Americans eat 12 pounds of chocolate each year, and as Halloween approaches, I think I'm already into my 13th pound of the stuff. I love chocolate in all its candy forms -- Reese's peanut butter cups, M&M's, Hershey's miniatures -- these go into the "approved for mommy" stack as I sort through my daughter's Halloween candy haul.
While I'm familiar with the sight and smell of chocolate in its processed form, the botanical form was a mystery until a recent visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden's exhibit "Chocolate: From Seed to Sweet." Through a series of interactive outdoor exhibits, my girls and I learned the process from the bloom on the cacao tree to the chocolate bars in the girls' plastic orange pumpkins.
Walking through the outdoor exhibition, we learned about the mustard yellow seed pods of the cacao trees. The farmers harvest the seed pods, then grind them into chocolate liquor, which is then separated into cacao butter and powder. The exhibit stations are designed for children to roast, winnow, grind, mix and mold the cacao beans. And I learned this interesting fact: Cacao (ca-COW) refers to the tree and beans inside the seed pods; cocoa refers to the byproducts of the cocoa bean, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. And here's another factoid - each cacao pod is about the size of a pineapple and holds enough seeds to make about seven milk chocolate or two dark chocolate bars.
That concentrated dark chocolate appears at my house each Halloween in the form of Hershey's Miniatures. When I was young, I gave away the Special Darks and gobbled up all the milk chocolate. These days, while I still have a taste for the milder milk chocolate, I have a hankering for dark chocolate, and Special Dark is the way to go.
When I weary of eating the chocolate straight, I make a luscious sauce that can be used in many ways -- on ice cream, on spoons, on fingers -- but is delightful on a perfectly poached pear. This is the very essence of a simple, elegant, seasonal dessert. A ripe pear, poached in a flavored syrup, caressed with chocolate. It's divine.
- 2 quarts water
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup apple juice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 slices lemon
- 6 pears such as Bartlett or Bosc, peeled, bottoms trimmed ¼ inch
- Place all ingredients, except for pears, in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Gently place pears in liquid and reduce heat to a simmer. Let cook for 20 minutes. Remove pears from liquid and serve with chocolate sauce
- 24 Special Dark miniatures, unwrapped
- 4 ounces heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- pinch salt
- In a microwave-safe bowl, place chocolate and cream. Zap for 1 minute at 50 percent power. Remove from oven, whisk and then return to oven. Zap for 1 minute more at 50 percent power. Remove from oven, stir with whisk. Repeat in microwave if necessary, but it should be fine at this point..
- Add vanilla and pinch of salt.
- Whisk until smooth and garnish poached pears.