I love chocolate-covered cherries, but I can't figure out how they make them. Do they cover the cherry with chocolate and then squirt the juice in there somehow? Do they make the top, put in the cherry and the juice, then put on the bottom?

Merrilee, Solana Beach


I thought that "Dutch chocolate" meant it was the best kind. But an ad for cake mix says it's made with "Dutched chocolate." Is that cheap chocolate made to taste like Dutch chocolate?

Chocoholics Anonymous, San Diego

The entire Alice family has been on a big shape-up campaign lately. Pop moved the refrigerator into the garage, at least 20 yards farther away from the TV, and he breaks a nice little sweat jogging back and forth. (He also wanted to watch less TV, so he bought a set with a smaller screen.) Ma Alice is into week three of an all-turnip diet. We toss them down the cellar stairs to her twice a day. She's been stuck there ever since she went to do laundry with a Sara Lee sampler pack for company. Guess that last cheesecake put her over the top, girth-wise. Another five pounds and Pop and I should be able to grease up the door frame and spring her loose. Ma says turnips aren't half bad if you run them twice through the rinse cycle.

Anyway, I've pledged not to answer any high-fat, high-cholesterol questions until I'm back down to my fighting weight. For the past week, I've grappled with nothing but knotty posers about rice cakes and celery, so I think I've earned a chocolate day for good behavior.

The Dutch/Dutched chocolate confusion is more truth-in-packaging stuff. What in the past was called Dutch chocolate is more correctly Dutched chocolate. Chocolate beans are processed into various forms, one of the most useful being cocoa powder, used in drink mixes and baked goods. Cocoa is just chocolate with most of the fatty cocoa butter removed. (Add milk solids and sugar to the cocoa butter and you have white chocolate.) But this process still leaves the powder from 10 to 35 percent fat, which can cause it to lump together and fail to disperse evenly in liquids and dry mixes. Dutching (invented in the Netherlands) is the process of adding an alkaline solution like potassium carbonate to the chocolate. This raises it to a more neutral pH, darkens the color, makes the flavor milder, and helps prevent lumping when the powder's mixed. So, Dutched chocolate has been no closer to its namesake than has the Holland Tunnel.

The mystery of liquid-center candies, most particularly the chocolate-covered cherry, is truly a story of better living through chemistry. According to the Russell Stover company, their handmade treats begin with a maraschino cherry wrapped in a thick fondant paste made of sugar, water, and a natural plant and animal enzyme called invertase (commercially known as Convertit). The cherry-and-fondant blob is then dipped in chocolate. Gradually the invertase converts the sugar's sucrose into liquid glucose and fructose. In a matter of hours or days, depending on the fondant recipe, the cherries are bobbing around in that messy syrup. Stover warns that the internal air pocket left when the fondant liquefies can cause the candies to explode if you take them on your next high-altitude backpacking trip. Heck, sounds like fun to me.

Well, back to work. Where did I put that nagging carrot-stick question, anyway?

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