Recently in Chocolate category

Italian Chocolate Kisses

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I like the word ‘addictive’.
I use it when it refers to something I like a lot and can’t stop eating.
So instead of implying a substance abuse problem (the jury’s still out around here whether or not chocolate is an abusable substance), the word has positive connotations for me. But I tend to use the word a lot, so much so that I fear that using the word addictive has become another addiction to me.

My friend Joanne recently came to visit me in Paris after a trip through Piedmont, the region of Italy famous for white truffles, hazelnuts, and chocolate (for some reason, though, she didn’t bring me any fresh white truffles.) But she did bring me a lovely box of something dark and chocolaty:
Baci Cherasco.

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Perhaps you’re familiar with Baci or Bacio di Dama, the little blue & silver foil-wrapped circle of Italian milk chocolate with a nice crisp hazelnut in the middle. Baci di Dama translates to kiss of a woman.

So I’m now in the possession of a very big bag (another reason I love Italy…big portions!) of Baci Cherasco; sinful little buttons of dark chocolate with crushed roasted hazelnuts.

The tasty Baci Cherasco were invented in 1881 when the confectioner, Marco Barbero, had make some a batch torrone and had some leftover hazelnuts bits left over…

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Torrone: Made with Honey, Almonds, and Pistachio Nuts

Thinking quickly, Signor Barbero gathered up the remaining hazelnuts and had the good sense to coat them in bittersweet chocolate and made little ‘kisses’ from them.
Nowadays the hazelnuts are hand-crushed with rolling pins to assure they’re still in irregular chunks before dipping.

(Whenever I have any remaining tempered chocolate, I scramble through my kitchen cupboards to see what else I can dip. I’ve enrobed coffee beans, pretzels, honeycomb, prunes…you name it, I’ve dipped it.)

Baci Cherasco are suspiciously simple…just two ingredients: dark chocolate and crunchy hazelnuts. They’re delectable and truly addictive; the hazelnuts are perfectly roasted (always toast nuts, folks…) and the chocolate used is some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Consequently, I’ve become addicted to the little dark nuggets with the powerful aroma of Piedmontese hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate. So much so, I almost ate the entire bag of chocolates as if it were a sack of popcorn.

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Barbero
Via Vittorio Amanuele, 74
Cherasco, Italy
Tel/Fax: 0172-488373

Patrick Roger Chocolates

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I am often asked the difficult-to-answer question, “Who is the best chocolatier in Paris?”

There are very few parts of Paris where you can’t find something delicious made of chocolate. Luckily from my apartment, I’m just a few blocks from Dalloyau, Gerard Mulot, Lenôtre, and Joséphine Vannier near the Place des Vosges, a small chocolate shop whose window delights the tourists, but belies the more serious chocolates inside.

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Surrounded by all this chocolate, how does one name a favorite?

I was thrilled when Patrick Roger decided to open a boutique in Paris. (His workshop is in Sceaux, in the suburbs of Paris). Instead of setting up in a super-chic arrondissement, his shop is close to the bustling Boulevard St. Michel. Each time I pass by, there’s always people pressed hard against the tinted glass (which is to protect the chocolates from the sun), peering in to catch a glimpse of Roger’s stunning bonbons and whimsical chocolate and marzipan confections.

Patrick Roger Chocolates

When it comes to chocolate, my philosophy is ‘Simple is Best’.
The finest chocolate bonbons allow the flavor of the chocolate to come through without interference from the other flavors and ingredients. The zippy notes of fresh lime juice enlivens a cushion of ganache, a hit of Sichuan pepper, smoky Earl Grey tea, and meltingly tender rum raisin-filled nuggets: all are examples of the masterful balance of flavors that compliment dark chocolate, not compete with it.

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Little flakes of oatmeal embedded in a smooth ganache. Mounds of crispy slivered almonds enrobed in dark chocolate. Oozing caramel with the curious and welcoming addition of with pear juices enclosed within a vividly-colored, glossy half-dome. These are some of Monsieur Roger’s creations that continue to seduce me. They satisfy like classic chocolates do, but with curious new flavors that thankfully aren’t meant to shock, but to simply taste good.

