Taking the plunge

How do you make fruit delectable for every palate? Dip it in chocolate!

strawberry chocolate 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
strawberry chocolate 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Lately I've been on a chocolate-dipping kick. It started when I wanted to salvage some chocolate that looked inedible. Although chocolate should be stored in a cool place, (but, say the chocolatiers, not in the refrigerator), I had kept some baking chocolate and chocolate kisses at room temperature and they had melted in the summertime heat, and when the weather cooled off, resolidified into powdery bits. I decided to try remelting it to see if these chocolates could taste good. I dipped thin strips of candied orange peel in the chocolate, followed by toasted unsalted almonds. After I briefly refrigerated my sweets to set the chocolate, we tasted them and to my delight, they were very good. Since I was using only small quantities of chocolate, these sweets were quick and easy to make and didn't heat up the kitchen. My homemade chocolates were much less expensive than chocolates you buy. I love dark chocolate, and many of the commonly available commercial chocolates are too sweet for my palate. Besides, with homemade chocolates, I could control the thickness of the coating. You can make these sweets with all sorts of nuts and thin pieces of any kind of candied fruit. Slices of crystallized ginger are also fabulous dipped in dark chocolate. For my shortcut sweets, I didn't worry about tempering the chocolate like professionals do. Tempering is an elaborate, time-consuming process involving melting chocolate, cooling it rapidly and melting it again to a specific temperature. My goal was to keep things as simple as possible. I just cooled the chocolate until it had thickened but was still fluid enough to make a thin coating on the fruit. I disobeyed my Parisian cooking school teachers on another point too. They instructed us to cool the chocolates at room temperature to keep the chocolate's sheen, but in my hot kitchen this was not practical, and so I refrigerated them. My chocolates did not come out shiny like those at top Parisian chocolateries but they tasted fine. Since chocolate, nuts and fruit are nutritious foods, I enjoy finding ways to combine them to make treats. Most fresh fruit is too wet for dipping, however. Although I like making chocolate-dipped strawberries and orange segments, I am careful to dry the fruit thoroughly on several changes of paper towels before dipping it. Water in small amounts is the enemy of chocolate, and can ruin the texture of the melted chocolate you use for dipping - it makes melted chocolate harden or "seize," so you can't use it to coat the fruit. In fact, if this happens, the only recourse is to add plenty of liquid and turn the chocolate into a sauce. Bananas dipped in chocolate are also delicious but if you leave part of the banana uncoated, you need to eat it right away so it won't discolor. You can dip whole banana chunks, but you still need to eat them promptly. Dried banana slices work well, however, and keep well too. In fact, you can dip any kind of dried fruit in chocolate and, if you use dark chocolate, you have a healthy, pareve treat. The fruit is easiest to dip (and prettiest) if you hold part of the fruit and dip the other part, leaving about half the fruit piece uncovered. Try dipping dried apricots, pears or mango slices. Figs, dates and pitted prunes dipped in dark chocolate are not colorful but they taste great. Sometimes, for a decorative double-chocolate dipped candy, I dip fruit in dark chocolate, then in white chocolate, leaving part of the dark chocolate showing. For another easy, tasty garnish, immediately after dipping dried fruit in chocolate, set it on a plate of chopped toasted unsalted pistachios or other nuts, allowing the nuts to stick to the chocolate. Carole Bloom, author of Truffles, Candies and Confections, makes a tasty variation of the chocolate-nut-fruit theme called chocolate bark. She tempers the chocolate but for a streamlined version I skip that step. Bloom stirs 1 cup whole toasted nuts into 225 gr. cooled melted chocolate, and then spreads the mixture in a thin layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. After the chocolate sets in the refrigerator and then softens slightly at room temperature, she breaks it in pieces while holding the chocolate in its paper. You can use practically any combination of nuts and dried fruits and any type of chocolate to make chocolate bark. Bloom also makes chocolate nut clusters by spooning a mixture of 3 cups toasted chopped nuts and 350 gr. melted cooled chocolate onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet in 2.5 cm. mounds and lets them set. Marie Simmons, author of Fig Heaven, created another tasty, natural candy by making balls from a blend of chopped dried candied orange peel, dried figs, walnuts and chocolate chips, and dipping them in melted dark chocolate. At parties featuring the popular chocolate fountains, I've often found salty pretzels and potato chips. Those who fancy such salty-sweet snacks can dip them following the same technique as for dipping dried fruit. CHOCOLATE-DIPPED ALMONDS These chocolate-dipped treats make a terrific garnish for cakes or low-fat ice cream but even on their own, they make delightful sweet bites to end a summertime meal. You can dip any kind of toasted nuts in chocolate following this recipe. 30 to 45 gr. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped 12 to 16 whole almonds, blanched or unblanched, toasted Line a plate with parchment or waxed paper. Melt chocolate in a very small heatproof bowl over hot water over low heat. Stir until smooth. Remove from pan of water; cool to slightly cooler than body temperature. Dip pointed end of each almond in chocolate; let excess chocolate drip into bowl. If you prefer to dip the whole almond, use a fork to turn it over in the chocolate and to remove it, letting excess chocolate drip back into the bowl. Gently set on paper-lined plate. Refrigerate to set chocolate. Dipped almonds can be kept on waxed paper in an airtight container for two weeks in refrigerator. CHOCOLATE-DIPPED DRIED FRUIT Dried fruit is easy to dip because you can hold onto half the fruit and dip the other half. In the recipe there are instruction for using dark, milk and white chocolate but obviously you can use just one kind. This makes a large amount of candies but obviously you can make a small amount. 450 gr. mixed dried or candied fruit, such as dried apricots, dried pears, dried peaches, small, dark, dried figs, dried dates, pitted prunes, dried banana slices, candied ginger pieces, candied pineapple wedges, thin strips of candied orange peel, about 6 mm. wide 170 gr. fine-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped 170 gr. fine-quality milk chocolate, chopped 170 gr. fine-quality white chocolate, chopped Select attractive pieces of fruit and set aside. Line three or four trays with waxed or parchment paper or foil. Melt bittersweet chocolate in a medium bowl over hot water over low heat, stirring very often with a rubber spatula. Stir until smooth. Remove from water. Cool melted chocolate, stirring often, until it reaches 30º or slightly cooler than body temperature. Set container of chocolate in a bowl of warm water off heat, making sure it sits squarely in bowl and does not move around. Holding a piece of fruit at one end, dip half of fruit in chocolate. Gently shake fruit and let excess chocolate drip into bowl. Gently wipe fruit against rim of bowl to remove excess chocolate. Set fruit on prepared tray. Dip more fruit. If chocolate thickens, set it briefly over hot water so it becomes fluid. Melt milk chocolate above hot water. Stir until smooth. Remove from water. Cool chocolate, stirring often, until it reaches 29º or cooler than body temperature. Dip fruit in milk chocolate. Melt and cool white chocolate in same way, and dip fruit in it. Refrigerate fruit about 10 minutes or until chocolate sets. Carefully remove from paper. Dipped fruit can be kept on waxed paper in an airtight container one week in refrigerator. Faye Levy is the author of the award-winning book Chocolate Sensations, which was published in Hebrew as Shokolad by R. Sirkis.