Results tagged chocolate from David Lebovitz

Caramelized Matzoh Crunch with Chocolate

I make this every year for Passover. It’s not that I’m all that religious (for some reason I seem to celebrate only the holidays where there’s lots of eating, drinking…and presents, of course.) But I always pick up a box or two of matzoh, which is stacked high in supermarkets this month, plus I love the sweet-crunch of this toffee-like confection.
The only problem is that I haven’t figured out how to adapt it for Easter.
Perhaps you can cut it into ovals with a cookie cutter and try to pull one over on your family.

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The recipe is loosely-adapted from baker and cookbook author Marcy Goldman. Marcy’s run a web site devoted to the art of baking since 1997, called Betterbaking.com. In addition, she’s authored a cookbook of the same name with recipes and ideas and funny stories she’s gathered along her life as a mother, professional baker, and consultant.

You don’t have to be Jewish to like or make this (just like you don’t need to be Christian to like Christmas presents) but it’s delicious and super-easy to make…you can keep the candy thermometer in the drawer as well!

Feel free to substitute milk chocolate or white chocolate, and instead of the crushed almonds, to play around with toasted shredded coconut or other kinds of nuts. As I type, I’m thinking wouldn’t pistachios and white chocolate be nice together on top?
Maybe next year…

I spent this morning at my market handing little sacks of this to my favorite vendors (and a few I’m trying to win over.) So if you’re out at a market in Paris this morning and see the lots of butchers, fishmongers, fromagers, and olive merchants snacking on something, you’ll know what it is.

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Caramelized Matzoh Crunch with Chocolate

  • 4 to 6 sheets of matzoh
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted or salted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup (firmly-packed) light brown sugar
  • optional: fleur de sel, or coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, or coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup sliced almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

Line a 11″ x 17″ baking sheet completely with foil (making sure it goes up the sides) and preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

Line the bottom of the sheet completely with matzoh, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.

In a medium-sized heavy duty saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar and cook over medium heat until the butter begins to boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and pour over matzoh, spreading with a heatproof utensil.

Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the syrup darkens and gets thick. (While it’s baking, make sure it’s not burning. If so, reduce the heat to 325F degrees.)

Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips or chunks. Let stand 5 minutes, then spread smooth with an offset spatula.

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Sprinkle with a flurry of fleur de sel or coarse salt, then scatter the toasted almonds over the top and press them into the chocolate.

Let cool completely (you may need to chill it in the refrigerator), then break into pieces and store in an airtight container until ready to eat.

mazel tov!

Related Links and Recipes

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch (Recipe Update)

Salted Butter Caramels

Candied Ginger

Candied Peanuts

Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramels

A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking (Marcy Goldman)

Ingredients for American Baking in Paris

cupcakes

Although we can’t expect things to be like ‘back home’, many of us do miss certain things and for us bakers, it’s often a challenge to adapt to new ingredients or ones that behave differently than what we’re used to. Here’s a list of commonly used baking ingredients and where you can find them, or what you can use in their place.

americanbaking paris

Buttermilk, Heavy Cream, and Sour Cream

Many grocery stores and cheese shops sell lait ribot, fermented milk from Brittany. Arabic markets also sell fermented milk (lait fermenté) as well. In many recipes you can substitute plain whole milk yogurt or you can milk 1 tablespoon of white or cider vinegar, or lemon juice, with 1 cup (250 ml) of whole milk and let it stand ten minutes.

For sour cream, full-fat (20%) fromage blanc is the closest substitute for baking. Crème fraîche, which is usually at least 30% fat, can be used as well, but is richer. I also use Bridélice, a low-fat dairy product (called crème légère, or “light cream”), whose 15% fat content is similar to American-style sour cream.

(A reader mentioned that smetana, a type of sour cream, is available in Eastern European shops.)

Heavy cream is called crème liquide, crème fluide, or crème entière in French. Both are liquid pouring creams. They are available in supermarkets. (Be aware that entière is full-fat and légère is low-fat, which containers thickeners and will not whip.) The fat percentage of crème entière is usually around 30% whereas American cream is about 36%, although it behaves the same in most applications. (For whipping, get the cream with the highest percentage possible.) Fresh cream is available in supermarkets in the dairy case; be aware that sterlized UHT cream is common in France, which can be challenging to whip, and is refrigerated or unrefrigerated. Some fromageries sell heavy cream, although most offer UHT cream. Beillevaire fromageries carry fresh, raw heavy cream.

