Cookbook Author Explains Mysteries of Chocolate Just in time for Valentine's Day, cookbook author Dorie Greenspan offers her advice on baking with chocolate, a notoriously finicky ingredient. She explains how chocolates are like wines, and shares ideas for using all that sweet stuff.

Cookbook Author Explains Mysteries of Chocolate

Cookbook Author Explains Mysteries of Chocolate

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Just in time for Valentine's Day, cookbook author Dorie Greenspan offers her advice on baking with chocolate, a notoriously finicky ingredient. She explains how chocolates are like wines, deciphers the labels, and shares ideas from her cookbook Baking: From My Home to Yours for using all that sweet stuff.

Web Resources

White Chocolate Brownies

Alan Richardson
White Chocolate Brownies
Alan Richardson

White chocolate, orange zest and lots of fresh raspberries make these brownies delicious; topping them with meringue makes them glamorous. The cake layer is slender, delightfully dense and both sweet and tart; the meringue is soft and golden. You can call them brownies, but serve them with a swirl of raspberry coulis and they'll be worthy of a black-tie gala.

Makes 32 brownies

For the Brownies

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup finely ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

4 ounces premium-quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup fresh raspberries

For the Meringue

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup sugar

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Butter a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan, line the bottom with parchment or wax paper, butter the paper and dust the bottom and sides of the pan with flour; tap out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet.

TO MAKE THE BROWNIES: Whisk together the flour, ground almonds and salt.

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of only-just-simmering water. Put the butter in the bowl, top with the chopped chocolate and stir frequently until the ingredients are just melted — you don't want them to get so hot that the butter or the white chocolate separates. (White chocolate is finicky, so don't leave the kitchen while it's over the heat — too much heat and it will fall apart or scorch.) Remove the bowl from the pan of water.

Working in the bowl of a stand mixer or in another large bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the eggs and, with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, or until pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and blend in the melted butter and chocolate. Still working on low, mix in the dry ingredients, stirring only until they disappear into the batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the raspberries evenly over the batter. Set aside while you make the meringue.

TO MAKE THE MERINGUE: In the cleaned mixer bowl with the (clean) whisk attachment, or in another large bowl with cleaned beaters, beat the egg whites with the salt on medium speed until they are foamy and just turn opaque. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and add the sugar in a slow, steady stream. Whip the whites until they form firm but still glossy peaks.

Gently spread the meringue over the brownie batter.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the meringue is browned and crackly and the brownies pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow to cool to room temperature in the pan.

Cover a cooling rack with a piece of parchment or wax paper, or a silicone baking mat, dust the paper or mat with confectioners' sugar and very gently, so you don't squish the meringue, turn the brownies out onto the rack. Peel away the parchment paper lining and carefully invert the brownies onto a cutting board. Cut into 32 bars, each roughly 2 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches.

SERVING: Dust the squares with additional confectioners' sugar if you think they need it and serve as is or with Raspberry Coulis.

STORING: Kept in the pan and covered lightly with plastic wrap, the brownies can be kept at room temperature overnight. The meringue makes these fragile (and unfreezable). If you omit the meringue, you can wrap the brownies airtight and keep them at room temperature for up to 3 days and frozen for up to 2 months.

Raspberry Coulis

It takes just 5 minutes to make this raspberry coulis, but what you get packs a lot of flavor. Fresh raspberries will give you beautiful color and flavor, but frozen raspberries will also give you good results. Use berries that are frozen whole without syrup and defrost them enough to process them.

Makes about 1 cup

1 pint (2 cups) red raspberries — fresh or frozen, partially thawed if frozen

3 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste

Put the berries and sugar in a blender or food processor and whir until pureed. Taste and mix in more sugar if needed. Press the coulis through a strainer or a food mill to eliminate the seeds.

STORING: The coulis is at its best just after it is made, but it can be kept covered in the refrigerator overnight.

PLAYING AROUND: Using the same technique, and adjusting the sugar to taste, you can make other fruit coulis. Instead of raspberries, use blueberries, strawberries or exotic fruits like passion fruit, mango or pineapple.

Quintuple Chocolate Brownies

Alan Richardson
Quintuple Brownies
Alan Richardson

There's a little of every kind of chocolate in these sweet, more-fudgy-than-cakey brownies. Following tradition, the batter is made with unsweetened chocolate, but it has bittersweet (or semisweet) chocolate, cocoa, milk-chocolate chips and a soft, white-chocolate glaze too. And there are nuts — any kind you'd like, but I hope you'll try salted cashews or peanuts at least once.