Rochers, square cubes of chocolate, flecked with little crackly-bits then dipped in chocolate couverture are my second favorite chocolates here at the moment. My first love are perfect squares of nougatine, a caramelized melange of crispy nuts and burnt sugar, ground together to a paste, formed into cubes and neatly enclosed in chocolat amer.

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Most of the time I stop by, many of the customers either wandered in off the Boulevard St. Germain, lured by the simple, yet dramatic chocolate displays in the window and seem to walk around the shop in a daze, not sure of where to begin or what to taste.

The other customers I find there are food-savvy Parisians, who’ve stopped in to pick up a little sack of noisettes, wild hazelnuts dipped in crisp caramel and dipped in dark chocolate, a few pure chocolate tablettes, or a selection of chocolate bonbons in the easily recognizable green-blue box, which has become a frequent addition to my chocolate checklist here in Paris.


Check out my video: A Visit to Patrick Roger.


Dalloyau
Locations across Paris

Joséphine Vannier
4, rue du Pas de la Mule
Tel: 01 44 54 03 09

Lenôtre
Locations across Paris

Patrick Roger
108, Boulevard St. Germain
Tel: 01 43 29 38 42

And you can read about my experiences ultimately working at Patrick Roger’s shop in my book, The Sweet Life in Paris.

Chocolate Tempering: How To Temper Chocolate

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Homemade Rocky Road, from The Great Book of Chocolate, Enrobed in Tempered Chocolate

How do you temper chocolate, and why do you do it? The short answer is that chemically, chocolate is composed of lots of different little crystals (six to be exact) but the desirable ones are called beta crystals. The development and formation of these beta crystals are what makes well-tempered chocolate.

If the cocoa butter rises to the surface, some people commonly think their chocolate has gotten moldy and toss it out. If you’ve done that, you’ve tossed out perfectly good, but unattractive, chocolate.

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As you can see, there is a dull white sheen on the surface of this piece of chocolate. And that’s what happens to chocolate that’s not properly tempered: the cocoa fat rises to the surface and “blooms”, making it unappealing and unattractive. When you buy chocolate, like a candy bar or chocolate in bulk, the chocolate has been tempered and it should be nice and shiny and snap when you break it. Yet if you leave your candy bar in a warm car and later open it up, often it’ll become white and gray. The heat caused your chocolate to lose it’s temper. When you buy chocolate for baking, it should arrive well-tempered. (If buying pistoles in bulk, they may be dull from becoming scratched during transport, which is not to be confused with untempered.) But once you chop it up and melt it, the beta crystals change, the chocolate loses its temper, and you’ll need to re-temper it again if you plan to use it as a coating.

Pages and volumes of technical research have been written about tempering chocolate, but here are the main reasons for all you home cooks out there:


  • To avoid fat (and sugar) bloom, characterized by unappealing white streaks or blotches on the surface.
  • To raise the melting temperature of finished chocolate so it doesn’t melt on contact with your fingers.
  • To preserve the keeping quality of chocolate by stratifying the fat.
  • To cool chocolate quickly. Tempered chocolate cools fast, within 5 minutes.
  • Tempered chocolate will shrink slightly when cooled, which allows it to slip out of molds easily.
  • To give chocolate a glossy, shiny appearance, and a crisp, clean snap when you break it.

As I’ve said, you don’t need to temper chocolate if you’re going to bake a chocolate cake or make chocolate ice cream. The only time you need to temper chocolate is when you need an attractive, shiny coating for candies that will sit at room temperature. You can get around tempering by dipping chocolates in melted, untempered chocolate and storing them in the refrigerator. Just remove them from the refrigerator a few minutes prior to serving them. The coolness of the refrigerator will stratify the cocoa fat and it won’t bloom.

Theo Chocolates

There are many different methods for tempering chocolate. Some are a bit complicated, and some are really messy, especially for home cooks. I rely on a thermometer, which is foolproof. It’s best to use a dark chocolate that is no higher than 70% in cocoa solids. Higher percentage chocolates (and some artisan bean-to-bar chocolates) can be quite acidic, and may behave differently.

I developed a simple 3-step method that’s a snap for home cooks. All you need is an accurate chocolate thermometer, although a good digital thermometer will work.


