Chocolate-coated fruit is a year-round delight, but it's especially nice in the summer, when fruit is plentiful and in tip-top shape. Because the microwave makes melting chocolate easy, you can add chocolate-dipped fruit to otherwise boring dessert trays and make them special.
During a recent reception for 80 people, I served several beautiful trays of cookies and fruit. I combined light- and dark-colored cookies with strawberries that had been dipped in chocolate--some in dark chocolate and some in white. To say that the coated berries made a difference in the dessert presentation is an understatement. And the time it took to wash and dip the berries was minimal.
As chocolate melts in a microwave, it is surrounded by heating energy. This is a much easier way to soften delicate chocolate than by stove top, which concentrates heat on the bottom and often requires a messy double boiler to prevent scorching.
Requires Less Attention
Although you can successfully melt chocolate at any power level, I always use MEDIUM (50% power), because it requires less attention and is more controllable. At higher power levels, you must stir the chocolate every minute because microwave energy can build up in the center before it has a chance to spread.
One problem with melting chocolate is that it has a tendency to tighten when other liquid is added. So, for smooth-textured chocolate coatings, never add water to chocolate before melting. Chocolate should be melted in an uncovered dish so that condensation doesn't form in the pan.
Should you want to thin the chocolate somewhat, add a small amount of cooking oil, butter or solid white vegetable shortening. About one teaspoon per ounce of chocolate is a measurement to use as a guideline.
To melt, place the chocolate in a glass or plastic dish or a paper bowl. At MEDIUM power, six ounces of chocolate pieces will require 2 1/2 to three minutes to melt. Twelve ounces will take four to five minutes. Chocolate squares, which are larger, take about 45 seconds to one minute per square.
Bulk chocolate microwaves best when broken into chunks. Disc- or wafer-shaped pieces of colored "bark" coating (available in my area in 15 colors) may be melted like chocolate pieces. Some bark coatings may become thinner than regular chocolate after melting.
Risk of Overcooking
Chocolate should be microwaved just until it can be stirred smooth. At this point it will look glossy and might start to lose its shape. If you microwave it until it's completely melted, you risk overcooking. So as it melts, test the chocolate by stirring it rather than relying on how it looks.
Here is my recipe for chocolate-covered strawberries (you could also dip kiwi slices, tangerine sections or sweet cherries) and a couple of other favorites using melted chocolate. These are best served the same day you make them. Sometimes, for variety, I dip the berries deeply into melted dark chocolate, then more shallowly into melted white chocolate, to create a two-toned effect.
CHOCOLATE-COVERED FRESH STRAWBERRIES
1 pint small strawberries
3 (1-ounce) squares semisweet or white chocolate
1 tablespoon shortening
Rinse and thoroughly dry strawberries. Place chocolate and shortening in 1-quart microwave-safe casserole. Microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 2 1/4 to 3 minutes, until mixture can be stirred smooth.
One at a time, grasp stem end of each berry and dip, stem-end up, into chocolate, covering about 3/4 of fruit. Chill coated berries on wax paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate to set chocolate. Makes about 24 strawberries.
FROZEN CHOCOLATE BANANA POPS
3 firm, ripe bananas
1 (6-ounce) package semisweet chocolate pieces
3 tablespoons oil
Coatings such as chopped nuts, coconut, multicolored sprinkles, chocolate decors or crushed peanut brittle
Peel bananas and cut each in half crosswise. Insert wooden skewer into cut end of each half. Before dipping, arrange banana pops on wax paper-lined plate and freeze at least 30 minutes. (Freezing firms bananas so skewers stay in place.)
Place chocolate and oil in 1-cup microwave-safe measuring cup. Microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes, until mixture can be stirred smooth.
Dip bananas into chocolate, using spoon to cover each evenly and completely with chocolate. As each pop is dipped, allow excess chocolate to drip back into cup, then immediately roll chocolate banana in coating of choice. Return to wax paper-lined plate. Serve immediately, or wrap each pop individually in foil and freeze. Makes 6 servings.
Note: Any extra chocolate can be combined with leftover nuts, coconut or a few raisins and dropped in clusters onto another wax paper-lined plate. Refrigerate to set chocolate.
Serving fresh fruit with a fondue sauce lets friends decide whether or not to dip. Milk chocolate pieces, which are sweeter than semisweet chocolate, are used in this recipe, and additional sugar is omitted.
1 (12-ounce) package milk chocolate pieces
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup amaretto
Fresh fruit such as orange sections, banana or pineapple chunks or wedges of apple, nectarine, pear or apricot
Place chocolate and half and half in 1-quart microwave-safe casserole. Microwave at MEDIUM (50% power) 4 1/2 to 6 minutes, until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in amaretto. Serve fondue from casserole or transfer to fondue pot over low heat. Serve with choice of fruits and fondue forks or skewers for dipping. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: Marshmallows or cubes of unfrosted firm cake (such as poundcake or angel food cake) can also be offered as dippers. If prepared in advance, bananas, apple, nectarines and pears should be sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent darkening. If desired, omit amaretto and increase half and half to 3/4 cup.