chips, baking chocolate or candy coating. But how do you know what type of chocolate to choose from your grocer's shelves? Here's some insight on common types of chocolate and techniques for melting it.
Chocolate chips are sold in a variety of flavors, such as semisweet, milk chocolate and mint chocolate. Chips also come in butterscotch, peanut butter and vanilla (white). They are available in a choice of sizes—regular and miniature chips—as well as chunks.
Chips are designed to hold their shape during baking. They are usually used in cookies and bars but also work well in many recipes that call for melted chocolate.
Baking chocolate is available in unsweetened, semisweet, milk and German sweet chocolate as well as vanilla (white) chocolate. It is commonly sold in 8-ounce packages that are divided into 1- or 2-ounce squares or bars.
Baking chocolate is designed for melting. For faster melting, chop baking bars into smaller pieces. Chips can be melted in place of semisweet, milk or white baking chocolate. Simply substitute 6 ounces of the appropriate flavored chips for 6 ounces of baking chocolate.
Candy coating is available in dark, milk or white chocolate varieties. Labels sometimes refer to it as confectionery coating or almond bark. It is commonly sold in bulk in large individual blocks, in bags of flat discs and in packages of individual 1-ounce squares.
Candy coating is often used for dipping candies or coating fruits because it becomes firm at room temperature. If coating is unavailable, melt together 6 ounces of chips or baking chocolate (except unsweetened) and 1 tablespoon of shortening in place of 6 ounces of candy coating.
Melting chocolate can be tricky because it scorches easily. Using the microwave is probably the easiest and most convenient method. Melt baking chocolate according to package directions. Candy coating (discs or chopped bulk or squares) can be melted using the same methods for chips that follow.
To microwave semisweet chocolate chips, heat 6 ounces (about 1 cup) in a small microwave-safe bowl on high (100%) for 1 minute; stir. Microwave at additional 10- to 20-second intervals, stirring until smooth.
To microwave vanilla, butterscotch and milk chocolate chips, heat 6 ounces (about 1 cup) in a small microwave-safe bowl on medium-high (70%) for 1 minute; stir. Microwave at additional 10- to 20-second intervals, stirring until smooth.
All flavors of chips can be melted in a double boiler on the stove. Place chips in the top of the boiler over hot (not boiling) water. Do not cover. When most of the chips are shiny, stir until smooth.
If you don't have a double boiler, you can carefully melt semisweet chocolate over direct heat. Use a small heavy saucepan to melt chips over the lowest possible heat. When chips begin to melt, remove from heat and stir. Return to the heat for a few seconds at a time, stirring until smooth.
The direct heat method is not recommended for melting milk chocolate, butterscotch or vanilla chips.
Saving the Chocolate
When melting chocolate, it sometimes starts to clump or thicken into a hardened mass. This is referred to as "seizing." Seizing can be caused by the smallest drop of moisture from a wet spoon or steam from a double boiler.
If this happens, there's no need to toss out the chocolate. Mix in 1 tablespoon of shortening or vegetable oil for every 6 ounces of chocolate. Then use the corrected mixture as intended.
But note, if chocolate seizes due to excessive heat, it cannot be saved.
You'll need only three ingredients to make these No-Fuss Truffles. The quick, creamy confections get a pretty look when rolled in ground almonds as shown here. Placed in foil candy cups, they make a special gift when presented in a festive holiday tin.
Quick-to-fix Christmas Bark Candy is sure to please all ages when added to a homemade cookie tray. It's easy to make two versions using vanilla chips with colorful miniature baking bits or milk chocolate chips with broken pretzels. Create your own variations by using different flavored chips and add-ins such as crushed candy canes, dried fruits or crunchy nuts.
Keep these tips in mind when storing chocolate:
- Chocolate chips, baking chocolate and candy coating will stay fresh for at least a year if kept in a cool dry place (60° to 70°).
- Since chocolate absorbs odors readily, it should be wrapped and stored separately from strongly flavored foods.
- The gray film that sometimes appears on chocolate is called "bloom." It occurs when chocolate undergoes varying temperatures, causing cocoa butter crystals to rise to the surface and create the film. Bloom has no affect on the taste or quality of the chocolate.
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