Warning: this started off as a few quick words about chocolate, and a recipe, and, well, it's a novel. Oh well.
Someone requested this as a food topic, a while back. I don't remember who and I'm too lazy to go through my back e-mail and find out. Sorry. But here are a few thoughts on the subject.
It should first be noted that I am a notorious cheapskate, if you've only read this blog for say fifteen seconds and hadn't noticed yet. With that in mind, it's probably an obvious conclusion that I dislike spending hordes of money on chocolate, even if it IS food of the gods. (Literally. That's what the taxonomic name means. Theobroma = gods' food.) I'm also a heretic into the bargain and prefer milk chocolate to dark. I know, I know, the dark's supposed to be all gourmet and trendy and yummy, but damn it, I like milk chocolate and that's it. Some of the lower-percentage cacao chocolates - I think of them as semi-dark - aren't bad. But that super-dark stuff with crazy amounts of cocao in them? Pass. They taste bitter. (Studies have shown there's some kind of genetic deal going on with taste buds and for some people, many chemical 'flavors' are too complex for the tongue/brain to cope with, and the brain just defaults the confusion to 'bitter'. I wonder if that happens with chocolate. The effect is best known with the brassicae - cabbage, broccoli, and related veggies.)
And did I mention I ran out of my anti-inflammatories Sunday, am still kinda screwy, and my brain's going in ten directions? Anyway.
Milk chocolate was invented in Europe. Switzerland, if I recall but it may have been Belgium or Holland. (Sorry. I refuse to look stuff up today. It's raining and the cat's driving me nuts and the Goob is being three.) The European method, without getting into gory detail, used milk to smooth out and sort of de-bitter the chocolate, and produced what we now think of as the 'really good' milk chocolate, such as Lindt, which is like the Hershey of Switzerland and my default choice for milk chocolate. Well, the first guy to get the idea of producing milk chocolate in the US was Milton Hershey. And while I sincerely admire and respect his methods of running a business and caring for his employees, his manufacturing methods, well, sucked. His method of producing the milk solids then used in milk chocolate manufacture soured the milk as part of the production. (At this time, details of European milk chocolate manufacture were considered proprietary information and damn if they were gonna share with an upstart twit from the Colonies.) That is why, to this day, American-style milk chocolate has an unidentifiable funk to it. Some sort of twang that's missing in the European-style. It's the soured milk process first used by Hershey.
Mind you, this only applies to milk chocolate. Cocoa manufacture is pretty much identical, as far as I know. Ditto for the dark chocolates. (For those, the variables are more about roasting time and what beans are used.) With all that in mind, the answer to what chocolate do I like is pretty easy: Lindt. They're awesome; affordable, easy to find, and yummy. If you're going whole-hog for eco-friendly tree-hugging low-carbon-assprint milk chocolate, Dagobah milk chocolate is very good, and not too terribly high priced, considering the manufacturing requirements. Hawaiian Chocolate Company also produces some nummy stuff (they do the entire process on the premises, from GROWING THE CHOCOLATE - very cool). All but the Hawaiian Chocolate Co are available at Chocosphere, along with eleventy million other types. I find Scharffenberger chocolate, which is getting a lot of hype here in the US, quite bland. Oh, and World Market (again if you're in the US) has a pretty extensive selection of decent imported chocolate. Don't forget the Arnott's Biscuits.
For baking, I go with plain old Hershey's cocoa powder, or Ghiardelli milk-chocolate chips (Ghiardelli's stuff is okay for straight eating, too, but kinda bland). It's useless to spend big bucks on any kind of chocolate that's going into the oven, because the heat breaks down a lot of the chemicals that contribute to the finer points of flavor. The Hershey's is easy to find here in the US, and since it's not milk chocolate, does not contain the odd twang that their milk chocolate does. I'm sure any other cocoa powder is interchangeable, except possibly Mexican cocoa powders - occasionally they add extra spices to theirs. Should be listed on the ingredients list.
And what to do with all this info? How about a recipe or three? For severe chocolate cravings, if you're willing to bake for it, make Chocolate Lava Muffins, with the Ghiardelli chocolate chips; don't try this recipe without an electric mixer. Skip the sauce. They do keep until the next day; they'll look like hockey pucks but taste JUST FINE. And do NOT eat the entire batch by yourself, you will get sick. I have tried it two or three times. Trust me. Sick. As a dog. A happy dog, but a sick dog.
Brownies are always good. Keep in mind, cocoa powder has more caffeine than regular milk chocolate chips. So if you eat a batch of these and can't sleep at night, that's why. More lessons learned the hard way.
Last, a family recipe. This recipe has been in the family for three generations, for sure. I'm reasonably sure my grandmother made these for her parents, which makes the Goober the fifth generation to eat these things. My grandmother originally made them with rendered pork lard, which not only turned them into Chinese Throwing Muffins, they were so chocolatey they'd almost take your head off (some of the flavor components in chocolate are fat-soluble, meaning if you eat them with different kinds of fats, or none at all, they will taste different; cinnamon works like this too). My mother turned her nose up at lard and used Crisco instead, which I'm not sure is any better from a health point of view and made the texture kinda funky. I've tweaked with the recipe yet again (seems to be part of the tradition - can't wait to see what the Goob does with it) and below you will find my version.
STINE FAMILY CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES.
Dry ingredients, mix together in a bowl:
-2 c flour
-2 c sugar
-1 tsp baking soda
Wet ingredients one, heat together in a pot on the stove:
-1/2 c butter (or crisco, or pork lard)
-1/2 c oil (safflower is best but I've used olive and peanut)
-3 TB cocoa (good old Hersheys is traditional, use what you want)
-1 c water
I strongly suggest letting this return to room temperature before use; my mother never did, and would just throw everything together and stir. Why she never wound up with scrambled eggs or nasty gelatinized flour is beyond me. She defied the laws of physics in many ways; this is just more proof she was really a superhero.
Wet ingredients two
-2 eggs, lightly beaten
-1/2 c milk
-1 tsp vanilla extract (actual vanilla bean scrapings are wonderful, but awfully fancy for my family)
A slug of Bailey's Irish Creme is dandy, too, but I come from teetotalers, so it's another non-traditional touch.
Once everything is at room temperature, put it all together in one bowl and mix it all up. I do it by hand with a whisk - not involved enough to get the mixer dirty. The batter will be runny; I usually put it in a pitcher and pour it into the cupcake tins. I use paper liners for the cupcake tins instead of buttering, etc. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes. They will be set, but still moist on top. I don't gauge it by moistness, but pull them out the instant the paper liners start to shrink away from the sides of the tins. Should make two dozen normal-sized cupcakes. You can ice these, but as often as not I scarf 'em down as-is. They're that good. My oil and butter substitutions have turned this into what is technically a chiffon cake, so experienced bakers, keep that in mind.
These should be made for all life-changing occasions, good or bad, in keeping with the tradition. Birthday, graduation, broken arms, chicken pox, you name it. If there was a crisis or a happy event in my family, someone was out in the kitchen making a batch of these. They got mentioned at my grandmother's funeral. We should have served them there. Grandma would have approved.
Enjoy. I think I need a cupcake.