Monoprix carries their own brand of heavy cream in small plastic bottles, and Elle & Vire is one brand that sells UHT cream in paper cartons, as well as crème entière épaisse, which comes in a pouch and is quite thick, but works well in most applications that call for heavy cream.

sucre vergeoise

Brown Sugar

To replace the sticky brown sugar used in American recipes, there are two options. One is sucre vergeoise, which is beet sugar sprayed with caramel-coating (to resemble brown sugar) and sucre cassonade, which is unrefined cane sugar. Both are available in dark and light variations: light (cuivrée) or dark (ambrée), for cassonade.

Sucre vergeoise is more available, found in supermarkets, although I prefer cassonade, which can be found in supermarkets (most often under the Daddy brand, which they sell online at La Boutique Daddy and you can find other brands at natural food stores, like Naturalia and Biocoop.

Coarse crystal, free-flowing cassonade is available in most grocery stores as the French use it for coffee and baking, and can be substituted in some recipes, although I prefer the sticky varieties when a recipe calls for light or dark brown sugar.

You can read more detailed information in my post: French sugars.

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Flour

Flour varies from country-to-country. French ‘all-purpose’ flour (type 45 and type 55) is closer to American cake flour: it’s milled very finely and has less-protein and gluten (strength). In most cases, you can’t just substitute French all-purpose flour in American recipes like cookies and cakes. I know too many Americans who opened the oven door and found all their carefully rolled-out chocolate chip cookies, melded into one, giant blob.

If you’re interested in the precise composition of both flours, you can read about them American vs French flours and French flours. Chow published a French & American flour equivalent chart.

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In spite of the listing, I found that organic type 65 flour is the closest, which you can find in natural food stores like Naturalia. You can also buy type 65 organic flour at Monoprix and other supermarkets. It will say on the side of the package.

Regular whole wheat flour can be found in most groceries stores, as well as in natural food stores. Type 110 is equivalent to regular whole wheat flour, and Type 80 bise is a lighter flour, similar to whole wheat pastry flour.

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Molasses

You can buy mélasse at natural food stores, but it’s sulphured, unrefined, and very strongly-flavored. When using it in recipes, I cut it with some mild-flavored honey. Otherwise it can overwhelm all other flavors in whatever you’re baking. Unless you like that strong, molasses flavor…then go for it. American-brands of mild, unsulphured molasses, as we know it, is available in stores that cater to the expat community.

Treacle, available in British stores and markets that carry British foods, is a close substitute, but is similar to blackstrap molasses and quite strong. In a pinch, cut it 50:50 with mild honey, unless you like the strong molasses taste.

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Yeast

You can ask your local boulanger if they’ll sell you some yeast, or it’s available in supermarkets (not in the refrigerated section, like in America) in packets like the one shown above. You can also buy it in small tins in Arab markets, under the SAF brand.

Since yeast is a living organism, the yeast in Europe behaves a bit different than American yeast, but I’ve had few problems. You can test yeast by adding a teaspoon to half a cup slightly-warm water; it should start bubbling within a few minutes if it’s still good. You can find a yeast substitution guide at the Red Star yeast website for swapping fresh yeast for dry yeast. Fast-acting yeast in France is available in the baking aisle of some supermarkets called levure rapide or “action express.”

chocolate & butterscotch chips

Chocolate Chips

Finding chocolate chips is regular supermarkets is nearly impossible. In Paris, G. Detou carries them at a reasonable price (although they contain the sugar substitute, maltitol) and expat stores carry them, as well as Le Grand Epicerie. You can simply chop up a bar of chocolate, or buy Callebaut pistoles (as shown in the photo) available at professional baking supply shops, such as G. Detou and Metro.

Butterscotch, and similar-flavored chips, may be available in shops that cater to the expat community.

corn syrup

Corn Syrup

American corn syrup is expensive, and sold at stores that cater to the expat community. But Asian markets often carry corn syrup cheaply, as it’s used in Korean cooking. Stores in Paris are Ace Mart and Kmart (both are on the rue St. Anne) and Tang Frères (in the 13th.)

Professional baking supply shops, such as G. Detou in Paris, also sell glucose, which is essentially the same thing. If you need dark corn syrup, add a generous spoonful of molasses to the corn syrup. For more information about corn syrup: When To Use (and Not Use) Corn Syrup, which lists other substitutions.

yellow cornmeal

Cornmeal

Various grades of cornmeal can be found in ethnic markets, mostly catering to the Arabic community. Polenta and cornmeal, such as those that are used for cornbread, can be found in those stores as well as in natural foods stores, labeled farine de maïs which is fine corn flour, or coarser, often called semoule de maïs. In Paris, many of those are clustered around Belleville and near the marche d’Aligre. Natural foods stores sell it as well. The best advice is to go and look because the nomenclature can vary.