Tempering Chocolate

1. The first step is to melt the dark chocolate in a clean, dry bowl set over simmering water, to about 115º-120º F (46º-49ºC.)

2. Remove from heat and let it cool to the low 80ºs F (27ºC.) Drop a good-sized chunk of solid (and tempered) chocolate in, which provides insurance by ‘seeding’ the melted chocolate with good beta crystals. While cooling, stir frequently. Motion equals good crystallization, aka, tempering.

3. The last step is the most important: It’s bringing the chocolate up to the perfect temperature, where it’s chock-full of those great beta crystals. This occurs in most dark chocolates between 88° and 91° F (31º-32ºC.)

(Milk chocolate tempers at 86º-88ºF, 30º-31ºC. Please note that chocolates can vary, so check with manufacturer if unsure about your particular chocolate.)

4. Remove what’s left of the chunk of ‘seed’ chocolate, and your chocolate is dip-worthy: you can dip all the chocolates you want and all will be perfectly tempered. Don’t let it get above 91° F (32ºC) or you’ll have to begin the process all over again. If it drops below the temperatures, rewarm it gently to bring it back up.

For more chocolate tips, recipes, and information, check out The Great Book of Chocolate

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Related Posts and Links

Chocolate FAQs

Chocolate Thermometers

Agave-Sweetened Chocolate Ice Cream (Recipe)

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch (Recipe)

Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups(Recipe)

The Easiest Chocolate Ice Cream Ever! (Recipe)

How to Make Homemade Chocolate Bars

Chocolate Percentages

Since I wrote the book on chocolate I realize that I should be blogging more about chocolate, but all the answers to many of your chocolate questions can easily be found in The Great Book of Chocolate. This book is the ultimate guidebook to the world of chocolate and a wealth of information with delicious recipes. If you’re like me and can never have enough chocolate, this is the book for you.

Want to know the difference between bittersweet and semisweet chocolate? What’s the difference between Venezuelan and Ecuadorian cocoa beans? Which country produces the best chocolate? Which chocolatiers worldwide produce the most interesting and scrumptious chocolates? All the answers, and everything else you’ve ever wanted to know about chocolate, can be found in The Great Book of Chocolate.

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One of the most common misconceptions about appreciating chocolate is that you should base your opinion on the percentage of cacao in the bar. The was reinforced this week when a close friend came to visit, and brought me a tablet of the fantastic chocolate from Cacao Sampaka in Barcelona, which I profiled for Saveur magazine last year in their 100 Best issue. Like everyone that I bring into chocolate shops, he was raving because the chocolate tablet that he graciously brought me (albeit half-eaten) was 71%! (…insert his enthusiasm here.) Like lots of people, everyone seems to expound upon the theory that the higher the better. (…insert everyone’s question here… “But what about anti-oxidants?…)

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I like my friend very much and he may be reading this and if he is, I want him to continue to bring me care packages from Target and Trader Joe’s on his return visits so I don’t want to make him feel cuplable (well, maybe a little.) But I feel compelled to get folks to understand that the exact percentage of cacao in the bar is truly unimportant to the taste or even the bitterness. I’ve had chocolate bars that are 99% cacao that were palatable and other bars that were 80% cacao that were bitter and inedible (and I like very bitter chocolate.) I’ve had 90% bars that were amazingly good and smooth, while others were 60% and were crumbly and mushy.

So quit throwing your nose up in the air and saying, “I only eat chocolate that’s at least 75%.” To me, the numbers are, um, interesting, but not what I look for when evaluating chocolate, since by muddy chocolate-colored logic, that argument means that the 75% chocolate is inherently better than a 70% chocolate. It’s amazing with this analytical mind that I didn’t make my mother proud and become the lawyer (or better yet, the doctor) that she always wanted in the family.

Look what I have. Two Italian chocolates from Baratti & Milano in Torino:

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One is 65% and the other is 80%. Does that mean the 60% is the worse of the two and should be avoided at all costs? You’ll also notice one is made from beans from Ghana and other from beans from Grenada. Quick: which one is better?

