It’s National Chocolate Day!

October 28, 2009

Man, the industry publicity machine is really slipping when a chocolate obsessive like me doesn’t learn that it’s National Chocolate Day until 2:20pm on the day of! Anyway, I suggest the following activities to celebrate this most solemn of holidays:

  1. Go find someone selling “French” or “Belgian” chocolate and point out why that’s a flawed characterization. (It’s mighty hard to grow cacao in France…)
  2. Buy some artisan chocolate and share it with a friend
  3. Post your favorite undiscovered chocolate as a comment to this post, and I’ll work on getting a profile up on the blog.
  4. Fire up your melangeur and build a batch of 70% dark chocolate using your favorite cacao. Don’t have one? Head over to Chocolate Alchemy and start equipping your own CacaoLab!

I’m recognizing the holiday by working on obtaining a vacuum oven so that I can start making milk crumb, the vital ingredient in making Cadbury-style milk chocolate. It’s a way of drying and concentrating milk into a crumbly/powdery cake that can be used to make milk chocolate. The process also caramelizes some of the milk sugars, resulting in some really nice flavor components. Really interested folks can check out a description of the process in “Advances in Food Research.”


Quiz Your Waiter!

October 18, 2009

Browsing the web, I happened across the menu for Daniel, a three-star French restaurant in New York. (For fun, count all the items on the menu that require prep work…it’s exhausting just to contemplate.) The feature of the menu that I’d like to applaud is that he (or, rather, his pastry chef) calls out the specific chocolates used in the desserts. Unsurprisingly, they are Valhrona stalwarts, but identifying them is an admirable step forward.

Being a chocolate obsessive, I’ve taken to asking waiters what chocolate the pastry chef is employing, which often starts some interesting questions. (And, on at least one occasion, free goodies from the pastry kitchen!) At Melisse in Los Angeles, the waiter was hugely knowledgeable about wine, but was in the “could be pumped from the ground” category of knowledge about chocolate. For better or worse, he left that evening knowing more a lot more about chocolate….

Spread the word….start asking where your chocolate dessert is coming from!

For reference, I know that L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon uses Valhrona, Chez Panisse uses Michel Cluizel.

COCO 500 in San Francisco offers a dessert option of a tasting of El Rey Bucare.

Apparently….I’m Jack Donaghy

October 11, 2009

Sitting here, watching waaaay too many episodes of 30 Rock, when Jack Donaghy, the pretentious CEO character, is explaining how he wants to take his date to Plunder, the most expensive restaurant in New York for a $1000 dessert: “Imagine, a dessert for two, consisting of a Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream in a pool cognac, drizzled in the world’s most expensive chocolate, Amadei Porcelana, covered in shaved white, black and clear truffles, topped with edible 25-carat gold leaf. Can you imagine anything better?” (A goof on Serendipity 3, a dessert place in NYC.)

That whole scene pretty much boomeranged, given that I have two bars of that chocolate in the fridge. Suffice it to say that the wife is still laughing at me.

Isn’t It Ironic, Don’t You Think?

October 7, 2009

So, we here at CacaoLab’s international headquarters were pretty excited to see that Gourmet Magazine named us one of their favorite food and travel sites. OK, we were more than excited…we wore out our browser’s refresh button making sure the link was really there, and not some sure-to-be-corrected editorial error.

The universe decided to teach me some kind of web-based karmic lesson by nudging the magazine overlords at Conde Nast to shut down Gourmet! My sudden impulse to cancel all my Conde Nast subscriptions was quickly reconsidered when I realized that not having the New Yorker, Wired, or Vanity Fair around would reduce my recreational reading to cereal box nutrition labels. (Or these objects I dimly recall from my pre-baby life called “books.”)

It’s ironic in that Alanis Morrisette sense, which is, not in fact ironic, but just sort of oddly tragic. Life goes on…more interviews, chocolate making, and reviews coming. And, Ruth Reichel….if you are looking for a new job, we’ll find you an office here somewhere.

New York Chocolate, High and Low

September 26, 2009

My non-chocolate job has the upside of getting to do the occasional trip to New York City, which is a pretty chocolate rich place. Most people passing through New York see the two monuments to industrial chocolate, the Hershey’s and M&M’s palaces on Times Square.