Corn starch is available in supermarkets under the name Maizena. It’s available in natural food stores under the name fécule de maïs or amidon. Potato starch is commonly used in France and works the same as corn starch in most applications. It’s available in Kosher stores.

French peanut butter

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is available in France and now many supermarkets carry it. American brands, like Skippy, can be expensive. But “natural-style” peanut butter can be found in ethnic stores, especially those that cater to the Indian community. (In Paris, many of those are clustered around La Chapelle, behind the gare du Nord.)

The peanut butter you find is generally 98% peanuts, with a small amount of vegetable fat added. You can also make your own by roasting raw peanuts in the oven and whizzing them in a food processor, while warm, until smooth. Natural food stores also carry “American-style” peanut butter, which is similar to our natural peanut butter, but not the same as brands like Jif or Skippy, and won’t behave the same way in recipes.

cocoa in pan

Cocoa Powder

Virtually all the cocoa powder in France is Dutch-processed, which means the cocoa powder has been acid-neutralized and is generally darker. It often will not say so on the front label, but may list the alkalizing agent (often potassium carbonate or bromate) as an ingredient.

Although one should, theoretically, used what the recipe calls for, you can usually do just find swapping out one for the other.

More information can be found at my post; Cocoa Powder FAQs.

chocolate

Chocolate

When a recipe calls for bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, you can use any of the dark chocolate baking bars found in supermarkets. If you live in Paris, G. Detou sells chocolate in bulk, in bars and pistoles. The membership only Metro stores also carry chocolate (and other supplies) in bulk.

G. Detou also carries unsweetened (sometimes called ‘bitter’) chocolate in bulk, which in France is called 100% cacao, or 100% pâte de cacao. Some gourmet stores carry it but in general, you won’t find it in supermarkets as the French don’t bake with it like Americans do.

You can learn more about chocolate varieties and uses at Chocolate FAQs.

baking soda

Baking Soda

Some supermarkets carry baking soda (bicarbonate de soudre) and Indian markets usually carry it as well. It can also be found in pharmacies; you’ll have to ask since they don’t normally keep it on the shelf.

evaporated milk/lait concentré

Evaporated Milk and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Evaporated milk is lait concentré non sucrée (concentrated, unsweetened milk), and is available in most supermarkets. Sweetened condensed milk is well; it’s known as lait concentré sucré, which is sold in cans as well as tubes, like toothpaste.

Kiri

Cream Cheese

Cream cheese can be found in supermarkets under the St. Môret label, or store-brands, labeled pâte à tartiner, in the familiar rectangle shape. Ed discount markets has the best prices if you need a lot. Also cream cheese is available in Jewish grocers in the Marais, and some French people use Kiri squares as cream cheese for making le cheesecake.

Philadelphia-brand cream cheese has decided to become a bigger presence in France due to its popularity with the French and can now be found at many supermarkets in France at reasonable prices.



Shops Specializing in Anglo Products in Paris & France

Here’s a listing of the stores mentioned above, or shops that specialize in products for expats. I’ve noticed that the everyday supermarkets in Paris, such as Franprix and G20 often have sections that sell anglo products at decent prices, and those are worth checking out, too. There are a couple of places that do mail-order and although I haven’t ordered anything from them, if you really need something, they might be worth the extra expense.

For cake pans, muffin tins, bakeware, and paper cupcake liners (and more), I prowl around ethnic neighborhoods. A favorite is the rue de Belleville in Paris; there are lots of stores scattered along that street, that carry baking items at very low prices. For those who want more professional-quality equipment, check out The cookware shops of Paris. It’s a good idea to measure your oven and baking equipment, especially if you’ve brought items to France from other countries as items like silicone baking mats are sized differently and may not fit.

Thanksgiving (Paris)

G. Detou (Paris)

Naturalia (France)

My American Market (France & Europe)

The English Shop

Biocoop (France and Europe)

Izraël

American Market (Switzerland)

English Shop (Germany)

Mr. 10% (France)

British Superstore (England)

The Real McCoy (Paris)

Monoprix

La Grand Epicerie

Auchan

E. Leclerc

Carrefour

How to Find Foods and Other Items Mentioned on the Site



More Paris links:

Paris Restaurant Archives

Gluten-Free Eating in Paris

Paris Cooking Classes & Wine Tasting Programs

10 Delicious Things Not to Miss in Paris

Tipping in Paris

Romantic restaurants in Paris

Accessible Travel in Paris

Where is the best duck confit in Paris?

