Of all the foods on earth there is probably none so universally popular as chocolate. Not considered particularly traditional for holiday entertaining it is certainly dominant at all occasions and there is no doubt it is, for many, synonomous with sweets and baking.
This makes it a natural for the pre-holiday home cook, and a new mouth-watering recipe collection devoted to chocolate cooking is timely for its directions as well as for gift-giving.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts (Alfred A. Knopf, $15) is the cookbook in mind. Others by the same author are Maida Heatter'a Book of Great Desserts, and Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies.
Once asked how she could write a whole book on just desserts and another on just cookies, this author answered, "It's easy. I could even write a whole book on just brownies."
She covers all possible chocolate confections with all three books including more than half a dozen versions each of brownie and chocolate chip recipes, along with many other wonderful classic and new recipes, from sweet to bittersweet; all the most chocolaty of chocolate favorites.
She admits that although she has probably tested about 4,000 brownie recipes, "there always seems to be another brownie recipe I want to try."
This insatiable interest in perfecting recipes is obvious in her books. They give more than just the basic directions, while keeping the recipes succint and easy to read and follow.
One of the best parts of the new book is the introduction in which she explains which kinds of chocolate are available, both retail and wholesale.
Using brand names such as Droste, Toblerone, Hershey, Maillard, and Baker's, she lists all the chocolates she has used from sweet, bittersweet, and semisweet morsels and squares to extra bittersweet, German sweet, and Dutch process.
In between recipes she gives simple tricks in melting chocolate, notes on preparing cakes for icing and directions for freezing and wrapping cakes. Recipes for cakes without flour are explained and there are solutions for cakes that sink in the middle.
One of several recipes for chocolate sauce is calle The World's Best Hot Fudge Sauce. The other sauces include one made with a milk chocolate bar with almonds and another, Basic Chocolate Sauce, has eight variations.
There are delicious recipes from hotels famous for their chocolate desserts, a chocolate mousse favorite of Prince Rainier of Monaco; a chocolate torte served on the Orient Express, and a recipe for Positively-The-Absolutely-Best-Chocolate-Chip Cookies.
Some slightly offbeat recipes, the result of the author's research, combine chocolate with ginger, with apples, pumpkin, oatmeal, and one with pepper, called Black Pepper Brownies.
A recipe for Chocolate Almond Spice Cookies calls for several familiar spices , and also one-eighth teaspoon of mustard.
There are recipes for old-fashioned American favorites such as fudge and easy chocolate cakes and for elaborate European classics such as the beautiful Austrian tortes, soufflees, French truffles, and the thin, cripsy, lace cookies known as Florentines.
Chic, elegant little pastries, finger food for a tea party, dessert, or on a buffet called chocolate Pasticcios are among the few recipes the author honestly explains are not quick, but worth the time.
Here is one special recipe from the book.
"This is very thick, coal black, as shiny as wet tar, and not too sweet. It will turn chewy and even thicker when it is served over cold ice cream -- great! It may be served hot or warm, but at room temperature or chilled it will be too thick. It may be refrigerated for a week or two before serving. The World's best Hot Fudge Sauce 1/2 cup heavy cream 3 tablespoons sweet butter, cut into small pieces 1/3 cup granulated sugar 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed Pinch of salt 1/2 cup strained Dutch-process cocoa powder (it must be Dutch process to have the right color and flavor)
Place the cream and butter in a heavy 1-quart saucepan over moderate heat. Stir until the butter is melted and the cream just comes to a low boil. Add both sugars and stir for a few minutes until they are dissolved. (The surest test is to taste; cook and taste until you do not feel any undissolved granules in your mouth.)
Reduce the heat. Add the salt and cocoa and stir briskly with a small wire whisk until smooth. (If the sauce is not smooth -- if there are any small lumps of undissolved cocoa -- press against them, and stirl well, with a rubber spatula.) REmove from the heat.
Serve immediately or reheat slowly, stirring frequently, in the top of a double boiler over hot water, or in a heavy saucepan over the lowest heat.
This should be thick, but if it is reheated it may be too thick. If so, stir in a bit of hot water, adding very little at a time. Makes one cup.
Note: If you plan to store the sauce in the refrigerator, use a straight-sided glass jar or any covered container that flares out at the top. The sauce will become too firm when it is chilled to be spooned out of a jar.
It is best to place the jar in hot water until the block of sauce melts on the outside and can be poured out of the jar. Then place the sauce in the top of a small double boiler over hot water, or in a small heavy saucepan over the lowest heat. With a wooden spatula cut the first sauce into pieces as you stir until completely melted.