Column: Valuable lessons learned at ’60 Men Who Cook’

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on May 11, 2010

Dipping food in chocolate sounds easy. You have an item. You dip it in chocolate. Voilà. How hard could it be?

Very, it turns out, especially for someone who has never worked with chocolate before, unless you consider trying to suck all the chocolate off of a Reese’s peanut butter cup while preserving the peanut butter working with chocolate. I prefer to call that particular activity craziness.

I learned the difficulties of working with chocolate the hard way Friday morning while preparing for the “60 Men Who Cook” event at the Kane County Fairgrounds that night.

The dish I chose to serve was red velvet cake balls after picking it out of a list of suggestions.

It seemed to be a fairly simple recipe.

You make a red velvet sheet cake. Once it has cooled, you crumble it up in a mixing bowl. You then add a can of cream cheese frosting and mix it all together until it is one hot mess of a culinary confection. Once mixed, you roll 60 to 70 balls out of the one cake. You then chill them for several hours until adequately hardened. Then you dip them in chocolate. For 200 cake balls, repeat this process three more times.

It was literally a cake walk until the dipping part.

Some important tips when dipping 200 cake balls in chocolate:

1. Do not use the microwave to melt the chocolate. It hardens too quickly once out of the microwave. I wasted more milk chocolate that way than the Easter bunny at a lactose-intolerant household.

2. Chocolate does not go a long way. I originally bought five baking bars, thinking that would be enough for 200 cake balls. After using two bars and covering 10 cake balls, I realized normal math does not work with dipping chocolate. Chocolate calculus, however, states that no matter how much chocolate you buy, it won’t be enough. I had to make multiple runs to the grocery story for more chocolate. The store clerk began looking at me funny.

3. Two words: double boiler. Most non-cooking men such as myself have never heard of this kitchen item, which essentially is a pan on top of another pan. The bottom one holds boiling water and the top one holds the item you’re melting. After frantically calling my mother after the failed microwave attempts, I learned it is a must have for dipping chocolate. And luckily for me, it turned out we had one tucked away. It keeps the chocolate warm – thus preventing waste – and kept me from spending an entire week’s pay check on chocolate – thus preventing divorce.

4. Use tongs, not spoons to dip chocolate. Sadly, I didn’t figure this out until cake ball No. 175, about 10 hours into the process.

In the end, everything turned OK. The cake balls – if I do say so myself – were delicious, and people at the event seemed to really enjoy them. In fact, I ran out before the event was over.

In hindsight, I probably should have made about 100 more cake balls. But I don’t know if the grocery story would have had enough chocolate.

• • •

Kane County Chronicle reporter Brenda Schory has an excellent story today on two of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

James Ajuong and his brother Mayom Majok were among an estimated 27,000 Lost Boys of Sudan and now both speak to school and church groups about their experiences.

It was impossible to tell their entire story in just one page, but Brenda put together a good narrative that touches on a lot of it. Be sure to check it out.

Joe Grace is the editor of the Kane County Chronicle. You can write to him at or call him at 630-845-5368.

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