Makes 16 brownies

For the Brownies

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons strong coffee

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 ounces premium-quality milk chocolate, chopped into chips, or 1 cup store-bought milk chocolate chips

1 cup chopped nuts

For the Glaze

6 ounces premium-quality white chocolate, finely chopped, or 1 cup store-bought white chocolate chips

1/3 cup heavy cream

GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Line a 9-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, cocoa and salt.

TO MAKE THE BROWNIES: Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and add, in the following order, the butter, the two chocolates and the coffee. Keeping the pan over low heat, warm just until the butter and chocolates are melted — you don't want the ingredients to get so hot they separate, so keep an eye on the bowl. Stir gently, and when the mixture is smooth, set it aside for 5 minutes.

Using a whisk or a rubber spatula, beat the sugar into the chocolate mixture. Don't beat too vigorously — you don't want to add air to the batter — and don't be concerned about any graininess. Next, stir in the eggs one at time, followed by the vanilla. You should have a smooth, glossy batter. If you're not already using a rubber spatula, switch to one now and gently stir in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. Finally, stir in the milk chocolate chips and the nuts. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out streaked but not thickly coated. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the brownies rest undisturbed for at least 30 minutes. (You can wait longer, if you'd like.)

Turn the brownies out onto a rack, peel away the foil and place it under another rack — it will be the drip catcher for the glaze. Invert the brownies onto the rack and let cool completely.

TO MAKE THE GLAZE: Put the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a boil and pour it over the chocolate. Wait 30 seconds, then, using a rubber spatula, gently stir until the chocolate is melted and the glaze is smooth.

Hold a long metal icing spatula in one hand and the bowl of glaze in the other. Pour the glaze onto the center of the brownies and use the spatula to nudge it evenly over the surface. Don't worry if it dribbles over the edges, you can trim the sides later (or not). Refrigerate the brownies for about 20 minutes to dry the glaze.

Cut into 16 squares, each roughly 2 1/4 inches on a side.

SERVING: Serve straight up — whipped cream or ice cream is unnecessary with these. Well, a little ice cream is nice — why not?

STORING: The brownies can be put back in their baking pan, wrapped (without touching the glaze) and kept at room temperature for about 3 days or frozen — glaze and all — for up to 2 months.

Tribute-to-Katharine-Hepburn Brownies

After Katharine Hepburn died, eulogies came from every quarter, many including stories about her brownies. In an article sent to me by my friend Bon Appetit editor in chief Barbara Fairchild, Heather Henderson of St. Paul, Minnesota, recalled wanting to quit her studies at Bryn Mawr. Her father managed to get Miss Hepburn, a Bryn Mawr alum and a neighbor, to intervene. The famous Kate invited both the young woman and her father to her home one afternoon. At tea, Ms. Henderson got a taste of the legendary brownies as well as of the actress's views on education.

In her tribute to the actress, Ms. Henderson wrote, "I'll always be grateful to Miss Hepburn for making me stick it out at Bryn Mawr and for giving me these rules to live by: 1. Never quit; 2. Be yourself and 3. Don't put too much flour in your brownies."

This recipe is a play on the one Miss Hepburn is reported to have used. Since a quick search through my cookbooks uncovered two other brownie recipes credited to Kate, and each was different, I decided it would be fine to add my own little touches. I've kept the essence of Miss Hepburn's recipe — these are thin, soft, very chocolaty brownies made without much flour — but I've added a little cinnamon, some coffee and a quarter-pound of chopped fine-quality chocolate. Since the chocolate doesn't firm up much in baking, it makes a soft, gooey brownie even softer and gooier and, to my way of thinking, even yummier. I think Miss Hepburn would approve.

Makes 16 brownies

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons finely ground instant coffee

2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup broken or chopped walnuts or pecans

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper. Butter the paper, dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

Whisk the flour, cinnamon, if you're using it, and salt together.

Put the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and place the pan over low heat. When the butter starts to melt, sift the cocoa over it and add the instant coffee. Continue to cook, stirring, until the butter is melted and the cocoa and coffee are blended into it. Remove from the heat and cool for about 3 minutes.

Using a whisk or a rubber spatula, beat the eggs into the saucepan one at a time. Next, stir in the sugar and vanilla (don't beat anything too vigorously — you don't want to add air to the batter), followed by the dry ingredients, nuts and chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, at which point the brownies will still be gooey but the top will have a dry papery crust. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the brownies cool for at least 30 minutes. (You can wait longer, if you'd like.) Turn the brownies out onto a rack, peel away the paper and invert onto a cutting board. Cool completely before cutting into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side.

