- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

If you have never had a problem melting chocolate, then you’ve been lucky, you’ve scored a flawless recipe source or you need to consult an eye doctor for an update on your prescription.

Just about everyone eventually stumbles across a chocolate that develops white streaks after melting or one that wads itself into ropes and stubbornly refuses to melt, no matter how much heat is applied.

Sometimes it’s a weird combination of ingredients. I once ruined 2 pounds of white chocolate — yes, I know it’s not really chocolate — by trying to melt it with a liqueur it didn’t like.

Sometimes it’s too much heat.

I also have wrecked chocolate that I have tried to melt quickly in a saucepan, directly over a high flame. Eventually, though, even I learned that the secret to avoiding ruined chocolate — which, by the way, requires that you run to the supermarket again, thus negating any time saved by rushing — lies in good chocolate-melting practices.

It’s easy, using either a double boiler or the microwave oven. The prime secret is that chocolate cannot get too warm. Properly melted chocolate will register 115 degrees on a candy thermometer and will be smooth and shiny after whisking.

There is one other issue connected with chocolate melting. Most chocolate is already tempered when we buy it; that is, it has been stabilized by heating and cooling so that it is shiny and easy to use. Melting can negate this process, so particularly if we’re making confections like the chocolate truffles that follow, it’s a good idea to temper it quickly again so we don’t end up with gray-streaked confections.

Fancy candy manufacturers temper chocolate by heating it to 115 degrees and then cool it by rubbing it over a slab of marble. The only marble at my house is on the entryway floor, so I generally skip this step, and it doesn’t seem to matter.

A fast and easy way to temper is to melt the chocolate to 115 degrees and then let it cool, whisking a bit, to 90 degrees (or 85 degrees for cranky white chocolate). This seems to work just fine.

To melt chocolate in the microwave, my favorite method for its less-mess appeal, place chocolate in a microwave-proof bowl and cook until it melts and can be stirred smooth. Caution: Chocolate will not look melted, so it’s necessary to stir it occasionally to check the consistency.

Another way to check is with a candy thermometer. It will register 115 degrees.

Begin by microwaving for 1 minute and 30 seconds and then continue in 15-second intervals until chocolate is just melted. Remove from oven and mix with a whisk until smooth and shiny.

Or, if using the double-boiler method, place chocolate in the top of a double boiler and cook over simmering water, stirring frequently, until chocolate melts and is smooth. When melted, it should register 115 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and mix with a whisk until smooth and shiny.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, a smart person’s mind turns at least in part to chocolate truffles. So, if you’re inspired to rush out there and melt chocolate, try this recipe and share it. Or don’t share it with anyone. That would be my choice.

Chocolate truffles

⅓ cup hazelnut or other liqueur

cup whipping cream

7 tablespoons butter, divided

12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped

10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting truffles

If melting chocolate in a double boiler, pour liqueur into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by one-half. Remove from heat and add cream, 3 tablespoons butter and milk chocolate. Place pan over another pan filled with simmering water and allow chocolate to melt, stirring often. When it is 115 degrees, remove from stove. Pour into a bowl, whisk smooth and refrigerate until firm, several hours.

If melting chocolate in the microwave oven, place chocolate in microwave-safe bowl. Begin by microwaving for 1 minute and 30 seconds and then continue in 15-second intervals until chocolate is just melted and 115 degrees. Remove from oven. Pour liqueur into a small saucepan.

Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by one-half. Remove from heat and add cream, 3 tablespoons butter and milk chocolate. Whisk until smooth and shiny and refrigerate until firm, several hours.

When chocolate is firm, remove from refrigerator and shape about 2 teaspoons chocolate into a small ball. Repeat until all chocolate is used. Work quickly and don’t handle the chocolate too much because the heat from handling will melt it. Place the balls on a waxed-paper-lined dish and freeze for several hours.

In the top of a double boiler or in the microwave oven, melt the semisweet chocolate with remaining 4 tablespoons butter, following melting instructions above. When chocolate reaches 115 degrees, remove from heat and, stirring often, allow to cool to 90 degrees.

Remove chocolate balls from freezer and place, one at a time, in melted chocolate. Turn to cover each ball and then place on waxed-paper-lined dish. Sprinkle with sifted cocoa. Truffles will harden at room temperature. Makes about 28 truffles.

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