Paris Dining Guides

Hungry for Paris Guide

Some Favorite Paris Restaurants

Vegetarian Dining Tips for Paris and a list of Vegetarian Restaurants

Where to Find a Great Hamburger in Paris (Kid-friendly)

Pâtisseries in Paris Guide

Sunday Dining in Paris

Bicerin Recipe

Bicerin

The city of Torino (or Turin) is one of the great centers of chocolate. In the early part of 1500, a Italian named Emmanuel Philibert served hot chocolate to celebrate a victory over the French at Saint-Quentin. And in 1763, Al Bicerin opened it’s doors and began making a celebrated coffee-and-chocolate drink called il bavareisa. The hot drink was a soothing mixture of locally-produced chocolate, strong Italian coffee, and topped with a froth of whipped cream.

The drink was often served in a small glass, called a bicerin (bee-chair-EEN), hence the name got changed to what we know now today as il bicerin.

Just across the border from France, Torino is the city where chocolate is an integral part of life, and where ice cream on a stick, the pinguino popsicle, was invented in 1935. Now there are exceptional chocolate-makers throughout the city, such as Peyrano and A. Giordano, who still make gianduiotto by hand, selling it at their historic chocolate shop on the Piazzo Carlo Felice.

The Piedmontese region is famous for a few other things than just chocolate and hazelnuts, most notably white truffles, but also for their exceptionally delicious hazelnuts. Back in those days, cacao beans were very expensive and rare, so a local chocolatier named Michel Prochet began blending hazelnuts into the chocolate to extend it, inventing gianduja (gee-an-DOO-ya) and is now perhaps most famously consumed as Nutella, which has become the most popular sandwich spread in the world.

But even now, every afternoon you’ll find the locals stand in one of the city’s historic caffès, sipping a hot bicerin from a small, stemmed glass. Or sitting at a marble-topped table and letting one of the waiters present them with your bicerin, savoring the atmosphere.

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My favorite place is the overly-ornate Baratti & Milano, where I like to sip my bicerin surrounded by crystal chandeliers and bronze sculptures. And I always am sure to pick up a few bars of their handcrafted chocolate or gianduja at the gilded-and-mirrored confectionery counter on the way out. Here’s my recipe…

Bicerin
Two servings

It’s important to use a clear glass; you need to be able to see all three layers.

To make a bicerin, warm one cup (250 ml) whole milk in a medium-sized saucepan with 3 ounces (90 gr) of chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. Whisk the mixture until it begins to boil, then let it boil for 1 minute, whisking constantly (the chocolate mixture will foam up a bit.)
Afterward, remove it from the heat and set aside. Make a small pot of very strong coffee, or good Italian espresso.

Fill the bottom third of a clear, heat-proof glass with the warm chocolate mixture. Pour in some coffee or espresso. (If you want to help it create a definite layer, pour it over the back of a spoon, into the glass.)

Top with a nice swirl of sweetened, freshly-whipped cream.

Places in Torino/Turin, specializing in local chocolates, gianduiotti, or to find an authentic bicerin:

A. Giordano
Piazzo Carlo Felice, 69
Tel: 011.547121

Al Bicerin
Piazza Consolata, 5
Tel: 011.4369325

Baratti & Milano
Piazza Castello, 29
Tel: 011.4407138

Caffè Torino
Piazza San Carlo, 204
Tel: 011.545118

Gobino
via Cagliari, 15/b

Confetteria Avvignano
Piazzo Carlo Felice, 50
Tel: 011.541992

Peyrano
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 76
Tel: 011.538765

Platti
Corso Vittoria Emanuele II, 72
Tel: 011.5069056

What is White Chocolate?

Some people love it, and others leave it.

It’s White Chocolate, that controversial melange of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk (more on that later). Often there’s vanilla, or vanillin (a synthetic vanilla-like substance) added as well.

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Many people will say they don’t like white chocolate, citing a preference for the dark side.
“It’s not chocolate!”, you’ll hear.

Well, no, it’s not. It’s different. A different kind of chocolate.