SERVING: These are happy being served in all the typical ways — with whipped cream, ice cream or Hot Fudge Sauce or paired with a glass of milk to allow for dunking. I think they are best at room temperature, when they are at their moistest, but they are also very good chilled.

STORING: Wrapped well, the brownies will keep for 3 days at room temperature or frozen for up to 2 months.

Hot Fudge Sauce

Old-fashioned, dark, smooth and shiny, this hot fudge sauce is the kind that firms the instant it's poured over ice cream.

Makes about 1 1/4 cups

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

3/4 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

Set a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, put the butter in the bowl, top with the chocolate and heat, stirring once or twice, until the ingredients are melted. Keep the heat very low — you don't want the mixture to get so hot that the butter and chocolate separate. Transfer the bowl to the counter when the mixture is smooth.

In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir together the cream, corn syrup, sugar and salt, then bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute and remove the pan from the heat.

Pour about one-quarter of the hot cream over the chocolate and, with a rubber spatula and starting in the center of the bowl, stir the two mixtures together in ever-widening concentric circles. When it is smooth, pour over the remainder of the cream in 2 additions, stirring gently until the sauce is shiny and smooth again.

Allow the sauce to cool for about 10 minutes before using.

STORING: In a tightly covered jar, the sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. Before serving, warm it gently in a microwave oven or in a bowl set over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Heat just until the sauce is pourable.

A Chocolate Tip Sheet

Chocolate bar

To make this sweetest of all holidays even more delicious, here are some tips on choosing, storing, melting and mixing chocolate.

Types of Chocolate

The basic types of chocolate are unsweetened, white, milk, semisweet and bittersweet. Feel free to use the semi- and bittersweet dark chocolates interchangeably, but stick to type if a recipe specifies any of the others.

Warning: Don't grab that bar of unsweetened chocolate for a snack! Unsweetened chocolate is so bitter it will make you grimace, shiver and wonder why you loved chocolate in the first place.

Choosing Chocolate

Chocolate is as personal as perfume. Everyone has his or her favorite, so I always suggest that when you're looking for a chocolate to bake with, choose a chocolate that you can't stop eating straight from the bar. This is especially true when you're looking for semisweet and bittersweet chocolates, since most recipes using these dark chocolates are created to showcase their deep, rich flavors.

Again, remember that recipes calling for unsweetened, white or milk chocolate mean what they say — you can't use any other kind of chocolate — but you've got room to fudge when the recipe uses dark chocolate.

Storing Chocolate

Keep chocolate in a dark, cool, dry place, never in the refrigerator or freezer where it might meet up with its No. 1 enemy: moisture. Properly stored, dark chocolates will keep for years; milk and white chocolates for about 12 months. Don't be concerned if your chocolate develops a cloudy, gray "bloom": It means that the cocoa butter has separated from the solids. It's not very pretty, but it's not very serious either. When you melt the chocolate, all will be fine.

Melting Chocolate

Slow and gentle are the bywords for melting chocolate. The safest way to melt chocolate is either in a double boiler or the microwave oven.

Melting in a double boiler: If you don't have a double boiler, make one. Put a metal mixing bowl over a saucepan containing just an inch or so of simmering, not boiling, water; the water shouldn't touch the bottom of the bowl. Melt the chocolate very slowly, stirring gently with a rubber spatula, so that it melts evenly.

Melting in the microwave: Put the chocolate in a microwave-safe container or a heatproof glass measuring cup and set the oven to medium or low power. Heat the chocolate in short spurts and stir it often. Don't walk away and don't forget to stir because chocolate behaves oddly in the microwave: It often holds its shape even though it is melted, so it's easy to think the job isn't done and then scorch or seriously overheat the chocolate. Check the chocolate early and often.

No matter which method you use, you should chop the chocolate before melting it; chopped chocolate melts faster and more evenly.

Warning: Make sure that the bowl you're melting the chocolate in and the spatula you're using to stir it are dry, and don't let any liquid come in contact with the chocolate as it's melting. It's OK if a recipe instructs you to begin melting the chocolate with a liquid. But if rogue drops of liquid hit your chocolate mid-melt, the chocolate will clump and seize and, sadly, there'll be nothing you can do but weep, then toss the chocolate out and start over.

Mixing Chocolate into Batters

You have babied the chocolate up to this point and there is no reason to stop now. Unless the recipe says to beat the chocolate at high speed, it is always best to be gentle, mixing or folding the chocolate into the batter rather than beating it. Working gently means you don't incorporate air into the chocolate and don't lighten its color.