Every year chocolate is celebrated on Valentine’s Day for its sensual romantic symbolism, its power as an aphrodisiac to awaken slumbering passions. Its bittersweet complexity is as sharp and rewarding as love itself. But if an edible substitute for love is what you’re after, there are other foods that fill the void more easily and with less attendant baggage than chocolate.
Still, it’s easy to see where chocolate gets its reputation. Caffeine and sugar make it a stimulant rivaled by few other foods. It melts yieldingly at body temperature. Historically it’s been used to treat everything from poor appetite to mental fatigue, and heroes of children’s literature have self-medicated with the stuff to great effect. Harry Potter eats chocolate to ward off the chill caused by soul-sucking Dementors. Charlie Bucket drinks a nourishing draught from a warm chocolate river in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Now it looks as if every fantasy of chocolate as a health food might be true. Marcel Desaulniers, known for gratuitously sexy, truly dark chocolate desserts with names like “Chocolate Bypass Cake,” refers in his latest book, “Death by Chocolate Cakes” (William Morrow, $35), to the heartening results of a Harvard study in which candy eaters lived an average of a year longer than non-candy eaters.
Even more promising was the news a few months ago that chocolate contains some of the same antioxidants responsible for giving red wine and green tea their heart-healthy reputation.
Maybe in the not-too-distant future we’ll be reading about the “Chocolate Paradox,” as scientists scramble to account for the fact that people who regularly consume chocolate (along with lots of butter, sugar, cream and eggs-hey, we can dream!) lead longer, happier lives.
Which means that now is the time to share a chocolate dessert with your valentine, before it loses its cachet and becomes as romantic as a bowl of oat bran.
There’s no better meeting place for forks and spoons than the cream-filled center of a chocolate baba-a tender, subtly chocolate brioche soaked with rum syrup-or some other decadent confection.
On second thought, as good as these are, you’d better plan on making two-sharing might be hazardous to your health.
Heat the sugar, water and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer 10 minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the chocolate and cocoa, stirring until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the vanilla bean. Pour the mixture into a shallow baking dish and freeze until solid, several hours or overnight.
Whip the cream or creme fraiche to soft peaks. Spoon or scoop the granita into dessert or parfait glasses and top with whipped cream or creme fraiche.
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