I was enormously flattered last Christmas to learn that my friend David had included jars of my chocolate sauce in his Armageddon aftermath hideout provisions. This is quite logical, of course, since it would be an excellent source of carbohydrates (which meats do not provide, witness the Donner Party) or, if need be, a good barter item.
This chocolate sauce has been the source of many fine memories, perhaps the fondest of these being that of giving my friend Robin her first jar when we were at Bayard Systems and watching a look of low cunning cross her face as she grabbed a gummed label and wrote “Hot Chile Sauce” on it. Later, she confessed to taking clandestine spoon hits out of the jar at home until, when she had nearly finished it, her teenage son came sock-footing into the kitchen and caught her in front of the refrigerator with the jar in her left hand and the spoon, in her mouth, in the right. Not pretty, but a vision he will cherish.
8 oz. excellent cocoa.
I’ve used every cocoa I could get my hands on, including some like Cadbury’s “Drinking Chocolate” (sold mostly in England) and Scharffen Berger that are not Dutched, i.e. alkali processed, and retain all that cocoa butter often removed during the Dutch process. I used Droste for years. Then ten or so years ago the San Francisco Chronicle had one of their blind tasting reports in the food section. The winning cocoa was Nestlé, defeating contenders such as Droste costing over twice as much. And these were supposedly especially fussy gourmets, so I tried the Nestlé. It was different, and somehow I convinced myself it was better. But lately, I keep running across all these pricey gourmet cocoas…and experimenting with them…and am having to admit that some of these new flavor subtleties are quite nice, a conclusion recently reached by the current more discerning panelists for the Chronicle food tasting columns. Just to make sure I never make the same sauce twice, I am now experimenting with combinations of cocoas, e.g. ½ Scharffen Berger and ½ Droste.
Cocoas I remember using: Ahlaska [sic], Arriba (an Ecuadorian varietal that’s 22% cocoa butter), Blooker, Cadbury, Callebaut, Dagoba, Droste, Equal Exchange, Ghirardelli, Guittard (“Old Dutch Medium Process 24% cocoa butter”), Hershey’s, Lake Champlain, Navitas (a raw Peruvian powder) Nestlé, Peet’s, Rainbow Grocery bulk, Rapunzel, Scharffen Berger, Schokinag, Valrhona, Van Houten, and Wondercocoa (in spite of its insipid name and being 99% fat-free, pretty good stuff). Of these, my overall favorite is the Callebaut (available only by mail to the best of my knowledge). My second favorites are Valrhona, Droste, Scharffen Berger, Equal Exchange, and Arriba although i expect the new owner of Scharffen Berger, Hershey’s, to fairly soon start degrading the product to fatten the profits. Equal Exchange is an east coast company specializing in fair traded coffee and chocolate, a system in which the actual growers supposedly get a higher percentage of the money. The cocoa itself is made in the Netherlands and is excellent. Valrhona is the finest grind I have ever found. Like weapons-grade anthrax, it’s so fine that you get a great cloud of dust when you pour it into the pot. This is not really a plus, but the taste is up there in my favorites.
6 c. sugar.
I often use 4 c. white sugar and 2 c. of brown sugar.
1 t. salt (optional).
A half teaspoonful is an acceptable compromise.
1/2 c. maple syrup.
Yes, the secret ingredient. It’s a long story, but Allen’s mother and I are still corresponding. She just turned ninety-eight and is going blind, but she hasn’t lost a brain cell and writes such beautiful letters that I have to craft my responses carefully to bring them up to her standard. On her birthday, and sometimes on Mother’s Day and Christmas if I think of it, I send her chocolates. Since she’s a Connecticut Yankee, she sends me local maple syrup. So sometimes i use her syrup. Other times, I use dark agave nectar. When I’m out of both of those, I’ve used honey. Anything to add a hint of mystery flavor. My lastest brainstorm for mystery flavor is a teaspoon of Hatch chile powder from New Mexico.
4 c. water.
In earlier versions of the recipe, I used 5 c. Then, at last worn down by popular demand, I seized upon this expedient to thicken the sauce. I like my water piped in from a despoiled valley in Yosemite, of which I have an Ansel Adams “before” photo in my kitchen to keep me properly appreciative.
BATTERIE DE CUISINE:
Very large, heavy pot, as for pasta. (20 qt. or so)
A wooden spoon long enough to stir the full pot without getting any boiling syrup on you. Not one of the more fun burns.
Put a number (depends on size) of clean glass jars and their sealable lids in a 225º F. oven to sterilize. I don’t know why I didn’t think of doing this sooner. It’s so much easier than boiling the jars in water.
Thoroughly mix the dry ingredients. To facilitate this, I dump the cocoa and sugar into a giant sieve that just happens to fit perfectly atop my pot. The pot must be BIG because when the stuff boils, it hextuples (or more!) in volume and will make a truly astonishing mess as it boils over onto the stove top, part running down into the burner well plugging the gas and air vents, and the remainder cascading over the edge of the stove onto the floor, seeking crannies as it hardens.
Mix in the liquid sweeteners well. Then add the water slowly, making a paste at first over low heat. Then turn the flame up and heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil 8 minutes, stirring fairly frequently and adjusting the heat so that you are keeping the syrup at a full boil but inside the pot.
Let the boiling subside and then pour the very hot sauce into the hot jars and quickly screw the lids on, leaving enough head space for the jars to seal as they cool. Being a big sissy, I cheat and use hotpads to handle the jars.
The little safety buttons poinking down during the cooling process is a wonderful sound to hear from the kitchen for an hour or two after you’ve jarred stuff.
The uses for this sauce are myriad, and I leave it to the readers to find them. The obvious one is over French vanilla ice cream, and the version flavored with chile powder is sublime this way since the ice cream somehow cuts the “hotness” of the chile powder. Just in case you didn’t think of this one, the sauce can be mixed with about three times as much mascarpone and this mixture transported directly into the mouth with the mixing spoon…for testing. If there’s any left after the tests, it can be used in various desserts.
THE ULTIMATE ADDITION:
At Christmastime, and perhaps year round for the pagans, when every cell in your body is screaming, “More fat now!”, you may want to enrich the sauce with 2 oz. of a cocoa-butter-containing substance such as one of those fine, dark, bittersweet chocolate bars like the Droste “Extra Puur”, weighing in at a fat 72% cacao or the Scharffen Berger bittersweet bar at 70%. Or better yet, one of the new boutique chocolate bars like the absolutely divine Dandelion chocolate. When i do this i also add another half cup of water.
But nothing is as easy as it seems, as it works better if you finely chop the solid chocolate, add it to the dry ingredients, and stir a bit longer when the sauce is at the paste stage to make sure the solid chocolate is totally dissolved and thoroughly integrated.
STORAGE AND CLEANUP:
Keeps forever without refrigeration, since there’s nothing in there to spoil. I put it in the refrigerator after I’ve opened it but I know in my heart that this is just American spoilage hysteria.
What to do with the pot after you’ve poured the last of the syrup out? Pour in a glassful of milk and stir like mad with that big wooden spoon, kicking milk up on the sides of the pot until you have the chef’s reward: a glass of delicious chocolate milk. Fringe benefit: this also pretty much cleans the pot.