Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chocolate Syrup

If you do a search on the internet you'll find about a zillion reasons as to why people make or want to make their own chocolate syrup instead of buying a can or squeeze bottle of Hershey's.*  For me, it's threefold.  First, the store-bought kind is expensive, especially if you look at what's in it; not having a can to hand, I couldn't tell you for certain, but it's primarily high-fructose corn syrup and a small amount of cocoa powder or something chocolate tasting.  Second, it's not particularly natural, as I like knowing what all my ingredients are, let alone being able to pronounce them. Thirdly, I live in England and while I'm sure I can find Hershey's or the equivalent, grocery shopping has often been an experience in frustration and/or settling (I think that may just be where I live; I don't remember it being so bad in Leicester or London).

*Is there any other kind?  Also, the squeeze bottles suck; you can't get as much out as you can by just removing the lid from the can and scraping it out with a spoon.

I'm not opposed to high-fructose corn syrup per se.  In fact, I'll argue for it--it isn't any worse for you than sugar.  Because it is sugar.  It's all bad for you, no matter what form.  Honey isn't any better for you either, although if it's local I suppose it could at least help with allergies.  My problem with high-fructose corn syrup is the same as my problem with sodium, preservatives, and food colouring: there's too much of it in prepared foods.  High-fructose corn syrup is used instead of sugar (I presume) because it won't crystallize and make that pre-packaged meal grainy.

All that said, when I went looking for a chocolate syrup recipe today, I wanted one that didn't call for any kind of sugar syrup like Karo.  Not because I'm inherently against it, but because I don't have any.  I also didn't want any dairy, or really anything that could spoil, because we don't have a lot of use for chocolate syrup--the only reason I made it today is for dessert on Father's Day.  My husband hates ice cream and we rarely have chocolate milk, in part because we don't have chocolate syrup and in part because we don't drink a lot of milk.  So for longevity's sake, I wanted the simplest recipe possible.

The one I found I've actually made before.  Years ago on Alton Brown's Good Eats, he made some homemade chocolate syrup, and I've been fascinated with the idea since then.  I didn't use his recipe however.  Instead, I used one I found here, which was apparently taken from Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette.  The original recipe is as follows (per most things, I modified it).

½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla
Mix the cocoa powder and the water in a saucepan. Heat and stir to dissolve the cocoa. Add the sugar, and stir to dissolve. Boil for 3 minutes over medium heat. Be careful not to let it get too hot and boil over! Add the salt and the vanilla. Let cool. Pour into a clean glass jar, and store in the refrigerator. Keeps for several months, but trust me it will be gone before then. Yields two cups.

The first thing I forgot to do was halve the recipe.  Oops.  I now have more chocolate syrup than I know what to do with.  The second thing I did was to cut the sugar by half a cup.  Because the plan for this batch is to go over brownies (also homemade, with a cream cheese layer in the middle), I didn't want it too sweet.  I love the Betty Crocker brownies--though I've not made the cream cheese ones before--but they're so sweet and sugary that even after baking you can feel undissolved sugar crystals crunch in your teeth (hence why I don't make them often).  That, and the first time I experimented with this recipe left me a mess of crystallized sugar in the bottom of the jar after a couple of weeks (months) in the fridge.  That problem is solved by microwaving it briefly and lots of stirring, but I'm hoping that reducing the amount of sugar will lessen the problem (I'm sure it won't solve it, just as I'm sure that a bit of Karo would).

The husband's verdict is that it'll be fabulous over the brownies, and was excellent in chocolate milk, but that it's not sweet enough on it's own.  Since it's not designed to be eaten on it's own, that's fine by me.

So my recipe is this:

½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
1½ cups sugar
pinch salt (good sized)
vanilla (I used two capfuls, pour in what you feel.  please use real extract, or I will cry)
Whisk cocoa powder and water in a saucepan over medium heat to dissolve cocoa (cocoa can form lumps if done with a spoon). Add sugar, whisk to dissolve.  Boil for 5 minutes over medium heat, whisking close to constantly, and watch to make sure it doesn't boil over.  Remove from heat, and whisk for another 2 minutes.  Add salt and vanilla, whisk for another minute.  Cool, then pour into glass (or microwave safe plastic) wide-mouth jar, and store in the refrigerator.  If it crystallizes, microwave on high for 20 seconds and stir briskly.  Repeat as needed.  Keeps for several months.

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