Lovely to behold, a fragrance like no other, and sweet perfection as it melts on your tongue - what can it be except chocolate? It conveys love and decadence, is present at family gatherings and various celebrations, and graces both gourmet restaurants and grocery store check-out aisles. There are entire magazines devoted to chocolate! With Americans consuming twelve pounds of chocolate per person annually, this tantalizing food has become a national obsession.
Chocolate comes in many forms - powder, bar, chip, unsweetened, bittersweet, semi-sweet, etc. For the best taste and performance in baking, go for high-quality. Recipes for chocolate cakes, cookies, pies, and brownies abound in most any cookbook. Take the next step by decorating your desserts with chocolate. Melted chocolate becomes a medium for dessert magic.
Chocolate can be melted using a double boiler on the stove or a heat-proof bowl in a microwave. Check and stir often until just melted. Don't cover the chocolate while it is melting as this causes water from steam to mix with the chocolate (it will clump). Work in a room that is 70 degrees or cooler. Store finished creations in a cool, dry location.
Using an angled spatula or pastry board scraper, spread melted chocolate thinly onto a baking sheet. Chill in refrigerator, checking often, until a finger pressed into chocolate barely leaves a print. Holding a spatula or pastry scraper at a 45 degree angle, scrape baking sheet in a forward or circular motion. If chocolate crumbles, it's too cold.
Select fresh leaves with distinct veins such as rose, lemon, or mint. Wash and dry leaves. Apply melted chocolate to undersides of leaves with a paintbrush. Place, chocolate side up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill until set. Gently peel off leaves, starting at stems.
Inflate small balloons to coffee cup size. Holding tied end, dip bottom into melted chocolate. Transfer to parchment-lined sheet and hold until chocolate begins to set. When completely set, pierce balloons with a pin and slowly deflate. Fill cups with ice cream, fruit, mousse, or whatever your taste buds desire.