- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

If the waning days of winter have you in a funk, you need the chocolate cure. Chocolate won’t make the snow melt any faster. It won’t make March any less rainy, damp or cold. But if you eat enough chocolate, you’ll be so happy you might not notice the weather. Slush and wind? Who cares? You’ve had your chocolate indulgence.

The trick, however, isn’t to dive into a package of your favorite brand. Instead, you must cook with chocolate to reap the benefits.

Each step heightens the anticipation: preheating the oven, beating the butter and sugar, adding chocolate and being sure to stop for a little quality-control testing and tasting.

When your chocolate creation is finally in the oven, the scent of butter mingling with chocolate is nothing short of miraculous. It’s a signal that you’re about to be rewarded with a luscious, rich, sweet and satisfying morsel.

Needless to say, I’ve prepared many chocolate cures over the years. But I’m particularly fond of recipes that include nuts and dried cherries. The contrasting crunch of nuts with the chewy texture of the fruit is marvelous.

Either of the following recipes would be excellent for Sunday brunch or an evening dessert.

Both should be served warm so you get the full effect of the chocolate aroma.

Chocolate and cherry bread pudding

1/4 cup dried cherries

1 tablespoon cherry brandy

2 eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup half-and-half

2 cups (1-inch diameter) stale bread cubes

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Combine cherries and brandy in a cup. Set aside for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, beat together eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla in a bowl.

Stir in half-and-half. Add bread cubes to the egg mixture and press down to soak.

Stir in cherries, any leftover brandy from the cup and chocolate chips. Spoon into buttered 2-quart glass baking dish.

Bake in preheated 325-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until the custard is firm and the bread is browned. Makes 2 servings.

Cherry and chocolate scones

1 cup flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut in small chunks

7 to 8 tablespoons half-and-half

1/41/4 cup dried cherries

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture.

Stir in half-and-half to form a soft dough. Stir in cherries, pecans and chocolate chips. Knead to a soft dough.

Drop dough in 4 mounds onto an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 18 minutes, or until scones are light and golden brown. Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack. Makes 4 scones.

Note: Wrap leftover scones in aluminum foil and freeze for up to six weeks. Thaw and heat in a preheated 325-degree oven for 10 minutes.


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