The Times Square Hershey's Store

The Times Square Hershey's Store

The Hershey’s store, amidst all the logo’ed merchandise and containers of Whoppers, has a small display of Scharffen Berger and Dagoba Bars. (Both companies are owned by Hershey’s.) Dagoba seems to definitely be going in the direction of chocolate + other ingredients, like the Chai, Lemon-Ginger, and Lavender-Blueberry bars.
Mars Store in Times Square

Mars Store in Times Square

The Mars store is even bigger (three floors of merchandise, and a machine for making customized M&Ms in any color you like.) You aren’t going to find the word “cacao” anywhere in this place.

The rotating Disco M&M is pretty entertaining, though.

Proceeding a few blocks to Rockefeller Center, you can find an outpost of Maison du Chocolat, a chocolate amusement park of an entirely different sort. Here the chocolate is showcased in an expanse of polished marble, glass, and wood. The Maison offers a wide array of confections, and seasonally pours a hot chocolate that seems to have extra Essence of Luxury mixed into it.

Put on your sunglasses before checking out the next picture of a display case at Maison. It’s a glittering box of the Tamanaco single-origin ganache palets. Extremely good chocolate mixed with some extremely good cream.

It’s artisan chocolate of a different sort that I usually discuss here, but, just for the record, I won’t mind if anyone got me this box for Christmas. Don’t count on me sharing it either!

A $75 box of palets at Maison du Chocolat

A $75 box of palets at Maison du Chocolat

I obtained three single-origin bars here, and will be doing a review soon.

Grabbing a cab, I proceed to the home of Pierre Marcolini chocolate, 485 Park Avenue. To my shock, the place has been renamed to Borne Confections, but inside, it looks like the same Marcolini shop to me. According to the shop staff, the shop is under the same ownership, but they changed the name to allow them to sell some other brands. I didn’t actually see any non-Marcolini chocolate in the store, just some other non-chocolate confections. A bit like going to a car dealer and not finding any non-Ferrari automobiles. The store had the shelf I was looking for, the set of Marcolini single-origin chocolates…..(I’m lucky this isn’t a photography blog. The labels are fuzzy in this picture, but all of the labels on the middle shelf are dark chocolates from different origins, including Venezuela, Ghana, Brazil, and Mexico.)

The Marcolini Motherlode

The Marcolini Motherlode

A Cacaolab associate had sent me marching orders to obtain a ridiculous amount of these bars. I think he’s pretty close to getting a tattoo of a Marcolini bar on his shoulder. We were both pretty excited to see that the Tabasco cacao made famous in the Marcolini limited edition bar of a few years back had returned, and the Fleur de Cacao bar was still available. As I was writing this post, said associate just IMed me with a one word review of this bar: “INSANE”. He recovered from his reverie long enough to elaborate: “That fleur de cacao is definitely the best chocolate i think i’ve ever eaten. It’s got some serious cinnamon/nutmeg, but the main sensation i get is that it’s almost like eating a big piece of candy…..except it’s made out of insanely good chocolate.”

While it’s not my favorite chocolate, it extremely good, especially since Marcolini gets a very archetypical chocolate flavor to shine through in these bars. There’s not the complexity of some of the more exotic chocolates, but it’s the best “luxury” chocolate I’ve ever come across. Somehow, I’ll make it through the hardship duty of eating and reviewing the eight bars I managed to save for myself. I might share, but you’ll have to ask nicely!

The X-Men of Chocolate

September 24, 2009

I’m an unapologetic zealot for the cause of small-batch artisan chocolate, so I was pretty excited to see that six of my favorite American makers have banded together to form the Craft Chocolate Makers of America. The news page of the site features a positively superhero-esque group portrait of the folks out there fighting every day against the typically not-very-dark forces of mediocre chocolate. You can’t go wrong ordering a bar from any of these makers.

Chocolate as Heart Medicine?

September 16, 2009

The New York Times reports on a Swedish study that post-heart attack survival rates improve with increased doses of chocolate. I’m no doctor, and I won’t make any claims for the health benefits of chocolate, but it is interesting to see serious study done on the effects of all the chemistry that comes out of that one little bean. (And, I gotta say, I’m much happier that this correlation was found with chocolate and not, say, celery!)