Melting for Chocolate

Chocolate is the ultimate treat and practically a food group all on its own. (A mom can dream, right?) Its many variations — chocolate chips, chunks, bars and squares — have the power to elevate standard food groups from mere sustenance to the sublime. Recipes featuring dairy products, fruits and vegetables, grains and even proteins can be enhanced by a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder, a sprinkling of grated chocolate or a dip into rich, melted decadence.
Surely the humble chocolate chip has earned its title as mother’s little helper. Most every parent knows of its clout. Load your muffin or cookie mix with all kinds of goodness — grated zucchini, oat bran, wheat germ, flax seeds or applesauce — then toss in a few chocolate chips and the kids will happily eat every bit. Chocolate has also been linked to a number of health benefits, particularly reduced risk of heart disease.

Small portions of dark chocolate with high cacao content deliver the best results. Chocolate lovers know all its many variations make the heart sing, and at this time of year it’s a key ingredient in holiday baking. Whether you’re a whiz in the kitchen, you drop by every once in a while to dust or you tackle recipes with pint-sized assistants in tow, these recipes will hit the sweet spot.

Decadent Crowd Pleaser:
Lotsa Chocolate Cheesecake Squares

Crust
1 1/2 cups chocolate
baking crumbs
3 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp melted butter

Options: Kids love the Oreo crust:
18 crushed cookies, mixed with 2 tbsp melted butter.

Batter
2 250 g packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla 4 squares semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled.* (Don’t substitute chocolate chips. They’re not the same.)
2 eggs

Options: 1/2 cup white and milk chocolate chips, for topping

Directions
Preheat oven to 325.
Line an 8-inch square pan with foil, edges extending over sides. Mix crumbs, sugar and butter (or crushed cookies and butter), then press onto bottom of pan.

Using a mixer, beat cream cheese, vanilla and sugar in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Add chocolate and mix.

One at a time, add eggs and mix just until blended. Pour over crust.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat; sprinkle with chocolate chips if you like. *Do not substitute chocolate chips for chocolate squares. They’re not the same. To melt chocolate, place in microwave at 50 percent power. Heat in 30-second intervals, watching carefully, then stir until melted.

Kids Gobble:
Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup each white and brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsps vanilla
3 cups unbleached flour
1 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
2 cups chocolate chips of your choice
1 cup nuts (macadamia nuts, pecans or walnuts), chopped

Directions
Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a mixer, cream butter and sugars. Stir in vanilla, then beat in eggs, one at a time.
In separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt until thoroughly blended, then add chocolate chips and nuts.
Gradually stir dry ingredients into creamed mixture. Drop by the spoonful onto ungreased, insulated (non-stick) cookie sheets.
If cookies are browning too quickly, reduce temperature slightly.
*Get the kids to help with reading the recipe, measuring and stirring. They’ll strengthen their math, reading and fine motor skills in the process.

Energy to Burn:
Banana Chocolate Chunk Muffins

3 or 4 large ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten

1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

pinch salt

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup chocolate chunks*
* Try organic, bittersweet (over 70 percent cacao) chocolate for extra goodness

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix banana, sugar, egg and butter. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients, taking care not to over-stir. Pour into greased mini muffin tins or paper-lined regular tins. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the tins. These muffins are a popular after-school snack.

Blink and You’re Done:
Chocolate Bark
If you’d rather sort kids’ once-white socks than spend time in the kitchen, this is the recipe for you. It’s so quick and easy you’ll be back to folding laundry in no time. Er…better yet, go for a walk to work up an appetite.

2 cups of your favourite premium chocolate*
1 cup nuts, such as whole almonds or shelled pistachios
Options: ½ cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit; extra chopped nuts for topping

Directions

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Finely chop chocolate and place 1½ cups of it in a microwave-safe glass bowl. Microwave, uncovered, at 50 percent power for 30 seconds. Stir with a spatula. Repeat process until it is melted. Remove from microwave. Add reserved 1/2 cup chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Mix in most of the nuts and all the dried fruit, if using.

Spread chocolate in an even layer (not too thick) over the parchment paper. Sprinkle chopped nuts on top. Refrigerate. When chocolate has hardened, break it into pieces.

You can vary the types of chocolate and the add-ins for this recipe. It’s also an easy one for the kids to make and give as a homemade gift for those without nut allergies. Milk chocolate and cashews; dark and white chocolate swirled with pecans; semi-sweet chocolate, slivered almonds and dried cherries are pleasing combos.

*Camino, Stubbe, Callebaut and Valrhona are just a few of the brands worth hunting down. Ottawa has some amazing chocolate shops, so a testing spree may be in order.

Chocolate Tidbit
• Moderation is the key to enjoying chocolate in a healthy, guilt-free way. Bake one recipe at a time and make portion sizes smaller. Mini muffins, bite-sized cookies, squares and chocolate bark allow chocolate lovers to savour a treat without overindulging. Bake the cheesecake squares if you’re having guests or want to take a dessert to a potluck event. That way there’s less chance they’ll land on your waistline.

Chocolate Tidbit
• No “sharesies” with the dog. While Fido may drool over the chocolate treat in your toddler’s hand, be sure it doesn’t land on the floor and then in a canine mouth. Chocolate can be toxic for dogs.

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