As a home cook, I often fall into the trap of “fancy is better.” Since I’m mostly self-taught–fairly competent, but decidedly amateur–I still have some lingering insecurities about how much more impressive my cooking could be. So I’m always looking for ways to amaze people, to introduce them to new foods, to show off. And somehow, I keep getting it into my head that the more elaborate and complex a recipe is, the more impressive it’ll turn out.
It’s true that sometimes the most elaborate projects are the ones that wow people. I’ll happily make layer cakes and from-scratch burger buns and quiche and paella, even if they take me all day and leave me sweaty and stained. There is enormous satisfaction in tackling some multi-hour, multi-step cooking process and coming out the other end with something ferociously tasty. But it’s shockingly easy to forget that sometimes the most amazing and appealing dishes are also the simplest. Like Irish soda bread. Refrigerator pickles. Eggs, cooked really well. A pot of lentil soup.
So, when I felt a strong urge to do something flashy recently, I decided to go ultra-simple and make a batch of chocolate syrup. It sounds fancy, and tastes incredible–satiny and bittersweet and dark, dark chocolatey, like a fudgy brownie in syrup form. This stuff is seductive and showy, miles away from the little-kiddishness of the stuff in the squeeze bottle. But it’s also one of the quickest kitchen things I’ve ever done–from start to finish, from dry ingredients to gooey sauce, took under 5 minutes. It’s made entirely of pantry staples and water, so it can happen any darn time. There’s no corn syrup, of any variety, so it’s almost virtuous. And did I mention it tastes like a brownie?
In fact, this stuff is so utterly delicious that I have no idea what the shelf life is, because we blew through the entire first batch in less than 24 hours. Acting on a tip I picked up in the blogosphere, I added a touch of baking soda to the syrup, which supposedly keeps the syrup from going gloppy over time. (It also reacted with the cocoa powder and turned the sauce a deeper, sexier shade of brown, which was a plus.) My guess is that this will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks, and at some point I will test that–if my friends and I can keep our hands off it.
Chocolate Syrup (makes about 1 1/2 cups)
Adapted, just barely, from Gourmet
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup natural (unsweetened) cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp baking soda
In a small saucepan, whisk together water and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Add cocoa powder and salt, and continue whisking for 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and thick. Turn off the heat and whisk in vanilla extract and baking soda–the mixture will foam up a bit, then smooth out again as it cools.
Let the syrup cool for about 10 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container. Let the syrup cool completely in the container, then store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.