It means little to judge a chocolate based simply on a number (or origin, but that’s information that can be found in the book.)
Why?
The percentage doesn’t take into account…

The variety of beans,
or…
The quality of the beans,
or…
The careful roasting of the beans,
or…
The blending of the beans by the chocolate-maker,
or…
The sweetness of the beans themselves,
or…
The acidity of the beans themselves.

I think part of the reason many of us Americans are hung up on high numbers (which is why we never adopted the metric system) because It sounds so much better to say, “Oh my gosh! It was 105 degrees today!” rather than, “Mon dieu, it was an unbelievable 40 degrees today!”

John Scharffenberger of ScharffenBerger chocolate says to pretend you’re Helen Keller when tasting chocolate; Don’t read the label and don’t listen to what others tell you. Taste the chocolate and judge for yourself. If you like it, it’s good chocolate!

A l’Etoile d’Or: The Best Candy Shop in Paris

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Forget Catherine Deneuve and Carole Bouquet.

The most photographed and revered woman in Paris is Denise Acabo. With her braided pig-tails, necktie, and crisply-pleated kilt, Denise is the sweetest woman in Paris.

CBS

Her shop, A l’Etoile d’Or, has an ethereal selection of artisan confections and chocolates from France and whenever I go, I invariably find something new to try, something tasty, something that is so amazing, that I’m compelled to go back for more. What’s a guy to do?

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I give myself at least one hour to shop. Minimum. Words fly out of her mouth in rapid-fire French. She’ll often use the tu word, instead of the formal vous, which suggests immediately comradery.

Don’t understand a word of French?
That’s ok, Just nod. She’ll keep going.

Continue Reading A l’Etoile d’Or: The Best Candy Shop in Paris…

Paris Pastry Shops

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Paris has some of the most amazing pastry and chocolate shops in the world!

I’ve written up many of them and you can browse through my archives to find out more about them: Paris Pastry Shops.

A recommended book for visitors is The Pâtisseries of Paris: A Paris Pastry Guide, which lists many favorites, along with addresses and specialties.

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Domori Chocolate

Gianluca Franzoni is the master chocolatier at Domori. He’s the person who is responsible for selecting the beans and roasting them to perfection. Cacao beans, like coffee, need to be roasted to bring out their flavor. Domori uses no vanilla in their chocolate, unlike other chocolate companies, since Gianluca believes that vanilla masks some of the flavors he coaxes out of the beans to make his chocolate. I immediately liked him because of his dedication to making truly fine chocolate….(and perhaps because his shirt would match the colors of my web site.) Aside from making great chocolate, the Italians really know how to dress.

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As you can imagine, Domori is a chocolate company that is rather revolutionary…and in a country that’s no stranger to revolutions. If you’ve been to Italy, you know the Italians are lively, creative, wonderful people. And they’re not afraid to do things a bit differently.

When Gianluca told me that Domori chocolates were so smooth that even the 100% bar of unsweetened chocolate, called Puro, was not the least bit bitter, (even without the sugar,) I frankly didn’t believe him. But Puro was indeed great. It’s made from 100% Sur Del Lago beans, which is used in some of the best chocolates I’ve tasted. For the hard-core chocolophiles, crunchy dark Ocumare cacao beans, known as Kashaya, are roasted whole and meant to be eaten just as they are. I mean, what kind of people pack up whole roasted cocoa beans and for hard-core chocolate-lovers to eat? The same people who brought us gelato, gianduiotti, and panna cotta.

As you can probably tell by now, I love Italians!

Domori is one of the few chocolate companies that actually owns their own plantations in Venezuela. Most of their beans are criollo hybrids, which is considered the best cacao available today. (The term ‘cacao’ refers to the beans used to make chocolate, and ‘cocoa’ usually refers to the powder made from the beans after they’re roasted and pulverized.)

We tried a sample of all of their chocolates, guided by Gianluca….

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Esmereladas is their chocolate made from Ecuadorian cacao, that had a surprising tropical banana-like aroma and flavor. Rio Caribe, from their Venezuelan plantation, had an earthy, musky character while the Sambirano from the island of Madagascar (where a lot of vanilla is grown) had a raisin-sweet taste and a gorgeous red hue. Perhaps the most intriguing was the Puertofino, which was made from a rare, pure Ocumare cacao, which we all agreed had a delightful creamy taste, even though it was pure bittersweet chocolate with no dairy added.

