"Chocolate needs to be treated with respect and care," says Carole Bloom, author of Intensely Chocolate. "But getting your hands into it to create something you can share is so rewarding."
SELECTION Buy chocolate from a source that has a good turnover to be sure it hasn't been stored too long or improperly. Sample a variety of chocolates to find the type you like best. There are so many to choose from these days that it's ultimately a matter of taste. Pass on any chocolate brands you don't like at the sampling stage, because the taste won't change in the recipe.
STORAGE Keep chocolate tightly wrapped in a cool, dry place away from strong odors and possible temperature changes. Do not store chocolate in the refrigerator or freezer, where it can collect moisture.
MELTING Chop chocolate into small, equal-sized pieces for even melting. Warm over barely simmering water in a double boiler, or place in a microwave-safe bowl and melt at lowest power 30 seconds at a time, stirring between each burst. Water is chocolate's archenemy—a drop or two can make it seize and turn into a gloppy mess instead of melting—so keep all bowls and utensils completely dry.
QUALITY CONTROL Chefs recommend using "high-quality" chocolate. But just what does that mean? "High-quality chocolate should have an even-looking appearance; a chocolaty aroma; a sharp snap when broken—no crumbling; and a velvety texture and delicious aftertaste that lingers for about 30 seconds."