A very simple but fun Valentine's treat is an assortment of chocolate dipped snacks. It's insanely easy, and it's fun to experiment with.
How to dip things in chocolate:
First gather everything you're going to be dipping and lay them out within reach. Next line a cookie sheet with wax or parchment paper for drying the finished candies and place it nearby.
|Pretzels, vegan marshmallows, dried apricots, graham crackers, walnuts, cashews, candied ginger and potato chips, all ready for dipping|
Then melt your chocolate, using whatever method you are comfortable with.
Have everything close by so that you can get an efficient assembly line going. Chocolate dries very fast, so you don't want to waste time running after ingredients once it's melted and ready to go.
|Ready for dipping|
Now start dipping. Plunge each item into the melted chocolate and use a fork or spatula to help scrape off excess chocolate and get an even coat. Place dipped items on your paper-lined cookie sheet. I like to leave a little bit of each item bare, both because it's easier to dip that way--you can hold it by that spot, Achilles-style--and because that way you can tell what each item is. If you've got a wide assortment, that's helpful. However, if you want a complete coat you can drop the item in the chocolate, roll it around, and then fish it out with a fork. Or if the item is soft, you could skewer it on a toothpick and dip it that way.
You may have to reheat the chocolate at some point. As for amounts, I used about 2/3 cup of chocolate/carob chips to coat an entire cookie sheet's worth of treats. It's not a bad idea to melt a little extra though.
|Laying out to dry|
I will digress here for a moment to discuss two chocolate melting issues: tempering and seizing. Tempering chocolate is a process of heating and cooling chocolate to specific temperatures in order to affect its crystalline structure. When done perfectly, it makes chocolate that is shiny and hard and very professional looking. It can be a complex and arduous process, however, and isn't always necessary. If your chocolate is pre-tempered at the factory (as many chocolate chips and bars are) all you need to do to make sure it stays tempered is keep the melting temperatures prettty low. Also, if you use carob chips or anything else that contains no cocoa butter, tempering is completely irrelevant. I would not bother tempering for a basic dipping project like this one in any case because it would make a fun easy project into a long and aggravating one. And the crystalline structure of chocolate isn't nearly as important in this application as it would be in something like an elaborate chocolate sculpture (where structural integrity comes into play).
As for seizing, well, that is worth avoiding. Seizing is when water get into your melted chocolate at the wrong moment and makes it essentially curdle--separate into hard chunks and oozy liquid. The way to avoid it is simply to be very careful to keep extraneous moisture out of your melting chocolate. If it happens anyway (and sometimes it will despite your best efforts) you can either stir in a substantial amount more liquid, which will only work if your recipe allows for fairly runny chocolate, or you can make seized chocolate truffles by pouring off the oozy liquid, remelting the chocolate and rolling it into balls. It ends up with a unique lumpy, bubbly texture that you can claim to have achieved on purpose.
That's the thing about chocolate--even when it goes wrong it's still pretty good. : )
|Chocolate covered potato chips and pretzel sticks|
By the way, my favorites today were the chocolate covered walnuts and the candied ginger. The assertive flavors held up well to the chocolate. The potato chips, which I did on a lark, were better than I expected, too.