Dark, or bittersweet chocolate, contains cacao mass (the ground beans), sugar, cocoa butter, and sometimes vanilla and lecithin.
White chocolate has none of the cacao mass, hence the delicate, ivory-like color, which it gets from the cocoa butter. Instead it’s rich with cocoa butter, which gives it that suave, subtle taste, that I find compliments dark chocolate desserts and bolder flavors. I make White Chocolate Crème Anglaise and pour the cool custard alongside a dark chocolate cake. Or I steep fragrant fresh mint leaves when making White Chocolate Ice Cream.

Cocoa butter is derived from the chocolate-making process, or more specifically, when cocoa powder is made. To make cocoa powder, roastedcacao beans are ground into a paste, known as chocolate liquor, then the paste is pressed through a powerful hydraulic press, which separates the cocoa mass from the cocoa butter. The cocoa mass comes out as a solid block, which is grated into cocoa powder (which is why cocoa powder is always unsweetened and relatively low-fat) and the soft, rich cocoa butter is extracted. I’ve been to factories and watched the process, and the smell of warm, fat-rich cocoa butter is intoxicating.

The valuable cocoa butter is often sold to the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry, since it has the perfect melting point for things like lipstick…and why chocolate melts and releases its complex flavors like nothing else when you pop a piece in your mouth. But it’s also that reason that true white chocolate tastes so good and is loved by many pastry chefs.

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Here’s some tips and facts about white chocolate:

  • Both white and dark chocolates are emulsions. Adding small amounts of liquid, like water or milk, will cause the emulsion to break or seize. Therefore, any milk that’s added to white chocolate must be first either dried into a powder or cooked to a paste, removing the water, before it’s used. So you’ll often find the ingredient ‘milkfat’ on the label.
  • In the United States, white chocolate must contain a minimum of 20% cocoa fat.
  • Because white chocolate contains a dairy product, it’s highly perishable. Purchase it in small quantities as needed (unless you’re like me, and use so much you buy it in 5-pound blocks…as shown above.) I make sure to get white chocolate from a reliable source that rotates and checks their stock regularly. Store it in a cool, dark place, but not the refrigerator, since it’s high-fat content makes it a good medium for absorbing other odors…like the stinky camembert in my fridge.
  • White chocolate will keep for up to one year. If you’re unsure if it’s any good, taste it before using (which most of us do when baking with chocolate, right?)
  • Buy only ‘pure’ white chocolate and check to make sure the label reads only ‘cocoa butter’, and no other tropical fats, such as coconut or palm kernel oil.
  • Due to the higher fat and sugar content, white chocolate melts very easily and at a lower temperature than dark chocolate, but more care should be taken when using it. Avoid excessive or direct heat. I like to pour a hot liquid over it and use the heat from that to melt the white chocolate.
  • There’s only a few companies in America that make white chocolate: E. Guittard, Baker’s, and Askinoise. But most of the white chocolate you’ll find is European-made, perhaps since few American bake with white chocolate.
  • White chocolate should never be pure white. Since cocoa butter is ivory-colored, real white chocolate should be off-white as well. Products labeled as ‘white bar’ or ‘white coating’ are often not white chocolate and just tastes plain sugary and should not be used in recipes that call for white chocolate.

Continue Reading What is White Chocolate?…

Organic and Fair Trade Chocolates

I ain’t Mr. Organic.

I’m one of those people where “local-trumps-organic”.
And taste trumps everything.
But I do generally prefer to buy from a local grower if possible, rather than from someone far away. (Unless it’s Target…then all bets are off!)

That’s what I like about daily life in Paris, those things are still important. You need to know the boulanger, the butcher, the fromager, the waiter at your local café, and, of course, the most important person in France: The Pharmacist.
(Next time you’re a guest in someone’s home in France, check out the bathroom. Holy Mother-of-Merck! The average French person gets 80 prescriptions per year.)

In many cities in America, organic has become all the rage.
Fine restaurants and their chefs are touting how organic they are. Boasting about which farms they buy their lavender-colored turnips from, and how tiny can they get their lettuce leaves to be. Branches of baby thyme are carefully draped over free-range quail eggs from birds that only eat peeled (organic) grapes. Everyone’s so chummy with their farmer, smiling from the pages of Food + Wine magazine, but do we really need to know which farmer grows the most special, rarest species of Japanese blueberry blossoms to be dehydrated and sprayed over diners while they’re spooning up their Smoked Lemon Sorbet?
American cuisine seems to be touting organics so much so that several French chefs have come up to me and asked,
“Why is everyone in America so into organic produce?”

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I usually respond with something along the lines of “Organic is better since you often buy direct from the grower, there’s no chemicals, it’s better for the environment” etc…

On more than one occasion, their response was,
“Well, in France, we use very little chemicals.”

