Nobody really needs an excuse to eat chocolate, but there are plenty if you're looking. In fact, Jan. 3 is National Chocolate-Covered Cherry Day and a great opportunity to try something decadent.
Gather a group of friends and bring out your chocolate fondue warmer, and prepare a big platter of cherries and other foods to dip into all of that melted goodness.
It's not exactly news that cake and chocolate go together. That's why chocolate icing is so common on supermarket shelves, and why cakes covered in rich, glossy ganache — a kind of melted chocolate glaze — are a staple of pastry shops.
When you're dipping your cake into chocolate rather than pouring or spreading the chocolate over the cake, however, things get a little more complicated. Most cakes are too delicate for the task, falling apart when you try to dip them and leaving your chocolate filled with crumbs.
That's why pound cake is one of your best options for dipping. The cake's relatively dense, firm texture makes it substantial enough to hold together when cubed. Plus, its characteristically mild and buttery flavor, with a hint of vanilla, complements the chocolate just right.
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Cranberry Walnut Bread
Pound cake isn't the only kind of baked goodness that lends itself to dipping in chocolate. Dessert loaves are another good option because they must be firm enough to slice. Cut into cubes like pound cake, they hold together nicely for dipping.
The best thing about dessert loaves is that they offer a range of flavors and textures you don't get with pound cake — like cranberry walnut bread, a perfect holiday treat.
The walnuts in the loaf offer a pleasing contrast of textures with the soft cake and the silky chocolate. And the tartness of the cranberries cuts through the sweetness and richness of the other flavors to wake up your taste buds with a sudden jolt of fruitiness.
When it comes to pairing foods with chocolate, you basically have two choices: One is to select flavors subtle enough to complement the chocolate seamlessly, and the other is to pick strong flavors to stand up to it without clashing.
Dried apricots are a perfect example of the second option. Although fresh apricots have a delicate sweetness, drying the fruit concentrates and elevates its flavor.
The finished apricot has a balance of sweet and tart that works perfectly with chocolate — especially dark chocolate — bringing out its complexity and fruity notes like a fine bottle of wine. The fruit also holds onto skewers and fondue forks with ease.
When you choose your foods for dipping, try to lean more toward light-tasting options than rich, heavy ones.
One of the very lightest foods to dip is a meringue cookie. Made from egg whites and sugar, it's also delicately crisp and snowy-white, which makes for a beautiful contrast with your decorated holiday treats.
Tip: The cookies are quite brittle, so you probably won't be able to slide a skewer or a fondue fork into one without it breaking. Instead, you'll need to hold them in your fingers to swirl them through the dipping chocolate. It's easier if you can find oblong or finger-shaped meringues, but the plain round ones will do just fine.
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Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
When you bake cookies at home, only about half of the dough makes it onto a baking sheet. When you stop in the frozen section to buy ice cream, you gravitate straight toward the flavors with cookie dough. So, the only real question is how you go about dipping dough in chocolate?
The straightforward answer is to pick up a tube or bucket of frozen cookie dough and cut it into cubes while still frozen. Package them up in a bag or arrange them on a plate, and return them to the freezer until your fondue is ready to go.
Warning: Even if you make the very best chocolate chip cookies, this is one case where it's best to use a commercial frozen dough. The major manufacturers pasteurize their eggs, and sometimes their flour, to minimize the risk of food-borne illness. Even so, the FDA advises against eating it.
Even when the fresh cherry season has passed (like now), you can still get good ones to dip into chocolate. Just use Maraschino cherries in your chocolate-covered cherries recipe.
They're the same cherries used in cherry-filled chocolates, and their candy-like flavor and jewel-like hue pair perfectly with the melted chocolate. Pick up a jar in honor of National Chocolate-Covered Cherry Day this January.
Have you ever tried to explain the flavor of a mango to someone who's never tasted one? It's difficult to find words for the fruit's complex flavor, with its sweetness, hint of pine and delicate floral notes. That complexity is what makes mango such a fine partner for chocolate, and you don't have to buy costly organic mangoes to get that unique taste.
Dicing the fruit for dipping is easier than you'd think, too.
Directions: First, lay a mango on your cutting board and slice away the two fleshy sides from the large pit. Then, take a paring knife and slice down through the bright orange flesh in parallel lines, 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch apart, taking care not to cut through the skin. Make a second set of cuts at right angles to the first and then scoop out the pre-cut cubes of fruit with a large spoon.
Tip: If you aren't able to find fresh mangoes, you can use pre-cut mango spears or canned mangoes in light syrup. Just blot them dry with a paper towel, and then use a sharp knife to cut the spears of mango into cubes.