If this is making you crave Domori chocolate, you can order their chocolate (as well as Tuscan chocolates from Slitti and Amadei) online at Chocosphere.

So onward in my pursuit of more great chocolate here in Tuscany.
Next I’ll visit Slitti, which aside from blending their superb chocolates, they roast amazing coffee…which says a lot, since each time I sip an espresso in Italy, I fall into a deep trance-like state.
In the walled city of Lucca, where we’re staying, I’ve had a chance to stock up on Amadei chocolate as well. Amedei specializes in very rare cacaos, such as Chuao and Porcelana and is another of the world’s great chocolates.

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Eating in Tuscany includes focaccia flatbread permeated with olive oil and sprinkled generously with coarse salt, soup made with the Lucchese wholegrain known as farro, and I’m stockpiling delightfully bitter chestnut honey that I drizzle over toasted and buttered (salted butter, of course) levain bread. If you should ever visit Lucca, the best place to buy Tuscan foodstuffs is Antica Bodega at 31, via Santa Lucia. The wine, of course, is excellent, inexpensive, and generously poured in restaurants and enotecas.

Tomorrow I’m taking my group to a villa in the mountains for a wine and olive oil tasting before we return to Lucca to shop for local specialties at Antica Bodega, including sharp, sheeps-milk Pecorino cheese and well-aged, syrupy Balsamic vinegar, Parmesano-Reggiano and olive oil.

And of course, lots more chocolate.

Related Chocolate Links

Chocolatiers and Chocolate Makers

Theo Chocolate

Valrhona Chocolate

Chocolate FAQs

John-Charles Rochoux

Regis Chocolate

Patrick Roger

La Maison du Chocolat

Gianduja and Gelato

Here I am in Torino, or Turin, if you’re familiar with the shroud.
Being on the road means that I’m in unfamiliar hotels with less-than-ideal access. When I attempted to change the thermostat in my hotel room, the digital display read ‘PARTY’. I don’t know what the ‘party’ mode is, but when I pressed the switch again nothing exciting happened.

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I’m leading a fabulous chocolate tour as I write. Torino is not on the tourist route. But it should be if you’re into chocolate. Gianduja is the star chocolate attraction here, a blend of milk chocolate and hazelnuts ground until smooth then formed into a paste. Hazelnuts are a specialty of the Piedmonte region and during wartime, cocoa beans were scarce so someone had the great idea to blend them with chocolate, and gianduja was born. (If you’ve had Nutella, you know what a terrific alliance chocolate and hazelnuts can be.)

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Once the gianduja paste is made, it’s formed into mounds that are molded into a flat peak, then wrapped in gold foil. I’m not much of a fan of milk chocolate, but when mixed with hazelnuts, it’s dreamy and truly delicious. The best gianduja that I’ve had was at A. Giordano (Piazza Carol Felice, 69.)

The other chocolate treats of Torino are Bicerin and gelato. Bicerin is great, and something that deserves to be better known outside of Torino. It’s a hot drink made with espresso, chocolate, and just enough whipped cream to make is smooth and creamy. It’s a fabulous combination, and each afternoon residents of Torino line up at bars for a warm Bicerin.

The gelato here is thick, gooey, and delicious. Like nothing you’ve had in your life. Flavors include caffe, gianduja (my favorite, of course), pistacio, tangy yogurt, and torrone loaded with almonds and sweetened with honey. Here’s my favorite gelato maker at the Caffe San Carlo (Piazza San Carlo, 156). He is perhaps my new favorite person in the world.
At least in Italy.

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Italians in Torino walks down the street eating gelato all hours of the day. Businessmen at lunchtime slurp cones while avoiding dripping on their Armani suits. Afternoons, swarms of teenagers with low-slung jeans send text-messages in between licks, and elderly women wander through the passages and window shop savoring gelato.

So I’m off tomorrow with my group for the mountains of Biella, where we’ll dine at an Agriturismo, a farm that serves meals made from ingredients only grown on the land. Then onward to Genoa, where we’ll stop along the way at Domori chocolate, one of the world’s great chocolate manufacturers.