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Photos by RICHARD GILLARD and MICHAEL COONS

Sinfully sweet and so indulgent. And now we’re hearing reports that chocolate (specifically dark chocolate) can actually be good for you. Its main ingredient, at least, has landed on the list of foods with positive health benefits.

Cocoa, from a plant grown in equatorial regions, is full of antioxidant flavonoids—naturally occurring molecules and compounds that protect many plants from dangerous wounds, pests, disease and self-destructive cells. Those flavonoids are good for people too, reducing the risks of cancer, high cholesterol and strokes all while encouraging a healthy heart.

Before Milton Hershey, John Cadbury and Henri Nestle had their way with it, chocolate was not so deliciously sweet. According to Aztec legend, the cacao plant was first brewed into a frothy, spicy divine drink of Mesoamerican gods in ancient Central America. Quetzalcoatl, the god of delight who loved his people as much as his chocolate, believed that everyone should be able to enjoy cocoa. Risking everything, he stole the cacao plants from the other gods, brought them to earth and taught the Toltecs to harvest the pods so that they, too, could enjoy the aphrodisiacal drink, which they called xocolatl.

Mexican Drinking Chocolate

Once chocolate hit Europe in the 17th century, people got creative with it, grinding the cocoa into powder, molding chocolate bars and adding sugar and butter to make the creamy confections we all know and love today.

—Allison Montroy

     Sandrine and Ludovic Gaudin, the owners of Chocolatine in Thousand Oaks, offer a luscious—and versatile—truffles recipe, a customer favorite. A simple change of topping gives these yummies a whole new flair.

Chocolate Truffles
Makes 20 truffles

10 oz. 68% chocolate bar *
3½ oz. unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
4½ oz. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. whole milk
1½ oz. whipping cream

     Break chocolate bar in small pieces and place in medium saucepan.
Melt slowly over low heat while gradually adding milk, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture is smooth.
Cut butter into small chunks and gradually add to chocolate mixture, stirring constantly over low heat.
Stir in egg yolks, followed by whipping cream. Continue to stir.
Pour mixture into glass bowl and place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
Mixture will set to consistency of a heavy paste. Take by teaspoonful and roll by hand into small balls, smaller than a ping pong ball.
Finish with topping of your choice.

Topping Choices
A variety of truffles can be created by rolling individual truffles in coatings. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cocoa truffles: roll in cocoa powder until coated.
Pistachio or macadamia truffles: Roll in chopped nuts.
Coconut truffles: Mix equal parts unsweetened shredded
coconut and powdered sugar and roll truffles in mixture.
Hazelnut truffles: Roll in chopped hazelnuts. Dip in melted
68% chocolate.

*Chocolatine uses 68% dark chocolate from Santa Barbara Chocolate Company (found at www.santababarachocolate.com). Any good quality 68% dark chocolate bar may be used.

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     For the folks at Tifa, with shops at the Whizin Market Square in Agoura Hills and at The Shoppes at Westlake Village, the secret ingredient to making wonderful chocolate is making it as a family. Candace Orr whipped up this luxurious drinking chocolate for us, a smooth, rich dessert with a snap of spice.

Mexican Drinking Chocolate
Serves 2

5 oz. dark chocolate (64-70%)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper
4½ oz. half and half
2 dollops whipped crème fraîche

Break chocolate bar into small pieces and place in small mixing bowl.
Add cinnamon and cayenne (adjust cayenne for heat level).
Place bowl in larger mixing bowl containing hot water to soften chocolate.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk crème fraîche until thick. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
In small pan, on low to medium heat, warm half and half to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add half and half to chocolate mixture, stirring with a small whisk or spatula until chocolate is melted.
Mixture should be warm and thick, the consistency of pudding. Pour into glass. Spoon dollop of crème fraîche on top and serve immediately.

Mexican Drinking Chocolate

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     Chef Mary Bergin, director of culinary operations at Westlake Culinary Institute, has a rich history with chocolate. Among her many credentials: serving several years as Spago’s executive pastry chef and authoring the award-winning cookbook “Spago Chocolate” with Judy Gethers. Her Tartufo is positively decadent.

Chocolate TartufoChocolate Tartufo
Serves 8-12

9 oz. bittersweet chocolate bar
3 egg yolks
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. raspberry liqueur, Chambord or framboise

     Grate 3 oz. of chocolate and place in medium bowl. Chill until needed.
Cut remaining 6 oz. of chocolate into small chunks and, in a medium bowl, melt chocolate over a double boiler. Keep warm.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whip, whip egg yolks until thick.
While the egg yolks are whipping, in a small saucepan over high heat, bring the sugar and water to a boil until the syrup spins a thread (230 degrees).
Remove the syrup from the heat and, with the mixer running on lowest speed, carefully pour the syrup into the egg yolks. Raise the speed to medium and continue beating until the mixture is cooled and very thick. Scrape in the melted chocolate and beat until incorporated. The mixture will be stiff.
Gradually, pour in the heavy cream, beating at medium to high speed as needed until smooth. Add the raspberry liqueur and continue to beat for another 30 seconds. Pour the mixture into a shallow pan and freeze, covered with plastic wrap, until firm enough to shape, about 3 hours.

To shape the Tartufo:
Line a baking sheet with parchment. Scoop out the tartufo with an ice cream scoop and roll in the grated chocolate. Form a large, smooth oval and set each one on the baking sheet. Freeze until firm. Serve right from the freezer.
Recipe courtesy of Mary Bergin and Judy Gethers, “Spago Chocolate,” Random House, NYC.

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