Host a chocolate-tasting party...it's just like a wine- or cheese-tasting party, only sweeter!
Experience the lighter and darker sides of chocolate by hosting a tasting party. Serve desserts and samples of the chocolate that went into each recipe. As with any tasting, start with the mildest flavor. Taste progressively assertive chocolates, finishing off with the darkest, richest ones.
Here's how to get the most out of your chocolate-tasting experience.
Appearance: Examine the color, but don't let it be your sole guide; darkness varies by the type of beans used and how they're processed.
Chocolate should be shiny, but don't be put off it there is a slight grayish cast. It's called "bloom" and means that the chocolate has experienced temperature fluctuations. Any effect it has on the taste and texture is minor.
Aroma: Break off a small piece and rub gently until the chocolate just begins to soften. Then take tiny sniffs; in addition to chocolate, you'll discover such scents as apple pie, flowers, caramel, citrus, berries, grass, and cedar.
Flavor: Pop the piece in your mouth, but don't chew! Let it melt on your tongue for 20 seconds. Some of the flavors you'll encounter include vanilla, fruit, and nuts. Other words that might come to mind: fudgy, smoky, malty, earthy, and tart. Be sure to savor the balance of nuttiness, acidity, sweetness, and bitterness.
Texture: The texture is a result of the manufacturing process. The longer it is processed during the "conching" process, the smoother the resulting chocolate will be.
Is it smooth, velvety, creamy, soft? Or is it a little gritty? All these textures can be wonderful in chocolate because of the way they interact with the flavors. Some people think that smooth chocolates emphasize the fruity, flowery flavors, while gritty chocolates bring out the earthy and nutty tastes.
Take time to give an overview about what your partygoers are tasting. Here's a short course: Artisanal, or small-scale, chocolate makers still follow the milk, semisweet, and bittersweet labeling that larger chocolate manufacturers use, but artisans also denote the percentage of cocoa and cocoa butter (or as they often label it, cacao) in the bar. The higher the number, the less sweet and the more bitter and intense the chocolate.
Offer two or three samples of milk chocolate from different makers, such as a 38- and 41-percent cocoa milk chocolate. Alongside, set out a tempting dessert.
Milk chocolate is notable partnering brilliantly with great flavors such as caramel, cream, soda-fountain chocolate malt, brown sugar, and vanilla.
Now for the tasting finale. Bring out the stoutest chocolates of all -- the really dark chocolates. Offer samples of two varieties for tasting, followed by one last dessert.
Recipes work equally well with either standard 1-ounce squares or 3.5-ounce (100 gram) bars. If you buy 250-gram (8.75-oz.) bars or 275-gram (9.7-oz. bars), fear not. They're usually scored in convenient measurements that will allow you to break off what you need.