Chocolate Heaven For The Holidays

Chocolate is great year-round, but the holiday season provides all the more reason to make your favorite desserts!

On The Early Show Thursday, Dede Wilson of Bon Appetit magazine showed how to use chocolate in new, inspired ways!

Her menu, truly a chocolate lovers' dream-come-true, included Ambrosia Macaroons, Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce, Devils Food Cake with Peppermint Frosting, and Orange Scented Brownies with Dried Cranberries, Pistachios and Ginger!

According to Wilson, what we often think of as chocolate -- the sugar-loaded coating of a candy bar -- is worlds away from the bitter, deeply complex flavors of unadulterated chocolate. Fortunately, more and more chocolate producers are creating bars with less sugar and more real cocoa.

Often, these bars show a percentage on their wrappers, which indicates the amount, by weight, of ingredients in the bar that actually come from the cocoa bean. The rest of the ingredients in the bar are usually sugar, some vanilla, and, frequently, a fatty substance called lecithin.

When cocoa beans are removed from their pods, fermented, dried, roasted, cracked open, and their shells discarded, what results is called a nib. (This is the purest form of chocolate available, and you can buy it in bits from high-quality chocolate producers such as Scharffen Berger and use it to add a subtle, crunchy chocolate flavor to baked goods.) Most nibs, however, are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor. This chocolate liquor can be thought of as a combination of cocoa solids, which provide the flavor, and cocoa butter, which is the fat.

Unsweetened chocolate is essentially the same as chocolate liquor -- it has no added ingredients.

Bittersweet and semisweet chocolates have had a certain amount of sugar, vanilla, and, often, lecithin added. Usually, bittersweet has more cocoa product and less of these additives, so it has a richer chocolate flavor.

Milk chocolate is made by adding dry milk to chocolate that's been sweetened.

Dark chocolate is a term that refers to a range of chocolates: unsweetened, bittersweet, semisweet-any that have no added milk.

White chocolate is technically not chocolate, because it doesn't contain chocolate solids. It's made with a blend of sugar, cocoa butter, milk products, vanilla, and lecithin.

RECIPES

Ambrosia Macaroons

These cookies use the flavors of ambrosia -- the South's favorite sweet salad -- in a new way, adding finely-grated orange peel to classic coconut macaroons, and then drizzling them with bittersweet chocolate for a festive finish.

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
3 large eggs
24 oz sweetened flaked coconut (about 6 cups firmly packed)
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted

METHOD
Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 3 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar and salt; beat until blended. Beat in orange peel, then eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in coconut. Drop batter onto sheets by tablespoonfuls, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart.

Bake macaroons, 1 sheet at a time, until golden on bottom and browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on sheets.

Using fork, drizzle chocolate over macaroons. Chill on sheets until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes.

Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce

INGREDIENTS
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons Armagnac, Cognac, or other brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

METHOD
Combine chocolate and butter in medium metal bowl. Place bowl over saucepan of simmering water; stir until melted and smooth. Remove from over water.
Bring cream to simmer in small saucepan; gently stir into chocolate. Add Armagnac, vanilla, and salt and stir to blend. DO AHEAD Can be made 3 days ahead. Cool, cover, and chill. Re-warm over low heat before using.

FOR MORE RECIPES, GO TO PAGE 2.