What is it about chocolate that is so comforting, so intoxicating, so downright addictive?
Some studies show that eating chocolate can stimulate the hypothalamus, inducing feelings of pleasure and affecting levels of serotonin, that feel-good chemical that produces feelings of euphoria after exercise.
This is easily our most desired food.
Americans eat 12 pounds of it per person per year. (The Swiss hold the record at 23!)
Although not proven to be an aphrodisiac, the gift of chocolate for Valentine’s Day is an established courtship ritual.
Cookbook author and chocolate expert Alice Medrich, whom The San Francisco Chronicle once called “the patron saint of chocolate people,” explains it this way: “Of all the special ‘gourmet foods’, chocolate is one of the only ones we’ve all loved yet since childhood. This is not an acquired taste. We may have liked milk chocolate and grown to love dark chocolate, but it has always been there for us. It’s not embarrassing. We didn’t have to learn to like it like coffee or wine or caviar.”
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton held its Chocolate Extravaganza last week, combining a delicious lunch and chocolate buffet competition with an appearance by guest speaker Rabbi Deborah Prinz, author of “The Way of Chocolate.”
Her latest book, The Boston Chocolate Party, a picture book written with Tammy Lehmann-Wilzig, weaves a story of friendship against the backdrop of chocolate in colonial America.
“Chocolate is an immigrant food, an immigrant food,” Prinz told us. “There was a lot of chocolate in North America during the colonial period.” Endnotes provide background on the Boston Tea Party and include recipes for colonial-style hot chocolate and buñuelos (fried).
Ann Leavitts of Fullerton was happy to take first place for taste with her Drop Dead Cookies from my cookbook Cooking Jewish (Workman).
“I don’t usually make desserts,” she told me.
These easy, tossable chews come from my Aunt Estelle. You simply arrange the ingredients and let the sweetened condensed milk do all the work.
But why the title? Here’s my theory: Aunt Estelle’s home, the center of her dressmaking business, was filled at all times with women in various stages of undress, swapping recipes and gossip while buttoned up and corseted. I guess “dead” is a common appellation, like “dead gorgeous” or “he just has to”, so why not the cookies!
I took second place for taste with Victoria Levine’s No-Bake Chocolate Cheesecake. Victoria won last time with this cake, so I thought since she couldn’t attend this time, why not? Devilish!
Third place for flavor went to Batia Swed of Fullerton with her late mother’s Safta cake.
For presentation, Diamond Bar High School student Sydney Applebaum won first place.
“I have been going to TBT since kindergarten and have been involved in many youth events and activities,” she said. “I work in TBT’s summer Gesher program as a junior advisor and also help launch the new Hilltop Players program at TBT.”
Sydney’s winning dessert was a black forest cake featuring a chocolate wafer crust, a preserved cherry pie filling and a drizzle of melted chocolate on top. You can find the recipe at tasteofhome.com.
Second place went to Terri Applebaum of Diamond Bar with her chocolate truffles, and Jacob Weitzman, 12, of Irvine, grandson of Sherry and Greg Weitzman of Fullerton, took third place for his Chocolate Dipped Gourmet Peanut Butter Pretzels.
Judy Barth Cansigor of Fullerton is the author of Jewish Cooking and The Perfect Passover Cookbook. Her website is cookingjewish.com.
THROW OUT DEAD COOKIES
The sky is the limit for variations. Some add butter chips or pecans instead of walnuts.
From “Cooking Jewish” by Judy Barth Cancigor; yield: 12 to 16 bar
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup sweetened flaked or shredded coconut
- 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup ground walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Place the butter in a glass 8-inch square cake pan, place in the oven and allow the butter to melt. Tilt the pan to spread the oil evenly. Arrange the remaining ingredients in a greased pan in the order listed.
3. Bake on the center rack of the oven until set and golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool in pan set on wire rack; then cut into squares.