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Delight in doing the dip; Confection: Strawberries and chocolate combine to make a melt-in-your-mouth treat.


Has Valentine's Day caught you by surprise -- and unprepared?

There's still time to dip some strawberries in chocolate for an impressive dessert or gift. Large berries with long stems are the most dramatic, but any that are ripe, without soft spots and bright red may be used.

Clean the berries gently with a soft pastry brush. If you prefer to wash them, swish in water, then drain on paper towels for several hours until thoroughly dry. Dipping even slightly moist berries will cause the chocolate to thicken and become dull.

Any chocolate may be used for dipping -- sweet, semisweet, bittersweet or milk. Break or cut it into small pieces and place in the top of a double boiler. Melt slowly over warm water on low heat, stirring frequently. The bottom of the insert should not touch the barely simmering water.

To coat the berry, first remove the top of the double boiler, then dip the bottom three-quarters of the fruit into the chocolate, holding the berry by the stem or hull. Allow the excess chocolate to drip off, then place the dipped berry on its side on a foil- or wax-paper-lined tray.

If the chocolate becomes too thick, remelt it over the warm water.

When it becomes too shallow for dipping, transfer the chocolate to a small custard cup.

Once all the berries are dipped, place the tray in the refrigerator just long enough for the chocolate to firm. (If refrigerated longer, the chocolate will dull and collect droplets of moisture when brought to room temperature.)

Carefully lift each berry to release it from the tray lining, then store at room temperature. Dipped strawberries are very perishable and should be served the same day.

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