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For the Love… of Chocolateby Julie Goldstein

Ah, chocolate: exhilarating to find in eggs on Easter, exciting to gamble for on Chanukah, and thrilling to collect on Halloween. And, of course, the most sensual holiday for chocolate is Valentine’s Day: those who celebrate the day may find themselves in a dash on February 14th to pursue the most romantic gift—champagne and roses are nice, but you can almost never go wrong with chocolate. So where did this decadent and addictive indulgence come from and how did it transform into one of the most adored foods of all time?

Many terms are used when it comes to chocolate, and it can be a bit mystifying to understand which term is attached to which product. “Cacao” refers to the tree or its bean before any processing takes place. “Chocolate” is what is actually produced from the beans, and “cocoa” is the powdered form of chocolate, most commonly used for baking. Chocolate is often described as heavenly; perhaps this stems from Mayan literature where cacao is referred to as god’s food (the Latin name for the cacao tree is theobroma cacao, based on the Greek words for “food of the gods”). Cacao originated in the Amazon at least 4000 years ago, and according to anthropological evidence, the sweet cacao fruit was fermented and consumed as an alcoholic beverage in Honduras as far back as 1400 B.C.E.

Now found in cakes, cookies, mousses, and mud pies, chocolate was originally consumed as a beverage. Not as the warm, rich, sweet cup of comfort we are accustomed to today, but a cold bitter drink called xocoatl, or chocolati, from the Mayan term for “bitter water.” Both Mayan and Aztec cultures utilized cocoa beans as the foundation for their stimulating beverage laced with spices and chili peppers. The Aztecs believed that consumption of the beans of the cacao tree enhanced wisdom and power, that it both nourished and fortified the body and soul. Their instincts must have been true as recent studies show that a bit of dark chocolate can be good for the heart and blood circulation. Aztecs also believed chocolate to be an aphrodisiac, which years later many still consider to be true. (Well, at least on February 14.)

Sugar was not part of the formula until Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez proposed that the addition of cane sugar to chocolati would enhance the charm and allure of the beverage, which he despised when the Aztec King Montezuma first presented it to him. Little did he know that his addition of sugar would change the way the world viewed and tasted chocolate, especially once it made it back to Europe.

Fast forward five centuries: recently trendy artisan chocolate makers have emerged. These real-life Wonkas create spectacular confections, focusing on sustainably grown and harvested cacao as well as pure and interesting ingredients paired with the chocolates. Most take scrupulous steps to experiment with different procedures and combinations that make their sweets unique. Seattle-based Theo Chocolate produces specialty Fair Trade chocolate with pairings such as sea salts, herbs, and spices. Brooklyn’s Mast Brothers Chocolate was created by two brothers, who conduct the entire chocolate-making process apart from growing the beans themselves, even making the decorative wrappers from recycled paper.

The ultimate indulgences at Bull and Buddha are our chocolate and banana wontons. We take rich dark chocolate and minced bananas, wrap the mixture in wontons and fry them until they are crispy. They make a perfect dessert to share this Valentine’s Day at our Poughkeepsie location, or you can try to make them at home.

Chocolate Banana Wontons [makes 25]

25 wonton wrappers
2 bananas, peeled and chopped into small chunks
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Ganache for dipping (see below)

In a fryer or large pot, heat oil until about 375ºF, or until it fizzles when a spare wonton is dropped in. In a bowl, mix the bananas and chocolate together. Place the wonton wrappers under a damp towel to prevent them from drying out and, taking only a few at a time, place a tablespoon of filling into the center of each wonton. Brush each side of the wonton with the egg wash, and fold over the filling diagonally, making a triangle, gently pressing out as much air as possible. Carefully place into the hot oil and fry until golden brown.

Dipping Ganache

1 cup bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
¼ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

Slowly heat the cream in a small saucepot. When it begins to steam remove from heat—be sure not to boil the cream. Slowly stir the warm cream over the chopped chocolate until it is homogenized and silky smooth. Sprinkle hazelnuts on top.

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