“Er…um, really?”, I think to myself.

I’m not an agronomist, but I’ve been told the opposite. And just like anywhere else in the world, including the US, I am sure that most commercially-grown fruits and vegetables are sprayed with something or other to make them as perfect and blemish-free as possible.

But eventually I realized that organic here is associated with bourgeouis or upscale. Most organic products are more expensive, and of the two organic markets in Paris, the one on the Boulevard Raspail is full of snobbish clients, pushing you aside with their strollers while they reach for their precious organic turnips (like the SUV-driving folks who run stop signs racing to get to yoga, shoving you aside in the aisles of Whole Foods while they chat on their cell phones, drinking their chai lattes, oblivious to anyone around them.)

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But in Paris, the little shops are the most interesting, since you get to interact with the owners and they still take pride in their merchandise and often they like to talk to you. Each shop is like entering someone’s home. A few days ago I was walking down a street near Oberkampf, and passed a nifty little bio shop, an organic shop so clean and modern. Displayed in the window were lots of interesting products and some chocolate bars, but I was in a rush and I kept walking.
But then I stopped, turned around, then went back.

I found inside a small, but rather interesting array of chocolates on offer and I am always looking for new and unusual chocolates. So I picked up a few bars while the owners offered me strips of delicious dried mangoes.

Organic Chocolate
Chocolate, or cacao (the beans ground to make chocolate), is generally grown in very underdeveloped regions quite close to the equator. The climate is inhospitable and the jungles can be very rugged. I would presume that in many of those places, the people are not treated very well who pick cacao pods, nor do they make much money, hence the interest in Fair Trade, where the growers are said to get paid a fair wage for their products. Some of these products are organic, while others are not.

However I’ve been told by one of my most reliable sources for all things chocolate, that most cacao is not sprayed with chemicals and is, for the most part, organic. (In many places ‘organic’ is a term that can only be used if the products are certified and tested, which often requires a hefty fee to be paid. Hence, farmers will often choose to label their products as ‘transitional’ or ‘unsprayed’ even if they are indeed organic.)

But what I like about these organic or Fair Trade chocolates is that the labels are chock-full of information; the region where the chocolate’s grown, the climate, how it’s harvested, what the growers had for dinner last night, how often they go to the bathroom, etc…

It’s all very interesting, and is good for consumers who imagine that chocolate is from some big factory full of test tubes and scientists formulate bars, so it’s nice to see a picture of the happy natives on the packaging.

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The chocolates I purchased were interesting, although they were geared more for mass-appeal rather than the rarified palate that someone such as myself has cultivated. (just kidding…)

The Oxfam chocolate bar is made in Belgium. It has 48% cacao mass and it was a bit sweet, but had a nice fruity aftertaste and it would be great for baking. The chocolate is from Ghana (hence the black woman).

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Another curious chocolate bar I found was made with quinoa.
Go figure.
Quinoa is an ancient grain, very high in protein. The grains are puffed and toasted, then embedded into the chocolate bar. I liked this one.
The chocolate is from the Dominican Republic, from an organization of 9000 little cacao cultivators. The chocolate was nice and dark (60 percent, for those of you into numbers) and had a nice snap. There was not much of a ‘finish’, no long-term aftertaste, and I wish there were more crunchy bits in there.

Still, what a wacky thing to find: chocolate with puffed quinoa!

Here’s some interesting places to check out on the web about organic or Fair Trade chocolates, with information where to buy and taste some of the products mentioned, as well as a few other brands, some that are available in the United States.

Oxfam Fair Trade chocolate in Belgium.

Dagoba organic chocolate from the United States.

Green and Black’s Organic Chocolate, made in England, available worldwide.

Max Havelaar chocolates and other Fair Trade products online.

Some of the chocolates shown, such as the bar with quinoa, are available here.

A Visit to Bernachon Chocolate

Jean-Charles Rochoux has perhaps the tiniest chocolate shop in Paris, located on an unassuming side street off the Rue de Rennes. It’s hard to see and easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. But what causes most passers-by to stop are the window displays, filled with intricately-sculpted statues and figures, crafted entirely of chocolate.

M. Rochoux spent many years in the workshop of Michel Chaudun, one of the best chocolatiers in Paris. And indeed, a look around this sleek boutique reveals much inspiration from M. Chaudin, including his version of Colomb, little disks of chocolate studded with cocoa nibs, and Les Pavés, tiny cubes of chocolate ganache that instantly dissolve in your mouth, the lingering pleasure lasting a few precious minutes. Then you decide it’s time for another. I always buy at least six at a time for that reason.

