Dark chocolate has come a long way since my days at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Today's selection of commercially available dark chocolate bars boasts exquisite chocolate varieties and diverse ingredients pairings like sea salt and chipotle chilies.
My taste buds lean toward the savory notes in dark chocolate made with 72 to 78 percent cacao.
In these bars, cocoa dominates the stage with sugar and dairy as a supporting players. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, contain around 30 to 40 percent cacao with sugar and milk adding the rest of the flavor.
So when on a recent dinner out I spied an alluring pudding on the dessert cart, I took the chance that this black-as-midnight treat deliver creamy, dark chocolate bliss.
But, like most chocolate puddings I have sampled over the years, this version allowed the sweet notes to edge out signature chocolate themes.
Overly bloated with fat from heavy cream spiked with sugar, the cocoa never had a chance to take the spotlight.
Our taste buds have become conditioned over the years to expect chocolate to be softened with sugar and cream. While unsweetened cocoa hits the bitter alarm on first bite, chocolate only needs a gentle, sweetened tempering to create an exquisite culinary experience.
With Valentine's Day around the corner, I set out to build a dark chocolate that highlights high quality cocoa and chocolate while cutting out the heavy cream, excess sugar and fussy preparations.
My first test used 2 percent milk to reduce the fat and coffee to infuse a background flavor. Including the whites in place of the yolks resulted in a glob of chocolate glue.
I settled upon whole milk and egg yolks to deliver smooth texture after cooking, but the java jolt muddied the cocoa flavor.
I reduced the amount of sugar to ½ cup, but was stuck on using dark or light brown sugar to amplify the flavors in the pudding. This ingredient usually pairs nicely with cocoa; however in a pudding recipe not relying upon a sugary theme, molasses in brown sugars complicates the taste. Plain white sugar provided clean sweetness.
All seemed on track with the most important challenge front and center: achieving dark chocolate flavor in a stovetop pudding.
Cocoa powder offered sugarless chocolate punch, yet the texture felt uneven and very loose.
If I wanted dark chocolate bar flavor and texture in pudding, there was no getting around using my favorite eating chocolate in this recipe.
The combination of cocoa powder and 72 percent dark chocolate created a pudding rich in color and aroma with fragrant notes courtesy of the chocolate bar.
To boost the thickening power of the egg yolks, I added cornstarch to the recipe.
A touch of whipped cream and berry garnish are all that's needed to elevate this pudding to Valentine's Day dessert bliss.
• Annie Overboe, a Culinary Institute of America graduate lives in Villa Park. Write her at email@example.com.