Chocolate-dipped fruit doesn't have to be exotic. A lush, perfectly ripe melon is one of the finest-tasting fruits there is, so it's unsurprising that it works well with chocolate. If your fondue is going to feature a mixture of fruit and baked goods, leave room on your platter for some honeydew.
The characteristic honey-sweetness of the melon — and its soft, juicy texture — make a winning combination with the chocolate.
Tip: Choose a nicely ripe melon for best results. The tastiest honeydews are heavy for their size — that means they're juicy — and should smell sweet and fruity at the stem end. If it doesn't smell like much, it probably won't taste like much, either.
On any list of the best things to dip in chocolate, strawberries are near the top. Their light, delicate flavor makes an ideal partner for the richness of the chocolate, and they're firm enough to keep a solid grip on your skewers or fondue forks.
Tip: Try to choose berries that are closely matched in size and color for the most impressive presentation. Rinse them well under cold water, and blot them dry before skewering them for the fondue.
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Part of the fun of a good chocolate fondue lies in mixing and matching the flavors and textures. Along with all the sweet foods you enjoy with chocolate, mix in a few tart ones as well.
Granny Smith apples are a perfect fit. The iconic, green-skinned fruit is well-known for its firm texture and tart flavor, so it makes an ideal change-up from sweet melon or baked goods. The contrast between the rich, dark chocolate and the bracing acidity of the apple will refresh your taste buds and keep you coming back for more.
Tip: Choose medium-sized apples, and cut them into thin wedges. Drop the apples briefly into a bowl of lemon juice diluted with water, to keep them from browning. Blot them dry, and you are ready for dipping.
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Rice Krispie Treats
Marshmallow and chocolate are one of childhood's perfect pairings, but plain old marshmallows don't bring a whole lot to your fondue party. Instead, enjoy that familiar flavor combination in the form of Rice Krispie treats.
For starters, it means automatically doubling down on the nostalgia factor. After all, who didn't love Rice Krispie treats as a kid? More to the point, the crisp cereal retains its texture even when covered in chocolate.
Whether you start with homemade or store-bought Rice Krispie treats, use a sharp and lightly oiled knife to cut them into oblong finger shapes. It's a better shape for dipping, and comes out of the chocolate as a bite-sized nibble rather than a full and messy mouthful.
Tip: If you're looking for some additional flavor, you can pair them with peanut butter and use the melted chocolate as a spread.
Ladyfingers are one of the odder cookies at the supermarket. They're made from a batter resembling sponge cake, but then they're piped into finger-shaped oblongs and baked to a cookie-like crispness.
Their light texture gives them a remarkable ability to soak up custards and syrups, which is why they're often used in desserts such as tiramisu. And like meringues, they're a perfectly light and crisp cookie for dipping into chocolate.
You'll usually find them in flat trays in the cookie section, packaged to protect them from breaking and crumbling. They might be labeled as "Savoiardi," a nod to their origin in the Savoy region of Italy.
When it comes to ideal foods to dip into chocolate, waffles are a clear winner. After all, they have pockets to hold more of the melted chocolate. As a bonus, they're crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
The familiar brunch staple just cries out to be covered in chocolate, especially the thick Belgian-style waffle. Thin waffles are good too, but you won't get the same contrast between the crisp exterior and creamy-soft interior.
Tip: The only thing about waffles that isn't perfect is their size, but that's what knives are for. Toast the waffles and let them cool on a wire rack — so they don't get soggy — and then cut them into bite-sized squares or finger shapes for dipping.
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Chocolate-dipped cookies are a slam-dunk, and shortbread cookies are one of the all-time best foods to dip in chocolate. Like pound cake, shortbread cookies complement the chocolate with a rich, deep buttery flavor. They're also not as sweet as many other cookies.
Tip: The best options for dipping are Scots-style shortbread fingers rather than cookie rounds. Look for a brand that's all butter, rather than "butter flavored." The difference is striking and well worth the few extra cents per cookie.
Crepes are a staple wherever chocolate fountains happen, and for good reason. The thin, delicate, pancake-like rounds bring plenty of options to the table.
Directions: At the simplest level, treat the crepes as just another tasty mouthful for dipping. Roll them up into cylinders, then cut them across in 1/2-inch strips to make bite-sized pieces. Skewer a rolled-up piece with your fork and dip at your leisure.
You can also use quarter-crepes as wrappers for foods that don't dip well on their own, such as raspberries. Set the fruit in the middle of your crepe portion and fold the edges so it's enclosed, then skewer it with your fork and dip.
Tip: Dipping chocolate also makes for a perfect sauce, so at the end of the evening you can use up your remaining fruit and chocolate to make filled crepes. Spoon a line of fruit down the middle of the crepe, then fold it burrito-fashion to hold in the fruit. Drizzle the crepes with the last of the chocolate and dig in.