But stacked discretely in the corner are stacks of chocolate bars, and after we had a lengthy discussion on chocolate one day, M. Rochoux handed me a tablet labeled noisettes to take home as a gift. When I got home, I tore open the wrapper and took a bite.
I was completely surprised by what I found inside.

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Each individual roasted hazelnut was coated in crunchy, crackly caramel, then enrobed in the chocolate bar. The contrast of hyper-crisp hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate makes this my new favorite chocolate bar in Paris.

Although I love finding something new, sometimes I have the opportunity to discover something nearly forgotten.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of touring the workshop and chocolate boutique of the world-famous Bernachon, in the city of Lyon.

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Bernachon’s Signature Cake: ‘Le President’

Not only does Bernachon make great chocolates, they actually make the chocolate itself. Let’s say you go to a shop to buy filled chocolates, or bars of chocolate. You’re buying chocolate that the chocolatier has bought (and perhaps mixed to his or her specifications). That’s the difference between a chocolatier and a chocolate-maker. There are very few chocolate-makers in the world, only 14 exist in the United States at present. Bernachon is a small shop, but it’s stunning what they’re able to produce.

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Piping ‘Couronne Noisette': Hazelnut and Praline Paste Blended with Milk Chocolate

I love Bernachon chocolate, although it’s nearly impossible to find outside of their shop in Lyon. But what great chocolate it is and it’s certainly worth the 2-hour TGV ride from Paris.

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‘Les Roches’, Just-Dipped in Freshly-Made Dark Chocolate

Their most famous bonbons are the seriously-rich, ganache-filled palets d’Or flecked with bits of real gold. At the shop, they barely have time to keep them in the showcase, as customers come in, the saleswomen fill boxes directly from the decades-old wooden storage trays.

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A Super-Skilled Chocolatier at Bernachon Making Chocolate Ruffles

But when I visit, I stock up on their chocolate bars, which allow me to commune with the pure chocolate all by my lonesome. I like the Nuit et Jour, the Night and Day bar, where one side is bittersweet dark chocolate. Flip it over, the reverse is smooth milk chocolate. Moka is made by grinding roasted coffee beans along with cocoa beans for a double-buzz, and Extra Amer is a super-dark bar of chocolate with very little sugar. It’s bliss for some, and too intense for others.I fall into the first category. But my absolute favorite is Kalouga.

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Kalouga is a rather funny name for a chocolate bar. It’s the Basque word for ‘Caramel’ (any scholars of the Basque language out there?) But I found the Basque word for tasty, gustagarri, and that’s what this is. I first tasted one of these bars about 5 years ago, but was dismayed to find they stopped making it since. Too much of the luscious caramel would begin oozing out after the tablets were made and it was problematic to store them.

But I kept asking them to make them, and word got back to them that there was an American living in Paris who was insane for them. And lo and behold, they’re back in production! (Yes, that was the story I was told…whether or not I believe it is another story…)
Either way, you may thank me later…once you’ve tried one.

Once you bite inside, the gooey salted caramel immediately begins spilling out, and it’s hard not to eat the whole thing at once. If you’re the generous type, I recommend opening it when you have a bunch of friends over to share the bounty.

Otherwise, you can just eat the whole thing yourself.

Guess which I did?

Jean-Charles Rochoux
16, rue d’Assas (6th)
Paris
Tél: 01 42 84 29 45

Bernachon
42, cours Franklin-Roosevelt
Lyon
Tél: 04 78 52 67 77
Lyon

(Bernachon chocolate bars are available in Paris at A l’Etoile d’Or.)

Le Grenier à Pain

One of the great things to do in Paris is to wander. I’ll often catch a film, search for a monument, of just mètro to a far-off neighborhood…then walk.

The 13th arrondissement of Paris is a real cross-cultural quartier.
Part of it is the quartier Chinois, where there’s huge and small shops selling exotic Asian fruits and vegetables, as well as unidentifiable cuts of meat (that are perhaps best left unidentifiable…)

Many Asians set up shops and restaurants in the area during the 1970’s, when the neighborhood was neglected and rather dingy. But now there’s much to be said for this area: there’s the little village of Butte aux Cailles, a tiny village with convivial restaurants, and cafés and there’s a fabulous natural-source piscine (swimming pool) where I’ve cooled off on more than one swelteringly hot summer afternoon in Paris. (Bathing caps are mandatory in public pools in Paris…even for men…even if you’re bald!)

