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Make this dark chocolate fondue for joyful intimacy

Serve the fondue with an array of fresh and dried fruit – such as fresh apple, pear and banana slices, dried figs and dates – and crunchy, salted pretzels.  (Scott Suchman/for the Washington Post)
By Ellie Krieger Special to the Washington Post

If I’m home for New Year’s Eve – where I prefer to be – chances are I’m making fondue. Sometimes I make two: a cheese one for dinner and a chocolate one for dessert. The fun, informal nature of the dish sets just the right tone. There’s an ease about fondue, from the stress-free way it’s served to the freedom each person has to choose what they want to dip in it.

A joyful intimacy is built-in, too, with everyone gathering around the pot as if it were a campfire, and the inevitable, playful elbow-bumping that ensues. It’s almost impossible to eat fondue without smiling.

This dark chocolate version is so enticing, looking at it will inspire oohs and aahs as it is presented, before those satisfied grins emerge upon eating it. Melted chocolate has a way of doing that.

To make this fondue, you start the way you might make hot cocoa, by whisking cocoa powder with a little milk to form a paste. (You can use any type of cocoa powder you have, but I generally go for the “natural” – not Dutch-processed – type, because it has a brighter taste and more antioxidants. You could technically use any type of milk, too, but the coconut milk called for here serves not only to add creaminess, but to imbue the dessert with a sweet, tropical essence. If you use vegan chocolate, it makes the dessert vegan-friendly as well.)

Into that cocoa paste, you whisk more coconut milk and a little maple syrup, then stir in chopped dark chocolate until it melts and the mixture is luxuriously thick. A splash of vanilla extract adds a warm fragrance and amplifies the sweet flavors.

If you have a fondue pot, now is the time to break it out, but you don’t need one: Simply serve the chocolate mixture in the pot you used to prepare it. I like to accompany the fondue with an array of fresh and dried fruit – such as fresh apple, pear and banana slices, and dried figs and dates – and it’s incredible with crunchy, salted pretzels. Graham crackers, ginger snaps or vanilla wafers would be nice, too.

Dipping any of those into the dark chocolate wafting with maple, coconut and vanilla, while surrounded by loved ones, is the kind of pleasure that I hope we all experience bountifully in the year to come.

Maple-Coco Chocolate Fondue

½ cup light coconut milk, divided

2 tablespoons unsweetened natural or Dutch-processed cocoa powder

¼ cup pure maple syrup, plus more to taste

3 ounces dark chocolate (50 to 60 percent cocoa solids), chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

An assortment of sliced fresh apples, pears, strawberries and bananas; dried figs, pears and apples; and pretzels

In a 1- to 2-quart saucepan, whisk together ¼ cup of the coconut milk with the cocoa powder to form a paste. Whisk in the remaining ¼ cup of the coconut milk and the maple syrup until combined. Set the saucepan over low heat and cook, whisking frequently, until simmering. Add the chocolate and cook, stirring, just until melted. Remove from the heat, and stir in the vanilla until smooth.

Taste, and add more maple syrup, as desired, 1 teaspoon at a time. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm, with the accompaniments for dipping.

Yield: 4 servings (makes about ¾ cup)

Substitutions: Don’t like dark chocolate? Use high-quality semisweet chocolate chips. Instead of light coconut milk, use regular full-fat coconut milk or another kind of milk.

Storage: Refrigerate for up to 4 days; gently reheat on the stove or in the microwave.