On a recent stroll through the neighborhood, I stopped by one of my favorite out-of-the-way boulangeries, Le Grenier à Pain and found these whimsical chocolate-covered Pain d’Epices

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Almost before I could get out of the shop, I ripped into the sack, plucked one out, and took a bite. And boy, were they superb! Chewy and spicy-brown cake, fragrant with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, all enrobed in a thin layer of bittersweet dark chocolate.

I turned around, considered getting another bag but instead spotted a beautiful loaf, le pain aux ceriales, on the wooden rack behind the counter.

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Of course, when I got it home I immediately sliced into the irregularly-shaped loaf. It was excellent and just like I imagined it would be. Rich with whole-grains, deeply-flavored with sour levain, and a firm crust, and wonderful paired with an assortment of cheese I had just selected from the fromager. I smeared the slices with a luscious and dangerously unctuous Délice de Saint-Cyr, a triple-cream raw milk cheese from the region of Brie I’d just selected on the excellent recommendation of my favorite fromager.

Le Grenier à Pain
52, avenue d’Italie
M: Place d’Italie or Tolbiac
Tel: 01 45 80 16 36

(Other locations throughout Paris.)

Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee Recipe

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Something in Paris has turned horribly wrong. It’s called ‘the weather’, or to be more specific…winter has arrived.

Which means it’s gotten cold, gray, and dreary. In fact, it’s so cold that I refuse to go outside until spring. Believe me, all those romantic photos of Paris you see are taken during the spring and fall are very deceptive and although beautiful, it would take a mighty big levier (crowbar) to get me outdoors.

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So when to do when you’re stuck indoors for three or four months? Make candy!

If you’ve never made candy, this one is really simple and incredibly delicious so there’s no reason not to try a batch. And truthfully, doesn’t it make you feel happier just looking at it?

My recipe for Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee is easy: You chop nuts, you make a syrup, and then you pour the syrup over the nuts. Sprinkle some chocolate over it, spread it out, and finish it with more nuts. That’s it. There’s no fancy techniques and the only special equipment you’ll need is a candy thermometer; they’re easily found online, and in most supermarkets. (Yes, really. Take it from someone who lurks in supermarkets, searching for things like candy thermometers, late at night.)

I like to add a sprinkle of fleur de sel, French salt, which gives it a pleasant salty edge which is divine with the dark chocolate and toasty nuts (any coarse salt can be used). Although you can use chips, you can also chop up a block of chocolate, instead.

When making candy, here are a few tips that will help:


  • Read the recipe thoroughly before proceeding and have everything ready.

  • Make sure your thermometer is accurate. If you’re not sure, bring a pot of water to a boil. It should read 212 degrees if you live at sea level. I use a glass candy thermometer, although the digital ones work as well.

  • Be careful dealing with hot syrups. A good precaution is to have a large bowl of iced water handy. If you spill syrup on your hand, plunge it immediately into the water to stop the burn.

  • The best way to clean a caramelized pan is to fill it with water and bring it to a boil. Let stand until the syrup melts away.

  • Every once in a while, candy doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s too humid, or the sugar decides to crystallize (don’t encourage it by overstirring), or the planets aren’t aligned. Don’t get discouraged; it happens even to professionals.

Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

  • 2 cups (8 ounces, 225 g) toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped between 'fine' and 'coarse'
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 115 g) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • a nice, big pinch of salt
  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces (140 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips

optional: Roasted cocoa nibs and fleur de sel

1. Lightly oil a baking sheet with an unflavored vegetable oil.

2. Sprinkle half the nuts into a rectangle about 8″ x 10″ (20 x 25 cm) on the baking sheet.

3. In a medium heavy-duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the water, butter, salt, and both sugars. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the thermometer reads 300 F degrees. Have the vanilla and baking soda handy.

4. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla.

5. Quickly pour the mixture over the nuts on the baking sheet. Try to pour the mixture so it forms a relatively even layer. (If necessary, gently but quickly spread with a spatula, but don’t overwork it.)

5. Strew the chocolate pieces over the top and let stand 2 minutes, then spread in an even layer.

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If using, sprinkle with a small handful of cocoa nibs and a flurry of fleur des sel. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the chocolate and gently press them in with your hands.

Cool completely and break into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight container, for up to ten days.

Related Recipes and Links

Candy Thermometers

Chocolate FAQs

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch

Triple Chocolate Scotcheroos

Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups

The Great Book of Chocolate